The Scum of the Earth
A Devotional Message Delivered by Pastor Eric Chang at The 1st Asia-Pacific Consultation on Discipleship, July 26, 2001
1 Corinthians 4:13
It is a joy to be with you together this morning to worship the Lord, to ponder His Word. First impressions are very deep impressions, are they not? Whenever we have a first impression, that seems to fix, in a certain way, the way we think about something. My first impression of Christianity, for example, made it very difficult for me to become a Christian because the kind of Christians that I had met gave me a negative impression, and it was very difficult to overcome that in subsequent years. Though, thanks to God’s kindness and mercy, I did finally come to Him because of His drawing power.
One of my first impressions, probably the first impression of a Malaysian, was with a roommate of mine because I happened to share a small apartment with two Malaysian brethren. So, my first contacts overseas in London was, in fact, with Malaysian students. This dear brother gave me an exceedingly good impression of Malaysians, which I carry to this day. So, I said the first impressions are very important. It was much more than giving me a good impression because this dear brother had an outstanding life quality from which I had to learn and desire to learn. The thing I learned most from him was his remarkable humility - a humility that I could only aspire to, but could not attain. His life was beautiful with that humility of Christ.
He was an outstanding student. He was actually a state-sponsored scholar from Malaysia and was studying at Imperial College in London, where he was doing Electrical Engineering. He was an outstanding student. When he graduated, he did so with first-class honors at the head of 7 other first class honors of his class, and was awarded, unusually, the Imperial College Medal. He was simply outstanding. You would think that given his tremendous academic qualifications, he would have had reason to be proud rather than humble. When he entered the College, his report card had only A’s on it. But when he completed his studies, he went on to higher studies at MIT in the United States and also did his doctorate in Montreal. You would think, with this kind of qualification, that he would have had reason to be proud. Amazing! His humility, as I said, just struck me with a power.
One of the things that nearly brought me to tears about his humility was when once we did some outreach work in London in what was called Malaysia Hall, where students from Malaysia lived. We had set up a meeting, and in the process of having a new meeting for the students there, he helped with the outreach. I watched him inviting people to come to the meeting, and the humility, the graciousness with which he did that. He did not say, “Hey! We have a meeting. You come along, all right?” He came to them - to each person - almost like begging, by saying, with this beautiful smile, “Would you like to come to our meeting?” I noticed how many students just brushed him aside and ignored him, and some in a quite rude manner. But still he continued. If he was treated rudely, he did not respond with rudeness. He continued with his polite, gracious manner, even when just brushed aside.
He did not know that I was standing somewhere watching him. And I thought, “I don’t have that kind of humility.” I could not take it, if people were so rude. He was too many classes above me, when it comes to humility. He was treated like rubbish, by many of these students. And I thought to myself, “Do they know who they are talking to?” I mean, none of these students would even be remotely near his class of academic achievements. They would not be within, you know, binocular view of where he had already attained. But just because he was in this gracious, humble manner, they treated him as garbage. As scum! And I say this without exaggeration, I watched in disbelief, that some of these students could be so rude. So I wanted to share this with you, that I had this tremendous impression of a Malaysian brother, who was of outstanding quality, and that I had learned so much from him.
I had the privilege of sharing the apartment with him plus one other Malaysian, a brother, who was too busy with other matters, especially his girlfriend. So, he did not have much time for life in the apartment. This dear brother, the first one I mentioned, asked me, “Could we have a Bible study in our apartment? Just a short one - a 10-minute Bible study, so that we close the day meditating on His Word. Could you lead us in a Bible study everyday?” I said, “All right! I’ll be glad to do that. Just a household Bible study.”
Well, it was supposed to be just for the 3 of us, that is, when my friend could manage to tear himself away from his girlfriend. Thus, we started with 3 people everyday. The Bible study was supposed to be for 10 minutes, but it went on to half-an-hour, and then it went on to one hour. And then it seemed nobody wanted to stop because they wanted to ask more questions about the passage. Then the next thing I knew, the whole neighborhood (because there were other students living in the neighborhood), when they heard that we had a Bible study, they asked, “Hey, can we come in, too?” The next thing we knew, our 3-person Bible study became a room-full of students - fellow students - coming in for Bible study. Often, I was then tied up with counselling as well. This is because I had been to the Bible College before, doing my studies in London, and so they felt that they would like me to give them the Word.
My point is this: this dear Malaysian brother, having invited me to take care of daily Bible study would not allow me to do any cooking. We were supposed to rotate, right? We were supposed to do the housework together. But he absolutely refused to let me do the cooking. I think there was, of course, another reason; my cooking was also not in his class. He seemed to be good at everything, including cooking. And so, I did not venture to compete with him in that field. But when he suggested that since I am doing the Bible study, it is his job to do the cooking, I said, “All right! If you do the cooking, I do the washing up!” He said, “Oh, no! No, no! You can’t do the washing up either.” I said, “At least I can do the washing up, even if my cooking is not that great!” But he said, “No, no! This you leave to us to do; you carry on with the Word of God.” We had many a struggle at the sink when I tried to fight my way to the dishes, but most of the time, was thoroughly defeated. In that sense he was also superior to me. I found myself thrown out of the kitchen, and eventually, having lost the contest so many times, I more or less surrendered. But what I wanted to point out is his outstanding humility, his graciousness. So I say to you, I have an excellent impression of Malaysians.
I think this point is very important because, as I said, first impressions are very, very vital. We evaluate people often by our first impression of the person, whether we like him or not. It is so superficial. It is so external. By the time we look at him, we say, “I like the way this guy looks!” And so you have a good impression. Or you take a look at me, and say, “I don’t like the way this guy looks! He can’t even smile properly.” You are quite right, since I have a problem with a certain muscle here that gives me trouble. And therefore it makes it somewhat difficult for me to smile. You might think, “This is an unfriendly guy. I don’t want to associate with him.” Ah, I hope you will discover that that was a mistaken impression. What Does It Mean to Be the Scum of the Earth?
So let us turn to the Word of God in the short time we have, and if you would please turn to 1 Corinthians Chapter 4. You may be somewhat astonished at the title I have been given - from the Lord, that is - “Paul, The Scum of the World”. If you look at this in 1 Cor. 4:13, you read: “we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.” In other words, he is saying, “It is still true now. It was not just that I was regarded as scum before; I am still the scum. I am still regarded as that.” You will notice that Paul, to emphasize his point, repeats it. In Scripture when something is repeated, we should take notice. When the Lord says, “Truly, truly, I say to you,” the double ‘truly’ indicates something very important. Paul does not just say, “I am the scum of the earth.” What is more, he also does not say, he alone is the scum. He says “we”, i.e., he and all his co-workers, whoever they were, are the scum of the earth. In case we miss that point, he repeats it another way: we are “the dregs of all things”.
This passage is so deep that I do not feel myself really qualified to talk about it, but I must at least attempt to, since the Lord has laid it on my heart. Why I say that I am not qualified is because I have not reached that level, where I am myself regarded as the scum of the earth. I do not doubt that there are some people, through my rather long ministry, who do regard me as the scum of the earth, and I would consider it a privilege, but my level of experience in this area is much too shallow. It is like talking about something which is many classes higher than oneself. This is the reason why I find often that to try and talk about the cross is difficult, because I have not actually experienced the cross - the sufferings involved. In the same way, I do not really know firsthand, in any great depth, what it is to be treated in this way. Have you been treated as the scum of the earth? Does anyone regard you as the dregs of all things?
These two words are very interesting in the Greek, but I will not have time to expound these in the short time we have available. The word ‘dregs’ comes from a Greek word, ‘perikatharma’ (perikaqarmata). ‘Peri’ (peri) means around and ‘katharma’ (kaqarma) is that which is cleansed. Thus, ‘cleansed from around’. To illustrate this: when you do some cooking and then you dish out the food, what happens then is that all around the pot, you have all your sauces or whatever it was you cooked. These are all stuck to the sides of the pot, so that you need a metal scrubber or something to get this ‘perikatharma’, the thing that is all around that is stuck inside the pot. This is what gives you a headache when you want to wash up, especially if the thing is baked on hard and you have to use a lot of effort to get rid of it. It is simply the offscouring, as some translations have it. The scum, in English at least, would be the stuff that you scrape away from the top and throw out. And the ‘dregs’, which of course is just a paraphrase, is not really translating the Greek word. It is in English not what is around the side but what sinks to the bottom, i.e., the kind of stuff that when you have, say, taken your coffee, you throw away the thing at the bottom.
“We,” Paul says, “are regarded by the world as garbage.” What do you have to do to become garbage, as far as the world is concerned? Does our life provoke some kind of response? Paul’s life provoked a response, either life unto life, or death unto death. We are a savor of life to one, a savor or flavor of death to another - life to one; death to another. [2 Cor. 2:16] In the church in Galatia, there were those who regarded Paul as Jesus Himself. “You receive me”, Paul said to the Galatians, “as you would have received Christ.” They looked at him as the image of Christ, which indeed he was. But if you are regarded like this in the church, the likelihood is that the world will regarded you as scum.
Discipleship in the NT Is Inseparably Joined to Being Scum
What does all these have to do with discipleship? Everything! I want to stress, and hope that even if you forget everything I say today, that you will remember that discipleship in the NT is inseparably joined to scum, to being scum. You know, it says in Scripture that in the last days, there will be people who will not want to accept sound teaching, but want to have teachers that tickle their fancy, tickle their ears. You read that in 2 Tim. 4:3. So, the characteristic in the last days is that sound teaching will be rejected, because it is too hard to swallow. We do not like this kind of teaching. We want to hear something that we like to hear - that tickles our fancy. And so, one of the first things I want to say is, that the mark of a true disciple is that he is one who will want to listen to the truth, no matter how hard it is to swallow.
You know, one of the things I do in my personal Bible studies is to look for those passages that I find very hard to swallow. I want to see what I have missed, and whether my attitude to the Word of God is so selective that I pick out, say, all the nice promises that apply to me, all the things I like to hear, all the things that give me encouragement and refreshing. But I would like to turn to those passages that I frankly cannot swallow. And the Lord has really blessed me over the years because I wanted to hear the things that by nature I do not want to hear.
Could I translate this to myself? That is, take “Paul, the Scum of the Earth” and translate this to, “Eric, the scum of the earth, the dregs of all things.” That is very hard to swallow. We all want to be accepted. We all want to be popular. We all want people to like us. We do not want people to regard us as scum, do we? And that is what makes discipleship so difficult. It is because discipleship has to do with becoming scum.
“Well, all right”, you say, “prove your point.” In the short time I have, I must do exactly that. Paul, a few verses down, in v16 says, “...I exhort you, be imitators of me.” Having said that he is the scum, astonishingly he goes on to say, “Well, it is not just me that is scum. You must imitate me”, right after having said those words [in v13]. Now, he is talking to the Corinthians, who are, as he said in Chapter 3, v1, of the flesh, carnal. And fleshly people do not want to be scum; they want to be popular. They want to be accepted. They say, “Please accept me. Don’t reject me!” But scum, what do you do with scum? What do you do with dregs? You put it in a nice bowl? In a glass bowl and put it there for display? Of course not! What you do is you scrape the thing off, and you throw it in the garbage. We do not want to be rejected, by the world.
What did Paul say? He said this in Gal. 6:14: “By the cross of Christ, I am crucified to the world and the world to me.” Now you say that, and the world will treat you as scum. Why? It is because you have cut your connection to the world. You do not want to be pleasing to the world; you only want to be pleasing to Jesus. He is all that matters. When I please Him, I cannot please the world. And when I please the world, I cannot please Him. I have to make a choice, and that is the choice of discipleship.
Being a Disciple is to Be Despised and Rejected of Men
Paul wanted to follow in the steps of Jesus. In 1 Cor. 11:1 he says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” [RSV] Here he is imitating Christ. He is the scum, because Jesus was treated as scum. Did you realize that? Do you realize, as we ought to realize, that the cross of Jesus, is the ultimate symbol or expression of rejection? You do not crucify somebody you accept; you crucify somebody you do not want to accept. You want to permanently put him out of the picture of your life. You put him on a cross and make it so bad for him on the cross, to express the level of your rejection of him.
In Isaiah Chapter 53, which we are very familiar with because it tells us about Jesus as the Suffering Servant, what do we read there? “He was despised and rejected by men”. [v3-RSV] Now you see the connection. We know that our calling as a disciple is to take up our cross and follow Him. The cross is the emblem of shame and rejection. We must bear that in mind. When it says, “Take up your cross”, what exactly do we take up? I do not see anybody walking around with a piece of wood on their shoulders, or some part of the cross. None of the apostles, with the possible exception of Peter, actually encountered the cross. So how did they fulfill the teaching of, for example, Lk. 14:27: “If any man does not take up his cross and follow Me, he cannot be My disciple”? Are we His disciples? Then we should be seen carrying a cross. But what is the cross? The cross - you can see then why this passage is so important for the interpreting of the meaning of discipleship - the cross is rejection - to be despised and rejected of men. The Lord Jesus says, “Yes, I am the Suffering Servant. I have come into this world and am despised and rejected by men.” He came to His own, and His own rejected Him - they “received him not.” [Jn. 1:11-KJV] And He said, “You want to be My disciples; the same thing will happen to you.” You, too, will be despised and rejected of men.
In Weakness We Experience the Reality Following Him
We want to function from a position of power. We think that the way to be effective for God is to be in a position of power. That is the common thinking. But to be scum is a position of weakness. And only in that weakness do we experience the reality of what it is to follow Him who was despised and rejected of men. To that extent, I feel ashamed of myself, in that I am not in that class with Paul, where I can stand here and say, “I am the scum of the earth, as far as the world is concerned” because I am not so regarded, at least not by the majority, of those in the world that I know. They tend to respect you. And the church functions from the position of power. After all, we are all reasonably well educated. Why should anybody regard us as scum given all the degrees that we can put behind our names?
I was invited in England once to preach in a church, and the letter of invitation included the statement that I should bring my academic gown and academic hood to the pulpit. I thought to myself, “Why am I doing this? Why should I?” Frankly I do not even have hood and gown because on the day of graduation, I rented one. I rented it just for a few hours that afternoon. I do not possess a hood. Where did they expect me to get my hood from? I would have go back down to London and rent it from there, since I was then in Liverpool. I thought, “What does this mean? Why should I be wearing an academic gown when I am preaching the Word of God? Well, the idea is to speak from a position of authority. Yes, we should speak with God-given authority. But why should a gown, given by some secular institution, be a qualification for me to speak God’s Word? To tell you the fact, of course, I declined to put on the gown. I said, “If you want somebody with a nice gown, invite somebody else. Frankly I do not even have a gown.
The Corinthian Example of Functioning in a Position of Power
The Corinthians, you will notice here, all work from a position of power. That is how the natural man works. And the church, unfortunately, tends to function the way the world functions. Here, Paul, with biting sarcasm, addresses this problem in this very chapter - Chapter 1. Four times within the context of this chapter, he speaks about arrogance - the arrogance of the Corinthian Christians. You will see the word ‘arrogance’ in vv6, 18, 19 and then Chapter 5:2. [He is telling them:] “You are arrogant, but I am the scum of the earth.” [our passage here] “You boast, and I boast only in the cross.” [Gal. 6:14]
Then he says with this biting sarcasm in v8 to the Corinthians, “You are... filled” Oh, you are so satisfied with yourself. “...you have already become rich” - they are in a position of power since riches is power. “...you have become kings without us”, that is, “we are not included in this category of kings. You are kings.” But then with that same biting sarcasm, he goes on to say, “Well, you are not really kings, are you? I would indeed that you had become kings, so that we might also reign with you. You are reigning already. At least you think you are. And we would reign with you.” Reigning, kingship, filled, all these things - power. And Paul, in a way, shames them. But then he wanted to assure them that he did not have the intention of shaming them, but just bringing them to the realization that the Christian life is not lived from the position of power. That is why he says in v14, “I did not write these things to shame you. That was not my intention, although that is the effect - “but to admonish you as my beloved children.”
Functioning in God’s Power through Weakness!
You remember in the message yesterday, our dear Bro. Dwight Prior was saying that the relationship of rabbi to student, to disciple (I say ‘student’ because as we all know, ‘talmid’ is the Hebrew word for student) was a father-and-son relationship, which we see here, “I speak to you as my beloved children.” [1 Cor. 4:14] You are my disciples. But you are not imitating. So he goes on to v16 and says, “I exhort you to imitate. Put away the position of power because God’s power, as distinct from man’s power, is manifest in weakness. Do we like to be in a position of weakness? No!
[What does ‘to carry our cross’ mean?] Is it enough that we bring a piece of wood around us, or some golden cross hanging around our necks? It means the decision to be the scum of the earth! In other words, scum interprets cross-bearing. What does scum mean? The willingness to be scum and to be dregs, to be the offscouring of all things is the willingness to be absolutely humble. What did the Lord Jesus say? We were also reminded of this verse yesterday. In Mt. 11:29, “...learn of me”. [KJV] There we have that word ‘learn’, which as I said is the Hebrew concept of a disciple. “Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart”, or “gentle and humble of heart”. That is why I said right at the beginning, I spoke of this Malaysian brother, and why he was so important to me, as an example of someone, who though of outstanding academic achievement, was willing to be treated as dregs, as nothing.
Jesus Chose Only One Thing to Speak About - Humility!
“Learn of Me because I...” What does He want us to learn? Does He want us to learn how to heal people? He did not give any lessons, as far as I can see, about how you go around healing people. He did not even say what they were supposed to do. How do you exorcise spirits? He did not say how this, how that. What He did say is: “Be humble, as I am humble.” Learn of Me, if you want to be My disciple, this is the one thing. It is so surprising that of all the things He could have said about learning about Him, He chose only one thing to speak about - humility!
How genuine and how deep is our walk with Jesus is going to be tested on this one point. What is more, you notice this: “I am humble of heart.” Sometimes we are humble in our outward expression. I walk around, you see that my back is quite bent and my head is down, and you say, “He’s a humble man since he walks like this.” Actually I may be extremely proud inside, but all you see is the outward frame, that I am looking very humble. Humble of heart - what is it? The humility of heart is something very hard to learn for people like me, at any rate. And it is absolutely necessary for me to learn. How to distinguish between true and false humility? By false humility here, I mean a human humility. Humility is also regarded as quality among people in the world.
An Example of Human Humility
My father was one who tried to be humble. It was very difficult for him, as a non-Christian, but he tried. And again, I looked with admiration at my father. His academic achievements were also outstanding. I remember that once somebody asked my father, “Do you speak English?” He smiled back and said, very humbly, “A little.” Well, the person did not know that my father had done his graduate studies in Harvard. And he wrote his doctoral theses in English, in fact, beautiful English, and that actually he earned and held two doctorates. He spoke much more than English; he spoke a good many other languages besides. But when asked whether he could speak English, he merely said, “A little.”
Now I could see that he was trying very hard to be humble. Though he had a high government position, he declined a chauffeur-driven car and he bought himself a very modest British car, an Austin 10 at the time, and he drove it himself. One day, he was stopped on the street by a police officer who charged him with a traffic violation and demanded to see his papers. My father was reluctant to show his papers. But the officer demanded in a rather rude tone, as people in power like to behave, “Show me your papers.” My father produced his papers, and when the officer saw my father’s name, he promptly stood to attention and at the rigid salute position. He became like a pillar of salt! Stuck in the salute position! He had been quite rude and he had actually, of course, the intention to demand some payment. You give him some money and he will let you go. He did not know that my father was one of the strongest anti-corruption people, in the rather corrupt government at the time. And so this poor man, this officer, was afraid he was going to lose his job. Before he went into the salute, he had handed back my father’s papers. So, my father simply said to him, “It’s all right! You were just doing your job.” And he drove away.
Humility! He could have sacked the man. He could have done all sorts of things, but he was humble. Well, of course, if he had been in a chauffeur-driven car, the police officer would never have stopped him. Since he was driving this small Austin 10, a very modest little car, as many of you from England would know, then the police officer felt that he could kick this man around, but he kicked the wrong person around. So, my father tried to be very humble. But of course, I knew my dad. After all, we do know our dads, don’t we? And I knew that this was an attempt to be humble, but it was not the spiritual humility we are talking about. Spiritual humility has more to do with my Malaysian brother, that genuine inner humility.
Spiritual Power Comes from Humility
In closing then in this brief talk, I think that the real mark of humility that we are to follow is the mark of the Lord Jesus that Paul points to in Philippians Chapter 2, that “though He was equal with God, He did not consider equality with God something to be held on to, to be grasped, much less to be seized” [v6], depending whatever translation you want to use. But He humbled Himself. He humbled Himself to what extent? He went down and down and down, until He ended up on the cross. [v8] And it is this to which He has called us. Paul says, “Let this mind” - this mind of Jesus - “be in you”. [v5-KJV]
Now, why did Jesus not tell His disciples more about spiritual power? Why did He not tell them more about things like, even how to pray? You remember, the disciples had to ask Him, “Lord, teach us to pray!” [Lk. 11:1] You would have thought that that is one of the first things He did. No! He stressed one thing only. “Learn of Me - I am humble of heart.” And what happens? All the other things follow. It is not first power - spiritual power even! Spiritual power comes through humility! God does not entrust this power to somebody who is going to misuse it. No wonder there is so little power among Christians, because God could not trust that power to us!
Paul knew a lot about power, and so in this same chapter, [1Cor. 4], in v19, it says, “I shall find out when I come, not the words of those who are arrogant, but their power. I want to see what power they have.” Paul functioned in power and the secret of that power is humility. The more humble you are, the more you will experience His power, but only because we are in fellowship with His sufferings. “He was despised and rejected of men”. When I follow Him, can I follow Him in glory, when He goes forth rejected? No! I must, if I am His disciple, if He is rejected, I also must be rejected. If I am not being rejected, I have to ask: “Am I following Him who was rejected?” And when I learn to enter into that fellowship of His sufferings, to be despised and rejected by men, then, only then, God will entrust every manner of power to us. Yes, we will be able to heal the sick, we will be able to throw out the demons, we will be able to do many things, but only if we can learn this lesson of humility.
Recently I was reading the diary of John Sung, probably the greatest evangelist in China of this century. The more I read, the more I was touched. John Sung, God used him so mightily, that it was common occurrence in his meetings, when he prayed for people, that the blind regained their sight. I looked at his diary, and time and again he mentions, “Today, 4 people who were blind recovered their sight. God healed them.” “Today several people who were deaf were able to hear. The lame walked. This was common occurrence. He just recorded that for the glory of God. But he himself was constantly sick. I noticed in his diary, too, “Today, I had a terrible toothache.” “Today, I had a terrible stomachache.” He, of course, had a terrible case of hemorrhoids, such that he was in constant pain, bleeding even while he was preaching. In the end, he was not even able to stand up to preach. He had to sit down to preach.
In the end, he wrote in his diary about the thorn in his flesh, and he said, “I know - I have to learn more and more humility, that God must bring me down lower and lower, through this unspeakable pain. He was in agony, in tears out of the pain. He went through several operations. And people said, “Hey! You healed so many people. But you yourself - what is your problem? Why can’t you be healed?” And he said, “When I hear these words, it burns like fire in my heart, but thank God for it. I need to be more humble, that they may know that the healings that occurred in so many people was not me, but it was God who healed.” The thing he wanted to learn, up to the last moment in his diary, he was still saying, “I thank God for all this unspeakable pain, because God wants to bring me into His likeness, to learn of Him, “for I am meek and lowly in heart.” [Mt. 11:29-KJV] That is the secret of his power! If we want to go out and let God use us, then please learn this lesson: that discipleship is bearing the cross after Jesus. And it is to be willing to be the scum of the earth. Let us, by God’s grace, be imitators of Paul, as he was of Christ, so that God’s power may manifest in us fully.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church