“We are poorly dressed … Be imitators of me.” (1 Cor 4:11, 16)
“All her household are clothed in scarlet… her clothing is fine linen and purple.” (Prov 31:21-22)
A few weeks ago in Bible study, we studied 1 Corinthians 4. I was struck by the way I look so much more like the Corinthians than Paul, as he describes himself in verses 8-16:
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
I came home and was thinking through what to do with these verses. For example, should I be more “poorly dressed”? Should I be less comfortably housed? Should I be bolder in evangelism so that I am “reviled” more?
Later that day, coincidentally, I found myself reading Proverbs 31, and was struck by the contrast between the apostles’ lifestyle and the lifestyle of the woman described there. In Proverbs 31, the woman who fears the Lord has an extensive household, her husband is respected at the city gate and her whole household are “clothed in scarlet”.
Both passages are Scripture, and the Bible tells us that all Scripture is inspired by God and useful for us (2 Tim 3:16). Both passages describe figures who are, in some sense, exemplary, and hold their life out to be imitated. So what should I be doing? Should I be standing at the school gate as someone people look down on, or should I be there as a woman people respect? Should I be dressed with (modest, understated) style and class, or in the threadbare fashions of a decade or two ago?
I want to go with the first option; I feel a little intimidated by the Proverbs 31 woman, but I have no reservations about whether I want to be like her! The apostles in 1 Corinthians 4, however … I don’t just wonder whether I could be like that, I wonder if I could want to be like that.
So what do I do with these two examples in Scripture, and how do I work out how to apply them in my situation? Does the shape of the Bible’s big picture give me any guidance in this? What about the differences between the types of literature that the two examples are found in? Is it a matter of choosing between the two, or is it possible somehow to live a life shaped by both examples?
I have a few thoughts coming together, which I will share in a subsequent post, but first I’d like to hear your ideas. Comments please!