Fools for Christ

Life_in_Tension_web“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” (1 Cor. 4:10-12 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Where is your identity?

The Apostle Paul talked about being a fool for Christ. Why? Paul lived the life of an itinerant evangelist, much like Jesus himself. He traveled from place to place preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As far as we know it, he was never married or had any children. Being highly educated, Paul gave up a priestly or academic life to pursue his calling as an evangelist to the Gentiles.

Can you image attending your 30th anniversary of receiving your doctorate [1] and telling your fellow graduates:

“I am talking like a madman– with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Cor. 11:23-28)

Doubtlessly, Paul’s classmates were synagogue leaders, high priests, government officials, and college professors. Do you suppose that he hungered and thirsted for righteousness sake? Paul treated his hunger and thirst like his resume as an evangelist—he even refused a salary from the Corinthian church to maintain his integrity as an evangelist [2].

Yet, Paul’s life of service no doubt also put him in tension with God. Paul talked about his thorn in the flesh and struggling with God in prayer (2 Cor. 12:7-8). And he must have anguished over God’s answer to his prayer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Who brags about weaknesses? Paul did (2 Cor. 12:9). Still, you can bet that Paul struggled and anguished over God’s object lesson!

If our identity is in Christ, then we are reminded of our identity through the sacraments which both focus on objects of hunger (bread) and thirst (water/wine). Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine (John 2:1-10). Another important miracle involved multiplying bread and fish (John 6:11). Yet, after Jesus’ longest recorded discourse with the Samaritan women about living water, Jesus refers to the word of God as food (John 4:32) [3].  Clearly, our identity is in Christ and not in the sacraments or in the physical objects of hunger and thirst. When tempted by Satan to turn a stone into bread, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” (Luke 4:4)

Out of our identity, we act.

The New Testament provides numerous examples of ministering out of our identity in Christ with food and water, including:

  • “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?” (Matt. 25:37)
  • “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Rom. 12:20)
  • “And he said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (Rev. 21:6)

If the first sin of the bible was to lust after an apple (Gen 6), then it is only fitting that the mark of the disciple would be the sharing of food and drink (Matt 25:37)—modeling after the behavior of Christ himself (Rev 21:6).


[1] My 30th anniversary is December 13, 2015.

[2] “Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge?” (2 Cor. 11:7)  Also: “Do we not have the right to eat and drink?” (1 Cor. 9:4)

[3] “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isa. 40:28-31)

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