The Offscouring of All Things
…We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.
— 1 Corinthians 4:13
Has anyone ever tried to blame you for problems that had nothing to do with you? Maybe it was a fellow employee who blamed you for something he failed to do. Maybe it was a fellow church member who failed at his responsibility, but didn’t want to look unfaithful, so he shifted the blame on you for something you didn’t do. Or maybe you can remember a time when your siblings pointed their finger at you for something they did, and as a result you were punished instead of them!
If you’ve ever been accused or blamed for something you didn’t do, you know what a miserable experience it is. There is nothing worse than to be made a scapegoat for someone else’s misdeeds. If this has ever happened to you, you know how victimized you can feel when you are accused of something you didn’t do!
Shifting blame to someone else started all the way back in the Garden of Eden when Adam pointed his finger at Eve and blamed her for his failure to obey God. When sin entered the human race, one of the first manifestations of sinful nature was Adam’s refusal to accept responsibility for his choices and for his attempt to blame his wife for his failure.
When people don’t want to face the consequences of their own failure, they often look for someone else to blame. They point the finger at others and say, “They are the reason we are in this mess!” By pointing their fingers away from themselves and shifting the blame to someone else, they attempt to deflect the punishment they deserve themselves.
Of course, such blame-shifting is unjust. Yet as long as we live in this fallen world that has the devil and the influence of ungodly men, such acts of injustice will continue. When Jesus comes and sets up His Kingdom on the earth, all injustice will come to an end. But until that time, injustice will occur in many forms. And if you or I are ever treated unjustly — for instance, if we’re ever blamed for something we didn’t do — we must know how God expects us to respond to the situation.
Think of the believers who lived in the pagan Roman Empire and who faced injustice on a daily basis. They were constantly blamed for things they didn’t do. If the weather was bad, the pagans often blamed the Christians for the bad weather. If the empire was grappling with financial troubles, the Christians were typically the ones blamed for the financial woes. When the city of Rome burned to the ground — an event most likely instigated by Nero himself — Nero pointed his finger at Christians and blamed them for starting the fire rather than face the consequences of what he had done. (See Volumes One and Two of my Light in Darkness series for an in-depth look into the challenges early believers faced as they lived for Jesus.)
Early Christians were a threat to the devil and to the domain of darkness. So from the beginning, Satan inspired people to hate believers and to blame them for all types of heinous deeds that had nothing to do with them. They became “scapegoats” that society used to blame for all their ills and problems.
As happened to many believers during the time when the New Testament was being written, the apostle Paul and his traveling companions were often charged falsely with deeds they didn’t commit. Paul told us about this in First Corinthians 4:13 when he wrote, “…We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” This verse is very insightful, but it requires a study of the original Greek words to fully understand the message contained in it.
This verse is very powerful. Not only does it give us a glimpse into the challenges Paul and his associates physically faced, but it lets us know how they emotionally felt when these things happened to them. No one likes being called the “scum of the world,” but that’s in essence what Paul and his team members were called. The apostle Paul wrote on behalf of his team to explain how the world had treated them with utter contempt. When he wrote, “…We are made as the filth of the world,” he was painting a very strong picture!
The phrase “the filth of the world” is taken from the Greek word perikatharma, a compound of the words peri and kathairo. The word peri means around, and the word kathairo means to cleanse or to purify. The latter word depicts the removal of disgusting grime, like the dirty ring left on the sides of a bathtub when dirty water is drained. If that filth is allowed to remain on the bathtub very long, it becomes hard, crusty, and difficult to remove. At that point, getting get rid of that hardened “ring around the tub” requires determination and a lot of hard work. It means someone has to get on his hands and knees and scrub! Only after a lot of persistent, nonstop scouring can that hardened, grimy ring around the tub be eliminated.
This is the idea Paul conveyed when he said that he and his traveling companions had been treated like “the filth of the world.” Instead of appreciating these Gospel preachers for all they had done to bring light into darkness, the unbelieving world has repeatedly tried to wipe them out! In the world’s view, these ministers of the Gospel were the scum of the earth.
In addition to conveying the idea of actual grime, the words “the filth of the world” was also one of the lowest, crudest derogatory statements that could be made about someone. To call someone “the filth of the world” was a terrible insult!
Furthermore, the “filth of the world” was a phrase used to describe low-level people in society, such as criminals deemed unworthy to live. If a city had a chain of bad fortune, public officials would give the order for the “filth of the world” — low-level criminals — to be rounded up and publicly sacrificed. They believed that if this societal scum could be exterminated, it could reverse a city’s bad fortune.
When Paul said that he and his team were treated like “the filth of the world,” he let us know that they had been blamed for many things that had nothing to do with them. Over and over again when something wrong happened, someone would likely cry out, “It’s the preacher’s fault!” Rather than thank Paul and his team for the many sacrifices they had made, the world treated these believers with the same disdain they would a dirty ring around a tub that needed to be wiped out. In addition to leveling terrible insults at them, large segments of the pagan population believed if they could just get rid of Christians, it would somehow bring good luck back to them again.
But Paul went on to say that they were treated like the “offscouring of all things.” The word “offscouring” is a translation of the Greek word peripsema, which depicts the ardent and ferocious process required to remove filth and grime. No one wants to live in the middle of filth, and no one wants to take a bath in a tub covered with grime! When the situation gets sufficiently distasteful, someone will eventually step forward to say, “Let’s do something about this sickening dirt! Let’s get rid of it!” The word “off-scouring” depicted that moment when the world cried out, “Enough of these Gospel preachers! They’ve brought too much bad luck on our lives! Let’s get rid of this filth!”
The Romans and Greeks frequently looked for someone they could blame for society’s problems and ills. They regularly pointed their fingers at low-level criminals — the so-called “scum of the earth” — and as noted above, they accused them of bringing bad luck on the citizenry. These people were viewed as bad omens that needed to be stamped out and eliminated. So from time to time, publicly elected officials gave the order for low-level people, criminals, and societal “scum” to be rounded up and executed, especially in times of plague, war, famine, or other catastrophes. They falsely believed that scrubbing out this scum from society would put an end to their bad luck.
Paul used these same vivid phrases to tell us what the world was saying about him and his associates. Although he was preaching and doing the good works of Jesus, he wrote that the world viewed them as scum that needed to be removed. They and other believers were blamed for all kinds of problems and calamities. The unsaved world actually believed they would be far better off if these light-bearers were exterminated.
When Paul wrote that believers are the “filth of the world” and the “offscouring of all things,” this verse could be interpreted:
“The world views us like dirt that needs to be wiped off, and they are doing everything they can to scrub us out of society. We have become the scapegoats for everyone’s problems. They point their fingers at us and blame us for everything wrong in the world. What they would really like to do is permanently get rid of us!”
Has anyone ever tried to blame you for problems that had nothing to do with you? Have you ever been accused or blamed for something you didn’t do? Have you ever had your good name smeared by people who talked badly about you? Have you ever felt “victimized” by others? Remember that you are not alone!
There are others who have faced more difficult times than you are facing right now, but they didn’t stop serving or stop loving, nor did they abandon what God had told them to do. They kept their eyes focused on “…Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
During times like these, you must keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and remember that He also endured the assaults of men. He completely understands any emotion you feel about the situation you’re facing. If you will go to Him and talk to Him about what you are experiencing and feeling right now, His Spirit will comfort your heart and give you wisdom about how to respond — if you should respond at all.
Today — in fact, right now — I encourage you to take a few minutes to talk to Jesus about any false accusations or unjust treatment you’re receiving. I guarantee you that no one can understand your situation, provide wisdom and instruction, or comfort your heart better than Jesus can!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I am so glad that Jesus understands what I am going through when I suffer verbal abuse or ridicule or when I experience unjust discrimination. It is so emotionally difficult to be blamed for things that have nothing to do with me, yet I face this from time to time. Instead of becoming bitter and hardhearted toward those who wrong me in this way, I ask You to give me a heart full of love for them. In my own flesh, I am unable to forgive and love them as I must, but with Your Spirit’s help, I can love even the most unlovely person. So today I’m asking You to fill my heart with forgiveness, love, and compassion for those who have dealt unfairly with me.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
In Jesus’ name I confess that I forgive the people who have deliberately misused me, abused me, and falsely accused me. If they really understood what they were doing, I believe they would never have done such a terrible thing. Instead of letting my heart get hard and bitter, I am turning to the Holy Spirit for help. He will soften my heart; He will help me forgive; and He will fill me with love and compassion for those who have tried to victimize me. Just as Jesus forgave those who crucified Him, today I am choosing to forgive those who have done wrong to me. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I can do this and I WILL do it.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Has there been a time in your life when were made a scapegoat for someone else? If not you, have you ever seen someone else made to be a scapegoat and blamed for things for which he or she was not responsible?
- Have you ever had someone speak derogatory words to you or behind your back? When you heard it or learned about it later, how did it affect you? Were you able to forgive and go on, or did it wound you?
- As a Christian, how do you think Jesus would have you respond to such occurrences? Forget about the advice of the world around you, and think about how Jesus would respond to such an attack. What do you think He would do?