The other day I found myself added to a Facebook group called "The Despised Ones". Intrigued, I asked what exactly it was, and Morgan Guyton responded with a post about how it began and what it was for. It is a bloggers collective based on 1 Corinthians 1:28: God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, [v. 29: so that no one might boast in the presence of God] and was precipitated by this statement by T.C. Moore:
There’s a peculiar tribe of radicals discovering they are not alone. They come from all different traditions and expressions of the church, but they share many common characteristics:Their message is centered on Jesus the Messiah; their definition of power is the cruciform love of God revealed on the Cross; they proclaim Jesus Lord and King, not Caesar; they won’t bow down to nationalistic idolatry, nor will they be co-opted by any of the powers that be; their Gospel is good news to those on the margins; they live in authentic community in eschatological hope; they embody the life of the age to come; they live as pilgrims and sojourners in this world, because God is building a new city among them; they live in solidarity with the hurting, and celebrate the new covenant with joy; God is using them to renew all things.They are Jesus-disciples, and they are turning the world upside-down.
I have never really given much thought to 1 Corinthians 1:28, but since I am now a part of this blogging collective, I think I'd better think about it.
When I read both the verse and Moore's words, something resonated in me, but in a mixed-up kind of way. I loved the characteristics that Moore described, and feel as if it is those characteristics that I have been exploring for the last few years. But the description of "despised" made me uncomfortable. I mean, really, who wants to think of herself as someone despised by others? For a people-pleaser such as myself, being despised doesn't sit too well with me.
But then I read more of Morgan's explanation:
If we take Paul’s statement at face value without making a moralistic judgment about the ἐξουθενημένους, then what Paul is saying literally is this: “Therefore if you have disputes about daily life, then let the despised ones in your church be the judges.” Recall that 1 Corinthians is the book where Paul exclaims, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:20).
Now, generally, I come from a place of privilege: I'm an educated, middle-class, heterosexual, white female. Being despised--or lowly--is not something I have experienced very much, although it has happened, in the church. And in those instances, it was because I was a woman, and women were not allowed to be in positions of leadership. When I think back to conversations I had about the topic of women in leadership and men's and women's roles, I now wonder, what if those in authority in those churches had read this verse? What then would they say about women in leadership? Would they deliberately ask the people who are being oppressed and marginalized for their opinions, thoughts, input? Who do I overlook in the church and in life?
This assessing of what verses like this, or Philippians 2 about humility means, is something that we need to do on a regular basis. Too often, we think we understand a portion of scripture and move on to the next, never revisiting it to see if there is more to be gleaned.
Being despised, being lowly, living with humility are probably some of the most difficult things that Christians will face, because they are the exact opposite of what "the world" craves. The world loves those who are loved, not those who are despised. The world admires those who make their way to the top, not those who are at the bottom. The world has a me-first attitude, not one of putting others first. We see it everywhere, and it is something that even we Christians find ourselves participating in.
And so, it is a good reminder. I am despised, but that's ok. It is not in myself that I should boast about anything I do, but in God. It is a way to remember that everything I do, everything I live for, should be for Jesus. And when I think of it that way, I feel a sense of joy welling up inside me, something that tells me that following him is worth being despised, that following him is a better way than the ways of the world in which I live. And yes, I will fail at times. I will sometimes not be strong or courageous enough to do what is right, to follow what Jesus calls me to do. But being despised and practicing humility can teach us to put ourselves all on a level playing field. Not one of us is better than another. We are all fighting not to be at the top, but to be at the bottom.