Okay, sisters in Christ, we lost last week in terms of this Bible Study series, so let’s not waste any more time in our study of 1 Corinthians 15. To refresh our memories and maintain a sense of context, I’ll once again quote the first eleven verses of the chapter in preparation of discussing verses 8-11.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (ESV)
Last time, we looked at Paul’s impressive catalogue of eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection, but now we turn to a final witness: Paul himself. Immediately in verse 8, the apostle shows his humility by emphasizing that he hadn’t walked with Jesus during His earthly ministry as all the other eyewitnesses had. For this reason, he compares himself to an aborted child.
I’m going to be really honest here and admit that I don’t understand why he uses a word that means an aborted child. Every commentary I read spent time highlighting the definition of the Greek word in this verse, but none of them adequately explained its significance beyond the concept that it demonstrates Paul’s humility. He acknowledges that he didn’t spend time with Jesus in the way the others had, and that fact makes him feel awkward about claiming to be an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ.
He maintains, however, that the risen Lord did in fact appear to him (Acts 9:3-18, 2 Corinthians 12:1-6). As awkward as he feels in numbering himself among men who followed the Lord throughout His earthly ministry, Paul refuses to waver from his testimony that, just like the others, he qualifies as an eyewitness to Christ’s resurrection.
His awkward feelings become compounded in verse 9 as he confesses that, prior to his conversion, he actually persecuted Christians. He accepts God’s grace in calling him to be an apostle, but he readily admits that he doesn’t deserve such an honor. His humble attitude serves as a powerful example to those of us who might boast about our salvations. Paul remembers his past and therefore has an acute awareness of God’s grace toward him.
His past convinces him of his unworthiness to be called an apostle (one qualification of apostleship was being an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ). He resolutely remembers what he’d done against God’s church before receiving God’s gracious gift of salvation.
In fact, he points directly to the grace God has shown him in verse 10. Having just confessed his unworthiness, he firmly acknowledges that God’s grace has indeed made him an apostle (Ephesians 3:7). His unworthiness doesn’t negate God’s calling on his life. To the contrary, his untimely spiritual birth coupled with his history of persecuting Christians increase his appreciation of God’s grace.
Notice, in verse 10, that Paul has responded to the grace he’s been shown by working more extensively than the other apostles. His youth (relative to theirs) and the broader scope of his missionary journeys naturally resulted in a heftier resume. Therefore, God’s grace had enabled him to work harder. He presents this fact simply.
Yet he quickly adds that his work comes, not from himself, but as a consequence of God’s grace. He insists that the Corinthians look to Christ rather than to him. Recall, if you please, that Paul opened this passage by emphasizing the primary importance of the Gospel. The last thing he wants is to shift attention back to himself! God’s grace, and only God’s grace, permitted Paul to see the resurrected Christ.
Verse 11 strengthens his resolve to direct attention away from himself and back to the Gospel that he outlines in verses 3 and 4. As helpful as eyewitnesses are, they mustn’t distract us from the Gospel itself. And because the Gospel requires center stage, Paul considers it immaterial to care about the pedigree of who preaches it. Whether the original disciples preach or he does, he wants people to hear the Gospel and believe it.
This point brings us to our next section: a detailed discussion on why the doctrine of resurrection matters. As I mentioned last week, we’ll take a two-week break before tackling that section, but I wouldn’t mind if you read the whole of Chapter 15 between now and then, paying particular heed to verses 12-19. Please use the Comments Section here or on The Outspoken TULIP Facebook page to ask questions or raise issues in these eight verses that you’d like me to address.