By the Grace of God

Paul

In presenting evidence to support the resurrection of Christ, Paul told the brethren in Corinth of several eyewitnesses who could verify that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. The last of these eyewitnesses that Paul mentioned was himself: “And last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:8).

At this point, Paul took a short break from his discussion about the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection to make a point about the grace of God:

For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove in vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed” (1 Corinthians 15:9-11).

Paul made four points in these three verses about the grace of God. Let us consider these briefly.

Humility

Paul described himself as “the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle” (1 Corinthians 15:9). Of course, in one sense he was equal to them. In fact, he would make this point in his second epistle to these brethren: “For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5). But Paul’s point in our text had to do with his past as a persecutor of the church. What we see in Paul is that he was not going to allow any personal circumstances – his past, his present, or his progress in spiritual growth up to that point – either hinder him or make him arrogant. He exercised a humble attitude, just as we must today (cf. Philippians 2:3-8; Matthew 5:3).

Grace

The choice for Paul to become an apostle was not his decision. After all, at the time when he was called, he was “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor” (1 Timothy 1:13). It was also not the choice of his fellow Christians. When he came to Jerusalem following his conversion, the Christians there “were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26). Prior to this, the Lord told Ananias, “Go, for [Saul/Paul] is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15). The choice was God’s (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1). The same is true for us today. Though we have not been called to be apostles, we have been called to salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:14). This has been done by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8).

Labor

In order to be sure that God’s grace which was shown to him would not prove to be in vain, Paul said he “labored even more” (1 Corinthians 15:10). He had an eagerness to work in service to God. He was “zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14), just as all of God’s people should be. But Paul said he did this by “the grace of God with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Paul plainly connected grace and works with one another. How can this be? Many denominationalists believe there is no way that grace and works can both be necessary for our salvation. But Paul clearly labored by the grace of God. God’s grace allowed him to be taught the truth, be accepted by God, receive forgiveness, and do His work. Separating grace from works for salvation is both unnecessary and unscriptural (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 2:11-14).

Preaching

The message of the gospel was a message of grace (cf. Acts 20:24). Paul told the Corinthians that the messenger was irrelevant. Whether he taught them or someone else taught them, the important thing was that they believe the message. Man receives instructions from God through the word of His grace (Titus 2:11-12). Therefore, we must teach it to others and heed it when it is taught to us.


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