Commentary on 1st Corinthians

  May 12, 2013
Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #9: The Problem of the Resurrection of Christ and of Believers, 1 Corinthians 15.1-15.58
  

Lesson 9.1: The Historical Tradition
 Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15.1-11

 

1 Cor 15.1-11 (KJV)


1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.
9 For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet 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 which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
11 Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.

 

 

Commentary

 

1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;

Moreover, brethren,
“Moreover,” lets us know Paul has finished his answers to the Corinthians’ questions and now he moves on to a new subject.

I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you,
“I declare unto you,” primarily looks ahead to verses 3 and 4, where he begins to speak of Jesus death and resurrection.

“The gospel which I preached unto you” is the good news which the Corinthians have received. The word “gospel” means, “good news.” When the word was used in ancient times, it didn’t have to describe the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. It could be used for any good news. But the best news there ever was is that we can be saved from the punishment we deserve from God because of what Jesus did for us.

In verses three and four, Paul will describe the content of the gospel. Here, he describes how the gospel can be of benefit to man. The gospel is only of benefit if it is received and if one will stand in it.

Belief in the resurrection, among the Corinthians, had been shaken by some wicked persons. It is uncertain, however, whether they doubted merely the ultimate resurrection of the body, or the immortality of the soul also. It is well known, that there were a variety of inaccurate theories regarding this point. Some philosophers maintained that souls are immortal. As for the resurrection of the body, it never entered into the mind of any one of them. The Sadducees were enemies of Jesus, and along with the Pharisees plotted against Him; they held the view that nothing existed outside the present life; what’s more, they thought that the soul of man was a breath of wind without substance. It is not possible to know for certain (as I have already said) whether the Corinthians had at this time cast off all expectation of a future life, or whether they merely denied the resurrection of the body; because the arguments which Paul laid out seem to imply, that they were thoroughly confused by this foolish delusion of the Sadducees. For example, when he says--“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die” (1 Cor 15:29-32; (KJV). We might reply, “Because after death the soul survives the body.” Hence some apply all of Paul’s reasoning contained in this chapter to the immortality of the soul. But as I see it, I cannot bring myself to believe Paul’s words refer to anything else than the resurrection of the body. Since that is what I believe, I must treat this chapter as if that view is accepted, that Paul is speaking exclusively of the resurrection of the dead. But why did the apostle wait until he is close to the close of this letter to introduce such an important subject, when he could have brought it up at the beginning. We can only speculate, but there is one school of thought that says this was done for the purpose of impressing it more deeply upon the memory. There is another explanation which seems more plausible, and it says, Paul did not wish to introduce a subject of such importance, until he had asserted his authority, which had been considerably lessened among the Corinthians, and until he had done that, by suppressing their pride, he made them ready to listen to him by stressing their need for humility.  He called on them to remember the Gospel they had learned from him, before they were led off the right course. He calls the doctrine of the resurrection the gospel, so that they may not imagine that any one is at liberty to form any opinion that he chooses on this point.

The question that is sometimes asked is whether the gospel originated with Paul. He says, “I delivered unto you … that which I received.” But who did he receive it from, and where? He received it in the Arabian Desert where the Lord took him and taught him. When Paul was confronted by the Lord on the Damascus road, he did not know that Jesus was back from the dead. He asked, “… Who art thou, Lord? … (Acts 9:5). He didn’t dream that “the Lord” was Jesus. Paul himself had to be convinced of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He didn’t think it up. He received it.

Paul says that he declares the gospel to them. What is the gospel? “CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES; AND THAT HE WAS BURIED, AND THAT HE ROSE AGAIN THE THIRD DAY ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES.” That is the gospel. These are the facts. My brothers and sisters, there is no gospel if it does not contain these three facts. That is what the gospel is. Jesus Christ died for you and for me. He was buried and He rose again. That is gospel—it’s good news.

which also ye have received,
The Corinthian Christians were one of the first to receive the gospel. When Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica he stated that the message of the gospel must first be believed and embraced—“For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Here Paul says, “You received the word of God” indicating the doctrine of God, which is not fabricated by man, but comes immediately from God himself. Paul and his fellow-workers were only his messengers to declare what God had previously revealed to them.

and wherein ye stand;
The Corinthian Christians also did “stand” (uphold, defend, advocate) in the gospel. Despite all their problems with carnality, lack of understanding, strife, divisions, immorality, and weird spirituality, they still stood for the gospel. This is in contrast to the Galatian church, which was quickly being moved away to another gospel—“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Gal 1:6; KJV).

2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.

By which also ye are saved,
Paul had a singular focus—preaching the Gospel as the way of salvation! The Corinthian Christians had done well; they received the gospel with faith, and they were doing well, because they advocated the gospel in their lives and in their assemblies. Paul believed the preaching of the Gospel was what God called him to do: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18; KJV).

“For the preaching of the cross” refers to the doctrine of the cross; or the doctrine which proclaims salvation comes only through the atonement which the Lord Jesus Christ made on the cross. This cannot mean that the statement, “Christ died as a martyr on a cross,” appears to be foolishness to men; because, if that was all there was to it, there would be nothing that would appear shameful, or that would excite their hostility toward Him more than the death of any other martyr. The statement that Polycarp, and Ignatius, and Paul, and Cranmer, died as martyrs, does not appear to be foolishness, since it is a statement couched in historical truth, and their death excites the high admiration of all men. And if, in the death of Jesus on the cross, there had been nothing more than a mere martyr's death, it would also have been the object of admiration to all men. But the "preaching of the cross" must signify more than that; and must mean both of these:
1. That Christ died as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of men, and that it was His sacrifice that made his sufferings on the cross very special, unique, and important.
2. That men can be reconciled to God, pardoned, and saved only by the intrinsic worth and influence of this atoning sacrifice.


“To them that perish” refers to those who are about to perish, or to those who have a character deserving of destruction; that is, the wicked. The expression stands in sharp contrast to those who are "saved," that is, those who have seen the beauty of the cross of Christ, and who have fled to it for salvation.


“Foolishness” is how lost men and women see the Gospel. The great mass of Jews, and heathen philosophers, and the majority of the men of this world, believed it was foolish, for the following reasons:
1. The humble origin of the Lord Jesus. They despised Him because He lived in Nazareth, was poor and had no home, and few friends, and no wealth, and little respect among his own countrymen.
2.  They despise Him because of the disgraceful manner of His death; He was labeled an impostor, and was crucified (the usual punishment of slaves) at the insistence of his own countrymen.
3. They do not understand why there should be any particular value placed on His death. They find it hard to believe that One who could not save Himself would be able to save them; and that glory could come from the shame of the cross.
4. They are blind to the true beauty of His personal character; to the true dignity of His nature; to His power over the sick, the lame, the dying, and the dead; they cannot see how His work of atonement has any bearing on the law and government of God; they do not believe in His resurrection, and His present state of exalted glory.

The world looks only at the fact that the despised man of Nazareth was put to death on a cross, and smiles at the idea that such a death could have any important influence on the salvation of man. It is worthy saying, also, that to the ancient philosophers this doctrine would appear still more contemptible than it does to the men of these times. Everything that came from Judea they looked upon with contempt; and they would reject, above all else, the doctrine that they were to expect salvation only by the crucifixion of a Jew. As far as they were concerned, the death of Christ on the cross was shameful and dishonorable; and to speak of salvation only by the sufferings and death of a crucified man could only excite feelings of contempt.


“But unto us which are saved” refers, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to Christians who are saved through faith in Jesus Christ; and have the prospect of eternal salvation in the world to come.


“It is the power of God.” This expression means that it is the way in which God exerts his power in the salvation of men. It is the effective or mighty plan, by which power goes forth to save, and by which all the obstacles of man's redemption are taken away. This expression implies:
1. That it is God's plan. It is not something man has made up.
2. It is tailored to accomplish His purpose. It is able to overcome the obstacles in the way. It is not merely the instrument, by which God exerts his power, but it has an inherent capability to accomplish the salvation of man.
3. It is mighty: consequently it is called power, and the power of God. It has gone against the sins of the world, and shown its power to save sinners of all degree, and to overcome and subdue every mighty form of iniquity.

if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
These two expressions, “If you keep in memory (or hold fast)” and “unless in vain” are very harsh. In the first, he rebukes them for their carelessness or fickleness, because such a sudden fall into skepticism was evidence that they had never understood what had been communicated to them, or that their knowledge of it had been ambiguous and imprecise, and as a result quickly vanished. But they had to continue to do well, and hold fast to the gospel Paul preached to them. Every Christian must take seriously their responsibility to not only have a good past, and a good present, but to determine to have a great future with the Lord also.“If you keep in memory (or hold fast)” also implies there were some people or some things which might want to snatch the true gospel away from the Corinthian Christians. This made it even more important that they keep the things Paul preached to them firmly in their memory.

“In vain” may mean “without cause,” or “blind faith”, such as Paul spoke of in His letter to the Galatians—“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Gal 2:21; KJV). Or it may mean “without effect,” that is, to serve no purpose (See Gal 3:4; 4:11). The latter idea seems to be best. If, as some are saying in Corinth, there is no resurrection, then faith is vain and worthless (See verse 14). Then the second expression, “unless in vain,” is a warning to them that their professed allegiance to Christ was useless, if they did not hold fast to the doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If the Corinthian Christians did not continue to hold fast, one day they might let go of the gospel. And if one lets go of the gospel, all their previous belief won’t do them any good. It was as if they had “believed in vain.”

3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received,
Paul is not speaking of his personal salvation experience, but of the fact that the gospel which he preached was from God by direct revelation. Two verses that bear this out:
• 1 Cor. 11:23; (KJV) “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread.”
• Gal. 1.12; (KJV) “For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
• 1 Cor 11:2 (KJV) “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.”


Paul did not receive his apostleship by going to school. Neither did he receive it by being ordained or by hands being laid on his head. Paul’s apostleship and gospel came directly by a revelation of Jesus Christ. The Book of Revelation, sometimes called the Apocalypse, is from the same word. The gospel is a revelation as much as is the Book of Revelation. The gospel was unveiled to the apostle Paul. He did not become an apostle through Peter, James, or John. He was an apostle by the direct call of Jesus Christ. It is the duty of an apostle to present nothing but what he has received from the Lord, so the pure word of God goes from the hand of God to the hand of Paul to the Church.

Paul did not make up this gospel. He “received” it (and not from man, but from Jesus Christ, according to Galatians 1:12 and 1 Co.11.23), and he “delivered it.” This is not “Paul’s gospel” in the sense that he created it or fashioned it; it is “Paul’s gospel” in the sense that he personally believes it and spreads it. Notice that the preacher does not make the gospel. If he makes it, it is not worth your having. Originality in preaching, if it is originality in the statement of doctrine, is falsehood. We are not makers and inventors; we are repeaters, we tell the message we have received.

As Paul describes the gospel in the following verses, it is important to notice that this gospel is not insightful teaching or good advice. At the core of the gospel are things that happened, actual, real, historical events. The gospel isn’t a matter of religious opinions, platitudes, or fairy tales, but about real historical events. “Our religion is not based upon opinions, but upon facts. We hear persons sometimes saying, ‘Those are your views, and these are ours.’ Whatever your ‘views’ may be, is a small matter; what are the facts of the case?” (Spurgeon)

how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
“That Christ died” is a statement of historical fact, and there are many passages of Scripture in which Christ’s death and resurrection are predicted, but nowhere more plainly than in Isaiah 53, in Daniel 9:26, and in Psalm 22. The death of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, is the heart of the gospel. Although the idea of glorying in the death of a Savior was foolishness to the world, it is salvation to those who will believe.

How did Jesus die? The Roman government executed Him, by one of the cruelest and excruciating forms of capital punishment ever devised, crucifixion. Although the Romans did not invent crucifixion, they perfected it as a form of torture and capital punishment that was designed to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering. What exactly was it like to be crucified? In days when the New Testament was written, the practice needed no explanation. But we may need more information to appreciate just what happened when someone was crucified. There are six things that when taken together paint a bloody picture of crucifixion:
1. The victim’s back would first be torn open by scourging, and then the clotting blood would be ripped open again when the clothes were torn off the victim. When he was thrown on the ground to nail his hands to the crossbeam, the wounds would again be torn open and contaminated with dirt. Then, as he hung on the cross, with each breath, the painful wounds on the back would scrape against the rough wood of the upright beam and be further aggravated.
2. When the nail was driven through the wrists, it would sever the large median nerve. This stimulated nerve would produce excruciating bolts of fiery pain in both arms, and could result in a claw-like grip in the victim’s hands.
3. Beyond the excruciating pain, the major effect of crucifixion was to inhibit normal breathing. The weight of the body, pulling down on the arms and shoulders, would tend to fix the respiratory muscles in an inhalation state, and hinder exhalation. The lack of adequate respiration would result in severe muscle cramps, which would hinder breathing even further. To get a good breath, one would have to push against the feet, and flex the elbows, pulling from the shoulders. Putting the weight of the body on the feet would produce searing pain, and flexing of the elbows would twist the hands hanging on the nails. Lifting the body for a breath would also painfully scrape the back against the rough wooden post. Each effort to get a proper breath would be agonizing, exhausting, and lead to a sooner death.
4. “Not uncommonly, insects would light upon or burrow into the open wounds or the eyes, ears, and nose of the dying and helpless victim, and birds of prey would tear at these sites. Moreover, it was customary to leave the corpse on the cross to be devoured by predatory animals.” (Edwards)
5. Death from crucifixion could come from many sources: acute shock from blood loss; being too exhausted to breathe any longer; dehydration; stress-induced heart attack, or congestive heart failure leading to a cardiac rupture. If the victim did not die quickly enough, the legs would be broken, and the victim would soon be unable to breathe.
6. How bad was crucifixion? We get our English word excruciating from the Roman word “out of the cross.” “Consider how heinous sin must be in the sight of God, when it requires such a sacrifice!” (Clarke)
However, we never speak of the physical sufferings of Jesus to make us feel sorry for Jesus, as if He needed our pity. Save your pity for those who reject the complete work of Jesus on the cross at Calvary; for those preachers who do not have the heart of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:23, when he proclaimed the center of the Christian message: we preach Christ crucified—“But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”

He died. That is a historical fact. Very few would deny that. He was buried—that needs to be added. Why is that so important? It proves that He didn’t just disappear. It means that they actually, literally had His body. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea and the others who saw Him crucified knew who He was. They knew it was Jesus. They buried Jesus. That is very important. It confirms His death.

“That Christ died for our sins,” that is, by taking our curse upon him he redeemed us from them (atoned for them). For what else was Christ’s death, but a sacrifice to make amends for our sins—what a unique and satisfactory penalty, by which we might be reconciled to God—the condemnation of One, for the purpose of obtaining forgiveness for us? He speaks of Christ also conferring righteousness upon us in Romans 4:25, but in that passage, he ascribes it to the effect of the resurrection—“Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification”—as sin was done away with through the death of Christ, so righteousness is procured for us through His resurrection. This distinction must be carefully noted, so that we may know what we gain from the death of Christ, and what we gain from his resurrection.

 
What does it mean that Jesus died for our sins? How does His death do anything for our sins? Many good men and women have died horrible deaths for righteous causes through the centuries. How does the death of Jesus do anything “for our sins?” At some point before He died, before the veil was torn in two, before He cried out it is finished, an awesome spiritual transaction took place—the Father laid upon Jesus all the guilt and wrath our sin deserved, and He bore it in Himself perfectly, totally satisfying the wrath of God for us. As horrible as the physical suffering of Jesus was, this spiritual suffering - the act of being judged for sin in our place - was what Jesus really dreaded about the cross; this was the cup - the cup of God’s righteous wrath - that He trembled at drinking (See Luke 22:39-46; Psalms 75:8; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15). On the cross, Jesus became an enemy of God, who was judged and forced to drink the cup of the Father’s fury, so we would not have to drink that cup. Isaiah 53:3-5 puts it powerfully: He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.

Our sins were responsible for the death of Jesus. He did not die for a political cause, or as an enemy of the state, or for someone’s envy. Jesus died for our sins. Jesus did not die as a mere martyr for a cause.

“According to the scriptures” means it was not by accident, but in fulfillment of God's plan. This is the thought expressed by Luke 24.44-46—“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day.” Also see Isaiah 53.

The gospel does not tell us something that we must do. The gospel tells us what Jesus Christ has already done for us. He died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, He rose again the third day.

4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

And that he was buried,
We don’t often think of the burial of Jesus as part of the gospel, but it is. The burial of Jesus is important for many reasons. It is proof positive that He really died, because you don’t bury someone unless they are really dead, and Jesus’ death was confirmed at the cross before He was taken down to be buried (See John 19:31-37). Jesus’ burial is also important because it fulfilled the Scriptures which declared, “And they made His grave with the wicked; but with the rich at His death” (Isaiah 53:9). Jesus was buried in the tomb of a rich man—“When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple: He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed” (Matt 27:57-60; KJV).

and that he rose again the third day
This truth is essential to the gospel. Why, if Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins and remove our guilt, is the resurrection of Jesus so important?

Although Jesus bore the full wrath of God on the cross, as if He were a guilty sinner, guilty of all our sin, even being made sin for us—“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21; KJV)—He Himself did not become a sinner. Even the act of taking our sin was a holy act that showed His love for us—so Jesus Himself did not become a sinner, even though He bore the full guilt of our sin. This is the gospel message! That Jesus took our punishment for sin on the cross, and remained a perfect Savior through the whole ordeal—proved by His resurrection. This is the reason He remained the Holy One—“Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption…  He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:27, 31, 32; (KJV)—even in His death. Since it was incomprehensible that God’s Holy One could be bound by death, the resurrection was absolutely inevitable. Therefore, the resurrection of Jesus is not some “add on” to a “more important” work on the cross. If the cross is the payment for our sins, the empty tomb is the receipt, showing that the perfect Son of God made perfect payment for our sins. The payment itself is of little good without the receipt! This is why the resurrection of Jesus was such a prominent theme in the evangelistic preaching of the early church—“Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it” (Acts 2:24; KJV).


The cross was a time of victorious death, a negative triumph. Sin was defeated, but nothing positive was put in its place until the resurrection. The resurrection showed that Jesus did not succumb to the inevitable result of sin. The resurrection is proof of His conquest.

The fact that Jesus “rose again the third day” is part of the gospel. Jesus was a unique case. He did not or will not rise at some “general” resurrection of the dead. Instead He rose “the third day” after His death. This also demonstrates Jesus’ credibility, because He proclaimed He would rise three days after His death—“From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Matt 16:21; KJV).

Some Corinthians did not believe in the resurrection of the dead—they believed in Christ’s resurrection, but apparently Paul thought they might soon reject that too—not even in their own future resurrection. This is what led him to right this chapter, which has cheered the hearts of so many mourners, since much of it is read as part of funeral services.

An outline of Chapter 15 reveals that the theme is the resurrection:
1. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 repeats the historical evidence for Christ's Resurrection, a truth taught by all Christian teachers to all their converts.
2. 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 explains that the denial of the resurrection of the dead leads logically to the denial of Christ's Resurrection, thus overthrowing the whole Christian faith.
3. 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 speaks of the consequences of Christ's Resurrection.
4. 1 Corinthians 15:29-34 speaks of the influence of the hope of resurrection upon Christian life and practice.
5. 1 Corinthians 15:35-44 throws light on the nature of the resurrection-body, by using the analogy of seed and plant, and reminding his readers of the differences now existing between various bodies.
6. 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 teaches that the resurrection-body will spring from the earthly one, but will be far more glorious; a spiritual body, not like Adam's earthly body, but like Christ's glorified one
7. 1 Corinthians 15:50-52 teaches that the bodies of the living will experience a similar change.
8. 1 Corinthians 15:53-58 teaches that the resurrection change is the final victory over sin and death .

The doctrine of resurrection and future life was not clearly revealed in Old Testament times. Death was commonly regarded not as the end of all things, but that it was followed by a shadowy existence, not worth calling a life, since it was cut off from all its joys and even from God Himself—“For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” (Psalms 6:5; KJV) (Also see Psalms 88:5, Psalms 88:12; Isaiah 38:18). But God gradually led His people to clearer understanding. Their consciousness of communion with God became so strong that they felt death could not end it (See Psalms 73:24-26). They had to believe in a future life in order to vindicate God's justice. Isaiah (See Isaiah 26:19) speaks of a national resurrection (See Ezekiel 37); Daniel (See Daniel 12:2) of an individual one. The hope gradually grew stronger and in our Lord's day the Pharisees held to it firmly, though the Sadducees denied it. But our Lord's Resurrection changed what was previously only partially revealed into a sure and certain hope—“But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10; KJV).

Paul reminded his converts of his original teaching at Corinth—how the Resurrection was one of the essentials of his gospel message. And at Athens—“Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18; KJV)—he preached “Jesus and the Resurrection,” and that their position as Christians rests upon their adherence to this truth. His great message to them was Christ's atoning death, His burial, and His return from the grave. He mentions five separate appearances of Christ after His Resurrection, and finally mentions the Lord's appearance to him. He reminds them that, although unworthy to be called an Apostle on account of His former persecution of the Church, God's grace has made him a true Apostle. And he concludes by pointing out that in the matter of proclaiming the Resurrection of Christ he and the other Apostles are in perfect agreement.

according to the scriptures:
The idea that the resurrection happened “according to the scriptures” is so important, Paul repeats it twice in these two verses (3 and 4). Jesus’ work for us didn’t just come out of thin air; it was planned from all eternity and described prophetically in the Scriptures. The plan for His death is described in places like Psalms 22 and Isaiah 53. The plan for His resurrection is described in places like Hosea 6:2, Jonah 1:17, and Psalms 16:10, as well as the scenario in Genesis 22, where Isaac, as a type of Christ, is “raised” on the third day of their journey, at the beginning of which Abraham had considered his son dead. It is true, the Old Testament understanding of resurrection was unclear; many passages describe a bleak existence after death—“What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth?” (Psalms 30:9; KJV). (Also see Psalms 6:5; Psalms 39:13; Psalms 88:10-12; Psalms 115:17; Isaiah 38:18, Ecclesiastes 9:4-5; Ecclesiastes 9:10)—yet there are other passages of hope and confidence after this life—“For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27; NKJV) (Also see Psalms 16:9-11; Psalms73:24). Let us always remember though, that it was Jesus, not the Old Testament, which brought life and immortality to light through the gospel –“but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10; NKJV).

He rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures. The Resurrection is a part of the gospel. The tomb was empty. That is the proof. The gospel is that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. This is the first proof. There is another proof of the Resurrection, and that is the experience of the Corinthians. Let’s listen to it again. “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain” (vv. 1–2). “Unless ye have believed in vain”—that is, unless it was an empty faith. There is a faith that is an empty faith, of course. But he says, “By which also ye are saved.” The church is the proof of the Resurrection.

There were eleven discouraged men in Jerusalem or its vicinity. They were ready to go back to fishing. They had just gone through enough trouble. If Jesus was dead, they didn’t want the body out of the grave. They wanted it to stay there. They wouldn’t go break a Roman seal and face a Roman guard to steal a body which could only bring them more trouble. Then what happened? Word came to them that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead! That fact transformed these men. That revolutionary fact brought the church into existence. Through twenty centuries there have been millions of people who have said that Jesus Christ is alive. You simply cannot explain the church apart from the Resurrection. I am saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Without His resurrection I would have no gospel, no living Christ, no Savior. The existence of the body of believers is the second great proof of the Resurrection.

There is another proof. Notice that it says He died for our sins “according to the scriptures” and that He was buried and rose again the third day “according to the scriptures.” What Scriptures? The Old Testament Scriptures. I would love to have been with Paul the apostle when he arrived in Europe and went to Philippi, Thessalonica, then down to Athens, and over to Corinth. I think he had with him a parchment which was the Old Testament. I imagine that when he went into a synagogue and mentioned the death of the Lord Jesus, the Jews said, “But this is not in our Scriptures.” Then he would turn to the Book of Genesis and say, “I’d like to remind you about the offering of Isaac and how Abraham received him back from the ‘dead’—he was ready to kill the boy. Now God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up freely for us all.” Then he would turn to the Mosaic system of sacrifice, to the five offerings in Leviticus, and show them how they pictured Christ, then to the great Day of Atonement and the two goats which pictured Christ’s death and resurrection. Also he would cite Aaron’s rod that budded and the Book of Jonah, which typifies resurrection. Then he would turn to Psalm 22 and Psalm 16. He would show them Isaiah 25 and in Isaiah 53 he would point out that He was wounded for our transgressions and He was bruised for our iniquities. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of all of us. So he could show them from the Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus Christ was to die and to rise again. The expectation of the Old Testament was not for this life only but also for the life that is to come.

5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:

And that he was seen of Cephas,
Now he presents those whom Luke calls eye witnesses—“Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:2; KJV)—who saw firsthand the carrying out of what the Scriptures had predicted would take place. He does not, however, cite all of them, since he does not mention Mary Magdalene and the two disciples on the way to Emmaus (See Luke 24). He mentions Peter first, perhaps because Jesus made a special resurrection appearance to Peter (See Luke 24:34). We are not told much about this visit, but we can assume Peter had some special need for comfort and restoration that Jesus ministered to. I do not believe, therefore, by him mentioning Peter first that he is being inconsistent with the statement of Mark that he appeared first to Mary—“Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons” (Mark 16:9; NKJV).

Cephas was a name given Simon Peter by Christ—“And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, "You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas" (which is translated, A Stone)” (John 1:42; NKJV). Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus after His resurrection, but Peter was the first man He appeared to—“Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon” (Luke 24:34; KJV). It could be that He mentions only those personally known to him, and whose authority would have weight at Corinth.

No one saw the actual resurrection of Jesus. No one was present in the tomb with Him when His body transformed into a resurrection body. If someone were there, perhaps in a brilliant flash of light, they would have seen the dead body of Jesus transformed, and virtually vaporize out of the grave clothes. Perhaps it would be something along the lines of the way a body was transported on the old Star Trek series; the molecules would alter, and the person could pass through a solid object, and re-assemble themselves into a solid person. We know that Jesus could do this after His resurrection; He could miraculously appear in a room that had all the doors locked and the windows shut. Yet He was no phantom; He had a real flesh and bone body. Although no one saw
the actual resurrection of Jesus, many people saw Jesus after the resurrection, and Paul now, in this verse and the three that follow identifies these witnesses to the resurrection, to establish beyond all doubt that Jesus was raised from the dead in a resurrection body.

then of the twelve:
How is it possible, that he appeared to “the twelve,” when, after the death of Judas, there were only eleven remaining? Judas was no longer with them, because after he betrayed Jesus to those who would eventually crucify Him, he took his own life. Chrysostom is of the opinion that this took place after Matthias had been chosen to take Judas’ place. Others have chosen to correct the expression, because they believe it is a mistake. The first time He appeared to His disciples there were only ten present, since Thomas was absent; however, because their original number, when they were first chosen and called, was twelve, they still went by the same name, and were commonly called by that name; The Twelve—“Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came” (John 20:24; NKJV). This is the appearance mentioned only five verses earlier—“Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you” (John 20:19; KJV). There is nothing illogical about supposing that the name was retained. By the twelve, therefore, you are simply to understand the chosen Apostles.

6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.

After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once;
This could not have happened at Jerusalem at, or near Jerusalem, because there were only one hundred and twenty disciples gathered there—“And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)” (Acts 1:15; KJV). The incident Paul is speaking about probably occurred in Galilee, where Christ, in the days He was flesh and blood, had spoken more, preached more, and performed more miracles, and where He had the greatest number of his disciples and followers. There is where He promised His disciples to go before them, and show himself to them after his resurrection, which is precisely what He did—“But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee” (Matt 26:32; KJV). And the apostles told this to the brethren who lived there, so it is no wonder there was such a large number of them gathered on that occasion.

“Above five hundred brethren at once” makes it clear that He did not make several different appearances, but was seen when they were all together and at one instant. The number of believers were greater than the assembly mentioned in Acts 1:15—“And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,).” Those 120 may seem to have been group leaders, any one of them might have been qualified to succeed Judas in his apostleship.

of whom the greater part remain unto this present,
“Of whom the greater part remain unto this present” is compelling testimony of the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. Paul is saying, “Go ask these people who saw the resurrected Jesus. They are not a handful of self-deceived souls; there are literally hundreds who saw the resurrected Jesus with their own eyes. They know Jesus rose from the dead.” There really were five hundred followers of Jesus before His Ascension, though Acts 1:15 states there were only 120 who were in the Jerusalem area. Jesus met with these 500 followers in the region of Galilee. They knew Jesus rose from the dead. By the time Paul wrote this letter about 25 years had passed since the incident took place, but the apostle added “the greater part remain unto this present,” meaning, of course, that they were still living. You could look them up, and ask them to tell you what they saw with their own eyes.

We sometimes sing: “You ask me how I know He lives; He lives, He lives inside my heart.” But that is not the best way to prove Jesus lives. He lives because the historical evidence demands we believe in the resurrection of Jesus. If we can believe anything in history, we can believe the reliable, confirmed testimony of these eyewitnesses. Jesus rose from the dead.

Through the years, there have been many propose objections to the resurrection of Jesus. Some say He didn’t die at all, but just “swooned” on the cross and revived in the tomb. Others say He really died, but His body was stolen. Still others suggest He really died, but His desperate followers hallucinated His resurrection. A plain, simple understanding of these evidences of the resurrection of Jesus destroys all of these theories, and shows they take far more faith to believe than the Biblical account. Spurgeon made this very satisfactory statement: “I suppose, brethren, that we may have persons arise, who will doubt whether there was ever such a man as Julius Caesar, or Napoleon Bonaparte; and when they do, - when all reliable history is flung to the winds, - then, but not till then, may they begin to question whether Jesus Christ rose from the dead, for this historical fact is attested by more witnesses than almost any other fact that stands on record in history, whether sacred or profane.”

but some are fallen asleep.
They were dead. Twenty-five years at least had elapsed. “Sleep” is used to express death in the Old Testament—“So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David” (1 Kings 2:10; KJV)—but Christ used it when referring to those He was about to restore to life—“He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn” (Matt 9:24; KJV)—and by His own Resurrection, which is the assurance of ours, He has given new meaning to it; it is no longer merely cessation of the work of life, but a sleep from which we will awake to new life.

Some of those who witnessed the resurrected Christ had “fallen asleep;” were dead, which is only reasonable since there were so many, and such a long time had elapsed. However, they were survived by friends, relatives, and acquaintances, to whom they had told about this important event, and who were ready to share what they were told.

7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.

After that, he was seen of James;
This “James” is not James the son of Zebedee, and brother of John, although He was seen by him along with the other disciples—“Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you” (John 20:19; KJV). He was dead when the apostle wrote this letter; he was killed by Herod many years earlier, according to Acts 12:2—“And he killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:2; KJV). The James the apostle mentions here is James the son of Alphaeus, and brother of our Lord, a famous man and highly regarded by the Jews, a prominent leader in the early Jerusalem church, and still living, and therefore he was a reliable and significant witness. This appearance was made to him when he was alone; and although it is not mentioned anywhere else in the Scriptures, there is no room to doubt it, since the apostle confirms it here. He is called the brother of Jesus—“But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother” (Gal 1:19; KJV)—but the word translated “brother” can also mean “cousin,” and since He is called the son of Alphaeus, it is proper to consider him to be a cousin of our Lord.

It should be noted that in the gospels, Jesus’ brothers are hostile to Him and His mission—“His brothers therefore said to Him, "Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world." For even His brothers did not believe in Him” (John 7:3-5; NKJV). Mary and Joseph had other children after Jesus was born. They may have been jealous of Him and wanted Him to leave the area; but in the first chapter of Acts, Jesus’ brothers are among the followers of Jesus—“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14; NKJV). What happened to change them? Certainly, this meeting of the resurrected Jesus with His brother “James” had some influence.

then of all the apostles.
He was seen by “all the apostles;” at the Mount of Olives, when he led them out of Jerusalem, as far as Bethany, blessed them, and was parted from them, and ascended to heaven out of their sight, according to Luke 24:50. This was the last appearance by Jesus on earth after his resurrection.  By “all the Apostles” is meant not merely the twelve, but also those disciples to whom Christ had appointed to the office of preaching the gospel. Our Lord wanted many witnesses of his resurrection, and for them to frequently testify about what they saw, in order to strengthen the faith of the brethren and to incite saving faith where it was not previously present—“Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us” (Luke 1:1; NKJV). The Apostle proves the resurrection of Christ from the fact that he appeared to many, and he indicates from this, that it was not figurative but true and natural, because the eyes of the body cannot be witnesses of a spiritual resurrection.

The present passage is the oldest account of the appearances of the risen Lord, written years before any of our Gospels, and only about twenty-five years after the events, while hundreds of witnesses were still living. It is, therefore, a valuable piece of evidence of the certainty of our Lord's Resurrection.

The Gospels only contain the record of a few of the meetings of our Lord with His Apostles, such as in John 20:26-31; John 21:1-25, Matthew 28:16-20, and Luke 24:44-49. There may have been many more meetings, which are not described in the gospels. These meetings were important in proving to the disciples that Jesus was who He said He was. At these meetings He ate with them, comforted them, commanded them to preach the gospel, and told them to wait in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit after His Ascension.

8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

And last of all he was seen of me also,
When was it that Paul saw Christ? It was either when the apostle was caught up into the third heaven; or when he was in a trance in the temple at Jerusalem; or at the time of his conversion, when he not only heard the voice of Christ, but saw him in His human form; because he specifically says that he appeared unto him in a heavenly vision and said—“But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee” (Acts 26:16; KJV). “Those things in the which I will appear unto thee” are the visions Paul would be blessed to see afterwards; such as Acts 18:9, 10; Acts 22:17-21; Acts 23:11; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; Galatians 1:12. This was a vision of Christ in heaven, not on earth, like the one Stephen had, and was a bodily Jesus; otherwise it would have been impertinent to have mentioned it along with the rest of the visual testimonies of Christ's resurrection.  This was not the last time that Christ was seen, nor is it the last time He is to be seen, because he was seen several other times by Paul, as mentioned above; by the Apostle John in a vision mentioned in the Revelation; and He will be seen by all the saints on the last day. But Paul was the last of the apostles to have a vision of Christ; and perhaps He arraigned it that way in order for it to be fresh in his mind, and clearer, fuller, and more distinct than any of the rest, since the last things are sometimes the best.

as of one born out of due time.
Paul may be saying that he did not have a three year “gestation” period as the other apostles; he came on the scene suddenly. Others think Paul uses the term ektroma (which means, “abortion, stillbirth, miscarriage”; it means an untimely birth with “freakish” associations) because the Corinthians were constantly devaluing his standing as an apostle. They thought of him as a paulus (“little”) apostle, but Paul will glory in his weakness; he calls himself “one born out of due  time,” or "an abortive;" he was not really one, but like one. Several interpreters think the apostle refers to a common way of speaking among the people at Rome, who used to call those superfluous senators during the time of Augustus Caesar, who got into the senate house by favoritism or bribery, "abortive." They were generally very unworthy people; and therefore Paul calls himself by this name, as if, in his own opinion he was a superfluous apostle, and very unworthy of that office. There are some that think that he refers to a “post-mortem" birth, or rather, to one that is born after the death of his father; because the rest of the apostles were all chosen, and called, given gradual training, and sent forth while Christ was living on earth, but Paul did not see Christ until after His death, resurrection from the dead, and ascension to heaven. But it seems that he thought of himself as an abortion, a miscarriage, or birth before its time; as inferior as an immature birth is to a mature one. Now, when Paul said this he was probably referring to one of the following—
1. The manner of his conversion, which was done by a sudden light from heaven, when he did not expect it; and it was both powerful and irresistible, seeing that it was brought about by mighty and effective grace.
2. The state and condition in which he was when Christ was first seen by him; as soon as he saw the light about him, and the Lord, he was struck blind, and stayed that way for several days afterwards. And as for his spiritual state, his soul was like an unformed fetus, since Christ had not yet formed in him.

The cumulative testimony of these witnesses (vs. 5-8) is overwhelming. Not only did they see Jesus after His death, but they saw Him in a manner which revolutionized their faith and trust in Him. The changed character of the apostles, and their willingness to die for the testimony of the resurrection, eliminate fraud as an explanation of the empty tomb.

9 For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

For I am the least of the apostles,
In the previous verse, he said he was “one born out of due time,” and now he says he is “the least of the apostles,” but why would this apostle of Christ, who founded and helped grow so many New Testament churches, and who personally wrote most of the New Testament, say such a thing? Today, many think he is perhaps the greatest Christian personality of all time, so how could he be less influential than the original apostles?

If he is “the least of the apostles” it is not on account of any defect in his ministry or any lack of qualifications for the office of Gospel preacher, but on account of the great crime of his life, the fact that he had been a persecutor of Christians and Christ’s Church. Paul could never get over that; he had been blasphemous toward Christ and ridiculed His church, and when he becomes converted, he continues to feel deep guilt because of his former life. The effect will be to produce humility and a deep sense of unworthiness for the grand mission given him by our Lord.

In some respects he was “the least of the apostles,” when you consider that he was chosen last, and was not one of the twelve, but was an extra apostle. Some men expend a great deal of effort to make the apostle contradict himself, by attempting to show that he was the very greatest of the apostles, though he calls himself the least! Taken as a man and a minister of Christ, he was greater than any of the twelve; taken as an apostle he was less than any of the twelve, because he was not originally in that body. He was “the least of the apostles,” in his own eyes, and he even said he was "less than the least of all saints"—“To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8; NKJV). Once again, he expresses the deep sense which he had of the sinfulness of his past life; of his guilt in persecuting the church and the Savior. Paul never could forget the guilt of his former life; never forget the time when he was engaged in persecuting the church of God—“As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3; NKJV).

In Paul there was a real and deep humility. He knew the special gifts which he had received from God. He was well aware that to him had been entrusted the ten talents rather than the one talent. He could show far greater results than any of the other apostle. He knew his own importance as "a chosen vessel," a special instrument in God's hands to work out exceptional results. But in himself he always felt, and did not back away from confessing, that he was "nothing"—“I have become a fool in boasting; you have compelled me. For I ought to have been commended by you; for in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing” (2 Cor 12:11; NKJV).

that am not meet to be called an apostle,
The apostle is not feigning humility, but truly believed he was unfit to be regarded as a follower of the Lord Jesus, and to be selected to preach His Gospel among the Gentiles. He had a deep sense of his unworthiness; and the memory of his former life tended to keep him humble. Everyone should have a similar mind-set, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23; NKJV). How can anyone say they are worthy of salvation, when everyone has a personal righteous that God has equated to “filthy rags?” A humble spirit, in a person who has accomplished much in his life, is a great embellishment, since it sets off his good qualities better than anything else.

For some, this would just be spiritual sounding talk, which showed more pride than humility. But Paul meant it. He regarded himself as the least of the apostles because he persecuted the church of God. Paul always remembered how he had sinned against Jesus’ church. He knew that he was forgiven; but he remembered his sin. Paul felt his sins were worse because he was responsible for the death, imprisonment, and suffering of Christians, whom he persecuted before his life was changed by Jesus—“Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2; NKJV). It is amazing how easily God can bring good out of the evilest men! When sinners are turned into saints by divine grace, He makes the remembrance of their former sins very helpful, by making them humble, and hard-working, and faithful. It has been said, “True humility, as true balm, ever sinks to the bottom of the water, when pride, like oil, ever swims on the top.”

because I persecuted the church of God.
Paul could never forgive himself for this one sin—“For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it” (Gal 1:13; KJV)—although he knew God had forgiven him—“Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Tim 1:13; KJV). The ignorance and unbelief of Paul were not excuses for what he did, and therefore, they would not free him from blame, because he persecuted Christians with a violent and wicked spirit; but they were mitigating circumstances. They served to modify his guilt, and were among the reasons why God had mercy on him. What Paul said here agrees with what the Savior said in his prayer for his murderers: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." It is undoubtedly true that persons who sin ignorantly, and who regard themselves as right in what they do, are much more likely to obtain mercy than those who know it is wrong, but do it anyway.

 Note, the persecutions committed by Paul were probably more deadly than is usually supposed, involving not only torture, but actual bloodshed, which included the martyrdom of St. Stephen. We can imagine how such deeds and such scenes would, even after forgiveness, lie like sparks of fire in a sensitive conscience.

"Saints, did I say? with your remembered faces;
Dear men and women whom I sought and slew?
Oh, when I meet you in the heavenly places,
How will I weep to Stephen and to you!"

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

But by the grace of God I am what I am:
“By the grace of God” means by the “favor” or mercy of God. The spirit of this statement by the apostle may be expressed as follows: “All that I have can be traced to Christ, and not to any inborn tendency to do good, or any innate desire to serve Him, or to any righteousness of my own. All my hopes for heaven; all my passion; all my success; all my godliness; all my apostolic gifts, are to be traced to Him.” Nothing is more common in the writings of Paul, than a disposition to trace all that he had to the sheer mercy and grace of God. And nothing is a more certain indication of true piety than such a disposition. The reason why Paul introduces the subject here seems to be this. “He had made a comparison between himself and the other apostles in the preceding verses, and He pointed out that he had not had the advantages which they had. Most of all, he was overwhelmed with the recollection that he had been a persecutor of Christ and His church. He felt, therefore, that he had a special obligation to make up by hard work for the lack of the one great advantage they had over him; a personal relationship with Christ while He still lived. And he also felt the need to express his gratitude; that such a great sinner as he had been, had been made an apostle.” He could say, “God, by His mere grace and good will, has called me to be an apostle, and equipped me for His service.” But in spite of the deep humility expressed in this verse and verse 9, Paul did not depreciate the glory and dignity of his calling.

Paul ascribed all that was valuable in him to divine grace: “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” It is God's prerogative to say, “I am that I am;” it is our privilege to be able to say, “By God's grace we are what we are.” We are nothing but what God makes of us, nothing in religion but what his grace makes us. All that is good in us is a stream from this fountain. Paul believed this, and it kept him humble and thankful; it will do the same for us. Although he was aware of his own conscientiousness, and zeal, and service, and could say the grace of God was not given to him in vain, he labored more abundantly than all of them, and he thought of himself as being in debt to divine grace. That is a good pattern for anyone who has the grace of God bestowed on them; to labor to show that it is not bestowed in vain. They should treasure, and implement, and make use of, this heavenly principle. Paul did, and that is why he worked so hard and with such compassion, and had so much success. And the effect was the more work he did, and the more good he did, the more humble he was in his opinion of himself, and the more willing to acknowledge and magnify the favor of God towards him; His free and unmerited favor. Paul gave “the grace of God” all the credit for the change in His life. He was a changed man, forgiven, cleansed, and full of love, when once he was full of hate. He knew this was not his own accomplishment, but it was the work of the grace of God in him.

The grace that saves us also changes us. Grace changed Paul. You can’t receive the grace of God without being changed by it. The changes don’t come all at once, and the changes are not complete until we pass to the next life, but we are indeed changed. “By the grace of God” we not only are what we are, but we also remain what we are. We would have ruined ourselves, and damned ourselves, long ago, if Christ had not kept us by his almighty grace.

and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain;

Paul could rightfully say, “I have not been unfaithful to the Divine call; I used the grace which he gave me; and when my labors, travels, and sufferings are considered, it will be evident that I have labored more and worked harder than all the twelve together”.  This was factually true, because although grace made Paul what he was, He still labored with grace, so that it wouldn’t be given “in vain.” Conceivably, if Paul would not have worked as hard as he did, the grace of God would still have been given to him, but in some measure it would have been given in vain. Grace, by definition, is given freely. But how we receive grace will help to determine how effective the gift of grace is. Grace isn’t given because of any works, past, present or promised; yet it is given to encourage work, not to say work is not necessary. God doesn’t want us to receive His grace and then become passive. Paul knew that God gives His grace.

We work hard, and the work of God is done. We work in a partnership with God, not because He needs us, but because He wants us to share in His work. Paul understood this principle well, since he wrote, “For we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Corinthians 3:9). Many Christians struggle with this very point. Is God supposed to do it or am I supposed to do it? The answer is, “Yes!” God does it and we do it. Trust God, rely on Him, and then get to work and work as hard as you can! That is how we see the work of God accomplished. But if I neglect my end of the partnership, God’s grace doesn’t accomplish all that it might, and therefore it is given “in vain.” Later, in 2 Corinthians 6:1, Paul pleads that we might not receive the grace of God in vain: We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.

but I laboured more abundantly than they all:
“I was more diligent in preaching; I encountered more perils; I have exerted myself more.” The records of his life, compared with the records of the other apostles, show this is true. Paul did not hesitate to compare himself to the other apostles. He was not shy about saying he worked harder than any of the other apostles. This is not to say the other apostles were lazy (although some of them may have been), but Paul was an exceptionally hard worker, and he said as much. “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft” (2 Cor 11:23; KJV). “Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:19; KJV). Paul's labors were more fruitful than the labors of the others, and he was rewarded for his efforts, but he never failed to give all the credit to the grace of God—“By the grace of God I am what I am.” And therefore he was "in nothing behind the very chiefest apostles." However humbly he thought of himself, it would have been unfaithful of him to belittle his own work—“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor 3:5-6; KJV). Paul told why he was able to work so hard, when he wrote this to the Galatians—“(For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)” (Gal 2:8; KJV)—it was because God wrought effectually in him. If you are working hard for the lord, and you are successful, you must admit, it is not you; "It is God that worketh in you" (See Philippians 2:13; Matthew 10:20; Colossians 1:29).

yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
Paul was honest enough to know and say that he worked hard. He was also humble enough to know that even his hard work was the work of God’s grace in him. If you were to ask Paul, “Paul, do you work hard as an apostle?” He wouldn’t respond with that false spiritual humility which says, “Oh no, I don’t do anything. It’s all the work of God’s grace.” Paul would say, “You bet I work hard. In fact, I work harder than any other apostle.” But then he would not dwell on it, but simply have the inward knowledge that it was all the work of God’s grace in him. What appears to be boasting is really not; that is, he is not boasting of his accomplishments, but of what God in him has enabled him to do. If he was ever tempted to brag on himself all he had to do was to remember his former state; that I was a persecutor of Christ and His people, and that all his hard work and all his ability, and all his success can be traced to the favor and mercy of God. Those were humbling thoughts, but that is the way everyone who has been blessed in their ministry should feel. If a man has been successful as a preacher; if he has been self-denying, hard-working and the instrument of God for doing good, he must admit that all the credit goes to God; and the effect will be to produce humility and gratitude, not pride and self-complacency.

11 Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.

Therefore whether it were I or they,
All the apostles of Christ believe in the same doctrines; they all preach the same thing; and, as they preached, others believed, because they heard, “and faith comes by hearing.” And what was it they heard and what did they believe: It was that Jesus died for our sins, and rose again for our justification; and that his resurrection is the pledge and proof of ours. Whoever teaches contrary to this does not preach the true apostolic doctrine.

Paul was the last of the primitive apostles. The primitive apostles were those who had seen Christ, and got their call to become an apostle from Christ personally. There were many apostles after this, but they were all secondary; they had a Divine call, but it was internal, and never accompanied by a vision or given by Christ when He was in the flesh.

It is comparatively immaterial who does it. The establishment of the truth is what matters; and the question by whom it is done is one of secondary importance. It is the message and that it results in salvation that matters, no matter who preached it. Whether Peter, or Paul, or any other apostle, had converted them to Christianity, all preached the same truth, told the same story, preached the same doctrine, and confirmed it by the same evidence. They preached the resurrection of Jesus, and the early Christians believed the resurrection of Jesus.

so we preach, and so ye believed.
There are in the New Testament two words for "preaching." One is often translated "prophesy," and refers to spiritual instruction and exhortation. The other, which is used here, is "we proclaim," or "herald" (kerusso), and refers to the statement of the facts of the gospel—Christ crucified and risen (See 1 Corinthians 2:2; Acts 4:2; Acts 8:5). Besides these, there is the one word for "to preach the gospel," or "evangelize."

“So we preach,” or rather “So we all preach.” We all preach the same great doctrines; we all insist on the fact that the Lord Jesus died and rose; and all of you have believed this doctrine. This doctrine is endorsed by all who preach; and it is the basis of the faith of all who believe. The purpose of Paul is to establish as fact that the doctrines which he refers to here were great, undeniable, and fundamental doctrines of Christianity; that they were proclaimed by “all” the ministers of the gospel, and believed by all Christians. They were, therefore, immensely important to all; and they remain so today. It is a happy occasion, when the hearers’ affection and actions answer the affections and actions of the preacher, as it did at Ephesus—“Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' " And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul's neck and kissed him” (Acts 20:31-37; NKJV)

 

 

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