PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

1 Corinthians 15:8-11; Resurrecting Grace

04/12 1 Corinthians 15:8-11 Resurrecting Grace; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20150412_1cor15_8-11.mp3

1 Corinthians 15 [SBLGNT]

8 ἔσχατον δὲ πάντων ὡσπερεὶ τῷ ἐκτρώματι ὤφθη κἀμοί. 9 ἐγὼ γάρ εἰμι ὁ ἐλάχιστος τῶν ἀποστόλων, ὃς οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς καλεῖσθαι ἀπόστολος, διότι ἐδίωξα τὴν ἐκκλησίαν τοῦ θεοῦ· 10 χάριτι δὲ θεοῦ εἰμι ὅ εἰμι, καὶ ἡ χάρις αὐτοῦ ἡ εἰς ἐμὲ οὐ κενὴ ἐγενήθη, ἀλλὰ περισσότερον αὐτῶν πάντων ἐκοπίασα, οὐκ ἐγὼ δὲ ἀλλὰ ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ ἡ σὺν ἐμοί. 11 εἴτε οὖν ἐγὼ εἴτε ἐκεῖνοι, οὕτως κηρύσσομεν καὶ οὕτως ἐπιστεύσατε.

1 Corinthians 15 [ESV2011]

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.

Paul has made known the gospel, the good news message of Christ crucified for sinners and risen triumphant. This is the powerful resurrection message that transforms sinners into saints, brings life out of death, and makes people new creations in Christ. Paul holds himself out as a caricature, an exaggerated example of the gospel at work in an extreme case. His emphasis is on grace (he uses the word 3 times in verse 10) – God’s startling, unexpected, irrational grace extended toward unworthy recipients at inopportune times. Grace is that which is freely given, lavishly poured out, extravagantly supplied, and it is completely unearned, totally undeserved, absolutely unmerited. The polar opposite of grace is wages, that which I earn, that which I deserve, that which is owed to me. The gospel is all about grace.

Paul could have held up any of the apostles as exhibits of God’s grace. Peter, James, and John, common fishermen, called into the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples. Matthew, a despised tax collector, chosen to follow Jesus. Simon, a violent Zealot eager to overthrow Rome with force, called now to lay down his own life in love as part of a different kind of rebellion. He could have pointed to James, one of the Lord’s earthly brothers, who did not believe in Jesus until after the crucifixion, yet the risen Lord appeared to him, and by grace, he became a leader in the Jerusalem church. Each one is a trophy of grace, evidence of God pouring out favor on those who didn’t earn it, transforming broken people and using unlikely instruments to accomplish his good purposes.

Saul

But Paul holds himself up as the extreme example of God’s resurrecting grace at work. He says:

1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

Paul was called by God to be an apostle. But Paul considers himself least of all the apostles. He considers himself unworthy to be numbered among the apostles. And that is the definition of grace; a good gift extended to someone who doesn’t deserve it. Grace and unworthy go together. They must be kept together. God doesn’t give grace to those who think they deserve it. But if we could rank unworthiness on a scale, Paul was at the extreme end of unworthy. Paul was formerly called Saul, and he was present when Stephen preached the good news about Jesus, and, we are told:

Acts 8:1 And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Saul took pleasure in the execution of this godly man. Saul was ravaging the church. The persecution became so severe that the believers fled Jerusalem and scattered into the surrounding areas. But Saul was not content to drive them out of Jerusalem. He intended single-handed to extinguish this faith in Jesus from the earth.

Acts 9:1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Saul was seething with rage and malice toward the followers of Jesus. His was not just a passive feeling of hostility; he was actively creating opportunities to carry out evil against Jesus’ disciples. He obtained authority to pursue the scattered believers into the surrounding regions, even past the borders of Israel, far north, about 135 miles, to Damascus in Syria.

When he was interrupted on his way to Damascus, Jesus asked him “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).

Paul describes himself in 1 Timothy as formerly a ‘blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent”

1 Timothy 1:14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

He refers to himself as the chief or foremost or most prominent of all sinners, the worst of the worst, completely unworthy of any kindness from God. Given the opportunity, it seems, Saul would have gladly taken the crown of thorns from the soldier’s hands and beat it into Jesus’ skull himself, spitting in his face.

An Abortion [εκτρωματι]

Paul describes his conversion on the Damascus road this way:

1 Corinthians 15:8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

The word translated ‘to one untimely born’ could more literally be translated a miscarriage or an aborted fetus. This word is used in Numbers 12:12, Job 3:16 and Ecclesiastes 6:3 of a stillborn child.

We see this imagery in Ezekiel 16, addressed to Jerusalem, vividly describing the unworthiness of God’s chosen people.

Ezekiel 16:4 And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. 5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. 6 “And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’

I don’t think there is a more startling or graphic picture of helplessness and hopelessness than this. This is Paul’s view of himself. When Jesus appeared to him, he compares himself to a discarded abortion, wallowing in his own blood. God called him when he was helpless and hopeless, hostile toward God, dead in his trespasses and sins.

Our Condition

I think Paul means for us to recoil at the thought, to be amazed by God’s grace, and then to identify with him. What a grotesque image, an aborted fetus, rejected, discarded, wallowing in its blood. Helpless, far beyond all hope. A blasphemer, persecutor, insolent opponent, breathing threats and murder against the disciples, ravaging the church. Why? Why extend grace to this one? What amazing grace that saved a wretch like …Saul. This is the way Paul describes his own condition, but this is also the way he describes our condition. We need to see ourselves in this light. He says in Colossians:

Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,

He says in Ephesians:

Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

This is free, sovereign, undeserved, resurrecting grace. This is immeasurable riches of grace. We, we who were dead were made alive with him. I was utterly helpless, beyond all hope, hostile toward God, entirely self-focused. When he saw me wallowing in my blood he said ‘live!’ I was dead in my trespasses, and he said ‘Live!’ He spoke life into me, he made me alive, he raised me up, he seated me with his beloved Son. He demonstrated immeasurable riches of grace to an utterly unworthy sinner.

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

He caused us to be born again. He poured out unmerited resurrecting grace on a wretch like me.

Grace, Grace, Grace

1 Corinthians 15:8 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,

God’s unmerited grace came to Saul and said ‘Live!’ and Saul, although last of all the apostles, least of all the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, by God’s irrational grace, he is made eyewitness to the resurrected Lord, apostle to the Gentiles. Anything good he is, he is by God’s grace. He is alive because of grace. He was confronted with his own sinfulness by grace. He turned to Jesus by grace. He became a follower by grace. He was appointed to serve by grace.

Ephesians 3:7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

This was all of grace. Paul acknowledges his entire and absolute dependence on God’s grace. Nothing was earned. Nothing deserved. All was freely given to him by grace.

Grace Works

Paul goes on to say that, although he did nothing to work for that grace, that grace was hard at work in him.

1 Corinthians 15:10 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,

God’s grace was not in vain. It was not empty, fruitless, or without effect. God’s grace produced results. It produced fruit. Unlike Jerusalem in Ezekiel 16, where God’s grace brought life, and cared for an nurtured, and made her his own, provided for her needs, but she became unfaithful to him. In Paul, God’s grace was effective. He worked harder than any of them. Paul is comparing himself to the other apostles. I think he is saying, ‘I worked harder than all twelve of them put together.’ And what we see in the record of Acts bears this out. Paul proclaimed Jesus in Damascus, Jerusalem, Tarsus, Caesarea, Syrian Antioch, Seleucia, Cyprus, Salamis, Paphos, Perga, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Attalia, Troas, Neapolis, Philippi, Amphipolis, Apollonia, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Cenchrea, Ephesus, Assos, Mitylene, Trogyllium, Miletus, Patara, Tyre, Ptolemais, Antipatris, Sidon, Myra, Fair Havens, Malta, Syracuse, Rhegium, Puteoli, Appian Way, Nicopolis, and Rome. 2 years after writing 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, stating:

Romans 15:15 …because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles … 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, … 23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.

Paul brought the gospel to the provinces of Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia, and by 57 AD he considered the evangelization of the Agean lands complete. His ambition was to visit Rome briefly and then to travel on to Spain!

In 2 Corinthians Paul catalogs the hardships he faced in service to Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

Paul could rightly boast ‘I worked harder than them all,’ but he is quick to clarify:

1 Corinthians 15:10…though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Everything I accomplished for the cause of Christ was not me. It was God’s grace. God’s grace accomplished it all through me. Paul gives all credit to God for every accomplishment.

Romans 15:18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me

This is the way he talked in the book of Acts.

Acts 15:12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

Acts 21:19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

Notice, it is all the things God has done. Christ has accomplished. He had already told the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 3:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

God, by his grace, accomplishes his good purposes through us. Paul teaches the Philippians:

Philippians 2:13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

God is at work in you. You are his workmanship. He works in you to will. If you want to do great things for God, God worked that desire in you. If you have an unstoppable passion to preach the gospel from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, and then in Rome and on to Spain, that is grace. God worked that desire in you. If you carry it out, that is God’s grace, God working in you to work for his good pleasure.

This is how Paul describes his ministry in Colossians:

Colossians 1:29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Paul labors, he agonizes, he is wearied from the work, but it is God’s energy that is energizing him in power. God’s grace is at work in him.

Peter says it this way:

1 Peter 4:11 …whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Jesus said it this way:

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

How do you let your light shine? Where did you get the light? It was a gift! How do you do good works? God’s grace is working in you! Then God gets the glory for your good works, because God’s grace has become effective in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

All of Grace

It is by unmerited grace that I am forgiven, purchased, redeemed, made clean and set apart for his use. It is by undeserved grace that I am given grace gifts with which to serve others. It is God’s powerful resurrecting grace that is at work in me that supplies both the desire and the energy to use those gifts in service to others for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 15:8 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.

So we preached so you believed. This gracious message, that Christ died for our sins, and that he was really and truly dead; that he was raised from the dead and he is really and truly alive, this undeserved gift to unworthy recipients, this transforming message that is at work in me healing my deepest hurts and mending what is broken in me, making me useful for the glory of God in the earth, this is the unanimous voice of apostolic witness on content of gospel. It really doesn’t matter who preached it, Paul or Peter or James or Matthew or Thomas, we all preach one message, that Christ died for our sins according to scriptures and that he was raised. This is what we preached, and this is what you believed. This is what you are trusting in, clinging to, being transformed by. This is a message of resurrecting grace.

Have you believed? Do you see yourself as utterly helpless and hopeless, dead in your trespasses and sins? Do you believe that God took action when you were unworthy and could contribute nothing? That God provided everything necessary in Christ for you? That he gives it freely to you as a gift? That he takes you to be his by grace, and that he enables you by his grace to be pleasing to him? Is his resurrecting grace at work in you?

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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April 12, 2015 - Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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