|Jump Start # 3222|
1 Corinthians 15:10 “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”
Our verse today comes from the powerful resurrection chapter of Corinthians. Paul shows multiple reasons to believe that Jesus rose from the grave. The Scriptures teach this. The witnesses confirm this. Preaching is built upon this. The faith of thousands embraces this.
As Paul lists the witnesses who saw the resurrected Christ, he says, “and last of all…He appeared to me.” He then refers to himself as “the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Our verse follows. The verse begins and ends with grace. Three times the word grace is used in this one sentence.
That one statement, “but I labored even more than all of them,” referring to the other apostles, seems arrogant. It seems that Paul is bragging, “I did more than the rest of them combined.” But, I do not think that’s the right take on that expression. It’s not in Paul’s nature to brag. Even when he had to defend himself against attacks, it bothered him to talk about himself.
It’s hard to imagine that Paul knew what the other apostles were doing. There was no central headquarters where they submitted reports and others kept track of what they were doing. Did Paul know where Thomas was? Did he know what John was up to? He couldn’t send them an email or a text. He could write them a letter, but how would he know where they were? Inspiration of the Spirit delivered the word. It didn’t reveal everything about everyone. So, without such knowledge of where and what the other apostles were doing, how would he know if he were doing more than the rest of them?
Instead, I believe Paul is saying he worked harder because of when he came in and what he had done. He didn’t travel with Jesus for three years as Peter did. He did not see the walking on water, the raising of Jairus’ little girl. He didn’t hear the sermon on the mount. He had to work hard to know what the others knew. He had to work hard to understand what the others had seen. In Matthew’s section of parables, Jesus often explained the parables in detail to the apostles. Paul wasn’t there. When John tells us at the end of his Gospel that there were many other things which Jesus did, which if were written in detail, the world could not contain the books. The apostles knew of those things. The apostles saw those things. Paul didn’t.
We’ve seen similar things in school. Some students just seem to know things. They rarely take notes. They don’t study hard and they get great grades. Others are having to do all that they can to produce the same results. In sports, some are gifted and don’t have to work so hard. Others are giving it their all to make the team.
Now, some lessons for us:
First, a similar thing is apparent in every congregation. Many of us are multi generations in the Lord’s kingdom. We grew up knowing preachers and attending Bible classes. From a young age, we were taught the great stories of the Bible. We’ve know the books of the Bible before we entered elementary school.
But for others, it has not been this way. They have had to work very hard to learn what others have known all of their lives. They struggle finding books of the Bible. They get stumped knowing how to answer some questions. What is so obvious to some, is not to others. What some know, others don’t.
Second, the same can be said about serving in the kingdom. I have a son who preaches. He is amazing. He has grown up watching me preach. He has a library that is very impressive. He’s connected with so many preachers that guide him and help him. It wasn’t that way for me. I was the first in my family to do something like this. I had to learn about books. I had to learn, often by trial and error, and a whole lot of error, how to teach, how to preach, how to make class outlines.
The same could be said of shepherds. Some have seen their dads serve in that way. They have understood what the nature of the work is. Others are the first in their families to serve as shepherds. They work hard to do a great job. It’s hard for them, because they haven’t seen the example.
Third, Paul’s hard work paid off. He is the most read of all the apostles. His life illustrates Jesus. He had such a terrible past to overcome and he wanted to show God that he truly believed and he was so thankful for the grace of God. He was beaten. He was homeless. He was poor. He was roughly treated. But he never complained. He understood that he tried to destroy the church. He was so thankful for a second chance. He would do anything and go anywhere for the Lord.
We must be careful that we do not compare God’s servants today. Who is the best preacher? Don’t go there. Who has the most followers or the most readers of podcasts and blogs. Don’t go there. It is not a competition nor a contest. The greatest is the servant, is what Jesus said. When we start saying things like, “Brother ________, is the best preacher around,” we only invite trouble, envy and jealousy. We want hard working preachers everywhere. Each talented in different ways. Each making a difference in the kingdom. Now, that’s what matters.
I labored more than all of them…not a statement of arrogance, but rather, a statement of appreciation.