1 Corinthians 15:8-10a … and last of all [the Risen Lord Jesus Christ] appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am …
By the time Paul came to write 1 Corinthians (c.AD 55) he already had ‘many runs on the board’ to establish the credibility and authenticity of his Apostleship. The believers he had led to faith in Christ, the churches he had planted, his ability to refute the Jewish objections to the Gospel, his clear articulation of the Gospel, his courage in standing firm in his commitment to Christ in the face of much persecution, the ‘signs and wonders’ that had been worked through him by the power of the Holy Spirit – all these things leave us in no doubt about the commission that had been given to him from the Lord himself to serve as ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’ (cf Acts 9:15, Galatians 3:8, Ephesians 2:8, etc).
Nevertheless, because of jealousy and ‘spiritual one-up-man-ship’ on the part of some of the leaders in the Corinthian Church, he was forced to insist on the validity of his authority as an Apostle (cf 2 Corinthians 10:10 – 11:15).
But the real lesson here for us is the way he went about it. Consistently with the way he urged the Philippian believers to ‘let this mind be in you which is also in Christ Jesus’, he defended his own apostleship with humility. As he pointed out to the Philippians, the Lord Jesus Christ is the true example of genuine humility (Philippians 2:5-8). It is in this same way he defended his own apostleship. He noted that it is “by the grace of God I am what I am”, recalling the circumstances under which he was ‘called’ – while he was in the process of militantly persecuting the Christian Church (see Acts 9).
When I reflect on all this I realise how important it is for me to be doubly careful in not giving the impression that I consider myself something as a Christian leader. I need to be very careful with my words, behaviour, body language, attitudes towards others, etc, to show clearly that I am a sinner, saved by God’s grace alone.
I had lived nearly 18 years of my life as a sinner (putting myself and the fulfilling of my own desires at the centre of all my decision-making, even as ‘committed’ Sunday School student and teacher). And then I realised that when Jesus died on the cross “it was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished; His dying breath has brought me life – I know that it is finished” (Stuart Townend).
So, for the 65 years since that time, as I have reflected on the absolute holiness of God and the perfection of the example of Jesus whom I claim as my Lord, it is clear that I continue still as an ongoing ‘sinner-saved-by-grace’. Daily I depend on God’s mercy (not getting what I do deserve) and grace (getting what I don’t deserve.) “A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing; nor fear, with your righteousness on, my person and offering to bring. … …My name from the palms of His hands eternity will not erase; impressed on his heart it remains in marks of indelible grace. Yes, I to the end shall endure, as sure as the promise is given; more happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in heaven” (Augustus Toplady).
– Bruce Christian