Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:9–11 God’s kindness transforms us

1 Corinthians 15:9–11

9 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. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

The break between the previous post and this one is arbitrary, because verse 9 takes up right where verse 8 ended. Paul is not defending himself here; instead he is placing emphasis on the grace of God toward him as manifested through the resurrected Christ.

Anthony Thiselton issues a corrective and a clarification to verse 9 when he disagrees with NIV’s phrase “do not deserve to be called an apostle” because the translation “deserve” suggests that by better moral behavior he could have qualified for the title of apostle. Paul fully understands that by human reckoning he was not qualified to be called an apostle, but Christ made him one as a gift. “Paul [has] theological awareness that he cannot ‘reach up to’ of ‘aspire to’ his calling; he accepts it as a gift of grace.[1] God’s grace has nothing to do with our worthiness; its whole basis is Christ crucified for our sins and resurrected to give us new life. That is God’s gift to all who will accept it.

Few verses bring more good news to us than 1 Cor. 15:10a — “By the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” For cultural and historical reasons, the concept of grace is hard for American Christians to fathom. Our tendency is to ask what someone must do to receive grace. But grace is God’s kindness, God’s gift. Think about it: kindness is about the giver, not the recipient. That is what makes it kindness! God gave Christ for our salvation while we were his enemies (Rom. 5:10). The resurrected Christ summoned Paul to faith and apostleship while Paul was on a journey to capture Christians for execution.

Everything about Paul flows from the kindness of God through Jesus Christ. “By the grace of God, I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10a). Paul’s very identity was rooted in Christ, and so is ours. But equally important is knowing that God’s grace transforms us on a continuing basis: “his grace to me was not without effect” (1 Cor. 15:10a). After Paul accepted God’s grace, he became even more engaged in doing what Christ asked of him than any of his new colleagues.

Pay careful attention to the balance of what Paul says. God did not do these things without Paul, nor did Paul do any of it without “the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10b). God could easily do everything without us, but he does not choose to do so.

The tradition that Paul has recounted about the death and resurrection of Christ included all the people Paul named (1 Cor. 15:1–10). (By “tradition” we mean the historical account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that was accepted among those who witnessed the events and was carefully handed down to those who followed them.) All played a role in passing the story down. Paul received the tradition from others and passed it to the Corinthians, who responded to Christ by faith (1 Cor. 15:11).

Having reconstructed the foundational message of Christ’s death and resurrection, Paul next expands their knowledge with further vital knowledge about the resurrection and how it relates to our lives (1 Cor. 15:12–58).

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1211.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!