A reflection on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 for the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany, February 6, 2022.
Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been 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. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (NRSVA)
Paul’s message: ‘good news’ – ‘proclaimed’ and, in the case of these Corinthian believers, ‘received’. A place to ‘stand…firmly…’
After this initial message of encouragement, Paul offers a summary of the account of gospel reality. It is brief. Brevity, however, can be informative – a summary pointing to the basics – things ‘…of first importance…’.
This core of the story Paul proclaims as follows: ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared…’.
Paul lists evidence of this life-altering claim. First he points to others. Then to himself – as one ‘untimely born’. Typically, Paul plays down himself – putting even the other apostles – Cephas (Peter) and James – before himself.
After all, Paul, knows and remembers that he ‘…persecuted the church of God…’ It reads as though this inescapable reality still haunts. Paul’s own hands persecuted, gaoled, and witnessed the execution of people he now calls kin. Perhaps he went further.
Some have wondered if this is the ‘torment’ the Apostle will confess to in his second letter (See 2 Corinthians 12:7). Maybe both these passages refer to the one reality: The forgiven Paul acutely conscious of who he was.
Guilt, however, the end of Paul’s story. ‘But by the grace of God…’ indicates a turning point. Paul is not inclined to pretend that he is someone he is not. ‘I am what I am’ is perhaps a declaration that Paul remembers – and still is – Saul.
This past reality is not, however, the most potent force here. Paul repeatedly refers to grace while pondering this call: ‘by the grace of God…’; ‘…his grace toward me…’, and; ‘…but the grace of God that is with me.’
Grace – everywhere.
There is something special – and revealing – about Paul’s last grace-reference. God’s steadfast love and mercy are not simply a past reality once encountered. Rather, the grace of God is ‘with’ Paul. He is saved because of God’s grace. He shares this story because of God’s grace. He works as he does because of God’s grace.
Grace from first to last.
Do you, perhaps like Paul, remember you shortfall before encountering God’s grace? Does this reality still weigh on you?
What would it take for you to embrace the invitation of grace from first to last?