1 Corinthians 15:10

Sermon preached on November 16, 2014 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
We human beings like to take credit for our achievements. After all, we think that they're our achievements. When I was a youngster Cassius Clay, (Muhammad Ali) became heavyweight champion of the world. He was unlike anyone else I had ever seen before in the extent with which he bragged about it. He proclaimed himself the greatest. After he defeated Sonny Liston Clay went around the ring shouting,

"I'm the greatest! I shook up the world."

At the post-fight press conference it was the same. He boasted,

"Look at me. Not a mark on me. I could never be an underdog. I am too great. Hail the champion!"

At other times he bragged about how beautiful he was, how smart he was. Some of his boasting was funny. He wrote several poems. Here's one about his fight with Sonny Liston.

"Now Clay lands with a right, what a beautiful swing,And the punch raises the Bear clean out of the ring.Liston is still rising and the ref wears a frown,For he can't start counting till Sonny goes down.Now Liston is disappearing from view, the crowd is going frantic,But radar stations have picked him up, somewhere over the Atlantic.Who would have thought when they came to the fight?That they'd witness the launching of a human satellite.Yes the crowd did not dream, when they put up the money,That they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny."

That's funny. But a lot of his bragging wasn't funny at all. In exalting himself he said some very degrading, untrue and hurtful things about his opponents. His insults went way beyond the bounds of probity. But that's what happens when one exalts himself—he inevitably put others down. Ali's bragging was sickening. He actually said,

"I'm the greatest thing that ever lived."

Many years later when George Foreman lost the heavyweight title to Ali in 1974, he said that one of the things that made losing so hard to take was the fact that he lost his title to a 'braggadocio'.

Muhammad Ali at his boastful best was just an extreme version of all of us. When I was a youngster in school I was always near the top of my class. I was a little bit good looking. I was a bit athletic and could play hockey and baseball. I don't think I ever boasted about it, I wasn't that good at hockey and I wasn't the smartest in my class. But I certainly didn't give God any credit for those good things. I basically just didn't think about it very much and I had the notion that that was just the way it was.

Now that I'm older and know better I realize that it was all of God's grace. But even now I know that I don't give glory to God as I should. I don't think any of us gives glory to God as we should. We all have to guard against pride. Charles Dicken's character Uriah Heap shows us that we can even be proud of our humility. How ridiculous is that? Yet we can be like that. Pride can well up inside us so quickly. Some of the ancient Romans knew this. Legend has it that when a victorious general paraded through the streets, he was sometimes trailed by a servant whose job it was to repeat to him,

"Memento mori" (Remember you will die!)

That was no doubt a very good antidote to a Roman general's pride.

But the greatest antidote to our pride is a good understanding of grace. There's nothing like God's grace and the better we understand it the more we will boast in our great Savior and give God the glory that He deserves.

The main thing we see in our text is that

Paul attributed everything good in him to God's grace.

Talking about his apostleship and comparing himself to the other apostles, Paul said, (1 Corinthians 15:10)

"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."

What a statement. If this were the only verse in the Bible about grace—it would be enough to give us a good understanding of it. So we should pay close attention to it. All the good that was in him, Paul credited to God's grace. This is a very that we should memorize, that we should take to heart, that we should bring to mind every day of our lives. This is a verse that will help us to live as we should.

Consider Paul's life. It was all of grace. Last week we looked at 2 Timothy 1:9 where Paul told us that we were given the grace of salvation before 'eternal ages'. He wrote,

"who has saved us and called us to a holy life—
not because of anything we have done but
because of his own purpose and grace.
This grace was given us in Christ
Jesus before the beginning of time,"

That Paul was actually saved by grace is clear to everyone who knows about his conversion. Acts 9 tells us about it. We read,

"Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out
murderous threats against the Lord's disciples.
He went to the high priest and asked him for letters
to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found
any there who belonged to the Way, whether men
or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
As he neared Damascus on his journey,
suddenly a light from heaven flashed
around him. He fell to the ground and
heard a voice say to him, 'Saul, Saul,
why do you persecute me?'
'Who are you, Lord?' Saul asked. 'I am
Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' he
replied. 'Now get up and go into the
city, and you will be told what you must do.'"

Paul's conversion was pure grace. He gave all the credit to God—tracing it from before eternal times, to his birth, to his calling on the Damascus road. We see this in Galatians 1:15-16 where he wrote,

"But when God, who set me apart from birth
and called me by his grace,
was pleased to reveal his Son in me
so that I might preach him among the Gentiles…"

God gave grace to Paul. Before the beginning of time God gave him grace. When he was born God gave him grace and set him apart. When He called him on the Damascus road He gave him grace. When God made him an apostle He gave him grace.

It was grace Paul didn't deserve. When Paul was going to Damascus breathing out murderous threats against Christians—what he deserved was for fire from heaven to come down and consume him and turn him into a pile of ashes. But God didn't deal with Paul according to what he deserved. He gave him grace. He saved him on the Damascus Road.

But it's not just before the beginning of time, or in our initial calling, or in the moment that we are saved that we receive grace—what Paul tells us here is that

his current standing, as an apostle, as a Christian, was because of grace.

In the Christian life grace is everything. How good to us Jesus has been. Grace is based on the work of Jesus. Because of the work of Jesus we have a new standing before God. This new standing is from grace. As Paul wrote in Romans 4:24, we,

"are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."

Arising out of this new standing the whole of the Christian life from beginning to end is grace. (NIDNTT on grace. H.H. Esser)

"The grace of God makes the new man what he is."

We see this in Romans 8:32 which says of God the Father,

"He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up
for us all—how will he not also, along with him,
graciously give us all things?"

The new man lives by grace. When Paul was struggling against his thorn in the flesh and asked God to take it away from him, he asked God that three times, God said to him, (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

"My grace is sufficient for you, for
my power is made perfect in weakness."

We live by grace. We stand by grace.

H.H. Esser likens the grace of God in the Christian to a help-network that a released prisoner may have. He says of grace in the life of a Christian,

"It might even be said that he remains as dependent on it as the released prisoner is upon the connections, help and tasks offered by the after-care service which make life in freedom possible for him."

That's a good illustration but it's not perfect because it doesn't go far enough. Some prisoners don't get help and they do okay. They work hard and make it without the help of others. But God's grace even encompasses the hard work that we put into Christian living. We could not do it without grace. It's all of grace.

Notice how Paul even attributes his efforts, his works, entirely to the grace of God. He said,

"No, I worked harder than all of them—
yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me."

His hard work and his achievements could be traced to grace. Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner write, (The First Letter to the Corinthians, PNTC; p. 752)

"Paul does not describe his hard work as a matter of cooperating with God's grace but entirely as an effect of God's grace. What was on display was not a manifestation of Paul's capabilities or efforts but of the grace of God that was with him."

A passage that confirms this teaching is Philippians 2:13. Paul wrote,

"for it is God who works in you
to will and to act according to his good purpose."

We do good because of God's power in us, because of God's purpose in us. John Owen wrote, (The Works of John Owen, Vol. 3, p. 535)

"All the whole work of grace consists in the internal acts of our wills, and external operations in duties suitable thereunto."

In other words, grace encompasses everything that is necessary for a good work— grace transforms our wills and enables us to will to do a good work, and grace enables our external actions so that we actually are able to do something good.

Owen goes on to say that it is incumbent on us to stir up and exercise the grace we have received to do good works,

"But… of ourselves we cannot perform it. It is God who worketh effectually in us all those gracious acts of our wills and all holy operations in a way of duty. Every act of our wills, so far as it is gracious and holy, is an act of the Spirit of God efficiently; he 'worketh in us to will,' or the very act of willing."

We see the same principle in Ephesians 2:8-10. Paul wrote,

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—
and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
not by works, so that no one can boast.
For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus
to do good works, which God
prepared in advance for us to do."

We are God's workmanship. That means that God has made us what we are. Just as when God created Adam and Eve—they were what they were because God created them. So it is with the new creation, when we are born again, we are God's work. We are what we are because of God's grace. As Paul said in Romans 9:21,

"Does not the potter have the right
to make out of the same lump of clay
some pottery for noble purposes
and some for common use?"

He has made us for noble purposes. In all this Paul is not just referring to our initial salvation—but also of our progress. That's what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 15:10, our text. Ephesians 2:10 said that we have been created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.

That's an incredible statement. The good works that you have done—you only did them because God prepared them for you to do. The only reason you did them because God made you what you are—you are His workmanship. Paul attributed his work all to grace. In 1 Corinthians 3:10 he wrote,

"By the grace God has given me,
I laid a foundation as an expert builder,
and someone else is building on it."

All of His work as an apostle Paul attributed to grace. It's that way with all Christians. In 1 Corinthians 4:7 Paul asked the Corinthian Christians,

"For who makes you different from anyone else?
What do you have that you did not receive?
And if you did receive it, why do you boast
as though you did not?"

The good that we are, the good that we do—it's all from grace.

Now what does all this mean for us as far as practical application goes?

First, it means that you shouldn't boast in yourself.

It's not only inappropriate but I'm sure it makes us look incredibly stupid to the heavenly host.

Years ago there was a story in the Grand Rapids Press that illustrates this. The owner of a small foreign car had begun to irritate his friends by bragging incessantly about his gas mileage. So they decided to get some humor out of his tireless boasting, as well as bring it to an end. Every day one of them would sneak into the parking lot where the man kept his car and pour a little gas into his car. To keep it from being obvious they only put a little in every day. Soon the braggart was recording absolutely phenomenal mileage. He was boasting of getting as much as 90 miles per gallon, and the pranksters took secret delight in his exasperation as he tried to convince people of the truthfulness of his claims. It was even more fun to watch his reaction when they stopped refilling the tank. The poor fellow couldn't figure out what had happened to his car.

During the prank the guy thought his car was getting great mileage. He couldn't cease bragging about it. But he had nothing to brag about. His friends were playing a trick on him. They were responsible for his 'supposed' great gas mileage. It was a great joke.

But if we brag about ourselves—we are just as foolish. Robertson and Plummer compare how God gives us grace, (David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, BECNT; p. 694)

"to the child who joyfully gives the parent a birthday present after having spent the parent's own money to buy it."

I'm sure some of you can relate to that. A mother tells his young son what his father would like for his birthday. The mother drives him to the store to get it. The mother pays for it. The mother helps him pick out a card and pays for it. The mother wraps the present up. Then on the father's birthday the little boy gives it to his father and is so happy and smiles.

That's wonderful to see in a little child because he's just a little child. But to see that in an adult, an adult who should know better, an adult who has received everything by grace and yet boats in himself—that's totally inappropriate.

Don't be proud. Don't boast in yourself. Don't think that you're something special in yourself. All of that is inappropriate. It's all of grace.


this means that we must boast only in the Lord.

We should boast in the Lord. Hasn't the Lord been incredibly good to us in giving us grace? How we should rejoice in Him, in His commitment to us, in His goodness to us. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:31 (and 2 Corinthians 10:17)

"Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

As we read in Jeremiah 9:23-24,

"This is what the Lord says:
'Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice
and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,'
declares the Lord."

It's all about God. If there is kindness, justice and righteousness on this earth—it's because of Him, because of His grace. John Calvin writes,

"Let us learn, therefore, that we have nothing that is good, but what the Lord has graciously given us, that we do nothing good but what he worketh in us, (Philippians 2:13) — not that we do nothing ourselves, but that we do nothing without being influenced — that is, under the guidance and impulse of the Holy Spirit."

John Murray adds, (Collected Works, p. 121)

"Grace demands humility, the humility that constrains us to be debtors all along the line of salvation from its fount in election to its consummation in glory. Salvation is from the Lord, and it is only of him if it is all of him. This is the doctrine of grace and it is its glory."

We should be praising the Lord for His grace and boasting in Him.

Thirdly, this means that

we should throw ourselves into God's grace and live for God's glory.

David Prior writes, (1 Corinthians, The Bible Speaks Today; p. 262)

"It is not surprising, in the light of Paul's background, that he regarded himself as the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle. Only the grace of God could overcome such demerits: but because his grace had been lavished on such an unworthy person, Paul was not going to let anyone take either his position or his vocation away from him. To let that happen would be to treat God's grace flippantly. The only proper response to grace is total commitment with every fiber of our being."

Lastly, for those of you who aren't Christians, again, the lesson for you here is that

you need the grace of Jesus.

You may think that you're pretty good. If you are, it's because of God's grace. It's part of God's common grace which is shown to everyone. What you are is because of grace. But you could have and you need much more. You need God's saving grace. You can be much more than what you are now—instead of being by nature an object of God's wrath—you can be a shining star of God's grace. Go to Jesus.