“And last of all, as to one who is stillborn, he was seen [by me]. For I, myself am the least of the apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle, for I persecuted the church of God.” (1 Corinthians 15:8-9)
Though Paul understood that he had been forgiven, he never forgot the life that God had redeemed him from. Paul, then known as Saul, had been a great persecutor of the Christian church and had been zealous to see this fledgling church destroyed. He was even present at the execution of Stephen, holding the cloaks of those who were stoning him to death. And though Paul turned his zeal toward preaching the gospel, he never forgot the evils that he had committed.
The term that Paul uses of himself is e¡ktrwma (ektroma), which can refer to a premature birth, a stillborn child, a miscarriage, or even an aborted baby. The language that Paul is using expresses the idea that he was one who was not supposed to live, yet Christ, in his mercy, revealed himself to Paul anyway, giving him life. Paul, probably the greatest missionary preacher of all time, understood that he brought nothing of his own to the table—the only good in him was God in him.
While there are many Christians who have a difficulty remembering a time when they were not trusting in Jesus Christ for redemption, there are many of us also that do remember with great grief the days of our rebellion, before God brought us to salvation. As I reflect on the years of my own rebellion, it shames me to think upon some of the things that I did. At the same time, those dark days make God’s gift of salvation very sweet to me. As I read this passage, I think that I have a sense of the joy and gratitude that Paul had in serving Jesus. Jesus has given we, the redeemed, so much and has assured us of so much more—and there is not an ounce of that blessing that we are deserving of. He pours it out freely according to his grace.
And God uses us to minister to others as well! When we read these letters that Paul wrote, sometimes we forget that the purpose behind them was to correct problems that were going on in a church—ministering from a distance. And if God is willing to use a sinner like Paul, and even a sinner like me—He is willing to use you in his work. What a remarkable thing that God would use us—broken and frail vessels as we are—and use us successfully for his glory.
Friends, if you are a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, you have been given a great and wonderful gift. But never forget that that gift comes with responsibilities. When God calls a person to himself he does so with a purpose—which means that you have a calling in life. For some of us that calling means preaching the Gospel from the pulpit. For others, it means preaching the gospel by the way you live your life in the workplace—by the way you farm, by the way you fix automobiles, by the way you work as a secretary or as an accountant, or in whatever you do—do so as for the Lord (Colossians 3:23). Do so not to earn your grace, for it is freely given; rather, do so as a way of expressing your gratitude and obedience to God.