“I am the least of the apostles…” — 1 Corinthians 15:9 — Paul 55 A.D.
“I am less than the least of all God’s people…” — Ephesians 3:8 — Paul 61 A.D.
“I am the worst of sinners…” — 1 Timothy 1:15 — Paul 64 A.D.
Pride is the broad road to hell; humility is the narrow path to heaven. The above three statements, made over a nine year period, reveal a growing sense of humility by Paul. In 55 AD in Paul’s own words, he was “the least of the apostles;” in 61 AD he was “less than the least of God’s people;” and in 64 AD, he was “the worst of sinners!” In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul confesses that “conceit” (pride) was such a temptation, that God refused to remove his “thorn in the flesh” from Satan. Through this extremely difficult situation, God taught Paul that “His grace is sufficient.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Interestingly, the context of Scriptures of all three of Paul’s statements of humility has grace as their theme. In 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 Paul writes, “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, 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.” Paul shares a very challenging truth. When he says he works “harder than all of them,” the “them” refers to the other apostles! This was not an idle boast, but the truth to help the Corinthian disciples understand, that one’s hard work for God is directly proportional to one’s appreciation of God’s grace. Hard work in winning souls will not earn us heaven…no deed will. Yet where there is no hard work, no baptisms, there is little or no appreciation of the grace of God. Paul’s preaching “disturbed the comfortable and comforted the disturbed!”
In Ephesians 3:7-11 Paul shares, “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of His power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul believed because of the grace of God, his role was to reveal the mystery of the gospel, that all Gentiles would be given the chance to be saved and numbered among God’s people. In fact, the eternal purpose of the church was to “make known the manifold wisdom of God” to both Jews and Gentiles, the entire world. Too often, we attend church without the heart to sing, the conviction to open our bibles, or feeling the responsibility of bringing a non-believer to church to hear the “Good News.” To make known the manifold wisdom of God, we must be an “Acts 2 Church” where everyone is devoted “to the apostles teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer…[And] everyone is filled with awe!” The ideal must be the standard.
For us to build an “Acts 2 Church,” the key is obedience to the Word of God motivated by grace. The pulpit must call disciples to obey the Word of God. (2 Timothy 4:1-2) However, equally essential is that each disciple make disciples and “teach them to obey everything [Jesus] has commanded.” (Matthew 28:20) This is not to say we are obeying a man, but we must expect our fellow Christians to obey God. Critics call this control, but the true disciple appreciates this level of involvement, concern and love. As Hebrews 3:12-13 teaches, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Churches where disciples are multiplying have both the pulpit and every member expecting every disciple to strive to make the ideals of Scripture the standard. True, we all fall short. This is another reason to be all the more thankful for grace. Let us all expect each other to fervently participate in the worship of God with “all our heart, soul, mind and strength.” (Mark 12:30)
Finally in 1 Timothy 1:13-16, Paul exhorts Timothy, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.” Paul wholeheartedly believed Christ’s purpose was “to save sinners.” Now nearing the end of his life, Paul saw himself as the “worst of sinners.” Yet he felt that since he was saved through God’s “unlimited patience,” there was hope for everyone! Biblical humility does not manifest itself in “quiet piety” but a selfless proclamation of God’s grace. The more we grow in humility, the bolder our proclamation. To be fruitful to glorify God, we must crucify self-doubt, self-centeredness and self-indulgence, the very sins that stop us from sharing our faith.
As your Evangelist, I want to commend the disciples of the Mighty Denver Church. Over the past several weeks, God has added many to our number and many more are diligently studying the bible to become true disciples. On the eve of our inaugural service let us all in humility and grace embrace the mighty call to build an “Acts 2 Church” and to let us passionately share our faith without shame, fear, or reservation so that we together can make known the manifold wisdom of God! To God be all the glory!