1 Corinthians 15:1-11
1 “Now I make known to you, brothers and sisters, the gospel which I preached to you, which you also received, in which you also stand, 2 by which you also are saved, if you hold firmly to the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.3 For I handed down to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit 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 toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
The Gospel: Paul explains that the essential Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. There is not a Gospel without these three critical events and our relation to them. This is essential Christianity.
Hold firmly: Paul was not sure who was a true believer. Many people had heard the Gospel in the Corinthian church and some undoubtedly were not true believers and consequently would not have an abiding faith.
Believed in vain: Paul is not speaking of losing salvation, but rather, is referring to the vain nature of belief if Christ is not raised from the dead. Evidently, some were talking against the concept of a bodily resurrection. However, Paul forbids such a notion for without the resurrection there is no Gospel of grace and people have believed in vain (See also 1 Corinthians 15:14).
First importance: For Paul, the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the Gospel of grace. At the cross God took away the sins of the world; at the burial Jesus’s death was revealed to be legitimate and final; and at the resurrection death was defeated and the entirety of Christ’s teachings validated.
He appeared: After the resurrection Jesus appeared to five-hundred people plus the apostles. This is a clear validation of the finished work of Christ because these hundreds of people were still alive at the time of Paul’s writing. Thus, it would be a ridiculous act to lie about the resurrection of Christ when it can so quickly be validated. Such was the same with His ascension.
Last of all: Paul, the one untimely born, likely felt humbled to be added into the group of apostles even with his history of persecuting Christians as a Jewish pharisee. Paul even gave approval to the stoning of Stephen and yet now he is one with God’s children. This was likely difficult for Paul to understand.
I am what I am: Paul killed Christians and by his own admission was not fit to be an apostle. And yet God’s grace made him into something beautiful and new. Paul knew that he was not the sum of his works but rather was the sum of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.