10 “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
But by the grace of God I am what I am,
God met Paul’s undeserving, unmerited position with grace. This formed what Paul was – “I am.” Paul turned from persecutor of the church to a preacher of the church and occupied the office of an apostle. Paul was an apostle by the grace of God. He had a past and Paul’s past was a backdrop to the grace of God. Paul recognized that he was nothing in himself.
and His grace toward me was not in vain;
God’s grace did not turn out to be vain or empty. “Vain” is something without content or substance. It can also mean something without result or effect, without purpose. Grace did not produce a fruitless ministry. The word “was” means become; Paul’s ministry did not become vain or wasted or worthless in ministry.
Ph 2:16holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.
The Greek word for “but” is a conjunction of strong contrast. It is a right-about-face word. In contrast to a fruitless ministry, Paul enjoyed a powerful ministry because of the grace of God.
I labored more abundantly than they all,
The grace of God produced something through Paul. Paul had the greatest missionary movement in the civilized world at this time. The word “labored” carries the idea of heavy, exhausting toil. “More abundantly” is comparative; Paul’s ministry was without parallel compared to other ministries. His ministry extended further than the other great missionary of that time – the apostle Peter. We watch this amazing ministry in the book of Acts and the epistles. Paul produced a powerful ministry for a quarter of a century, up to the writing of First Corinthians.
yet not I,
The word “yet” is the same word translated “but” earlier in this verse. It is a conjunction of strong contrast. Paul wanted to draw a strong contrast between his labor and the grace of God. Thus, we have two contrasts: (1) God’s grace proved to produce effective ministry and was not purposeless, and (2) God’s grace did the work, not Paul. The contrast has to do with a misconception that he brags about his “more abundantly” ministry.
2 Co 3:5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,
but the grace of God which was with me.
Paul did not want the emphasis to shift away from God’s grace, so he repeats that “the grace of God” extended to him was responsible for greatness in his ministry. Grace was so predominant to Paul that his personal contribution to ministry was secondary. Note that the word “grace” occurs three times in this verse. There is only one way for people to minister for God – through grace.
Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
The gospel by the grace of God floored the Greeks. Grace was a foreign idea to them. It is not the messenger but the message that counts. Greeks believed in oratory and speaking ability to influence others. Paul’s great ministry was immaterial; what was important was the gospel in the form of the grace of God.
Response to God’s grace will shape our character and ministry.
It is a terrible thing for God to give His grace for nothing. God’s unadulterated grace makes it incumbent upon us to offer back unusually great service. Some of us live our Christian lives “in vain” and with superficiality. The grace of God sets aside all failure and folly, transforming us into people with conviction and commitment. Paul changed from a murderer to a catalytic missionary. Everyday believers change from purposelessness to people with a mission, all because of the grace of God. None of us should kid ourselves into thinking that we are something; it is only by the grace of God we accomplish anything. If God does the doing then God gets the credit; if we do the doing then we get the credit.
Ti 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,