Connections 02.10.2019: A Mature Belief

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Paul writes frequently about growing as a believer in Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15 he writes, “I am the least of the apostles…because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am…” (vv. 9-10). Elsewhere he writes, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways” (1 Cor 13:11). He also addresses the spiritual immaturity of the Corinthians: “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food” (1 Cor 3:2). And then there are these well-known lines: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom 7:15).

Like Paul, I have grown as a believer—though maybe in a less dramatic fashion. I was born into the church and attended faithfully throughout my childhood and young adult years. Though I faced plenty of doubt and uncertainty about the things I learned, I can look back now and realize that I was devoutly Christian. I was firmly devoted to the faith of my parents and home church. My Bibles and journals from those years are full of underlining and markings and notes and prayers.

My growth as a believer, like that of many people, has been slow and painful. In 2006, as a young mother with a toddler and expecting our second child, I wrote this in my journal: “I want desperately to teach my daughter about my faith, but my faith seems no longer mine. How can I teach her what I don’t know myself? How can I guide her to learn without imposing some systemized structure upon her? Am I making it too complicated? Should it not be complicated? Why are we so afraid of confusion and mystery?”

And just a few weeks ago at the end of 2018, after more than a decade of tested faith and in a moment of spiritual darkness, I wrote this in an essay: “The platitudes and certainties and assurances I grew up hearing are hollow now, and they seem more like lies than helpful intentions. It’s sad because I still carry the guilt of being a sinner with sinful thoughts, selfish tendencies, and hidden desires. I still carry the dream of eternal life with God—free of pain, sorrow, and death. I still carry the hope of seeing loved ones again one day. These things that I carry are not freeing. They are burdens, and no amount of Scriptures about Jesus coming to set me free can lift them.”

I’m not so unlike Paul, whose writings show his struggles and his confusion as a Christ follower, especially when faced with the difficulties of his world. I imagine that you have had similar moments as well.

My hope is that I will always come through these tunnels of doubt into the Light of Christ that waits on the other side. Paul certainly did, and I find that encouraging. How about you?

Discussion

1. If you have been a believer in Christ for a long time, how have you matured as a believer over the years? If you are a new believer, what brought you into the faith?
2. What events or circumstances have affected your growth as a believer, and how have they done so?
3. How comfortable do you feel in expressing any doubts that you have about your faith? Why?
4. How does it feel to know that Paul struggled with his beliefs as he matured in faith?
5. How can God use our moments of doubt to help us better connect with nonbelievers?

Reference Shelf

To this impressive list of witnesses to the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead Paul adds his own name, which he stresses is of one who in certain respects is unimpressive. While his reference to his own experience of the resurrected Christ as “last of all” may mean that Paul saw himself as the final apostolic recipient of such a visitation, the phrase may also join other self-descriptive terms Paul uses to indicate his unworthiness to receive such a gift. When Paul refers to himself here as “one untimely born” (NRSV), he uses a word (ektrømati) that often referred to an aborted or miscarried fetus, a stillborn baby, or a deformed newborn. Whether the emphasis intended is on the “suddenness” of his “birth” or on the “undeveloped nature” of the newly born Paul is much debated. We might think in terms of the Caesarean birth of a premature baby. Paul did not come to his new life in Christ in any normal way; he was taken by God from the womb of his old life and suddenly “birthed” as a new Paul when he met the resurrected Christ. This fits well, incidentally, with the accounts of his conversion found in the book of Acts. The stress is not so much on Paul’s inclusion among the privileged witnesses to the resurrection so much as it is on his unworthiness to be included at all. Paul insists that he was undeserving of this new birth and unfit to be numbered among the apostles because of his earlier persecution of the church. By the grace of God, however, he was reborn from his former grotesque life of death to a new life as an apostle. The contrast between Paul the formerly death-dealing persecutor of the church and the new Paul who proclaims the life-giving gospel finds a parallel later in the juxtaposing of Adam and Christ (15:22). God’s gift of new life to Paul was not wasted either, Paul insists. Though he might be the least of the apostles, he has worked harder than the rest. As if this might sound overly boastful and subversive of his main point, Paul explains that it was actually the grace of God working with him.

Robert Scott Nash, 1 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2009) 400–01.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (14) and Natalie (11), and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.

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