We are beginning the study of 1 Corinthians 1. Paul said to the Corinthians, or rather, wrote to them,
“Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ.”
When you and I write a letter, we wait until the end to sign our names. But this was not the custom in ancient times, the name came first. The writer, realizing what he had to say was important or unimportant to the recipient in direct relation to who and what he was. He began the letter by identifying himself.
If a stranger writes to you, you don’t know if you can believe him or not. But if he is someone whose good character and credentials you know, you are far more receptive to what he has to say.
When Paul wrote his first epistle to the Christians at Corinth, he was already known to them. He had labored among them. He was their spiritual father. For it was through him that they first heard the gospel. He knew that by mentioning his name at the beginning of his letter he would ensure their reading it for they were reading it as a letter from a father to his children.
Notice that, although Paul could run circles around any present-day psychologist, he used no public relations gimmicks here. He didn’t follow the principles of trying to make his readers feel important by starting with the word you, but immediately started with a reference to himself.
He wanted them to know that he was not writing to them as man to man, but as an apostle of Christ to the followers of Christ. He wanted to establish his authority to impress upon them that his words and his counsel were not to be taken as having relative value, but absolute authority. The king does not public relations language, nor does a general when he speaks to his soldiers, neither does God when He speaks to His people through His chosen messengers.
Because Paul is what he is the Corinthian believers are under obligation to listen to what he has to say. Of course we must not consider Paul an egotist as some have done, he is not blowing his own trumpet here, for immediately after setting down his name he adds the qualifying term, “called apostle.”
This is a literal translation from the Greek. He is what he is because of a divine call. It was nothing that he sought for himself. In fact, in his sin and unbelief he resisted it, and by God’s grace had to be arrested on the road to Damascus and made willing to follow Christ.
The Greek word klētós which comes from the verb kaleō meaning “to call”. In this context, however, as well as in others as in Romans 1:6, 1 Corinthians 1:24, the “klētois”, are the Christian believers.
It can be taken in this manner. If you were to place a comma after klétos, a “called one”, which would make it an adjectival noun. Thus we see that Paul is actually declaring here that he is a believer before he is an apostle. The Corinthians knew this full well, but he does not hesitate to repeat it.
There were, and still are, too many preachers who claim to speak with authority without themselves being believers.
If a preacher does not frequently confirm his unequivocal faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God through whose atonement alone man can find salvation, you had better beware him.
He is not in the tradition of the apostle Paul. Paul’s first declaration is that he is a “klétos,” a called one. A Christian believer, and a believer speaks through authority about his beliefs.
“I know whom I have believed,” says Paul in 2 Timothy 1:12. If the word klétos, called one, in 1 Corinthians 1:1 is taken as a qualifying adjective, it can very well be connected with the word Apostolos, apostle, which follows it.
Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. With Paul, his call to believe, and his call to become an apostle, were practically simultaneous. This is often the case you know. It is a double call. To believe, and to preach. Blessed is the person who is so chosen to serve the Lord.
The word “Apostolos” in the New Testament is sometimes used with a general sense of a man who is sent with full authority. Other times it has the meaning of an ambassador, a person legally commissioned to represent a person or cause as in John 13:16.
Sometimes it means the commissioned representative of a congregation as in Philippians 2:25. In the New Testament it particularly means “bearer of the Gospel message.” But Paul here and elsewhere in his epistles, as in 2 Corinthians 1:1, in Ephesians 1:1, in Colossians 1:1, and other places claims to be an apostle in a more specific sense. As one of that small group of disciples who saw the Lord Jesus Christ after His resurrection as he states in 1 Corinthians 9:1.
“And who were commissioned to deliver to men, One sent for all for the revelation of God in Christ.”
These were equivalent in many ways to those Old Testament prophets selected by God to prepare the way for the Messiah as we find in Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5.
Although you and I are called upon to be apostles of Jesus Christ, it is not in the same restricted sense as Paul and his fellow apostles whose writings establish what God has revealed for us to believe. Paul’s words were to be accepted by the Corinthians; therefore, not as the words of a mere man, but as the words of God through a man: Paul.
They were a revelation from God of which there could be no dispute. This is the way you and I should read them. We can not choose what we like out of his writings and reject what we don’t like. True, what he says must be considered in the framework of the times and the environment which he wrote, but the principles established must be adhered too as indisputable.
We have shown that Paul’s authority was not arbitrary but delegated. By whom was Paul called? The Lord Jesus Christ. Apostolic authority began with the risen Christ and it cannot exist without Him.
Have you ever though how peculiar it was that Christ after His resurrection and before He ascended into heaven said to His disciples all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. (Matthew 28:18) And then immediately commissioned them to go the whole world and proclaim His message? They were the ones who actually needed power and authority as they preached. But Christ did not say “All power I give unto you,” but “all power is given unto Me.”
He wanted to impress upon them that all authority and power must forever be centered in Him, and they their share in it is directly proportionate to their closeness to Him. Paul never loss the sense of his authority being derived entirely from the Lord, because He arose. Christ has the authority to speak. There is no one else who can give us this same authority.
Remember Roman officer, centurion, who described himself as a man under authority. Why thus, and not a man of authority? It was because he stood in a long line of delegated authority of that he could give orders and have them obeyed.
He had authority because he was under authority himself.
So it is with the apostle Paul. Had he not been under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, he would have no authority for the Corinthians, and would have none for us.