The first words of a book are important ones. Consider these famous first lines from three nineteenth-century novels:
- “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” (A Tale of Two Cities).
- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (Pride and Prejudice).
- “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (Anna Karenina).
The first words of a book grab your attention and give you a reason to keep reading.
Compared to these famous first lines, the opening words of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church don’t seem very exciting.
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes… (1 Cor. 1:1).
But I want to suggest to you that these first words are important ones, for they implicitly raise three important questions about your own spiritual journeys.
The first question is Who am I? Paul had two names. The first, Paulus, is Roman, meaning “little.” The second, Saul, is Hebrew and is the name of Israel’s first king. Interestingly, both Sauls belonged to the tribe of Benjamin (1 Sam. 9:2, Phil. 3:5). Paul was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25-29). And we can surmise from his Hebrew name that he was a Jewish patriot too. But neither of these identities—as a Roman, as a Jew—meant much to him, at least not after his calling to be an apostle of Christ Jesus.
And that brings us to the second question: What is my calling? According to Paul’s own testimony, he never intended to become a follower of Jesus Christ, let alone a leader in his church. Instead, he persecuted the church. But then, en route to Damascus to destroy the church there, Paul encountered Jesus, who saved him and commissioned him to be his witness to the Gentiles (Acts 22:1-21). The Corinthian church evidently doubted Paul’s apostleship (e.g., 1 Cor. 4:1-5 and 9:1-23), which may be why he mentions it here and emphasizes that it was “by the will of God.” But notice God’s providence at work in Paul’s life: A Roman citizen who is also a Jew becomes witness of the Jewish Christ throughout the Gentile world. Paul’s identity had prepared him for his calling.
Here’s the third question: Whom am I with? Paul refers to “our brother Sosthenes.” Paul seems to have dictated this letter to a scribe, although he signed it himself (1 Cor. 16:21). Sosthenes may be that scribe. And Sosthenes may also be the leader of the synagogue where Paul first preached the gospel in Corinth (Acts 18:17). If so, he is a powerful personal link between Paul and Corinth, a friend and brother to both.
So: What are the elements of your identity? How has God used them to shape your calling? And whom are you living out that calling with?
Who? What? And with whom?
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