The apostles at the end of the procession

For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. (1 Corinthians 4:9)

I’ve been mulling over a great insight in a sermon my minister preached a few days ago.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul presents himself and the apostles as though they were at the very end of a great procession, led by the emperor returning victorious from battle. Here come the exotic animals, here come the spoils from the defeated nation’s treasury—and here come their captured slaves. They all belong to the Emperor now, and he is going to make them useful.

I was reminded of Paul’s comments along these lines in Ephesians, in which he presents Christ as the triumphant Yahweh from Psalm 68, ascending on high upon a mountain with a host of captives in his train, and receiving gifts from amongst the people—or, giving gifts to men. What are those gifts that Christ the Emperor distributes to his people? Paul says that the gifts are people: Apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers. Thus Paul describes himself as “the prisoner of the Lord” (Eph. 4:1): the gifts are those captives.

Undergirding Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians to quit their intramural fights about their loyalties to the various apostles is his understanding of the apostolic office as a gift for the nascent body of Christ for their upbuilding, comfort and fortitude, that they might be a body suited to judge the world and angels, to fight spiritual war, to inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul insists not to become the figurehead of a party in the church as against other apostles, but as one of many gifts that Christ has given to his body for her upbuilding, maturity and unity. Paul is a jar of clay taken as spoils by the conquering Christ. In his mercy, Christ has chosen these jars of clay to be filled up with the oil of his great mysteries, and much like Christ himself, the apostles are appointed to be broken for the sake of the life of the church:

So then death worketh in us, but life in you. (2 Cor. 4:12)