By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)
Paul realized that the first part of this verse might be misunderstood: “I worked harder than any of them.” So he goes on to say, “Though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
Paul does not trace his obedience back to his thankfulness for past grace. He traces it up to moment-by-moment, ever-arriving grace. He is banking on the promise of God’s future grace to arrive at every moment of need. In every instant of Paul’s intention and effort to obey Christ, grace was at work to produce that intention and that effort. Paul did not bring about his work merely out of gratitude for past grace, but in moment-by-moment reliance on the arrival of promised grace. Paul wants to emphasize that the ever-arriving grace of God is the decisive cause of his work.
Does it really say that? Doesn’t it just say that the grace of God worked with Paul? No, it says more. We have to come to terms with the words, “Though it was not I.” Paul wants to exalt the moment-by-moment grace of God in such a way that it is clear that he himself is not the decisive doer of this work.
Nevertheless, he is a doer of this work: “I worked harder than any of them.” He worked. But he said it was the grace of God “toward me.”
If we let all the parts of this verse stand, the end result is this: grace is the decisive doer in Paul’s work. Since Paul is also a doer of his work, the way grace becomes the decisive doer is by becoming the enabling power of Paul’s work.
I take this to mean that, as Paul faced each day’s ministry burden, he bowed his head and confessed that, unless future grace was given for that day’s work, he would not be able to do it.
Perhaps he recalled the words of Jesus, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). So he prayed for future grace for the day, and he trusted in the promise that it would come with power. “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Then he acted with all his might.