When I was a little kid, I thought that I was pretty sly. I would constantly try to sneak around my parents to see if I could get around them without being seen. One of the most common things I would do, was make my bed look like a mess and then hide in the mess when one of my parents would come in looking for me. Now the key to not being noticed under the covers, is to be completely still, as if you’re dead. There can be no movement from your body whatsoever, and your breathing has to be almost nonexistent. For an extra bonus, if you do it right, you can jump out at just the right time to either re-position yourself and act like your parent just missed you sitting at your desk, or jump out to scare them.
It must be a kid thing, because my kids try the same things with me, accept they’re not good at it because I’m constantly catching them. In fact they have tried to hide under something, like the covers, and I just lay on them, because, “hey, they’re nothing there and it looks comfortable.” And of course I find them, struggling to get free. But I’ve started to think, if they’re so bad at sneaking around, was I? Of course not, I was way better at it then they are.
But while I was under those covers, I pretended I was dead, not in a morbid sense, but in the sense of lying so still, that I was unmoving to the outside world. And then when I would burst forth from my “grave”, my triumph would be great. And without even realizing it, I was acting out the greatest gift I would ever be given in my life, Resurrection.
And it’s this idea of resurrection that brings us back to our study in 1st Corinthians, where we will be looking at the first half of chapter 15 today. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in 1st Corinthians chapter 15, starting in verse 1. But as we get into 1st Corinthians chapter 15, let’s recap where we are in our summer series.
As we have been walking through Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth, we have found that the central driving purpose of the letter is to restore unity to a Church that was dis-unified. This disunity manifested itself in two parts of the believers’ lives. The first was their personal relationships with each other, which Paul covered in the first 10 chapters. The second was in how the Church worshiped God when they met together, which he began in chapter 11 and carries through to chapter 16.
And for the last ten weeks, we have been unpacking the different aspects of this corporate worship time. From head coverings, to Communion, to the gifts of the Spirit, to the order of worship, and the role of both men and women in the Church. Now as we transition to chapter 15, we are continuing with Paul as he addresses topics that are causing disunity, except now, we find ourselves with Paul addressing not necessarily practices of the Corinthian Church, but teachings that were being taught within that body of believers.
So let’s read together, starting in verse 1 of chapter 15 in 1st Corinthians.
1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
This chapter is considered to be one of the most important chapters in the New Testament because Paul reminds the people of what the core of the Gospel is: Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul emphasizes the centrality of this message when he states in verse 1 and 2, “…which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved…”
What’s interesting about this passage is it’s significance, not just in the centrality of the Gospel message, but it’s use in validating this key part of the Gospel message for modern day critics of early Christianity. You see, verses 3-4 is one of the oldest creeds of the Church. Creeds are those sayings that we say in Church that have significant basic teachings of the faith. You might have heard what is commonly referred to as the Nicene Creed, that starts off with, “We believe in one God the maker of heaven and earth.…” There are other creeds, like the Doxology that you might have sung in Church. Or the modern song, “I Believe” that we have sung this summer.
Well this is one of the very first creeds that was common to the early Church in it’s worship of God. With scholars like Bart Erhman, a non-Christian scholar, who dates this creed to within five years of the resurrection of Jesus. Other scholars like Daniel Wallace can trace it back to within two years, or maybe even 6 months of the historical event of the Resurrection. This is amazing, because the majority of what we have from the antiquity period comes from decades after events have occurred. Yet, when Paul writes it down for the Corinthians, it has been about 25 years since the Resurrection, and the creed itself has been a core part of the Church since it’s beginning.
It’s then after this creedal statement, that Paul gives us a list of those that were eye witnesses of the Resurrection. Paul mentions Cephas who is Peter, the apostles, James, and 500 others who saw Jesus resurrected at the same time. This gives weight to the Resurrection account, because eye witness testimony is very important when investigating something that has happened.
Paul also adds that he too saw Jesus resurrected, but says of himself that he was “untimely born” or “abnormally born”. This is referring to his late arrival to salvation in the timeline of historical events. He goes on to emphasize this point by saying he is the least of the apostles and unworthy to be called one.
Paul then talks about his hard work in the Gospel, as he has worked harder than any other apostle. This is true, his writings and ministry impact was much wider than any one other apostle.
With this focus on the centrality of the Resurrection and it’s being taught clearly is where Paul will begin to address the problem that was arising in the Corinthian Church. Let’s keep reading in verse 12.
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
A lot is going on in this part of the passage. The first thing we need to know to help us understand what was taking place is to understand the view of the culture in which this writing takes place. We have been saying over and over again through this study in Corinthians, that the culture in which the Corinthian Church finds itself in, plays a huge role in the issues Paul is addressing. And here it’s no different.
See, because of the philosopher Plato’s teaching, the common Greek philosophical idea was that the spiritual realm was the source of truth and goodness. Plato emphasized the spiritual over the natural world. And so the idea that the spiritual was better than the natural was very prevalent at the this time. In fact, it would eventually morph into the Gnostic belief that Christ came to show us how to strip off the natural world, which was evil, and to ascend to a high spiritual plain.
Well, within the Corinthian Church, we see the seeds of this belief begin to take root. And so, there were those that were teaching a spiritual disconnection from the natural world, but not a bodily resurrection.
So Paul puts the resurrection of Christ as the central tenant of the Christian faith. Not just spiritual resurrection, but bodily. In fact the terminology that Paul uses here are the two Greek words, egeiró (eg-i’-ro) and anastasis (an-as'-tas-is) for raised up and resurrection. Both of these words are physical in connotation. Meaning Paul is saying this is a physical occurrence not a merely a spiritual one.
And so, Paul puts forth the idea that if the physical resurrection of Christ is false, then so is the Christian faith. In other words, if someone can disprove Jesus’ physical resurrection, then the whole of the Christian faith is false and can be dismissed. But if Jesus’ bodily resurrection is true, then it is a guarantee of the bodily resurrection of the believer as well. Not only that but the whole of Scripture then is true as well.
It is here that Paul writes something that has become a bit of a problem verse for the Church. Let’s read it and then talk about it. In verse 29, Paul writes, “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?”
Now what Paul writes here sounds like he is saying that there was an early Church practice of baptizing living believers on behalf of dead people. This is actually where the Mormon practice has it’s roots. But the reality is, there is no historical practice such as this to have ever taken place as an endorsed Christian practice in the early Church. Instead, listen to how Paul purposefully writes. He writes, “what will those do who are baptized for the dead?”
Paul separates himself from those who are participating in this practice. Throughout 1st Corinthians we have seen Paul use pagan practices and sayings to emphasize his points. He used the Corinthian saying, “All things are lawful…”, back in chapter 6, he used the practice of women shaving their heads back in chapter 11, and here in chapter 15, he uses a practice that was occurring that was combining Christian and pagan rituals. The idea behind the practice was misunderstanding of how salvation was attained, people who were practicing baptism for the dead, saw in baptism the way to salvation. And so, to attain that salvation for loved ones who had passed on, people began to be baptized on their behalf. But this idea doesn’t line up with other parts of Paul’s writings.
Take Ephesus 2:8 where Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” The act of baptism isn’t salvation, but rather trusting in the work of Christ culminating in the resurrection is the path to salvation. By talking about those who practiced baptism for the dead, Paul isn’t condoning it, but rather he saying, even if those people over there who don’t know what they’re doing put their hope in a bodily resurrection, why can’t you who actually have the salvation of Christ?
And then Paul gives another reason why he himself believes in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. He writes this, starting in verse 30, “And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’
Paul is making the point that he had put his life on the line time and time again because he believes what he had seen. But then he tells the people, if the bodily resurrection is in fact false, then everyone should just give up. They should instead indulge in this life, because there is no afterlife.
But no, Paul fully trusts in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and he is calling the Corinthians to hold firm in their trust in it as well. And so Paul writes this in verse 33, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.”
Paul calls for the Church to get rid of the bad company, or the association they have with unbiblical ideas, and instead to fully embrace the teachings of Christ’s bodily resurrection and the implications of that in their lives.
Because here’s the thing, if there is not resurrection, if Christ never rose, then all of this that we do is really for naught. Morals are meaningless without the Moral Giver. Hope in eternity is hopeless because there is no God with whom we will walk with in eternity. So without the resurrection of Jesus, we should indulge every hedonist act out there, because nothing is worth it. In fact, human philosophy moves in this direction. First you have Theism, a belief that God interacts with humanity. Then you have Deism, a belief that God created the universe, but has since left it on it’s own. Then you have Agnosticism that asks the question, is there then really a God out there? To which Atheism arises and says, no there isn’t. Which leads us into purposelessness in a belief called Nihilism, which says, then what’s the point.
The historical bodily resurrection of Jesus calls us to the reality of the Creator of the Universe that sees our predicament of eternal death because of our sinful actions that go against the natural order that he created. It calls us to repent of our sin, turning away from our own self-focused path, and respond to him. Giving up ourselves and fully embracing his gift of being cleansed of sin, and living as we were meant to live in relationship with him. The historical and bodily resurrection of Jesus also gives us a glimpse to our own eternal future, where those who accept Jesus as their Savior will be resurrected into a glorious eternal life with unimaginable possibilities to come. But it also puts into perspective that those who reject that free gift of salvation, will be resurrected to a eternity separated from that same loving embrace of God, with unimaginable suffering to come.
And so Paul isn’t just calling the Corinthians to live in a resurrected life, but the Holy Spirit is calling us to it as well. To fully embrace the teachings of the Scriptures and to live our life in such a way that when that day comes, and we are resurrected to stand before God, we will move forward into eternal life because Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross has truly covered us in this life.
My challenge for you today, is to ask yourself, do I seek to live in the reality of Jesus’ resurrected life? Am I seeking to have my motives, my thoughts, my speech, and my actions all align with what they will be like in eternity? If they have not been, let us repent of not seeking to live with a resurrected mindset, and seek the Holy Spirit to move in our lives to draw us ever closer to the God who came to earth as a man, died, resurrected and now calls us into that resurrected life as well.
Let us be a people who live daily the resurrected life, unhindered by the problems of this world, as we call others to that same life. Amen.