Archive for 1 Corinthians
Yesterday I posted some thoughts on how I handled 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 and how I viewed this concluding section as Paul’s song of hope which was the result of the implications of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In short, Paul didn’t just want his readers to know something…he wanted them to feel somthing as well!
Today I want to finish up this thread with a glance at the final two verses. Not only does everyone sing now, everyone sings now with gratitude. In verse 57, Paul writes, “But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57, NLT) This hope that we celebrate comes as a gift to us. We didn’t earn it, and we certainly didn’t deserve it. It’s 100% grace. So we sing our songs of hope, but with a tinge of humble gratitude recognizing that all we have in Christ presently and in the future is all of God’s grace.
Everyone sings now with humble gratitude. But there’s one more thought that Paul leaves us with in verse 58. “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NLT)
In other words, our song of joyful hope is sung with the conviction that our lives are not vain or empty. We are not wasting our breath or our time. Our lives lived in the Lord are not wasted or useless. It all matters and everything counts. Today we sing of a victory to come. Someday we’ll sing of a victory complete. In the moments in between we live and sing with conviction because our final hope belongs to us now.
Do you ever burst out in spontaneous singing? I’m not talking about the obligatory chorus that comes at holiday celebrations or birthday parties. I’m talking about being so filled with joyful hope that you are overpowered by song and it spews out. For the last three weeks I’ve been sharing some of the insights I’ve learned from Paul’s discourse on the implications of the resurrection of Jesus from 1 Corinthians 15. I’ve learned that the resurrection provides hope in three dimensions: it is our hope for transformation, living, and even dying. In the first 49 verses, Paul has provided lengthy explanations concerning these truths, but beginning in verse 50 he moves from “theology” to “doxology!” I don’t want to take away from the depth of what Paul says at the conclusion of the chapter. However it feels like the lyrical content of one caught up in joyful worship! Check it out…
What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die,j this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:50-58, NLT)
Look at the characteristics of the Hope that Sings:
1. Everyone sings (15:50-53). It’s an inclusive celebration. Whether we are dead or alive at the time Christ’s return does not matter, for everyone will experience this transformation and receive a glorified body suited and fitted for eternity. Jesus has been raised, and his resurrection guarantees our resurrection. We will experience and enjoy what Jesus experienced and enjoys!
2. Everyone sings now (15:54-56). It’s a present tense celebration. Why? Because death is defeated now, not later. Paul rhetorically asked, “Where is death?” The answer? Death is no where. In our life experience we usually don’t sing songs of celebration until the final seconds tick off the clock or the final gun sounds. The Christian faith is the faith that sings before the victory is realized. In faith, it is as appropriate to sing the songs of victory in the first quarter as in the final quarter!
Tomorrow I’ll add the final two aspects of Hope that Sings! My prayer for you today is that God fills your heart with such joy and hope that you’ll spontaneously lift your voice in praise to God!
So what are the implications of this resurrection body that we are to receive? How does this truth offer hope that sustains us through the most precarious time we will ever face?
First, Paul’s teaching on the resurrection body assures us that God’s purposes are not undone by death. As the seed is buried in the ground to eventually spring forth from the soil with new life, we too will experience something on the other side of death that is fabulous and beyond compare. The thing we fear most, death, God calls precious. Death doesn’t jeopordize life in any way.
Second, in Paul’s teaching on the resurrection we see what we have ultimately been created for. In fact, the answers to the future are provided for us in the beginning. If you want to know what God’s future purpose holds just turn to the front of your Bible and re-read Genesis chapters 1-2. In the creation story we see the man and the woman placed in a place of perfection, dwelling in complete innocence enjoying the unfettered presence of God. Sin messed all of that up, but in eternity we will enjoy what Adam and Eve lost in Genesis chapter 3.
Finally, our best clues to what the resurrection body looks like are found in the New Testament account of Jesus resurrected body between his resurrection and appearance. If you read the end of the gospels, you’ll see that Jesus ate food, communicated with others, and was identifiable. Jesus, prior to his ascension also exhibited that he was not bound by or limited to the laws of nature, such as gravity. While we may not understand all of that, we can take what we read in the gospels and link it to John’s affirmation, that “He has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears, but we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (I John 3:2, NLT).
Paul’s goal is not simply to answer questions and provide timely answers. His goal is to provide hope in the face of death. Hope that doesn’t serve our faith in the face of death is no hope at all.
After patiently answering question upon question about the resurrection, Paul finally got to the heart of the issue that concerned the Corinthian congregation: But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” (1 Corinthians 15:35, NLT)
Much has been written regarding his response to the church, but to simplify, I see Paul’s response under three headings. The first heading is CONTINUITY. Reading on, Paul writes, “What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed. Similarly there are different kinds of flesh—one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are also bodies in the heavens and bodies on the earth. The glory of the heavenly bodies is different from the glory of the earthly bodies. The sun has one kind of glory, while the moon and stars each have another kind. And even the stars differ from each other in their glory” (1 Corinthians 15:36-41, NLT).
Paul wants the reader to know that there is continuity between our earthly bodies and our resurrection bodies. Rather than seek understanding from an abstraction, Paul simply reminds his readers that the hold the answer in their hands. It’s like a seed that is planted beneath the soil. In time, the seed sprouts and shoots up through the soil in a glorious new form. The seed itself doesn’t come through the soil, but it comes in a new form that is something superior and beyond compare. While the difference between a seed and a plant is obvious, the identity is the same. After all, if you plant corn you expect to raise corn. Burial of the seed (death) is necessary for the new form to appear, such as is true with our bodies. In the resurrection we will be raised in a new and glorious form, but we will not lose our identity.
The second heading is TRANSFORMATION. Verse 42 continues, “It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, NLT).
While we do not lose our identity in eternity, we must still be appropriately fitted for our eternal living environment. Transformation is necessary in order for believers to enter their heavenly existence. We will have a body in eternity, but not the same body. Resurrection is not the same as resuscitation of a corpse! To help the reader understand the transformation, Paul uses comparison language.
Our present bodies are subject to decay, while our resurrection bodies will never decay. They will be “deathless.” Our present bodies are buried in “brokenness,” literally dishonor. The word dishonor is the word used of those who had lost the rights of citizenship. Those who lost their citizenship lost their rights. Hence, “dishonor.” But though the body is buried in dishonor, it is raised in glory where there is no shame.
Our present bodies are buried in weakness, meaning they require air, food, water, and shelter for their existence. Our resurrection bodies, on the other hand, are raised in power to live independent and free of the things we relied upon while on earth.
The final broad heading I would use is the word PROTOTYPE. The final words of this section begin in verse 45, “The Scriptures tell us, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living person.’ But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man” (1 Corinthians 15:45-49, NLT).
Paul is simply saying that our earthly bodies come from an earthly prototype, Adam. Our heavenly bodies will be different because God will use a new prototype, Jesus!
Tomorrow I’ll finish up this section on the resurrection body by describing how this teaching from Paul provides a hope that endures the deepest challenge any of us will ever face: death.
Imagine that you walk into a car show. As a car enthusiast, you’re excited to see all of the new models that car manufacturers have developed. You walk past the new models from Ford Motor Company, then General Motors. Dodge and Chrysler have nice ideas, as well as the massive selection of imports.
You leisurely meander through the cars until a sign captures your attention. The sign reads, “The Last Car You’ll Ever Own.” The arrow points down a narrow hallway that leads to a room. When you enter the room it becomes immediately clear that this model is clearly from the future. It’s a car alright, but a car unlike anything that you’ve ever seen.
As you walk around the car you engage the attendant in conversation. As you run your hand over the fender, he tells you about the materials that compose the body. He casually explains that it’s a new material that is indestructible. “Go ahead,” he says, “try to key it.” At first you recoil at the thought of ‘keying’ a showroom model, but his confident smirk somehow agitates you into action. You produce a key from your pants pocket and dig it deep into the side of the car and rake it across the door. “Huh,” is all you’re able to say. “No damage.” “That’s right,” confirms the attendant. “Let’s try something a little more substantial.” He offers you a hammer, and nods approval. As you lightly tap the hood with the hammer, the attendant bursts into laughter at your anemic efforts. “Come on, now, really get into it!” Your face reddens as you begin hitting the car harder and harder. Before you know it you’re on the brink of losing control as you take full cuts at the hood, the trunk, and the glass. To your amazement, nothing happens. Not even a scuff mark. As you collect yourself, the attendant adds, “Not only is it indestructible, it totally repels all road dirt and weather. You’ll never even have to wash it.”
You shake your head in disbelief as he lifts the hood. “Come look at the engine. This car requires no fuel.” As if the body demonstration wasn’t enough, you now find yourself totally exasperated. “No fuel?” “Nope, none whatsoever. This car is self energizing. No petrol, no gas, no hybrid fuel, no bio fuel…nothing.”
You’re not exactly sure what to say. “And there’s more,” the attendant chirps. “It’s maintenance free. No more oil changes, air filters, tires, or any of those other annoying trips to the shop. There’s no warranty on the car because it never breaks down or wears out. See, I told you! It’s the last car you’ll ever own!”
I’ll admit, that story is a little hard to swallow. It’s beyond our ability to imagine such an invention, given the limitations of what we know through science, physics, and even our own life experience. How could such a thing be possible? That’s a valid question, and its similar to the kind of question the Corinthians must have asked Paul when they heard him describe the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15.
This week I’m going to delve into Paul’s description of the resurrection body from 1 Corinthians 15:35-49. My analogy of the car show may not be 100% spot on with what Paul tried to communicate about the resurrection body, but at least we’re now thinking in the right direction!
I grew up in a tradition that outsourced missions. The churches would receive three offerings each year for the purpose of supporting missions, and regularly calendared missionaries to come and tell us the stories of life serving God in some alternative hemisphere. My job was to learn to be the best Christian I could be and to leave missions to the professionals.
I find it ironic that today we’re witnessing the birth of the missional church. It’s ironic because the missional church was how church worked in the first century. We haven’t invented missional church or missional Christianity, we’re simply returning to the simplicity of mission as it was originally designed.
There is much to say about what it means to be a missional church or a missional Christian. If you search either of those titles on my blog’s tag cloud you’ll see plenty of thoughts from previous posts. But for my purposes today, I want to simply remind us that missional living is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus. Paul’s last challenge in this week’s paragraph from 1 Corinthians 15 simply says, “Become right-minded and stop sinning, because some people are ignorant about God” (1 Corinthians 15:34, HCSB).
Since verse 20, Paul has been sharing how resurrection hope extends to sustaining our faith between the time of our tranformation and our time of death. This includes our responsibility to our communities and our world, who are largely “ignorant about God.” Because of the resurrection, I have hope and can live with hope, but that hope is not isolated or self contained. It is a hope to be shared. This is why, more urgently than ever, we need to get our minds right and embrace our “sentness.” Jesus told the disciples that he was sending them into the world in the same manner that he had been sent into the world by the Father (John 20:21). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to the church sending out men and women to serve in any hemisphere. But we can’t afford to have a mentality that subcontracts world evangelism. Your calling to live as a missional Christian is as profound as those who serve in the deepest and darkest parts of the world. Embrace it! There are plenty of people who are still ignorant about God. And chances are, they may live right next door to you!
Evidently the Corinthians lived with a worldview that is not new to our contemporary culture: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we will die” (1 Corinthians 15:32-33). Since they dismissed the resurrection and the possibility of life after death, they, like many people today, determined to live for the moment regardless of the consequences. I could describe several elements of this worldview and discuss how seeking success and living for pleasure can leave one with a hollow, empty feeling. But I think its even more simple than that. At the end of it all is self. If there is no tomorrow, then I have an unparalleled responsibility to me, myself, and I.
Paul argues strongly that this kind of thinking is wrong-headed and dangerous. The resurrection reorders our worldview to a position that acknowledges that while there may not be a tomorrow, there is an eternity. What we do and how we live matters, because we’re not living for today, we’re living in light of eternity. Life is not about me. It’s about God and others.
Because we are eternal beings we have an accountability to God for our lives. We have received life as a precious gift from God, so our lives are not our own to do with as we please. We have a stewardship over the gift that God has entrusted to us. This reality drives us to move past our ambitions for self and success and to pursue eternally significant endeavors. Each day is energized with countless new possibilities to make an impact on the lives of others for the sake of the Kingdom of God. We have been given a life that is blessed to be a blessing to the world. There may not be a tomorrow. But there is an eternity, and that pursuit is worthy of our greatest allegiance and effort.
Paul has asserted that the resurrection provides a hope that sustains us by providing believers with a new attitude about death. For the Christian, death is not the bitter, final end of our existence. Rather, it is a transition step toward eternal union with God.
The second piece that naturally follows our new attitude is a new confidence about life. When we understand the reality of eternity, we also understand that fear of death no longer needs to govern our lives. Because we are free from fear, we are free to live. Paul takes this up in the next section.
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? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? (1 Corinthians 15:29-32a, NIV).
Some who fear death are filled with superstition. Evidently some in Corinth did not embrace resurrection, but were being baptized vicariously for the dead “just in case.” Without going into all of the historical detail regarding this first century cultic practice, for our contemporary purposes I see it for what it is at the lowest common denominator: people practicing superstitious acts compelled by fear.
More important to the argument is Paul’s own attitude about death. Notice what he has written:
1. We face danger every hour. Indeed, the world is a dangerous place. No matter how hard we try to live safely and securely, there are no 100% guarantees that protect us from harm.
2. Death is a daily reality. Paul bluntly declared, “I die daily.” I liken that to those public servants such as police officers and fire fighters who go to work each day realizing that they may be called upon to make “the ultimate sacrifice.”
3. There are those who do not have our best interests at heart. By referring to fighting wild beasts, Paul has drawn on the popular imagery of slaves who were forced to fight for their lives in the arenas as sport for the spectators.
So what’s his point? Death forces us to confront our deepest and darkest fears. But ultimately, you are not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Only when you resolve the reality and immanence of death are you truly free to live life as God intended. Jesus has been raised, and his resurrection guarantees our resurrection. Therefore, our lives do not have to be governed by fear of death or anything else. We can live with freedom and confidence because we are confident of what’s on the other side.
Last week I counted the number of times Lisa and I have moved since we’ve been married. We got married before our senior year of college, then moved to St. Louis after graduation. We lived in three houses in the nine years we were there. Then we moved to Ft. Worth, and later to Springdale, Arkansas. We have now been in Iowa for nearly six years, and are on our second house in Waukee. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 8 houses and 7 moves in 26 years of marriage. I know some who have moved more and some who have moved less, but we all share one thing in common: we all hate to move.
Boxes, packing, lifting, loading, change of address forms, unpacking, sorting, arranging and rearranging, you know the drill. It’s a painful process that is only made bearable by the anticipation that at some future point we’ll be finished with the move and will settle into our new contexts. There is something good on the other side of the move. That’s what gets us through it.
Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can have a new attitude about death. Death for the believer is like making that big move. It’s difficult and can be unpleasant, but we know there’s something better on the other side.
This is what Paul was trying to convey in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28.
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere. (1 Corinthians 15:20-28, NLT)
Paul has previously argued that Jesus was raised by the Father and remained raised forever more. Because Jesus has been raised, he becomes the “first fruits” of all who have died. “First fruits” implies more fruit and later fruit. Jesus was raised to a life that knows no death and in that sense becomes the forerunner of all who follow. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees our resurrection. Therefore, resurrection is both proof that Jesus was who he said he was and promise that we will share in the resurrection as well.
Death came through one man, Adam. In Adam, all die. That death involves more than physical death, though that is certainly included. In Adam, all experience death. We all share in the solidarity of Adam’s guilt. But Jesus came as the second Adam and reversed the trend. In the first Adam, all die and experience separation from God. In the second Adam (Jesus) all may find life and union with God. The last enemy to be defeated is death. Through the resurrection, Jesus claimed victory over death, eliminated the power that death holds over our lives, and demonstrated authority over death by placing it under his feet. We must face physical death. But the resurrection ensures that we will not face spiritual death. We have eternal life. Because of that, death is not a bitter end. It is a new beginning. That new attitude about death provides us with hope that sustains our lives.
Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15 to address two questions.
Question one: Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Can we be certain? Paul’s first answer is found in 15:1-7. He cited the consistent nature of gospel preaching as one proof of the certainty of the resurrection. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, as evidenced by burial, then rose from the dead on the third day, as evidenced by the eyewitness reports.
Question two: If Jesus did rise from the dead, what difference does that make in my life? What are the implications for me? Using his own personal testimony in 15:8-11, Paul shares how the resurrection provided hope for transformation. Through that resurrection, he transformed from leading persecutor of the church to the leading apostle. If Paul could experience that level of transformation, we can experience life change as well!
Beginning in 1 Corinthians 15:12, Paul moves to the second argument defending the certainty of the resurrection. Scholars have pointed out that Paul uses the philosophical rhetoric known as Reductio ad Absurdum. Reductio ad Absurdum is a philosophical argument that takes a proposition and challenges it by taking the consequences of the proposition and reducing it to the most ridiculous outcome. His line of logic is found in 15:12-19, and is based upon seven “ifs.” Check this out:
1. IF Christ is preached as risen, how can you say there is no resurrection?
2. IF there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised.
3. IF Christ is not raised, then the content of preaching is empty and lacking substance.
4. IF the dead are not raised, then we are false witnesses.
5. If the dead are not raised, then Christ was not raised and was proven to be deserving of condemnation. He was a false prophet. The accusations were true and Jesus was guilty as charged.
6. IF Christ has not been raised, then your faith is worthless, you are still in your sins, and those who have died have perished as ones irretrievably lost.
7. IF our hope in Christ is for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone else for living in delusion.
The rest of this section is focused on the second set of implications of the resurrection. Tomorrow I’ll begin sharing how the resurrection impacts our lives between the time of transformation and our time of death. The resurrection provides a hope that sustains.