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1 Corinthians 15:1-34: Of First Importance Print E-mail
1 Corinthians
Sunday, 10 January 2016

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Belief in the resurrection is of first importance for the Christian. We often talk about things that we consider to be secondary, issues that people can disagree on and still be Christians. The resurrection is not a secondary issue. Although many have tried to claim that there is Christianity without belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ which results in the resurrection of believers, the Bible does not support such a claim. You either believe in the resurrection (of Jesus and of believers) or you are outside the faith.

Belief in resurrection was important to Paul. We see this in his response to those in Corinth who were denying bodily resurrection. As we have noted, some in Corinth saw the body as evil and so perhaps they could not believe that their bodies would be raised from the dead. They thought that they had already arrived spiritually (4:8-13) and did not need a future hope of resurrection. As Paul has corrected their thinking on their bodies and what it means to be spiritual, so again he will correct what they believe about resurrection. He does so in 1 Corinthians 15. The chapter can be divided into three sections: their shared belief in the gospel which includes the resurrection of Christ (v. 1-11), the arguments for the resurrection of the dead (v. 12-34), and the arguments of how the dead will be raised (v. 35-58). This morning we are considering the first two sections.

Paul begins with what they held in common. Look at verses 1-2. Notice from the beginning the importance of true belief. To deny resurrection was to believe in vain. He lays out the basic content of the gospel in verses 3-7. These are the central truths of the gospel: Christ died, Christ was buried (He was really dead), and Christ was raised. These are not just good ideas or assertions, they are historical facts, which is why Paul goes on to list all of the witnesses to these events. People saw Christ die. People saw where He was buried. And people saw Him after He was raised. There are numerous individuals who had seen all of this take place and many of them were still alive when Paul was writing. In other words, if folks in Corinth doubted, they could just ask those who actually witnessed what happened.

Paul also witnessed the resurrection of Christ but in a unique way. Look at verse 8. Christ appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus and through His grace radically changed Paulís life. Look at verses 9-11. Paul was a killer of Christians, a persecutor of the Church. But Godís grace changed all that. He rescued Paul and put him on a path of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, to people like those found in Corinth. Paul labored hard in this ministry, but he recognized that even our hard work is a result of Godís grace.

The Corinthians would not deny any of what Paul has said so far. They believed in the gospel and seemingly believed in the resurrection of Jesus. From this point of agreement, Paul is now going to lay out his argument for why they should believe in the bodily resurrection of believers. He makes three major claims.

To deny resurrection is to destroy our faith (v. 12-19)

For the sake of argument Paul is willing to flesh out the idea that there is no resurrection from the dead. If we believe that, then how will that impact the rest of our beliefs? In truth, it will destroy them. Why?

First, if we deny that resurrection can happen, then Christ has not been raised. Look at verses 12-13. Again, he has just reminded them of the gospel that they claim to believe, namely that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised again. But if people are not raised as they are claiming, then that means Christ is still in the grave. Some might respond: ĎWhy is that such a big deal? Maybe Christ really didnít come back from the dead?í Such questions lead to Paulís next assertion.

Second, if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and our faith is futile. Look at verses 14-19. These are some terrible conclusions. If Christ is still dead, then preaching is pointless. Who cares about a dead Savior? Who wants to follow a Messiah who is cold in the grave? The truth is, if Christ is still dead, then Paul and the other apostles have lied about God. They claimed that the Father had raised the Son from the grave. Peter preached at Pentecost: This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses (Acts 2:32). If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Peter was lying about God. Not only that, but if Christ is still in the grave, then our faith is futile.

How can we believe that the Father accepted the Sonís payment for our sins, if He did not raise Him from the dead? If Christ is still dead then I am still in my sins and those who have died in Christ were still in their sins. Paul adds a staggering line: If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. If there is no resurrection from the dead, then our lives as Christians are meaningless and wasted. What a depressing thought! Paul wants the Corinthians to feel the weight of their arguments. If what they are saying is true, then everything is pointless.

To believe in resurrection is to behold glory (v. 20-28)

The glorious good news is that what they are claiming is false! There is resurrection from the dead! We know this because we believe that Christ was raised from the dead. Look at verse 20. Paul demonstrates the terrible conclusion of what they are claiming and then counters that with the glorious hope of the gospel. We know that the dead are raised because we know that Christ was raised. Paul describes His resurrection as the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. The firstfruits were those that were gathered before the actual harvest. They symbolized the promise to the farmer of what was to come. The firstfruits were the guarantee of future fruits. In other words, if Christ has been raised, then all those who by faith put their trust in His death and resurrection for their sins will be raised as well. Paul argues this in verses 21-23. Look at those with me. All in Adam, namely the whole human race besides Christ, are subjected to death due to sin. In the same way, all who are in Christ, all who turn from their sins and put their faith in what He did, will be raised from the dead to eternal life. This means that we never put a Christian in the ground without hope! They will be raised on that final Day.

Paul goes on to describe how this will play out at Christís return. Look at verses 24-28. These verses can seem confusing, but what Paul is claiming is that death itself will be defeated by Christ. He will reign over all His enemies and the last enemy to be defeated will be death. Christ will deliver the Kingdom to the Father and they will be all in all. In other words, to deny the resurrection of the dead is to deny Godís glorious plan of salvation. But to believe it is to behold the glory that is to come. Through faith in Christís death and resurrection from the dead, all those in Christ will be raised to reign with Him forever. We struggle to even imagine the glory to come, but we believe in it because we believe in the resurrection of the dead.

To deny resurrection is to demean our present lives (v. 29-32)

Paul offers a couple more arguments for belief in the resurrection based on the Corinthianís present experiences. The first one has puzzled commentators for years. Look at verse 29. Numerous interpretations of this verse have been offered and very few are satisfied by any of them. My best guess is that people in Corinth were being baptized for believers who were not able to be baptized before they died or were not baptized by the right person (see 1:12-17). It is hard to believe that Paul would support this, but his point in context is not whether or not someone should be baptized for the dead but for what it implies: the dead will be raised. It makes no sense to be baptized on behalf of the dead if they will not be raised, so why are the Corinthians doing this? Paul is pointing out their inconsistency.

Likewise, if the dead are not raised, then suffering for Christ is meaningless. Look at verses 30-32. Why would Paul risk his life every day if death is the end? Why would he continue to preach and minister in the midst of persecution if this life is all we have? If the dead are not raised, then we should join with the pagans in eating and drinking and getting as much pleasure as we can out of these meaningless days. For Paul, their denial of the resurrection was a slap in the face for all who were suffering for the name of Christ. How could they mock those who were daily facing persecution and rejection? This was unacceptable to Paul.

Paul closes this section with some serious imperatives. Look at verses 33-34. Denying the resurrection was no secondary issue to Paul. It was joining with bad company and revealing a lack of knowledge of God. So Paul is telling them to wake up! They should not continue to deny the resurrection, for it will only lead to further shame.

So what about you? Do you believe in the resurrection? In one sense, we might just all say Ďamení and go home. I doubt that any of us would claim to deny our future resurrection. So then let me ask it in another way: Are you living like you believe in the resurrection? Are you holding tightly to the comforts of this life and the stuff of this world? Or does your belief in our life to come free you up to give and sacrifice on a daily basis? Are you looking for your best life now or are you giving your life away so that others may see the love of Jesus in you? Do we really believe in the resurrection of the dead? If we do, then our lives will never be the same. If Christ is truly going to raise us up on the final Day, then may we live like only that Day matters! May our future resurrection be of first importance until we see His face. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Sunday, 17 January 2016 )

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