All posts by Simon Twist

1 Corinthians 16

Working with workers

Discussion Question

What does it look like to be a member of a church?

Background (Context)

We’ve arrived at the final Chapter of this letter to the Church of God in Corinth. Paul has written passionately with instruction, rebuke and grand theology that points all to Christ crucified and raised from the dead. Our faith is in Him and Him alone. Our hope is in an imperishable spiritual body like nothing we have known in this age. Our method in everything is love which flows from the love of God.

With a full letter written and delivered to the saints in Corinth, how shall he sign off? We shall see some things to be expected (Verse 13) and yet we discover that after a letter of rebuke, Paul anticipates a positive response from them.

Read 1 Corinthians 16

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Partnership with Jerusalem (1-4)
  • Paul’s travel plans (5-9)
  • How to treat fellow workers (10-18)
    • About Timothy (10-11)
    • About Apollos (12)
      • Faith, (hope) and love (13)
    • About Stephanas (14-18)
  • Final greetings (19-24)

Partnership with Jerusalem (1-4)

“Now about the collection for the Lord’s people…” What is this collection? We see in Verse 2 that it is money and in Verse 3 that it is a gift to Jerusalem. Acts 24:17 describes Paul’s habit of bringing gifts to his people for the poor and to present offerings. In our present Verse, Paul describes the collection as to the Lord’s people – meaning the holy ones in Jerusalem. Just as Paul is writing to the Lord’s people in Corinth, he expects this church to be connected in support to the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. Paul’s theme in Chapter 16 is to elevate the fellowship of the churches throughout the world since they are all of the same faith. It ought to follow that when you are on board for Jesus then you are on board to support one another who are also on board for Jesus. Christianity has never been a solo act or a Lone Ranger faith. We are in it together. His advice on raising the collection in the following verses, despite the exact usage for the money, is a helpful one for us all today. See also 2 Corinthians 8-9 on this topic of financial support.

“…do what I told the Galatian churches to do.” The Corinthians would not know what Paul has told the Galatian churches. He is introducing his instructions as something that is not unique to this letter to Corinth but the same advice he has given elsewhere.

“…set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income…” What Paul says in Verse 2 is great financial advice for anybody trying to use money for something beyond impulse buying and he is applying it specifically to the giving portion of a salary. He is not specifying an exact amount. He is recommending that each person set aside a proportion of their salary – thoughtfully, carefully and intentionally. When Paul arrives, he does not want to see everyone reaching into their wallets to see what spare change they have! At the beginning of your pay cycle, set aside the money that you have decided to give to the work of the gospel. As intentional as we ought to be about our faith and works (and Paul will remind us later in this Chapter) we need to be intentional about our faith and money. As we listen in to Paul’s advice to this church, it would be grand for our groups to stop and consider how we are going in this area. Do we put our money where our faith is?

“…letters of introduction to the men you approve…” Paul does not intend to take the money and run away with it. He plans to write a note of introduction for some men chosen by the Corinthian church and they will send the money with them to Jerusalem. In this way, the fellowship with the churches is strengthened – they will gain mutual encouragement – and the collection and distribution of the money is above board and transparent.

Paul’s travel plans (5-9)

“After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you – for I will be going through Macedonia.” Paul will be going through Macedonia 😉

“…I hope to spend some time with you…” Paul appears unclear of what he will do after reaching Corinth but assures them that he does not wish to simply pass through as he plans to pass through Macedonia. His plans are for mission in Macedonia (including Ephesus) but to stay and be a pastor to the church in Corinth. His rebuking letter ought not to be thought of as coming from an outsider who doesn’t know them or care.

“…if the Lord permits.” A reminder to us always to consider God’s will above our own. See James 4:15; Luke 22:42; Matthew 6:10.

“…I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost…” Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks which took place fifty days after Passover (Deut 16:9-12). It is associated with the promise of divine blessing and Christians came to associate it with the day God poured out His Spirit on the church. Ephesus is in modern day Turkey, north of the Mediterranean Sea. On Paul’s 3rd missionary journey (3 journeys described in the book of Acts) he travelled up the coast from Ephesus, around the Aegean Sea before passing through the region of Macedonia (consisting of towns like Philippi and Thessalonica), this takes him to Athens and then a quick hop down to Corinth. Although he spoke in this letter of staying for quite a while, Acts 20:2-3 tells us that he was forced to keep travelling because of persecution from others (not Corinth). Paul had first visited Corinth on his 2nd missionary journey (Acts 18:1-11) where he stayed with them for 18 months.

“…door…opened to me…many who oppose me.” So, this is Paul’s third journey that he is on and Acts 19 provides reading material for this. Acts 19:8-10 describes a period of 2 years where Paul preached the gospel and the opposition actually created more interest in it!

How to treat fellow workers (10-18)

About Timothy (10-11)

“…see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you…” The church is a refuge for believers. While the world may be hostile, indifferent, uncaring or other toward the gospel, our churches become a network of safe havens for believers alike. Paul aligns Timothy’s work with his. If you treat Timothy badly, you are doing harm to Paul. A cute parallel to the way that Jesus spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:5). Timothy was younger than Paul, called a son in the faith (1 Tim 1:2) and Paul advised Timothy not to let others look down on him because of his age (1 Tim 4:12).

About Apollos (12)

“Now about Apollos…” Acts 18:24 introduces us to Apollos. It was friends of Paul who found Apollos teaching from the Scriptures and educated him in the true gospel. Apollos spent time in Corinth while Paul was elsewhere. He was a capable man of God. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for dividing over who was the best leader – Paul was not feeling insecure but wanted the church to be united over the gospel. Each leader does this or that but it is the gospel of Christ that gives life and eternal hope.

“…I strongly urged him…he was quite unwilling…but he will go when he has the opportunity.” Paul has had disputes and disagreements with people with regard to mission (Acts 15:37-40). Here, Paul shares a disagreement between himself and Apollos about when Apollos should go to Corinth. We mustn’t conclude, however, that this was a sharp dispute. It is an example of two people looking to please the Lord. Apollos’ missionary work was not Paul’s mission but the Lord’s. Our work with one another for the gospel does not boil down to setting up a leader and doing whatever they tell us to. It is about unity, peace, discussion and prayerfully moving forward. Paul’s next words may seem out of context but it could very well be an insight into how Paul has responded himself to this disagreement with Apollos…

Faith, (hope) and love (13)

“…Do everything in love.” Verse 13 helps us frame all of our relationships in the church and with regard to fulfilling the commission of the Lord:

  1. Be on your guard. Other texts remind us to be watchful. We are not to be found snoozing, idle, or misdirected in this life. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be alert and sober minded because our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. When Paul and Apollos spoke about their differences, this would have been a great moment for the devil to take a bite! Be careful with every conversation – you never know which will lead to a moment of destruction rather than encouragement.
  2. Stand firm in the faith. The gospel is our firm foundation to stand on. Everything we do must be built up on top of that sturdy ground (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). See also 1 Cor 10:11-13; 15:1; 15:58. The warning to stand firm is given so that those who love the Lord will listen and take heed. Those who do not love the Lord will not take heed of such warnings. Paul is wise to consider what rock he stands on. If this gospel is built upon his logic or strategy, then it is not the gospel. He is wise to seek God’s kingdom and not his own. If Apollos is being pulled in a different direction, then trust God with that decision. Time will reveal if it was the will of God or not.
  3. Be courageous; be strong. Not just a good Colin Buchannan song, this is a charge given to the Lord’s people across the ages (Joshua 1:9). The reason we can be strong is because the Lord is with us. Paul has not been writing to a water-polo club – but to the church of God in Corinth. As God’s people, do not let any forces of nature or man overwhelm you. With Apollos delaying his travel to Corinth and Paul also remaining away for a while longer, the church in Corinth are called to be strong and courageous because God is with them. The absence of a leader does not mean the absence of the Lord.
  4. Do everything in love. He has spoken of this in Chapter 13. Without love, Paul may have shown impatience and no kindness toward Apollos. He desires the church in Corinth to respond in love also.

About Stephanas (14-18)

“…the house of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia…” Paul remembers Stephanas in passing back in 1Corinthians 1:16 when he was recalling the few people that he had actually baptised. Achaia was the province or region where Corinth and Athens were/are located. See Acts 18:2. Stephanas was part of Paul’s first visit to Corinth.

“…I urge you…to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labours at it.” We are getting the theme of this Chapter emerge by bits as we join up the little elements together. Churches everywhere who call on the name of Christ, such as the church in Jerusalem, are all part of the same mission. Giving financially, helping workers feel safe, allowing differences to exist without being divided, and getting behind those who are working hard for the Lord. This is not secret men’s business. It is open and transparent communication of the Lord’s business. It is not a closed ‘inner circle’ faith. All are welcome to hear the gospel, respond and then get on board the mission. With Paul’s direction in Verse 13 we shall be robust to work together and get behind one another.

“…they have supplied what was lacking from you.” The context implies that what was lacking was any refreshment for the spirit. Paul’s letter to Corinth is shaped by Paul’s disappointment with how they are living out their faith. If all he had to work with were the bad reports, perhaps he could dismiss that church as having abandoned the faith. But he has the refreshing visit from Stephanas and co. These men are worth getting behind! They deserve recognition. Not just from Paul but from the church that they have come from. There is a distinction between praising and fan-club-following like Paul was rebuking in Chapter 1 and when someone deserves to be recognised for their work in the faith.

Final greetings (19-24)

“…the province of Asia…” Not to be confused with what we call Asia, this is marked on historic maps as the western side of modern Turkey. Ephesus was the capital.

“Aquila and Priscilla…” They took Paul in as he worked with them as a tent-maker when he had first visited Corinth (Acts 18:1-3). This is a husband and wife team who worked for the Lord (Romans 16:3).

“…in my own hand…” The content may have been dictated but Paul always signed his letters with his own hand (2 Thes 3:17).

“If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!” Paul is not expressing anger toward anybody. Rather, stating the point that anyone found on judgement day without love for the Lord will be cursed. This is the harsh side of the gospel. It’s how salvation works and it’s how church fellowship works. There are those like Stephanas who ought to be recognised because they love the Lord, and then anyone who wants to take the words of this letter with hate can reconsider where they stand with the Lord.

“My love to all of you in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s letter of rebuke ends with a message of love. How people respond to this letter will depend on their love of the Lord! Paul hopes that they will respond with the advice of Verse 13 just as the relationship between Apollos and Paul is preserved on the basis of watchfulness, faith, hope and love. (I have aligned hope with courage and strength because it is based on how hope in the Lord for deliverance).

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Fellowship in the Lord’s work is made possible when the church loves the Lord. Giving financially, being flexible with plans, caring for the weak and respecting the strong and working through different perspectives can all be made possible when we love the Lord. Our faith is not dependant on the church but the church exists and thrives on the energy of faith. We are not alone. We are the church of God. Anybody who does not pursue love for the Lord can consider themselves not part of the church.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Planning to invest in the work of the Lord. When you are part of the church of God, our whole lives are given to the work of the Lord. Romans 6 says that we have died and now live for Christ. Jesus said that we cannot serve both God and money. So, what shall we do? Consider everything as though it belongs to God and make life decisions about how you use your money! With your salary, some of it shall be used for daily living, some of it to save for something, and some of it for giving! The rule is to be generous in all things (1 Tim 6:18; 2 Corinthians 9:10-15). Paul equates the gift of the gospel with riches given to us by God – not a prosperity gospel but that we now have everything we need in Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9). Paul had to write the Corinthians so that they would begin to save for the time that Paul came to collect their gift. Saving and giving are both conscious decisions. Spending is a piece of cake! But giving is a spiritual discipline which flows from our response to God’s great gift to us! Without sharing details of income and giving, take time to reflect on what approach people have to getting behind the work of God financially. Note that the church you are a part of is not the only place that you can give money too but it is an important place to give – because we are working on mission together.

Topic B: Dealing with differences without division. The church is filled with people who think differently, have different perspectives and different aims and goals. But when each member shares the same core truth of serving the Lord in all that we do, then these differences will not be about gospel issues but about which is best next. When people have a different view on something (as Apollos and Paul did) it is important to discuss it – otherwise we break fellowship and perhaps assume why the other person is acting in a different way. We need to share points of view, to listen and understand before differences flame into feuds. Then, we ought to go back to the basics of Who is LORD, Who’s kingdom are we serving, be on our guard against the devil taking advantage of us, stand for the faith, trust in God who delivers and then proceed with love.

Topic C: Inside the church or outside the faith. People say that you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. Of course there is a slither of truth to this since going to church does not make everybody Christian. But when we individually turn to Christ then Christ directs us to community. Paul expects that those who love the Lord will even take a stern rebuke and still remain friends. He expects that the church be filled with Christ-centred souls who love one another on the basis that Christ has loved them. Paul send his love to all of you in Christ Jesus. It wasn’t just to those people he liked but his fellowship is immediately handed out to those who call on the name of the LORD to be saved. Being part of our church is more than just being present when you can. We encourage all to 

  1. know God through Jesus Christ, 
  2. to be a regular member of a church service to encourage the people of God, 
  3. Be connected to a Growth Group. This is not always easy. But these are designed to help the people of God to grow in their faith together and to nurture one another in faith and life.
  4. Be serving at church in a ministry. This may be operating the screens in church, serving in a kid’s program, visiting members at home, praying and many other ministry.
  5. Be active in mission. Praying for at least one other person is where we begin. As a church, we also support local, national and overseas missionaries. But we also encourage one another to be missionaries where we are at.

Being on board at church looks like this. What do you think?

1 Corinthians 15:35-58

Resurrection bodies

Discussion Question

For revision: how important is the resurrection?

Background (Context)

The first half of Chapter 15 focused on the truth, reality, historicity and importance of the resurrection. If there is no resurrection, then we are the most to be pitied! Let’s just enjoy life and forget about mission, the gospel, church and God!

But the resurrection is real. Jesus has been raised! And because of this, we have the greatest hope!

From Verse 35 of this chapter, Paul describes what the resurrection might look like. How should we think about the future of our body? What do we mean when we talk about going to heaven? Will the resurrection be worth it?

Read 1 Corinthians 15:35-58

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Train yourself to expect something new (35-41)
  • The old versus the new (42-44a)
  • The logic from Adam to Jesus (44b-49)
  • Therefore… (50-58)

Train yourself to expect something new (35-41)

“But someone will ask…” Paul was a preacher, evangelist and an apologist (this does not mean that he is sorry for what he says but that he defends what he says to his audience). Sometimes it is said that we need more apologetic discussions and debates around to show people why Christianity makes sense. It’s good to note that apologetics is a subset of preaching and evangelism. It ought not to stand alone from those things nor stand above them. Paul is already anticipating what someone might say to him. It seems wise that we all engage in apologetics with ourselves! That is, answer the question: why do you believe that?

“…How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” When we talk about the dead rising, I wonder how many people think about zombies or of the Sixth Sense? The logical next question after defending the reality of the resurrection is to ask: what does it look like?

“How foolish!…you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed…” As The Message puts it (and I do not rely on The Message for deep thought but for alternate ways of phrasing something true), “You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed.” 

“…each kind of seed he gives its own body.” Paul has three dimensions going on in this argument. The first is that the fruit looks nothing like the seed. The second is that each fruit (banana, tomato, apple) looks different! But the third dimension is that the seed becomes what it is destined to be. Each kind of seed gets its own body as God has determined for it to receive. We ought to expect that the resurrection body will be unlike what is sown and that it will be exactly as God has determined for it to be. More of this toward the end of the chapter. He explains for now that there are fish and animals and people and these are all distinct – of a different kind. The same is with the heavenly bodies. They will be something – but something different.

“…the splendor of the heavenly bodies…of the earthly bodies…the sun…the moon…the stars…” When you gaze at the moon, it looks amazing! But the sun is of a different kind of amazing! The stars, when we focus our attention on those, we are in awe, but they are different again from the moon and the sun. The human body is amazing! But there will be a whole level of different ‘wow’ when it comes to the heavenly body. We need to train ourselves to expect something different. Remember Jesus answering a question with the knowledge that there is no giving or receiving in marriage in heaven? It’s not that there will be a ban on marriage and we’ll all be lonely. But that we will enter something of a different splendor in heaven.

The old versus the new (42-44a)

“…sown…raised…” Paul compares the seed of our bodies that is sown compared to the new that is raised. Note that the sowing and raising are passive (done to us).

“…perishable…imperishable…” Humans are clothed in perishable garments. We have a use-by date. An expired date. We have only a lifetime guarantee. Our bodies are disposable. The bible states that we are from dust and to dust we shall return (Gen 2:7; 3:19; Ecc 3:20; Ps 90:3). Our mortality was secured after The Fall since before Genesis 3, humanity was given access to eat from the tree of life (Gen 2:9), when this tree was banned our bodies were destined to perish. That is, we are not immortal by nature but earthly. Our bodies are made for this earth. But God has something better destined for us. An imperishable body which will not suffer from asthma, migraines, fatigue or heart failure.

“…dishonor…glory…” These words help define one another when put in comparison together. The earthly body of dishonor is scared by sin, it is weak, it is enslaved to the things of this world. But the heavenly body is gloriously free for righteousness and honor. Of course we shall not go so far as to say that our bodies are ugly and unworthy of protection and care. But we will be ready to discard this body for the next in a heartbeat. A word search in the bible on ‘dishonor’ will reveal how it is used to describe dishonoring parents or marriages or the created order of things, or a bad word about somebody. This body does not declare what is truly meant to be. It leads us astray and holds us back from pursuing godliness.

…weakness…power…” Perhaps the weakness refers to our need for sleep and rest and our destiny which is death. While power may refer to the opposite of all these. It is easy to link what Paul is saying here with his battle between our flesh and the Spirit in Romans 6-8. While we live in this body, we are lured to the cravings of this body. See Romans 6:1-14. Paul also determined elsewhere to tell his body what it was going to do since mission means more than comfort (1 Cor 9:24-27).

“…natural body…spiritual body.” This statement leads into the next section. It is worth considering what we imagine when we think about heaven. We shall not be floating spirits but we shall have spiritual bodies. People often mention that Jesus still carried the scars of the cross after his resurrection and that he could also ‘walk through walls’ so to speak (John 20:26). It’s worth mentioning that Philip, though still in his earthly body, was transported from where the eunuch stood (Acts 8:39). So, what the spiritual body will look like, be able to do etc. is up to the imagination as we read between the lines of scripture. But let’s continue listening to Paul…

The logic from Adam to Jesus (44b-49)

“If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” In Verses 44 to 49 Paul makes the observation that we are all stemming from mankind. We are descended from Adam who did not exist prior to God creating him. His kind is the natural kind. The flesh and blood kind. And we are all of that kind! But through Christ, we are destined to be raised up a different kind – not just better but mapped with the same kind as Christ. I’m not suggesting that we will be god. But Paul says that the first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. When we are raised a spiritual body we will be native to heaven as the ‘second man’ is. We shall be welcomed to the environment that we were recreated for. To dwell with God and He with us. 

Therefore… (50-58)

“…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” In its context, we are told here that we ought to forget the concept of keeping our bodies in heaven. We would be like fish out of water. Enoch and Elijah were taken up without dying that also raises the question of what happens when Christ returns and there are those who have not died?

“We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed…” Paul describes this as a mystery. Meaning that we know some pieces but we don’t have the whole picture. We know that we will all be changed. How that happens is yet to be seen. Nobody, Enoch, Elijah, or all those still alive at the second coming, nobody can hold on to their perishable bodies. For the old order of things must pass away!

“For the trumpet will sound…” The trumpet is synonymous with a triumphant/loud announcement (Matt 6:2) and is linked closely with the second coming of Christ (Matt 24:31; 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16). It is used in Numbers (10:7) to gather the assembly. It was blasted out on the Day of Atonement (Lev 25:9). The trumpets were also a feature in the book of Revelation (see Rev 11:15). In 1 Cor 15:52 Paul records that at the end, with the unavoidable sound from heaven, the dead will rise and then all who are in Christ will be changed. Those who die prior to the trumpet blast shall lie sleeping and waiting for that time (this is just one view).

“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable…the saying…will come true…” When Christ returns, the reign of this world will be over and death will be completely defeated. The victory over death was done at the cross and resurrection of Christ but we currently wait for the complete victory of death to be matured. Then we can say that death has been swallowed up. Revelation 20:14 describes the end of death itself.

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Often, Paul can be understood when read backwards (don’t be too literal with that advice!). The law reveals sin within us. Without the law, sin would be powerless – meaningless – without strength, weight or consequence. Without sin, death would be harmless. It would either not exist! Or it would simply be a transition from one state to the next. But we die in our sin and we die in our sin because of the law.

“But thanks be to God!…through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Christ, we are cleared from all breaking of the law and therefore sin has no power over us and thus death has no sting. We shall still die. But our death shall mean a new spiritual body. And this is all only through Christ. Death does not bring us rest or peace if we die in our trespasses and sin. But we have already died with Christ at the cross and so death – our mortal end – does not have its sting. Like a toothless shark.

“Therefore…your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Paul concludes his piece on the resurrection. At the beginning of the Chapter he declared that if you throw out the resurrection you may as well throw out the cross of Christ also. He then declared, in this study, that the resurrection is the completion of Christ’s work in us. Death is not the end. And our efforts ought to be for the kingdom of God first and foremost and then for every other need second (Matthew 6:33). Paul commends us, not only to hold firm to the gospel, but to give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord. This is why we promote Growth Groups and long to see people pursue a daily bible reading plan AND to foster the work of making disciples. There are things that we pour effort into which last a little while and then have no meaning, but everything done for raising up disciples of Christ is eternal work worth every effort.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Heaven will not be like earth. Descendants of Adam are all destined to return to the dust. But those who have been born again of the Spirit through the gospel will exchange their perishable bodies for imperishable. Heaven is only guaranteed for those who are in Christ Jesus, through Whom the sting of death has been removed.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: How to prepare for the afterlife. When much of the future remains a mystery (not fully known but we do know enough to have eternal hope), how can we prepare for it? Jesus said, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all [the needs of tomorrow] will be given to you as well. (Matt 6:33) The first priority is to know Jesus and salvation through Him. This is all about truly understanding the grace of God and our desperate need for forgiveness. Then, our pursuit is to remain in Him, and to help others to see this same gospel truth. This can come across sounding like fundamentalist faith but the bible, like all wisdom, teaches us to get the most important things in life right first and then pursue what’s next without letting go of the first. Jesus said, this is eternal life: to know  [God], AND Jesus Christ, whom [God] has sent (John 17:3). Knowing God through Christ is how we prepare ourselves and others for the afterlife.

Topic B: At home in your own skin? One lesson from this Chapter is that our bodies that we spend so much time in and get to know so well will be taken from us in place of something much more glorious. What does this say to time and money spent looking after our bodies? Or what about time and energy spent in preserving our planet? Of course there is a need for a balance in our answer. Anyone who lives long enough will have to grieve over the loss of a younger body. How can our lesson on the resurrection hope alter the way we perceive ourselves and live life this side of eternity? Consider in your discussion the challenge that living in this body brings when we are enslaved to sin. 

1 Corinthians 15:1-34

Resurrection hope

Discussion Question

What would change for you if you knew you were going to receive a billion dollars in 15 years from now?

Background (Context)

The topic of spiritual gifts has been discussed by Paul since Chapter 12 and concluded in Chapter 14 with the reminder that the word of God did not originate from them nor is it singularly aimed at them. Prophecy is desired above all gifts for the church to understand the mind of God in the present age in anticipating the age to come. This is where Paul picks up in Chapter 15 – looking toward the future.

Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-34

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The well established message of the gospel (1-11)
    • The priority of the gospel (1-2)
    • The content of the gospel (3-5)
    • The witnesses to the gospel (6-8)
    • The unworthy witness (9-11)
  • The historic resurrection of Christ is key (12-19)
  • The order of God and of the end (20-34)
    • The firstfruit of the resurrection (20-23)
    • Then comes the end (24-26)
    • The order of God (27-28)
  • What’s the point if death’s the end? (29-34)

We have so much text to deal with here and some deep theological issues to grapple with. I will endeavour to speak to only the things that are hardest!

The well established message of the gospel (1-11)

The priority of the gospel (1-2)

“…remind you…I preached…you received…you stand…you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached…” These verses are simple enough to understand and the lesson is important. Paul preached for a good reason – so that the hearer might be saved. He urges the Corinthians to stand in that same message and not move. The urgency of the gospel is that it is the only way of salvation. This whole chapter stems from these simple words that belief in the gospel is essential – otherwise our faith is in vain. Paul will expand on everything that he has said in these short verses.

“…are being saved…” This is a curious expression. It taps into the idea of the now but not yet – meaning that salvation has come now through Christ and all who believe are saved, but the full reality of salvation is still yet to come. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and these opening verses in Chapter 15 urge the reader to stay with the gospel or else they will not be saved. This speaks into the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. It may imply sanctification but the context of the chapter leads the meaning toward hope for the future as Paul focuses on the topic of the resurrection.

The content of the gospel (3-5)

“For I delivered to you of first importance…” Recall Paul’s words in Chapter 2:2 ‘I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” What he lists next as the content of his message has been considered by scholars to be a record of the earliest creed – a concise statement of faith that is being transmitted as the core of what the early church believed.

“…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…” The first point to be made is that Christ/Messiah died for our sins. He did not die as an example of love and/or suffering only. His death was for our sins. It is the promised One of God who died. 

“…he was buried…” So as to be sure that he truly died.

“…he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” The two emphasised points in the creed is that Jesus died (and then buried) and that he rose (and seen by many). Both are marked with the words, ‘in accordance with the scriptures’. This is not to say that these things happened according to a particular piece of Scripture but that the whole of the Scriptures were pointing to this conclusion. His death accords with the sacrifice of the OT and his resurrection accords with the hope of restoration as described in the OT. See Luke 18:31-33 and Luke 24:44-47 on Jesus aligning the events of his ministry with that of the Scriptures. Of course, there are also moments in the OT that draw very real pointers to the death and resurrection of Jesus such as Isaiah 53:5-6, 11-12 but I commend the reading of the Bible to you as one unfolding story which makes sense when it is concluded in Christ.

Note that the message of the gospel is not primarily the story of those who are saved but the story of Christ. That he died, was buried and rose and that our hope rests on the genuineness of His story over ours. The NT teaches us to find ourselves ‘in Christ’ and that we die because He died. What is paramount and of first importance to us is not our own experience of salvation but the knowledge of salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Cephas” is Peter in Aramaic and means rock.

The witnesses to the gospel (6-8)

“…appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive…” This is a key verse for the historicity of the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ made such a powerful impact on the people in the first century that on one day, 3000 Jews came to believe that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 2). It was after the resurrection that the Christian church arose. Christ’s resurrection was the proof of His ministry and declaration that He was not only sent by God but the One that God had been promising would come. His death suggested his weakness but the resurrection proved his authority and genuineness. The encounter of Jesus with this large crowd of 500 people is not recorded other than here. The risen Christ remained among us for 40 days before his ascension (Acts 1:1-3). These witnesses were able to testify to the resurrection to the readers at Corinth.

“…Cephas….James…to me also…” Three key elders in the church alongside all of the Apostles also mentioned in Verse 7. Peter and Paul were central to the story in Acts as the gospel began in Jerusalem and spread out from there (Acts 1:8) and James, the brother of Jesus, lead the expanded leadership of followers beyond the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 15). That is, Peter was head of the 12, Paul the leader in world mission and James the head of the first century church. This is a very short and simplification of things and I do not wish to say anything further than reason why these three names in particular are listed in our current passage. The faith stemming from the resurrection is the faith central to the Christian church from day one.

The unworthy witness (9-11)

“Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” The message preached and believed is the important thing. Who preached it and who believed is secondary. The letter opened with a similar argument: forget who belongs to Cephas or Apollos or Paul or even Christ – the gospel preached is of Christ died and raised again. Despite Paul’s shaky beginnings, it is the message that he now preaches that matters. And it ought to matter to us too. The quality of the church comes down to the centrality of the gospel – preached and believed.

The historic resurrection of Christ is key (12-19)

The argument in Verses 12-19 are a response to those who claim that there is no resurrection from the dead. Paul’s response to that is to conclude that a) then Christ did not raise b) our preaching is useless because the central message is about Christ died and raised, c) your faith is empty and worthless, d) we are misrepresenting God as One who did the raising, e) you are still in your sins because Christ did not conquer sin and death, f) there is no hope for those who have died before us, g) and if faith in Christ is only beneficial before the grave then this is a really pathetic faith. The resurrection of Christ is crucial to all that we believe. If our belief is in a mystical resurrection or an ideological resurrection or anything other than a bodily resurrection then our hope is gone.

“…we are of all people most to be pitied.” We have the words of eternal life. Without that, we have nothing. And to many outside the church who do not believe in the resurrection through Christ will likely pity us. If the resurrection is fake news then we ought to be at the beach sipping latte’s on a Sunday morning.

The order of God and of the end (20-28)

The firstfruit of the resurrection (20-23)

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…” Paul believes this to be fact. Stated as much already in the opening Verses of this passage. Here put succinctly that the resurrection is a fact. Christ was raised. He was passive in this action. These are the little details that create a bigger picture of the work of the Trinity in salvation. See Romans 8:11.

“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” The logic here is not a universal salvation logic but that through one man came sin and through one man is the source and fountain of salvation. Paul describes Jesus as the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. His is the initial resurrection and a model of the rest to come. Christ was raised first and is the risen LORD seated on the throne right now. Next will be raised all who have died in Christ (and those who believed God in the past (not just believed in God but had the faith of the righteous). Then all who belong to him. Compare 1 Thess 4:13-18.

Then comes the end (24-26)

“For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” The sequence of events in Verses 24-26 are not actually a sequence but a comparison between now and later. Paul begins with “then the end will come…” and mentions the reign of Christ until his enemies are defeated but a careful read ought to reveal that when the end comes, he will hand the kingdom over to God the Father who gave Him the name that is above all names to begin with. Jesus must reign until his enemy is defeated and then the end will come. His reign is right now. Death has been defeated and a day will come when death itself will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14). So Paul is not describing any millennial position here (for those who understand) but that the next thing to happen in God’s plans for this creation is for death to be destroyed and the kingdom handed back to the Father.

The order of God (27-28)

I have nothing to add to what seems to be a clear statement of fact in Verses 27-28. It is an adventure to pick up clues throughout all of Scripture with regard to the relationship inside the Trinity. If anybody is to use this Verse as an argument against Jesus being God, then further reading on the Trinity is recommended.

What’s the point if death is the end? (29-34)

“…what will those do who are baptized for the dead?” Now this is an interesting verse if ever I’ve seen one! Let me tell you what I believe this means by stepping you through my investigation into this…

  1. That verse looks odd because it immediately doesn’t fit my theology.
  2. Either my theology is wrong and we ought to be baptising people on behalf of the dead OR there is something else happening – something I’m missing.
  3. I wonder if Paul is referring to something that the Corinthians are doing and rather than correct them, he is using their practice (right or wrong) to continue to defend the resurrection.
  4. BUT I almost never need to lean on background information (cultural practices and such) in order to understand a tricky passage. What is it that we need to use? Context!
  5. Context will definitely come in handy but I still can’t get around the simple reading of this verse that seems to tell me that people are being baptised on behalf of the dead. I will go to a commentary for some help with the original language…
  6. Brian Rosner and Roy Ciampa, in their 2012 commentary show convincingly that the word ‘for’ can definitely be translated ‘on account of’. This changes the purpose of the baptism – not for the dead but because of the dead. That is, why do you get baptised on the basis of the faith of those who are now dead?! This is worth exploring and seeing how it fits in the CONTEXT of the rest of the section.
  7. “If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on account of them? And…why do we endagner ourselves…if the dead are not raised” (emphasis added using Verses 29-32 to see this in it’s context).

So, that is the process I went through to untangle this passage. I did need a commentary to help me at this point and it gave me the confidence with the author’s thorough investigation in the use of the Greek to suggest an alternate reading and then I checked that new reading against the context of the section and it fits very, very well.

Paul has been arguing that if the resurrection is not true then our faith is empty and useless. Verses 29 to 32 are the nail in the coffin of this argument. If death is the end, then why are we bothering to be baptised ourselves and why would we endure the hardships of evangelism? Let’s just eat and drink and sleep in on Sundays cause death is the end!

“…wild beasts in Ephesus…” Paul is using this language to speak of the push back he received there against the gospel but it was worth it for the sake of those who were baptised in the end. It is worth it because the resurrection is real.

“Do not be misled…come back to your senses…there are some who are ignorant of God…” The final two Verses make a good segway to the second half of the Chapter where we’ll pick up next week. There are clearly some people speaking into the hearers in Corinth saying that there is no resurrection and Paul reports that this is corrupting their faith resulting in sin. Perhaps it is these people who are saying: “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Paul says, let’s preach Christ crucified and make disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit since the resurrection means that we will all be raised up in glory at the last.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The hope that we have which drives all that we do is for the resurrection. If there is nothing after death, then our faith is stupid. If there is a resurrection then we must pay close attention to the gospel of Jesus Christ, that he died for our sins, and raised up in glory. If we trust in him then we shall be raised up with him. The resurrection of Christ from the dead is the pinnacle of our faith. It points us back to the historic and researchable evidence of Christ and it points us forward to eternal life. And it shapes our present to persevere and fight the good fight of faith.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The historic resurrection. Paul says that if Jesus did not rise from the dead then our faith is pointless. So, when we live in an age that even doubts the moon landing (don’t get me started), how can we be so confident that Jesus rose from the dead. Surely we should wonder if this is just an incredible myth that found traction and we’re all fools for continuing to believe it! Well, here are a few thoughts in this very short space. 1) Jesus did die. This is true beyond the gospel narratives. If there is to be a resurrection ‘legend’ then his death must also be concrete. Otherwise any news of seeing Jesus could be discredited by the claim that he didn’t die to begin with. 2) The report that he rose from the dead would be a very extreme lie, easily refuted. This is known as the ‘criterion of embarrassment’. Why would our church thrive on such a ridiculous claim? Furthermore, the gospel accounts speak with such credibility because they use women as their first witnesses. If it was a made up story, it would not have been women as the primary source unless that’s exactly what happened. 3) Paul and Peter and James all claim to have seen the risen Jesus. Now, that’s not the proof. The weight of their report is not in what they said but in the life and ministry that they were willing to die for. Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:30-32 – why go through all that if the resurrection was not real? Paul was not relying on secondary evidence but on his own eyes seeing the risen Lord. 4) The shape of the Jewish church did not change on the basis of Jesus’ death but on the basis of His resurrection. There were others who claimed to be the Messiah or someone of importance that came and went, so what made Jesus different? If it were just his teachings then his crucifixion showed that all who followed him fled at such persecution. But the speeches in Acts show that it is the resurrection that gave the apostles the confidence that this was all for real and worth giving your life to.

Topic B: Dealing with difficult Verses. Look back to the explanation of Verse 29 and discuss the good approach to understanding the bible when things are hard. Things NOT to do: 1) write difficult things off as cultural or impossible to know because we don’t know the culture. 2) Ask Google. 3) write off difficult things just because it seems odd or silly. We must humble ourselves under the word of God and not treat the word of God as something that we have the right to sit in judgment over. 4) Import whatever we feel to be right and force the text to agree with us.

Topic C: Looking forward to the resurrection. Paul says that His faith means something only because of the resurrection. He says that he goes on endangering his life because of the resurrection. So, it follows that we ought to have a faith that is strong if we hold fast to the hope of the resurrection and that we are willing to live sacrificially because of the resurrection hope. We can lose everything that we have and know that we will be eternally rich. We can risk friendships if it might mean that people hear the gospel and turn to Christ and live. We can learn the lesson of perseverance and thankfulness even through pain and suffering because we believe in the resurrection. What would you do differently if you knew that in a year from now, you would be living your eternal life with Christ in heaven?