Category Archives: Maturity

Mark 4:1-20 The parable of the soils

Discussion question:

What is the biggest threat to your faith (or spiritual well-being)?

Read Mark 4:1-20

Context

Mark’s gospel began quickly. Both John and Jesus’ preaching ministry was about repentance and belief that the kingdom of God has come near. Jesus has attracted attention from all around through his healing ministry but he has said that the reason he has come is to preach.

He has called a group of disciples to follow him and has already stirred up trouble with regard to understanding the Sabbath. One stand out event so far was the healing of a paralyzed man where Jesus declared himself able to forgive sins – like only God can!

He has declared the those who do God’s will are included in his family.

Observation

Structure

  • Ready to teach in parables (1-2)
  • The parable told (3-8)
  • The problem with parables (9-13)
  • The parable explained (14-20)

Ready to teach in parables (1-2)

“Again Jesus began to teach by the lake.” Lake Galilee is where he has preached before and has been referenced previously. Mk 1:45, 2:13, 3:7. The first reference doesn’t mention a lake but the second implies that he has preached by a lake before. He was not able to preach in the synagogues since Mark 1:45.

“The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat…” This seems like a very practical way of creating a natural staged area where he faced the whole crowd and wasn’t engulfed. The point here is that it was a practical solution.


“He taught them many things by parables…” As stories go, they begin with setting a scene before they introduce the problem. Verse 2 can be seen as the problem of this narrative. Yes, he will tell a parable and then explain the parable and we will learn a great message from the parable…but the problem in this narrative is that he teaches in parables. This is made clear by verse 2 and verses 9-13. The parable is one layer of the story but the outer layer is that the kingdom is being revealed to those who God reveals it to.

The parable told (3-8)

“Listen!” This is not an incidental word. Verse 9 ends the parable with Jesus’ challenge to hear if you can! Can we listen?

“…some fell on…” Verses 3-8 are not challenging to listen to on a literal level. He speaks easy words to understand which you can draw on paper. Jesus explains the parable later, but for now, we just observe the four stages of his story. 1) a path 2) rocky places 3) thorns and 4) good soil. Drawing them out can be very helpful. How many of the four scenarios are commendable?

The problem with parables (9-13)

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” This is the challenge from Jesus. He began with “Listen!” and ends with “Did you listen?” 

“When he was alone… the others around him…” It seems odd to describe him as alone and yet accompanied by the 12 and others. Assuming that the writer is not an idot, this means that the large crowd of verse 1 was gone and now Jesus was alone – with those who were travelling with him.

“The secret of the kingdom of God…” Jesus’ first recorded words in Mark were “Repent for the kingdom of God has come near.” Now he talks about the secret of the kingdom of God. The key word here is secret. Paul will talk about the mystery of God which has now been revealed in Jesus (Eph 1:9; Col 1:26-27; 2:2). Jesus is the mystery of the kingdom revealed. He is the word of God. He will stand right before everybody and only those who will listen will see him.

“…has been given to you. But to those on the outside…” Jesus will speak plainly to his disciples but speak in parables elsewhere. These disciples will take the mysteries and give them to the world. Even then, only those who have ears will hear.

“They may be ever seeing but never perceiving…” Isaiah 6:9-10 are referenced here. There is not a word for word quote but idea for idea. Notably the original quote says healed rather than forgiven. When Jesus came, the big idea for God’s salvation was honed in toward forgiveness rather than prosperity. The idea is that the kingdom of God has come near – but who will enter? Once you understand grace and who Jesus is truly, and embrace him, the kingdom of God makes so much sense like you can’t understand why everybody else has a difficulty seeing it! It’s not rocket science. But people are kept from believing because of the deception of wickedness (2 Thess 2:10).

“Don’t you understand this parable?” The problem of the narrative of Mark 4:1-20 is about understanding and hearing. The good soils will be those who hear and embrace the truth – the word of God. What prevents producing crops in the kingdom is closed ears.

“How can you understand any parable?” I’ve come to notice that Jesus asks rhetorical questions from time to time (eg, Mk 10:18) but we actually need to answer the question! How will we understand any parable? What is the answer to that? Isn’t it that Jesus will tell us? That the word itself will explain it? How do can we have ears to hear? We must turn them on and turn to the bible and listen. The bible will explain what the bible means. There is more to it: The Spirit, who the Son and the Father sent, will lead us into all truth. There is an act of grace in having the secrets to the kingdom of God revealed. It takes the mercy of God. But on our par, it takes turning on our brain and opening our ears and listening to the bible. Jesus explained the parable to the disciples! That is how they would understand the parable.

The parable explained (14-20)

“…like seed along the path, where the word is sown.” The combination of the seed and the path are in focus. The seed is the word of God. God speaking. The bible. Sometimes when the word of God is shared, it falls on the path.

“…as soon as they hear it…” This is how the word is sown, by sharing it to those who can hear it.

“…Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.” This is both sudden and criminal. Satan steals it away. The hearer treats it as junk. Message heard and ignored or ridiculed.

“…on rocky places…at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time.” These hearers receive the word of God with joy. It pleases them. Like a lovely and comforting story. Not immediately discarded but heard with a smile on their face.

“…when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” Can Christians fall away? Not if they remain! But hearers with shallow roots quickly retreat when tested or challenged. Their understanding of the gospel is shallow. Any number of arguments or alternate options can knock them off their faith. Paul celebrated the church in Colossae because they had hear the true gospel and truly understood the grace of God (Col 1:3-8).

“…seed sown among the thorns…” The challenge to the third group is the struggles and worries of this life. If group 2 are easily challenged by their faith, group 3 are overwhelmed by the distractions of this world. Finances, ambition, entertainment, idolatry, everything else comes before Jesus. Colossians 1:15ff talks about the priority of Christ for life and salvation. 

“…worries of life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word…” Matthew 6:19-33 contains Jesus’ advice to stop worrying and seek first the kingdom of God.

“…making it unfruitful.” The first three scenarios are unacceptable outcomes. It is not good enough to be 2 because it is better than 1! All three end in the same result – the word of God produces no fruit in them.

“…hear…accept…produce a crop…” This is the lesson. Listen. Adopt. Do.

“…some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” The word of God does not stop with this one person but produces more. Both good works and more seed sown by the farmer. The Twelve listening to Jesus will produce an international church that has not and will not end until Christ returns.

Suggested questions for running this study

Q1. Verses 1 and 2 set the scene for Jesus’ sermon. What stands out in the description of this scene?

Q2. Draw the parable as explained in Verses 3-8. Which of the four scenes are commendable?

Q3. What does Jesus reveal to be the real problem here according to verses 9-13?

Q4. Talk about each type of soil where the word is planted. What are the differences between all three? And which of the four soils are fruitful?

Meaning

The kingdom of God is about hearing the gospel (Jesus the mystery of God revealed). To unlock the secret of the kingdom of God we need to listen, adopt and do what it says – like it is worth listening to (not to be stolen or discarded), like it is rich in knowledge and truth (deep roots), and like it is of highest priority (not strangled by the things of this world. Jesus is offering us the keys to the kingdom. What we need to do is stop and listen – have ears to hear and do what it says!

Application

Challenge#1 – Sharing the word to those who don’t care.

There will be many who don’t know what to do with the message of the gospel. It will be either white noise to them or they will be repulsed and hate every word of it. Our task is not to only plant where there will be fruit, but to speak the word everywhere. There is nobody on the planet that doesn’t need to hear the gospel and have a chance to listen.

Challenge#2 – Hearing the depths of the gospel.

Simply knowing that God loves you and that Jesus is awesome is not enough to sustain you in your faith. Believing that church is lovely but not knowing your bible well is not a healthy place for anybody. The word of God is written for adults to dig deep and understand as well as for children to read and grasp. But we don’t want to remain children in the faith. The knowledge of God is vast and the bible is filled with robust theology. It can handle scrutiny and can stand the test of time. Only shallow readers and mockers think that it is not worth reading and knowing or that Jesus is only 2 dimensional. Set goals to continue to grow in your knowledge of God and his word.

Challenge#3 – Riches I heed not nor man’s empty praise

Knowing what the Kingdom of God is about ought to set our compass on eternal things and not the things of this earth. Read Matthew 6:19-34; or Luke 12:22-31; or Colossians 3:1-18 during the week to pray about seeking our eternal treasure and setting our minds on heavenly things and not on earthly things. Write a list of all the things that fill your mind regularly with worry and take them all to God in slow and concentrated prayer. Cast your anxiety on him and seek first the kingdom of God. Once you have ears to hear, it makes perfect sense.

Firm Foundations – Study 6 – Colossians 3:1-17

The new you part 1: Put on love

Topic covered: How do we now live as Christians?
Glossary: sin; fruit of the Spirit; forgiveness; love. Now-but-not-yet.

Discussion Question

Which do you think is better: to be told what not to do or what to do?

Context

In the first half of his letter, Paul has proclaimed Christ to be above everything else. Christ is the source of life and Christ is the only way to or eternal hope. In Chapter 2, he hopes that his readers have ‘died with Christ’ so that every other reality is subordinate to knowing and following him. He has said that we are to continue living our lives in him, established and built up in the faith.

In the next section of his letter, we will hear examples of what this all looks like. Paul will give us some solid applications of what he has laid down in Chapters 1 to 3. What follows is not new thoughts on unrelated issues, but what flows out of our true knowledge of the gospel.

Read Colossians 3:1-17

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

What did you see?

Structure

  • Set your hearts on eternal hope (1-4)
  • Walk away from your old self (5-9)
  • Put on love (10-14)
  • Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly (15-17)

Set your hearts on eternal hope (1-4)

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ…” Paul begins his second half of the letter with this brief reminder of what he has been saying so far. Remember that the letter is one flowing argument based on the truth that Christ is the source of life and the giver of eternal hope.

“…you have been raised with Christ…” This is another little gem statement about the gospel. If the free gift of salvation was not complete, then Paul couldn’t say that we HAVE been raised with Christ. He’s not talking about a future resurrection but about a reality right now for those who have already DIED with Christ. Our identity is now paired with him. Our status in life for all eternity is as alive and qualified because we are with Christ.

“…set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” In 2:20, Paul said to stop allowing everyday things to have eternal meaning. He now says it in the positive: set your hearts on what is eternal. The King is on His throne and our destination is with Him. What matters most is to make what matters most matter. Christ, the eternal King, is all that matters. So, lift your eyes sinner. Set your horizon higher dreamer. Give your goals an eternal perspective. Our hearts are our loves and passions. What is it that you desire and long for? Take your eyes off what is fleeting and place it on the eternal and true. Fall in love with the hope that is in you. Believing that Jesus Christ is really seated in heaven at God’s right hand will change your life!

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Not just what we love but our thoughts. The bible speaks to both parts of the person which work together. What we know, we will train our hearts to love. And what we love, that is what we will pursue. Earthly things, refers to everything that is passing away. Our generation (as all that has preceded us) is so fickle and rejoices in short-lived shiny things. But this is the essence of the fight within all of us to sin no more. Sin is about grabbing hold of things that are not worth loving but we do anyway.

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” This is not a new thought but embraces 2:20-3:2. Picture this like boarding a lifeboat. We have boarded the boat, which is Christ, because we see that we need saving and this is our only real option. But boarding the boat means leaving the water or the sinking vessel. Your only future is to stay in that boat and not play around with the danger that you have left behind.

“When Christ, who is your life, appears…” So, this is an important point of view of the Christian. Although we have not seen Christ, we love him and although we don’t see him now, we believe in him and are filled with the joy of knowing him now and anticipating seeing him face to face (1 Peter 1:8; 1 John 3:1-2). A day will come, maybe in our lifetime, maybe not, when Jesus will come again in the flesh and wrap up this earth which is temporal. We live for this future and it affects the way we deal with everything in this world. We are in Christ now, but we will see him for real in the future. This is called the now-but-not-yet reality of now. We are hidden with Christ but we are not yet with him in sight.

“…then you also will appear with him in glory.” It’s easy to talk about God as the glorious one and that Jesus is the one to be glorified and praised but we are also told that there is a future version of us that even we don’t know the reality of. One day, the person who God is working in you to be will be revealed in glory. We will see ourselves for what God, by grace, has made us. On the last day, we will be united with Christ and both he and we will be seen for who we really are. This is what we live for now. So, don’t have a short view of the future. Think about eternity!

Walk away from your old self (5-9)

“Put to death…” Sit on this phrase and soak it in. What follows are things that we need to do away with and not put on a shelf to come back to but to end our relationship with them. Christ is our life, and we are to begin our discipleship by murdering. The examples that follow in verse 5 are about sex.

“…therefore…” This word tells us that what follows comes out of the work that Christ has and is doing in us. Christ is our life…therefore. We are hidden in Christ…therefore. You will appear with Christ in glory…therefore. This is the power of the gospel. We will put to death only because of what Christ has done. Without his work, we are incapable of putting these to death.

“…whatever belongs to your earthly nature…” This phrase in with Verse 2 when he told us not to set our minds on earthly things. But he then goes on to list what they are.

“…sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” We could say that these 5 items here relate to passions of the flesh. Most fall in the category of sex. Greed is related in that it is about taking what we feel is needed even though it is not. John Woodhouse, former Principal of Moore Theological College, argues that all of the items are under the umbrella of the first item: sexual immorality. It is easy to see that the items are to do with passions of the flesh. We see, we want, we take.

Sex contained inside marriage is a very Christian idea. At the time of the New Testament writers, this was not common sense nor the norm. We live in an age again when this is no longer normal. Saving sex for marriage and containing it in marriage seems a very odd thing to do in these days. If one believes that there is no God or that God does not wish to judge us, then we are merely creatures doing what creatures do. But Colossians 3:5-7 teaches us that there are immoral approaches to sex.

“…which is idolatry.” Feeding the passions of the flesh is akin to self-worship. It places sex above God. Just in case someone reads this and thinks I am suggesting God hates sex, clearly the passage is about sexual immorality and impurity, and not everything about sex.

“Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” When we read the bible, we understand that sin is about feeding the flesh in self worship. God’s anger is against his creatures who saw, liked, took and ate – despite the clear instruction against it. The wrath of God is judgment day.

“You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.” Remember that Christians are not good people, they are sinners saved by grace. We used to walk in these ways. We can never look on a Christian and presume that they know nothing of the ‘wild life’ or rebellion and so on. They just don’t tend to brag about them!

“But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these…” First we were to put to death sexual immorality. Now there is something we are to put away. Like you put the gun back in the holster. What follows is a list of things that we do with our mouth.

“…anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” A lot goes on between the eyes, the brain and the mouth. It can happen extremely quickly, but self-control is an outworking of the gospel. In the book of James we are taught that if you can control your tongue, then you can control your whole body! See James 3:3-12!

“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.” Here is a great summary of 3:5-8. The old self used to look out for number one. Child development experts note that lying is a normal stage of mental maturity, indicating intelligence. Could it not also be a kind of evidence that sin is in all of us?

The power of the gospel is transformed lives, desires and a trained tongue. We transform our thinking by growing in our knowledge of the gospel and of the true meaning of God’s grace. We reflect on the eternal hope stored up for us in heaven and that alters our wants and desires in the immediate.

Put on love (10-14)

“…and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” We don’t simply kill and put away the old self but we replace it with knew thinking. We learn more and more about our great and perfect Creator. God is referred to as Creator here to remind us that he has made us for a purpose and a reason. We are not made for lies and malice and anger and sexual immorality. We are being transformed to the likeness of God. Sin has turned his creation into a wild mess but grace will win in the end.

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew…Christ is all, and is in all.” Paul rounds out this paragraph under the theme of being images of God in that everywhere around the world, every race and human culture are one when in Christ. We lose our divisions and call one another brother and sister. In the church, there is no division according to race or anything, but we are all being transformed to the image of our one Creator in Christ Jesus.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people…” The title of God’s chosen people originates in the Old Testament when God called Abraham and his descendants to follow Him by faith. This is an element of the doctrine of election which says that we are not saved because we first came to God but that he first chose and called us.

“…holy and dearly loved…” What a way to speak of the people of God! We are not called to be enslaved to God and to serve Him for His own selfish gain – but we are holy because of the sins washed away from us and we are dearly loved, demonstrated by the sacrifice God made for us in Christ (Romans 5:8).

“…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” The gospel produces fruit like this (Galatians 5:22-23). There is a decisiveness to this in that we are to clothe ourselves. Christian growth does not happen entirely by the work of the Spirit but by the cooperation of us with the Holy Spirit.

Compassion: to feel concern for others.

Kindness: often demonstrated with the way we use our tongue but always when we think of how our speech or actions will affect someone else.

Humility: the opposite of boasting and pride. Even an expert in a subject can demonstrate humility toward others – making them feel important too.

Gentleness: a soft word, a quiet approach and a soft touch all stem from compassion, kindness, humility and patience.

Patience: Don’t let your time be the most important. It could be that someone else needs more time to come to an answer or to learn a new skill.

“Bear with one another and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.” This is a truly remarkable difference that the gospel can make. Bearing with one another is about letting things slide at times. It comes from patience. We give others room to make mistakes because you ain’t perfect either. I love it when others bear with me while I work things out or while I have time to repent of my anger or pride. Nobody rebuked me but knew that I had stuff to work on. So, don’t jump on one another every time someone does something wrong. This really helps with road rage! And then there’s forgiveness. After a recognition of sin or fault by someone else and a ‘sorry’, we run to forgiveness. The gospel must teach us this. Just like the gospel itself, forgiveness follows repentance. Without repentance there is no forgiveness of sins (Jeremiah 5:3; Ezekiel 18:32; Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 11:18; 2 Corinthians 7:10).

“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Enough said? Well, forgiveness cost God. Forgiveness is not easy but God believes that it is worth the cost. It can hurt to forgive somebody but this is the way of grace.

“And over all these virtues…” What Paul has listed are examples only of Christian virtues – or virtues found in the chosen people of God. We were created to be like this.

“…put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” When you practice any of these virtues you are showing love and exercising love. Ever wondering what to do in a situation? Put on love. Ever wondering what to say to a person? Put on love.

So we have reflected on where our hearts and minds are to be directed (1-4), we have decided to put away the old man (5-9) and replace him with the virtues of love (10-16). Now we look at what gospel itself does in the community of believers.

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly (15-17)

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” I love the thought of allowing the peace of Christ to do its thing. Don’t resist what God is doing. Allow the gospel to be communicated and meditated on. Let the impact of the gospel dominate your heart and your passions and desires. Allow God to be the greatest treasure to you. We let that happen by putting to death the deeds of the flesh and putting away the old habits of sin.

“…since as members of one body you were called to peace.” The gospel does not bring people together to be enemies but to be friends. We lose our high views of ourselves and surrender to Christ and all of us are on equal terms – one in Christ.

“And be thankful.” Practice being thankful. Make a point of ticking off the things to be thankful for. Christians ought to be thankful creatures. Thankfulness dominates resentment and discontentment.

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly…” Again, let the gospel flow in the Christian community. Let the church be well fertilized by the word of God.

“…as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom…” To teach is to instruct and remind one another of the gospel truth. To admonish is to urge and steer people back to the gospel life. Both are to be done with all wisdom. That means to know when and how to do it. We don’t just speak truth because it’s true. We do it with compassion, kindness and patience.

“…through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit…” So, the teaching and admonishing are part of our singing tradition. The songs we sing ought to be filled with gospel teaching which encourages one another in the truths of God’s word. From the Spirit refers to the content of the songs being from the mind of God.

“…singing to God…” So, our songs are sung toward one another because they are for teaching and admonishing and also sung to God as our proclamation of faith.

“…with gratitude in your hearts.” Be thankful.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Paul ends this section also with a great summary of what he has been saying all along. Our tongues and our actions must be changed by the gospel. Christ is the true King seated at the right side of God and our destiny is to be glorified with him. So let’s get busy transforming our minds and actions and words for his glory now! Put on love and do everything because Jesus is your Lord. Not out of resentment but from a thankful response to the kindness, love and mercy that God the Father has poured on us through Christ.

What did we learn?

Paul ends this section, in verse 17, with a great summary of what he has been saying all along. Our tongues and our actions must be changed by the gospel. Christ is the true King seated at the right side of God and our destiny is to be glorified with him. So let’s get busy transforming our minds and actions and words for his glory now! Put on love and do everything because Jesus is your Lord. Not out of resentment but from a thankful response to the kindness, love and mercy that God the Father has poured on us through Christ.

Now what?

Topic A: Putting to death and putting away. We must remember that our project is not to build up a perfect life but to embrace what God has already done for us in Christ. We are not earning a salvation for ourselves (Christ has claimed it for us) but when we turned to Christ, we became his followers. We are in the race. As runners, we need to get rid of things that don’t fit this life anymore. It is time to walk away from our past habits and embrace new ones. CS Lewis once wrote about Satan’s ploy to convince us that the only was to get rid of temptation is to give into it. This is a lie. Learn to turn up prayer when temptation comes. The temptation will pass and when it does, the deed will no longer look beautiful but pathetic.

Topic B: The fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit of God. They are not good deeds but good character and virtues. The fruit of the Spirit does not grow by focusing on the fruit but by focusing on the foundation which is Christ and His kingdom. Colossians talks about producing the fruit of the Spirit like putting on clothing. In that sense, we can help the Spirit work by practicing and thinking about such things as compassion and kindness. Again, understand that this improvement does not come by building your inner self and strength up but by letting Christ rule in your heart.

Topic C: Forgiving as the Lord forgave you. We’ve heard this before! The Lord’s prayer puts this right at the centre. Praying the Lord’s prayer can help us to meditate on who is the rightful ruler, whose kingdom are we serving and how are we to think about love and forgiveness, temptation and power. The point is to look to God for your motivation and direction. Maturity comes to those who let Christ rule. When faced with the hard choice of forgiving others, ask yourself what Jesus has been willing to do for you.

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.