Good morning everyone! Do grab your Bibles and open them up to 1 Corinthians 15. As you do that I’m going ask a question: 'What beliefs stand at the heart of the Christian faith?' or 'What beliefs are central for a Christian?' I wonder how you would answer that question. Maybe you would say love. Maybe you would go for forgiveness. Or maybe you would suggest belief in life after death. And all these are essential components of Christianity – but they all exist outside of Christianity too.
No, the beliefs absolutely fundamental to the Christian faith, and unique to it, are the sacrificial death of Jesus on a cross; and his resurrection from the dead three days later.
And yet, according to a BBC commissioned ComRes survey three years ago, a quarter of people who describe themselves as Christians in Great Britain do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Worse still, other polls have suggested that more than a third of Church of England clergy doubt or deny the physical resurrection of Jesus!
The apostle Paul would be dismayed, but not surprised. He was aware that the church he was writing to in Corinth, had members who were saying that there was no resurrection and, as we shall see this morning, he was uncompromising in calling out their hypocrisy and their foolishness and the emptiness of their position.
So, before we go any further let’s ask God for his help. Let’s pray.
Father, please help us to understand the next part of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, and please would you show us how to apply our lives to this part of your word. Amen.
Our passage this morning concludes the section that began way back in verse 12. If you cast your eyes back to that verse, you’ll see its where we learn that some in the Corinthian church are saying there is no resurrection of the dead. And from verse 29 Paul wraps up his response to those claims with three more arguments designed to contradict the resurrection deniers.
If we look carefully, we’ll see there is a common thread weaving its way through Paul’s argument and it’s this:
1. What We Believe About the Future Affects How We Live in the Present (v.29-32)
Let’s take a look at how this plays out. Firstly,
1) …if no resurrection, why this bizarre practice? (v.29) Take a look at v.29.
"Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?"
Now I know what you’re thinking. I’m fairly confident you were thinking the same thing when you heard it read earlier 'what is that all about?' The honest answer, no one is exactly sure. Whatever the practice is it sits on the spectrum between bizarre and wrong.
But the practice isn’t the point. The point is the flow of Paul’s argument. He’s saying that this practice, whatever it was, didn’t match with what they claimed. In other words, what you believe about the future and how you’re actually living in the present, do not add up. They don’t make sense! Why would people do this, if they really believed that?
It’s a fascinating argument. And despite not fully understanding all that was involved with that practice, we can translate the principle of Paul’s argument to more modern times, can’t we?
To a society that insists there is no life after death on one level, ours is one surprisingly interested in it on another level. We’re encouraged to suppress that interest and push it to the taboo areas of social interaction, but deep down it's there. It’s why some people pray for the dead today. It’s why there’s a perennial fascination with Ouija boards and contacting the dead. It’s why some whose family members have died will say, 'Oh he’s up there looking down on me', or 'She’s gone to a better place!'
If there’s no resurrected eternity – why this kind of behaviour, as bizarre and wrong as some of it is. It’s not just wishful thinking. It is because deep down, God has placed eternity into the hearts of each and every one of us. (Ecc 3.11)
Sadly, some suppress that, distort it, deny it until they are convinced it’s not true. But ultimately, what we really believe about the future, will affect how we live in the present.
Maybe you’re watching the stream this morning and you don’t normally attend a church, you wouldn’t call yourself religious or anything like that, but deep down there is an ache, a hope, a feeling that this life isn’t just all there is. My friend, if that’s you, that feeling has been planted in you by your creator. The truth is each one of us has an eternal future either with or without God. So do keep watching, keep exploring, keep reading his word and ask God to reveal himself to you. That’s a request God loves to say yes to!
Paul next turns to his own experience to counter the resurrection deniers. And he says…
2) …if no resurrection, why would I put myself through this suffering? (v.30-32) Verse 30:
"Why are we in danger every hour? … I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus?"
In other words, why on earth would I endanger my life and put myself through so much suffering for nothing? Stoned in Lystra. Imprisoned in Philippi. Riots in Ephesus (the reference to beasts is most likely metaphorical). If it wasn’t for the resurrection this was a man who liked suffering. No not at all. Don’t believe that for a moment. This is what he writes in 2 Corinthians 1.8 – turn over a page or two if your Bibles are still open.
"For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead."
Do you see that? Paul’s understanding of the purpose of his own suffering was to make him rely on God, not himself.
And Paul’s experience in this regard shouldn’t be misunderstood as unique to him – it’s the same for us.
We all suffer. The pattern of suffering manifests itself in all sorts of ways for us. But whatever its cause, its purpose is ultimately the same, to draw each one of us to rely more on God, not ourselves. So that relational breakdown you’ve been struggling with; that terminal illness; that virus; that lockdown cabin fever; that unexpected furlough; that depression; that bereavement; that unexpected phone call. Whatever it is, in the providence of God none of it is wasted and we are meant to rely more on him than we do on ourselves.
And ultimately, for Paul, suffering wasn’t a lasting problem because he knew that resurrection life will more than compensate for the suffering of the faithful in this life.
That’s our challenge today. Will we accept our suffering? Will we rely on God under it? Will we grow in grace and love through it? Will we refuse to believe the lie that it is our right to be free from it?
Church, what we believe about the future, radically affects how we live in the present.
Paul’s final argument in this section comes in verse 32. He says
3) …if no resurrection, why not just party?! (v.32) Verse 32
"If the dead are not raised, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'"
This is he modern “Eat-Sleep-Rave-Repeat” mantra isn’t it? That belief that, if death is really the end, there’s not much more we can do that just selfishly suck every last drop of pleasure out of this life. Remove the resurrection, says Paul, and all that makes sense is the hedonistic dream: 'get all you can, with anyone you can, anytime you can and anywhere you can – and don’t worry about anyone else but yourself!'
But Paul doesn’t do that, because what he believes about the future affects how he lives in the present.
And so Paul has been contradicting the view that there is no resurrection. Why the bizarre practice? Why embrace the suffering? Why aren’t I a 24hr party animal? Why? Because the resurrection is true – and, as we saw last week, it's proven by Jesus’ own resurrection!
Having established the fact of the resurrection, Paul switches tack. Up till now he’s kind of being playing off the back foot (you could say defensive in his arguing) but in verse 33 he comes down the wicket and gives some clear commands for Christians to obey in light of the truth of the resurrection. Each of them drives home the point that,
2. How We Live in the Present Should Model Resurrection Truth (v.33-34)
You think the “Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat” life sounds good? Think again.
1) Don’t be deceived! Paul says, verse 33
"Do not be deceived"
That way of life will mislead you. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. And then, quoting a Greek proverb, he says "Bad company ruins good morals."
You see, who and what we surround ourselves with, really does influence us. For example, just consider the various worldly influences that have bombarded you with their deceptive messages this week: TV, music, social media, co-workers, adverts, school curriculums at home, the news. Now consider the number of positive Christian influences in your life. Church for an hour a week, an occasional glance at my Bible, a rushed prayer. Is there a danger you’re out of balance here? Is there a danger you’re being deceived and the company you keep and the influences you allow in your life are actually ruining the way you model resurrection truth?
Brother, sister, if you can sense that that is a reality in your life, please don’t leave it unaddressed. Bad company ruins good morals.
But you know what. As helpful as that application may be, I can’t get away from the fact that Paul here is not addressing a worldly influence. Verse 1 of chapter 15 reminds us he is addressing the brothers. Verse 12 reminds us that it is some of the brothers who are responsible for the error and deception. And sadly, in the church today, just as there was then, there are those who would deceive you with resurrection denying teaching. We heard the stats at the beginning. Friends if you encounter resurrection deniers, 1 Corinthians 15 is where to gently, but firmly direct them.
It may be that you’re joining us from another church this morning. It may be that you yourself believe in the resurrection and you’re trying to be a faithful witness in a liberal and seemingly faithless church. Brother, sister, you need to know we pray for people like you often, and it may be the right thing for you to do to persevere in your situation. But could it also be that this is a word/warning in season for you. Especially if you are in a minority of one. Bad company ruins good morals and sooner or later, in all likelihood, you’ll begin to think like a resurrection denier, speak like one, believe what they do and stop modelling resurrection truth.
Do not be deceived, Paul says. Rather
2) Wake up and stop sinning!
"Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning."
In other words, we must realise how easy it is to stumble into a dangerous place and live lives that don’t model resurrection truth.
We don’t have time to look at it now, but it may be worth looking back in your own time to the second part of chapter 6. It’s quite possible that Paul has that chapter in mind as he writes this part of his letter.
But whatever the sinful behaviour, Paul is emphatic: do not intentionally persist in what you know to be sin. Don’t excuse it, or defend it, or dismiss it. Stop it! Why? Because as Paul continues in verse 34 "some have no knowledge of God." And because he adds "I say this to your shame" those with "no knowledge of God" surely refers to the resurrection deniers.
But here’s a thing – it’s also true to say that we need to wake up and stop sinning so that we can model resurrection truth to those don’t know God. This passage should do nothing if it doesn’t motivate us to get on and proclaim the vital gospel to those who don’t yet know Jesus.
Right now, God has given us an opportunity to speak into a unique situation and model the hope of resurrection truth to a world living under the fear of coronavirus and uncertainty about the future.
Again, maybe you’ve found yourself watching this morning out of a fear for the future, and you’re now realising that you don’t know God personally. Well part of the reason that Paul wrote this chapter is that he hoped that people like you would read it. He outlines the most important good news that you need to know about God, and it’s this. God has made a way for you to spend eternity with him. He has done this through his Son, Jesus Christ, who died for your sins as ancient Scripture foretold. On the cross he took your place. But he didn’t stay dead. He defeated death. After three days he rose from the dead, again in accordance with ancient Scripture. As such, all those who believe and trust in him, will also be resurrected to eternal life.
Friends, whether you are hearing this for the first time or the thousandth time, this is astoundingly good news for us all.
So, together, let’s wake up, let’s be wary of being deceived, let’s stop excusing and justifying our sin. And let’s commit to pray for each other - that we may grow in the grace, knowledge and love of our resurrected Lord!