“We Believe in the Resurrection of the Body”: Reflections on 1 Corinthians 15, Part 4

 29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,

“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”

33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.

–1 Corinthians 15.29-34 (NIV)

In today’s passage we see Paul continuing to lay out the practical implications of Jesus’ resurrection (and all that it previews) for daily living, this time applying it to his own life.  Paul is applying to himself what he has just written to the Corinthians (see verses 20-28) and preparing us to hear what he has to say next about the resurrection body. He is also warning the Corinthians what can happen to both individual Christians and the church as a whole if they allow others (both inside and outside the church) to rob them of their resurrection hope and to that we now turn.

In applying the resurrection hope to his own life, Paul is inviting us to look at what has motivated his behavior as well as the practice of baptizing some for the dead, whatever that entailed (it likely will never be known because while it appears to be a regular practice among the Corinthians, it was short-lived). The point Paul wants us to see is this. Why would he risk his life everyday for the sake of the Gospel if it is all a lie? Why would the Corinthians bother baptizing some for the dead if death were the final outcome?Extending Paul’s argument to Christians today, why would we likewise intentionally seek the path of humility, suffering, and service, and crucify our natural self-centered desires–something that itself is long, difficult, and often painful–for a lie? Does not compute, baby, and interestingly many atheists would agree with Paul on exactly this point!

Paul’s reference to fighting wild beasts in Ephesus (the city from which he wrote this letter), is surely metaphorical because Acts 19 gives us no indication that Paul ever had to face wild beasts. Instead, Luke tells us that Paul’s preaching incited riots in Ephesus because he had challenged the entrenched economic, religious, and political practices there and many didn’t take too kindly to that (does your faith shake things up when you are around or do you blend in nicely with your surrounding culture so that folks won’t take notice of you?). People do stupid things all the time–like write a six-part series of reflections on 1 Corinthians 15. 🙂 But to risk your life each day for a lie is about as stupid as you can get. Doubtless there were some who thought Paul was that stupid, but that betrays an outsider without a clue looking in on the party and not understanding what he is seeing. “No,” says Paul. “If death is all that we have to look forward to, I’ve been pretty foolish in my ministry and had better refocus on the more important things of life, like grabbing all that I can and enjoying the limited time I have on earth.” This was the predominant pagan belief about life and death and it is critical to our understanding of Paul’s writings about the resurrection that we understand this. That’s why it is so ironic that Paul quotes a pagan philosopher, the Greek poet Menander, here.

But Paul also has another warning for the Corinthians and Christians living today. Again quoting Menander with no small amount of irony, Paul tells us that bad company corrupts good character and exhorts the Corinthians to stop their sinning! What is Paul talking about? He is warning us not to let our surrounding culture or others who call themselves Christian, but who do not believe in the resurrection or who have distorted its original meaning by spiritualizing it, rob us of our resurrection hope that Jesus’ resurrection provides us. To lose our hope in Christ’s resurrection is a sin according to Paul! When’s the last time you have heard that from the pulpit (or from other Christians)? As Christians, we should be terribly indignant when we hear others try to rob us of our resurrection hope, especially when those others call themselves “Christian.”

Do you love your fellow believers enough to rebuke them for their folly? Do you love unbelievers enough to patiently, humbly, and  thoughtfully lay out the basis for your hope?

Living in a culture that is increasingly hostile toward the Christian faith makes it easy for us to get from whence Paul comes. If you don’t believe that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, you cannot hope to believe that God’s promised new creation is true and that it has actually begun with Jesus’ resurrection. And that meant for Paul that as Christians we have nothing at all, let alone any kind of hope. Given the sloppy and outright heretical teaching of many within the church on the topic of resurrection, this is a real challenge for us as Christians today. To believe in anything other than bodily resurrection and the hope of new creation to which it points is a sin and Paul tells us we should be ashamed of allowing anyone to rob us of it. ASHAMED! How politically incorrect of Paul! That kind of language does not play well to our ears but we miss an example of real love on Paul’s part if we fail to hear it and take heed. Paul wants the Corinthians (and Christians everywhere and in all times) to stand firm in their hope and not let anyone rob us of our real hope, a hope that allows us to be joyful in all circumstances because we know our future is assured and in God’s good hands.

Are you letting others rob you of this hope? Are you robbing others of this hope by believing in something other than bodily resurrection and new creation?