1 Corinthians 15:29-58: Not in Vain
April 24, 2023
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Paul continues to show that the resurrection is an essential part of the Christian faith—and has deep implications for how we live today as well as our hope for life after death. He makes four points: 1) the lifestyle of the apostles is inexplicable without the resurrection; 2) a common question about the resurrection answered; 3) a vision portrayed; 4) the practical implications specified.
First, Paul argues that he, and other faithful ministers and apostles, are waging their whole life on the reality of the resurrection. What else could possibly motivate someone to live the way they do unless they are believing in life after death? Time after time, the real hope of Christians in the resurrection is proved by their astonishing self-sacrificial life in the present day and age. Of course, the question that this brings to us is: are we living as if the resurrection is real? Is our lifestyle radically different from that of secular people around us, or could someone actually not tell by how we live that we believe in the resurrection of the dead?
(In this first section, Paul makes his famous statement “What do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead?”, and after having said that, ever after people have wondered what Paul meant by saying it! My own view is rather traditional on this, but it makes best sense, I think, of the surrounding context and the shape of the biblical material as a whole, even if it means that Paul is using language in a slightly unusual way. I think what Paul is saying is that the baptismal ceremony itself involves a symbolic dying to self and raising to new life. Why does baptism do this if there is not a real dying and coming back to new life that is being preached in the baptism? But others will have other views on this unusual phrase of Paul’s.)
Second, Paul answers the question that many people have which is basically, if people are raised from the dead, how does that practically happen? Are all the pieces woven back together? What happens with—gross statement warning—the parts of the decayed body that have rotted away or been ingested by worms? But Paul will have nothing with this apparently commonsensical reasoning. He says that, in fact, we all know of “bodies” that die and come back to life. He is talking of seeds that, in a sense, do die and must die before they can grow into trees. In a similar way, he says the natural body is sowed, but then rises immortal. I have not come across many people who immediately find Paul’s way of explaining the resurrection helpful, but maybe it is because we are too unfamiliar with the rhythms of sowing and harvesting. In a sense, where Christians are buried, their graves are like harvest fields with good seed sown, and one day a crop of resurrection—by God’s power—will come about.
Which, third, brings Paul to his more visionary statements. And they are powerful. It is worth quoting in full to grasp again the majesty of what Paul writes:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
Much of this is mysterious—indeed, Paul says he is telling us a mystery. But it is a mystery that, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, is now revealed to us. Dwell in this place, soak in its truth, let the vision impact your life. Why? Because, fourth, Paul then tells the implications. It means that the whole depressing idea of life without meaning and purpose (so memorably articulated in the Old Testament by the Book of Ecclesiastes) is now overturned. We have the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ—which means that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.
And therefore—because of the resurrection—Christian, go live for Christ, go labor for him with passion, zeal, commitment, knowing that whatever is done for him matters and matters eternally.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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