1 Corinthians 15A (Verses 1-19)

Well, it has been quite a busy trip through this treatise of correction from the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth, easily the most loose-living center of commerce and trade on the Aegean Sea, and the critical location it held on the isthmus that has become famous for the raising of 300 warriors that stood down a Million-man armed force known as the Immortals under king Xerxes, thought to be the grandson of the king Artaxerxes, renowned king of the Persian Empire in the Book of Esther.  If it wasn’t his grandson, it was that king himself, I’m just not sure which, but that can be debated by others that want to know the details of history better than I do.  The lesson I take from history is to know what happened so one can learn and not repeat its mistakes.  Dates and personalities for me take a bit of a back seat to that idea.

Our study is what took these normal residents of a licentious, lascivious center of greed and turned them into the holy saints of the Most High God.  We’ve seen how they were rife with the divisions of the congregation over teaching – from legitimate teachers!  Beloved, we can see that even today in some places that do not understand the difference in perspective between Paul and James.  Paul is making (as he does in our passage this evening) an apologetic for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and James is taking that justification and saying that if one does not have a change of life with it, that the so-called believer was not a believer because he was never justified.  This evening, our consideration is not so much the sanctification, or the making holy of a life by God as we cooperate with Him in our trials and sufferings, but rather that justification itself, and we cannot confuse the two processes.  This would (and has) led to all manner of confusion about what it means to be saved by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone, as found in the Scriptures alone, all to the glory of God alone.  Much of the Protestant Reformation was and is about recovering the proper understanding of these concepts from the Scriptures, and it is the whole reason that BereanNation.com was formed in 2012.

That’s right, friends, we’ve been doing this for going on 9 years in March.  Initially, I wrote some articles and tried to use the site as a kind of digital outreach on the internet, but as of the last three or four years, we have begun to study what the scriptures say, and post that to this place as a kind of online reference for seekers that also want to study the Scriptures honestly and without rosy-coloured glasses, which we all wear at times, as much as we like to think we don’t.  I have never made a secret of my own views, that I lean strongly toward a complementarian view of the church, although I have encountered notable exceptions.  I am a classic premillennial believer that does believe in a “rapture” [Gk., harpazo, a catching away] that will occur either about the halfway point of the final 7-year period known as the Great Tribulation (and the time of Jacob’s Trouble), or before it all gets started (which I lean more towards these days).  I make no apology for it, and I make no apology for my adherence to the Doctrines of Grace, which I can see throughout Scripture, and I am not alone in seeing that.  It is my thought that people who are really saved and adhere to Arminianism just don’t understand what the Scriptures are saying.  I also don’t think it’s an issue of fellowship, though some do.

It is important to know what you believe, and to plant your flag and fly it publicly.  If you cannot do that, I am suggesting to you that you do not actually believe what you say you believe.  Also, I would suggest that it isn’t too late to actually learn the Scriptures and adopt the right path as your own.  If you’re still breathing, there is still time.  And that is the message that I believe that Paul was trying to instill into Corinth.  Otherwise why would he write four different corrective letters to try to get them to see the truth?  And that is our mission at BereanNation.com.  I consider the Apostle Paul to be somewhat of a mentor to myself in how to do that, and so you will forgive me if I fawn over him and his methods just a little, or fan-boy out just a little.

The text we are considering this evening is chapter 15:1-19.  In this chapter, he begins one of the clearest Christian apologies (in the strict sense of the word apology, a line of argument for consideration) ever written.  I broke down the text as follows.

KV2:  The Centrality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

2:  by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

1-2:  The Gospel – the Point of Division between believers

3-11:  The Gospel – the Point where Faith and Grace intersect

12-19:  The Gospel – the Point of Evidence by Resurrection

The crux, the very key point of Paul’s message everywhere he went, was in fact the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  He spends a paragraph or so in our test this evening establishing that reality – that if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our faith is absolutely worthless.  Although that is a modern-day paraphrase to what Paul said, I doubt he would disagree.  It is no wonder that all enemies of Christianity that have tasked themselves with its destruction have also vehemently attacked this point of fact – that Jesus rose from the grave on the third day after his crucifixion.  And not a single one of them has been able, for all of their vain attempts, to disprove the fact of history because of the information that Paul gives in the second paragraph of our text.  What I personally believe this shows is that this is not an intellectual exercise, but rather a morally based desire to escape accountability to a holy God that will not look on sinfulness in a life and give that life a pass by overlooking all its wrong deeds.  No, a payment must be made – and Jesus has made that payment on behalf of all who will accept that payment – but some will not do so, believing instead that they must do this on their own.  Let’s get into the text and you’ll see what I mean.

KV2:  The Centrality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

2:  by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

Paul makes the argument throughout the entire chapter that it is true faith in this good news of Jesus’ vicarious death on the cross for all of our sins and His subsequent resurrection that is the whole driving argument of Christianity – and it is indeed good news for the sin-weary sinner if they will hear it!  Paul, in a different letter (Romans) to a different congregation (the believers in Rome) said it this way:

But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.”

If one will obey this word of believing (from Deuteronomy 30:4, by the way) that turning from your sins in repentance, then confess that you believe (don’t do this if you don’t) Jesus is your Lord, and you shall (actually) believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead [emphasis mine], YOU WILL BE SAVED from the coming wrath of God.  End of discussion.  There are no ifs, ands, buts, conditions, caveats, or quids-pro-quo.  You will be saved.  Why?  Because your belief that God raised His Son from the dead means you believe that His death on the cross actually paid for YOUR sins also.  And this is the central message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It has been stated in terms so simple that children have understood it and been saved, and yet it still continues to confuse people.  If you get this, you are His.  If you don’t, I can’t help you get it or get it for you.  Oh, you can wonder over it, be amazed by it, be terrified by the implications of not believing (the wrath of God Himself will fall on you), or you can just confess Jesus as your Lord.  There is no other option left open to men.

If one will really and truly believe this truth, then you have believed the good news of, or Gospel of, Jesus Christ.  It is profoundly simple, and it is also simply profound.  And if you find you will not, or if you want to do it some other way, I am sorry, but there isn’t one.  All other “gods” are false gods, and in some cases real demonic entities,” and they are not out for your benefit.  This way actually requires of you rigorous honesty, and energetic application of that honesty to humbly admitting you ain’t all that.  But it truly IS up to you.

With that, we’ll jump into the text.

1-2:  The Gospel – the Point of Division between believers

We need to understand that there is such a thing as false faith, or faith in the wrong thing, and these two verses bring it out.  According to the New Testament, there  According to the New Testament, there are three kinds of faith.  Look for a moment in James 2:

  1. Dead faith:  (vv.14-16)  What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
  2. Demonic faith:  (vv.17-19)  But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that  God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
  3. Demonstrated faith:  (vv.20-23)  But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

What James is saying to all those that claim to be believers but are not necessarily, is that only the faith that produces a changed life is real faith that has impacted your life.  Real faith is always demonstrated in the life of a believer.  Paul addresses this concept in several places, and the entire book of 1 Corinthians is one of those places, it being a corrective for people that maybe had the WRONG view of all of this.  Paul is addressing every possibility in these first two verses.  You’ll see in the text.  We’ll start here.

1:  Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,

  • Paul begins by introducing the topic, even though the Corinthians already knew it, at least intellectually.  In his introduction, he is calling them brothers, or “same womb” in concept, and it includes females, the sisters.  What is he making known?  The euaggelion, or the gospel.  The word originates in the concept of a reward for good news, and ultimately the reward part of the meaning was dropped, and it came to mean the good news itself.  So the word “gospel” literally means “good news.”  Interestingly, with exceptions in Matthew and Mark, and Rev. 14:6, the noun form is restricted to the Pauline Epistles.  However, “gospel” is a middle-English word that simply means “good news.”
  • This becomes important.  I once encountered a cult that was trying to tell people that the “gospel” needed a 5-night 2-hour lecture series to define.  It was this passage that I flipped open to refute that idea.  We sat with one of these “fringe” believers named Justin (I met him at Carleton) for over an hour while they in their suits and ties and fancy name badges (and I just told you which cult they were if you know your stuff), while a guy with his bike and helmet flipped through a pocket KJV (I still have it somewhere, I use an ESV for witnessing these days), and all I did was tell them that they were complicating things that were so simple that a small child could understand it.  I invited them to the Bible study I was attending then.  Funny, they chose not to take that invitation.  They left Justin alone too, I think.  He never said anything to me about them after that. 
  • This good news is something Paul himself had shared with them.  And He tells us that they received it, so to me, that is saying that they were saved by it, and the next phrase confirms that, “in which also you stand.”  That word “stand” is the Greek histemi, meaning to take a stand.  This was the doctrine they stood on, this was their position, and they stood in it.  Like that.  But was that it?  Apparently not.

2:  by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

  • Paul says that by taking a stand in that position, and allowing Christ’s payment on their behalf to mean something to them instead of continually using it as toilet paper like our modern world does with how they can eat a “gospel” potato chip and be “born again” [yes, I made that up, but it was inspired by too many things to recount].  How are they saved?  By holding fast to the word that Paul preached to them, that euaggelion.  By letting that good news about Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection have its full and redeeming and renewing effect in their lives.
  • And then the Apostle says something that should be VERY sobering:  “unless you believed in vain.”  That can also be translated “to no purpose,” or “without cause.”  Galatians 3:4 talks about the same thing.  It is possible, remember, to have faith other than the faith that just by default demonstrates itself in those good works we were created to do.  It is possible to have dead faith, that faith without the accompanying proof of a changed life.  And people know, beloved.  It can be seen!  And we even know people like this, and sometimes in our own congregation.  Make sure you aren’t one of them.  God help you if you are, and I mean that as a sincere prayer for you.

The point here is that the Lord takes the gospel of Jesus Christ and His vicarious death on the cross for all of our sins and makes it a point of division.  You either believe or you don’t.  And until you do, despite your questions and issues, the gospel of Jesus Christ will have no meaning for you – but if you have, nothing will ever separate you from the Lord Jesus Christ ever again!

I once heard it explained this way.  How many of you here this evening are saved?  Most if not all of you, I have no doubt.  But here is the question you now have to answer before Him – what have you done with it?  Where are the accompanying works?  Or am I just like an unbeliever in action?  If you find yourself on the outside looking in, take that as a real cue to repent of your sins once again and trust Christ for the payment of your sins, and then seek to follow Him, regardless of the cost.

3-11:  The Gospel – the Point where Faith and Grace intersect

Here, we need to define the theological use of those terms faith and grace.  Faith comes from the Greek word pistis, a firm opinion or persuasion held.  The word “believe” in English is the verb form of that word pistis in Greek, and I think it is something that people miss and as such define believing as something different.  That faith is held, that opinion is adhered to, that persuasion is acted upon, and that is the real meaning of “believe.”  Your faith, or what you believe, may thus be discerned from what you do.

Grace, the Greek word charis, has a much more complex meaning than we usually give it in most definitions.  The word itself takes on shades of difference in meaning depending on the point of view of the individual dealing with the grace.  For the one who bestows (gives) the grace, it shows the kind favour that the individual holds toward the recipient.  When used from the point of view of the recipient, it usually means the thanks that is given by the recipient to the one bestowing the grace.  The Spanish reflect this concept directly in their saying thank you as the word gracias.  When used in referring to the grace of God toward humanity, it is taken to mean that such grace is given freely, without cost to the recipient, or even condition or merit.  Grace in the way it is used here is the unmerited favour of God.

When we say that these concepts intersect with the Gospel, that is exactly what we mean – the good news of God the Son’s vicarious death on the cross for humanity is the place where the two concepts not only meet by overlap perfectly.  Our firm persuasion is to be placed in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for us on the cross.  We did nothing to earn that atonement, nor could we.  God freely gave the remedy for sin, at great personal cost to Himself, and such grace and love (agape) toward us demands a response.  Paul speaks about that great grace toward us in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ in this paragraph.  Let’s hop into the text and see how Paul himself puts it, in our accustomed fashion, one phrase at a time.

3:  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

  • “For I delivered to you…”  Paul is telling us that he is the messenger (the very meaning of the word apostle) that brings the message of this grace in which to place your faith.  He was faithful to do so wherever he went, and we have read about that in his other letters, not to mention the book of Acts, half of which is about his exploits for the gospel.
  • “…as of first importance…”  The word for “first importance” here is the Greek protos, meaning that of first rank or quality.  Paul is saying that this message is of top priority because of its rank in importance.  It is of the highest quality, what you need to know before you know anything else.
  • “…what I also received…”  Paul was not making this stuff up.  He heard it somewhere else and was passing it on.  We should know where Paul heard it, too, and the context wherein he heard it, because that is going to become important in our understanding.  Look with me at Acts 9:1-9.
    • Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
  • Paul first heard this incredible gospel on the road to Damascus, Syria, while he was on a religious quest to persecute the followers of the way of Jesus.  How many of you are familiar with the laws of legal evidence?  I have a year of pre-law.  What they taught us (apart from legal theory that actually came from Thomas Aquinas) was that if you could elicit a positive statement from a hostile source, that it was the strongest possible statement of truth in your case.  That is what we are seeing in Paul.  He was, by his own admission in this paragraph, a persecutor of the very way which he now preached.  What could be responsible for that?  Only meeting the risen Christ Himself.  And that is where Paul received the truth that we are proclaiming this evening.  And for all those people that argue that you can be so against something that you end up converting to that cause, you should be very careful – you might become a Christian!  But what was it that Paul received?
  • “…that Christ died for our sins…”  The very good news which we also proclaim to you this evening!  Jesus Christ has died for your sins!  We won’t take the time to look through the Gospels and all the letters that were written after on this point, but that Messiah, (Gk., Christos; English, Christ;  Modern English, Anointed One of God) was God the Son who took on human flesh.  He lived a perfect life in obedience to the Law that He Himself gave to Moses, the first leader of the great nation that He ordained He would be born into, and then he willingly and knowingly let Himself be maneuvered into giving that life up so that He Himself could pay the price for all the sins of fallen humanity as He died on that cross vicariously for all who would ever turn to Him.  Hallelujah!  What a saviour!
  • “…according to the Scriptures…”  And this was not an unplanned or random event!  From before the beginning of all creation, this was in fact the plan!  Look for a moment with me at Romans 8:29-30.
    • For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
  • Look at what it says!  God foreknew those whom He would predestine to become conformed to the image of His Son!  It says so right here!  For all those that tell me that they don’t believe in “limited atonement,” that part of the Calvinist TULIP acrostic, I think you’re focusing on the wrong thing.  The important thing here isn’t that the number is restricted of those who will be saved, the important thing is that anyone is saved at all!  I prefer the term “DEFINITE ATONEMENT.”  And some WILL be!  And that includes us, if we are really His!  And those whom He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, He called!  How many of them responded to that call?  ALL of them that He foreknew and predestined.  And they were all subsequently justified and then glorified!  And not all of this has happened yet!  And there are parts that Paul did not name!  What does that all mean?  Where is, say, sanctification in all this?  I believe it is omitted because Paul is talking about those things that are actions of God alone, and WE participate in our own sanctification by AT LEAST the choices that we make, and also by the words we choose to speak, and the deeds we perform.  My point here is that this has always BEEN God’s direct plan to gain a human people for Himself.  Do we understand all of it?  Not with our limited minds now, no.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t true.  Or do you deny that mystery called the Trinity as well?  I’ll move on.

4:  and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

  • Jesus was buried because He was dead, friends.  This deals a bit of a death blow to other theories, like he only passed into unconsciousness, or that someone was crucified in His place.  No, beloved, he hung there for about 6 hours after a severe beating that would have killed some men, and then being forced to carry His own cross at least most of the way to the hill where they executed the Lord of Glory.  Then a soldier stabbed Him in the side with a lance, and blood and water ran out, according to historical record.  That means that the pericardial membrane was broken.  That’s the membrane that surrounds the heart, and it is filled with a clear liquid that has the consistency of water.  Blood is obvious, He was stabbed just after dying, and the biggest source of that blood would be the heart, because blood no longer flows through a dead person’s veins.  My friends, Jesus died there.  For those that would say Jesus had a body double, you have to explain why said individual wouldn’t have fessed up under the extreme torture of crucifixion, and how the Lord Jesus appeared afterwards with holes in his hands and feet from the nails, and a spear wound in His side.  No friends, He died, and they buried Him.  That’s what you do with dead people.  The problem for His enemies, and I mean all of them through history, is that He didn’t STAY dead!
  • No, He was raised by God.  Think about this.  He died on a Friday, and He rested one day – the Sabbath day.  Then He was up and at it on the third day after Friday – He rose from the grave on the first day of the week, what we call Sunday.  Many of us call it the Lord’s day, and I’ve even seen an alternate spelling – Sonday – though you won’t see that on many calendars I think.  Why was He raised form the dead?  Because God the Father was so pleased with His sacrifice!  God reversed death for Him, and in being glorified as it says in Romans 8:30 that we looked at, He will reverse it for all believers!  And we will be raised like Him!  Our bodies will be glorified – meaning I won’t have a failing heart, a failing pancreas, like that.  But this is about Him, not me, and Paul also here says that THIS was all part of God’s plan and revealed in Scripture, that is, the Old Testament at the time Paul wrote his letters.  And Paul is about to start naming eyewitnesses to the history that unfolded.

5:  and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

  • The first witness Paul names is a gent named Cephas.  He was the first disciple that Jesus chose – and most of the world knows him as Saint Peter.  Peter of course was a real saint, meaning he was a believer in Christ’s resurrection – because he saw the risen Christ.  And after that, the Lord appeared to all His disciples that He had picked save Judas the traitor.  But Matthias WAS there, I think, because the Lord chose him by lot before the Holy Spirit descended and moved into the church, that is the persons that make up the gathering.  These, John would write to the church later, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life…” (1 John 1:1)  And the list is not complete.

6:  After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;

  • That list needs to include at least 500 believers, none of whom were named here, but they were mostly still all alive at that time, and were speaking the same story as Paul.  Why?  Because they were eyewitnesses.  They had to tell what they saw.  Some had fallen asleep means that some had passed away.  This number at this point would include James, the brother of John, who was killed with a sword in Acts 12:2.  I mention that because the James mentioned in the next verse was either James, son of Alphaeus, or James, the brother of Jesus, and I have no idea which one it was.  I suspect it was the James that became an elder in the gathering at Jerusalem.  My brain and church history that I could access quickly were equally as fuzzy, and I don’t think it actually matters at this point in history.

7:  then He appeared to  James, then to all the apostles;

  • So – James and then the rest of the Apostles.  Actually, this is a qualification for being an apostle – they had to have met Jesus in person personally.  That puts the lie to Che Ahn’s New Apostolic Reformation.  NONE of these new supposed apostles have ever met Jesus in person.  They might have met somebody, but it wasn’t the risen Christ.  Again, Charismania on display is wrong, and anyone that can read can find that out.  The fact that folks still fund these shysters shows how much people don’t really seek after God, I suspect.

8:  and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

  • And then He appeared to Paul.  We have already considered how.  Paul, the zealous persecutor of the followers of Christ.  Paul, the Pharisee, student of Gamaliel, the greatest Old Testament Scholar of the day.  Paul, the Master Tent-maker (“Master” means he could take on apprentices to teach them also). 
  • Like one untimely born.  Paul is comparing himself to the other apostles here, and telling us that he was in his own view inferior to the other apostles.  He is actually comparing himself to a premature birth, who in those days tended to be less hardy and less strong than those that went full term.  Medical science has kind of eliminated this from our vocabulary, so we need to understand the phrase.  Paul continues in the next verse.

9:  For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

  • He is stating what he believes to be the truth.  If known results are any measure, and you must forgive the scientific tendency to empiricism in me, I am a trained scientist and biologist, an ecologist, taxonomist, and entomologist by specialty, Paul was the greatest of all the Apostles.  Paul personally wrote 13 of 29 books in the New Testament, and figures prominently in two more in my view, and has the nod of Peter for the writing of Christian Scripture for the New Testament.  Paul personally took the gospel at the command of God to the Gentile nations successfully, and in a way that extends down to today, some 1950 years after his death.  And Paul believed that he was unfit to be called an Apostle.  That should give us all pause while we consider just what Paul had to live with every day.
  • The reason Paul himself states that he feels he is unworthy to be called an Apostle (or even an apostle, no Cap), is because he persecuted the church of God.  Think for a second about what that meant for Paul.  He stood by approvingly at the stoning of the church’s first martyr Stephen, but he also obtained the names of followers of Christ, and had them arrested and executed.  Some perhaps died in the raids on the households of believers.  Some may have died under the torture for information.  Some of these people were women.  Some were children.  Some had the mark of the heretic placed on them.  That involved the taking of a sword or dagger and making a vertical split in the flesh of the nose.  And some of these people survived to flee to other places, carrying the gospel with them.  And when a newly minted Paul arrived there to preach, they would come to hear him.  And he would look out into the crowd and have to see them.  All I can say is that he still faithfully preached.  He still carried out all of the works that God gave Paul to do, and he ran his race, and finished in the winner’s circle ultimately.  May it be so with all of us.  I also look at myself and say things like Paul said.  To my knowledge I have never persecuted the church, but I have been unkind, I have refused help, I have committed crimes like that against my neighbours.  God have mercy on me.

10:  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

  • I think this is the appropriate response of faith when we see our own depravity in our own context of Christian service.  It is the gift of God’s grace that has put you where you are.  Don’t let His grace toward YOU prove vain.  That is the same language in verse 2 when it says, “unless you believed in vain.”  And I put it like this because YOU have a CHOICE.  ONLY YOU can MAKE it.  Choose to serve God in whatever circumstance you find yourself in.  Prove that God will always give you grace to carry on, even when you don’t think you can or even don’t want to for whatever reason.  Take sides against yourself!  See His will done as you know it from Scripture.  That’s how Paul did it – Yet not I, but Christ who lives in me, as per Gal. 2:20.  “I outworked all the other Apostles,” said Paul, “but it was really Christ working in me.”

11:  Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

  • I think this is saying that it didn’t matter to Paul where you heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It was the same exact gospel.  They preached that Jesus Christ was God, and He became a man for the single purpose of living a perfect life so that He could offer His life in exchange for all who would believe in Him.  That’s the good news that we preach, and that is what you believed, says Paul.

To this point, we have considered the gospel, the person of Paul, his conversion to Believer, and the results of that conversion as regards to that gospel of Jesus Christ.  We have even in passing considered proofs against some of the more common rebuttals (some call them objections, I have no real issue with that) to the historical record of what happened.  It is in fact one of history’s best established facts.  It is also, because of the nature of the world system and demonic opposition to the Son of God, the most hotly contended.  However, the facts, to all those who will look honestly at history in terms of truth and reality, have remained unshakeable for about 2000 years now.  If you will look at the truth for real, it WILL change you.  Let it, it isn’t anything bad. 

However, for those that cannot and will not look at events honestly, Paul continues the letter by focussing his attention on the real proof that all of this is true – the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  In doing so, he identifies the target for the enemy, and then stands on it like a dare of sorts, taunting the enemy to do their worst on this point.  This too has held fast for about 2000 years now, and will continue to weather the storm, because it is God’s truth to the human race.  And that brings us to the next thought unit, or paragraph.

12-19:  The Gospel – the Point of Evidence by Resurrection

Remember those Laws of Legal Evidence?  Here is where we will see them in action.  This is not the same as what we would call scientific evidence.  Scientific evidence is always by definition the result of an experiment that has design and methodology.  So when people tell you that you’re being unscientific in your approach to the big questions, you can calmly tell them it’s okay because it’s actually legal evidence that is important, not the scientific method.  Let’s jump into the text and see what Paul says.

12:  Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

  • This was actually a question that Paul is asking to those at Corinth.  Imagine you’re an opponent of Paul and all things Pauline.  You have just had to sit through a long treatise that has been correcting everything you hold, and your patience is getting thin.  And now Paul asks outright if you are saying that there is no resurrection from the dead.  Well, Voddie Baucham said it, if you can’t say Amen, say ouch.  Can you imagine what a false teacher would be feeling at this point?  Man, how they can get themselves to do these things, I don’t know.
  • It seems from this verse that there was a teaching that had come to the Apostle’s attention that some were teaching that Christ didn’t actually rise from the dead.  I don’t know the details of the teaching other than that.  Maybe they thought His death on the cross was metaphorical instead of metaphysical.  Whatever they thought, we know it’s moronical.  So How does Paul choose to address this error in doctrine?  Why, directly, of course, as he always does.

13:  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised;

  • Taking that notion and running with it, Paul is engaging in a practice that speakers and logicians have known from the start.  If you can bring a false idea or premise to its logical conclusion, it will often show itself to be ridiculous.  He picks up their logic.  “Oh, there’s no resurrection?  Oh, then one must suppose that Christ also did not rise from the dead.”  That is an inescapable conclusion of the premise, is it not?

14:  and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.

  • Paul now shows why this is a logical problem.  “Look,” he says, “if there is no resurrection, the Christ hasn’t been raised either.  If that were true, then everything we preached is empty and false, just like your faith, because that is how you became a Christian.”  There really isn’t a different option.  And Paul isn’t asking questions here.  He’s in instruction mode.  “I assume you can see the problem with the gospel you believed being false,” he adds.

15:  Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.

  • “Just in case you missed it,” Paul exclaims, “I’ll point it out to you.  If there is no resurrection from the dead, then we are liars, and we spoke what God did not tell us to speak when we say he raised Christ,” he added sagely.  “You heard me,” Paul said solemnly.  “If you believe that, you believe we lied.  And it gets worse for you if that’s what you believe.”

16:  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised;

  • Paul begins to restate their argument here.  The phrase actually continues in the next verse.

17:  and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

  • “Look,” says Paul, “take that logic to its natural conclusion.  If Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, you are still in your sins, because God did not accept His atoning sacrifice.  That’s what it means if Christ hasn’t been raised from the dead.”  Paul doesn’t leave these people any other option by showing the end of their logic track, does he.  And he isn’t finished yet!

18:  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

  • “Also, if that is what you believe,” Paul says, “then all those Christians who have died as believers in Christ are all dead,” he said crossing his arms.  “There is no other option to this logic,” he adds sternly.

19:  If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

  • If this is all just a big metaphor, if all of this is just poetry and allegory, then we who believe are in real trouble, and we are colossal idiots in the English sense of that word.  We are moronic fools, and all we are simply are objects of pity, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for telling such lies.  That’s what Paul is saying.  So – are we?

Next time Paul will explain why the resurrection of the dead matters from a theological perspective, because in the days when he wrote his letter to Corinth, that was enough.  It is no longer enough, we must actually defend that idea with other evidence.  So I submit some of this to you to do just that.

  1. Who moved the stone?  The Romans had sealed it and were guarding it, along with an unknown number of zealous Temple Guards.  They didn’t carry swords, but they were all armed with clubs like modern police are with night sticks or tonfas, and they knew how to use them.  The only folks who had any reason to move the stone would have fallen very quickly to that guard.
  2. What got into the disciples?  Here are 12 guys that were deathly afraid that they were next on the High Priest’s “hit” parade.  They were afraid of an errant noise in the hallway of the upper room they were all staying in on Friday through Sunday.  However, not long after, they were bold witnesses staring down both Jewish and Roman authorities as they proclaimed the word of God without hesitation.  What happened to them?  11 of the 12 died martyr’s deaths.  And before you say that people have been known to die for a lie, I agree, but these guys would have had to have known it was a lie!  Name me 11 other guys in history that would have died for a lie KNOWING it was a lie.  No, I propose that the Holy Spirit made them bold beyond their basic human fear when He came to live inside them.
  3. Where was the body?  The fiction that the High Priest and his clan came up with for the Roman Soldiers to tell said that the Disciples stole the body.  We’ve already looked at how a bunch of commercial fishermen, no matter how tough and mean they were, would have stood a ghost of a chance against a Roman quaternion (standard guard unit of 25 men) and an unknown number of very zealous Jewish Temple Guards.  They would have had no problem either repelling the disciples (all 120 of them that could have potentially shown up, even with just the Roman guard who would have thought nothing of doing in every last one of them), or of recapturing the body in the unlikely event that the 12 fishermen were able to move the large stone from the grave mouth to steal the body.  And afterwards, all the High Priest or Roman authorities would have had to do was point to the corpse.  But they could not!

That’s probably enough with just that this evening.  I could go on, but I’ll give everyone a break.  Anyone that wants to say that there is no resurrection actually does not have history on their side.  Elijah raised a boy from a state of death after some kind of aneurism, from the displayed symptoms.  Corpses that came into contact with the bones of Elisha were raised from the dead.  At the time of the death of Christ, a number of known dead saints were seen alive in the city.  Jesus raised Lazarus after being dead for 4 days.  Jesus Himself was raised from the dead by God the Father and the Holy Spirit.  And in the future there will be other resurrections, but Paul is going to touch on some of them later in this chapter, so I’ll stop here.

So it seems that there is a point of focus for Christianity in a debateable sense.  That focus is the resurrection of Christ.  And this is a within-Christendom debate in this letter.  Next week, we’ll see more about this.

Now this time I did have some time to look ahead through what is left of the 58 verses of 1 Corinthians 15.  The way the subjects all divide up so we can give them the best level of attention is like this.  Next week, we will look at 1 Cor. 15:20-34.  Then we will look at verses 35-58 in the following study if we can.  I know that you fellows will want me to divide this further, but I will resist this because I have to get through the subject matter.  I don’t want to be like the guy that got out of Isaiah 1:1 after 25 years.  Oh yeah, that was John Calvin, wasn’t it?  I’m not John Calvin, and I’m not John MacArthur either.  I don’t think I have that kind of capacity.  If we have to, we will do what we have to do.

So that is what I saw in the text this study.  Let’s close in prayer.

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