Of First Importance
1 Corinthians 15:1-58
1 Corinthians 15:22
“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
We have studied 14 chapters of the book of 1st Corinthians. The church of Corinth to whom Paul writes was torn apart by division and internal conflict of many sorts. What could possibly heal that church from the many problems that plagued it? Paul wrote back in answer to their queries, almost 12 chapters of practical advice. Then he felt as if he had to stop in his tracks, and dedicated the 13th chapter to “Love”. He spoke on love like no other had ever spoken about it. The beauty of that ‘ode to love’ was beyond our ability to describe it. It melts the heart of the most hardened Christian in conflict with another Christian, for what Christian heart would not respond to words like: “Love is patient… love never fails”? When love is described in this way, it humbles us, and chastises us, and reminds us how much we have been loved by God, and that we ought to love others in that way as well. After melting their hearts with the convocation of love, it should have been enough to mend broken hearts, and heal open wounds, and untie divided brothers and sisters. But it was not enough. As much as Love is central to the Christian cause and a motivator of sorts, there is something that is even more fundamental to the Christian experience— the grace of God. A grace so powerful that Paul was sure to be the great seal to his letter aimed at healing the church at Corinth and raising it once again as a banner for Christ and his Kingdom. Paul almost ends this letter in chapter 15, and speaks to them yet again about the Gospel of Jesus— that simple Gospel story— that should once again take its rightful place in their hearts, and thus banish all impurities that have corrupted their hearts and lives and relationships.
The chapter flows as one theme from beginning to end— the Gospel. But we may divide the chapter into parts just so as to make it easier to comprehend Paul’s attempt at bringing the Gospel to the foreground of their hearts and lives.
First, The gospel (1-11) What is the Gospel? In verses 1-4 Paul tells us the contents of the Gospel— what comprises the Gospel. Simply the Gospel centers around Jesus’ death and resurrection. “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” He wanted to remind them of the Gospel. Did they forget it? No they did not. But somehow in the busyness of life, the Gospel lost its anchor in their hearts and was driven far back to become something not of importance. But how could it be but of first importance in their lives! When Paul had brought them the message of the Gospel, they had been hopeless sinners and alienated from God. Then when they heard the Gospel, they had received it. They had believed that Christ died on the cross for their sins in order to save them. They had confessed their sins, and asked God’s forgiveness through Christ Jesus. They had been forgiven, and given a new life in and through the resurrected Jesus. Their lives, once hopeless and empty had become full of hope and meaning. They had received gift of God, eternal life and the kingdom of God. That is the simple Gospel that saved them. Jesus died for our sins. Jesus was buried. Jesus rose on the third day form the dead. This is what God had promised. This is what Scripture says. This is the truth on which we stand. This what saves us from sin and death and hell. This, and no other. How can it be but of most importance to the Corinthians and to every Christian who ever lived!
Second, the witnesses of gospel (5-11). In verses 5-8 Paul lists the countless witnesses who could testify that after his death and burial, Jesus actually rose from the dead, and appeared to them. These are not just witnesses who saw Christ Jesus after his resurrection, but who were deeply changed in their inner person by the power of the Gospel. Every one of them has a story of how the death and resurrection of Jesus had impacted their lives. How it changed them from useless persons living meaningless and worthless lives in the world to men and woman who became the most useful men and women in the world— for there is nothing more important to do in this life than to stand as witness to the death and resurrection of the Lord. [Peter’s story]
Third, the power of the resurrection. In verses 12-34 Paul mainly refutes those who say there is no resurrection. These people were out of their minds, and bad company to keep in the church of our Lord. They claimed to believe in the death of our Lord Jesus, but could not find any practical value in the resurrection. How could that be! There are many like this even today. They find practical value in the death of Jesus, for in the death of Jesus they find forgiveness of sins and the unending love of God. They preach love and forgiveness because they are such comforting Biblical themes. But there is no mention to the resurrection— it does not occupy an important place in their lives, for in their own minds, they cannot find any value in such faith. So they deny it. Some deny it openly with their mouth, but most deny it in their practical lives, as evidenced by their lifestyle. Paul talks about faith in the resurrection of Jesus as equally important to the death of Jesus. In the resurrection there is hope of a new life, a changed life, a totally new life on the inside and out. If there were no resurrection, then even Jesus had not been raised. And if Jesus had not been raised, Christian faith is useless, and there is no hope either in this life or the next. Paul remarkably helps us to understand the importance of resurrection faith, not as secondary faith or unimportant faith, but as crucial faith.
He says in verse 20. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Jesus’ resurrection is not only a fact but the first of countless more who would believe in the resurrection. He explains how we might understand this. In verse 21 he says “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.” This is very simple, death and condemnation came to us through the Sin of one man Adam. And death would have continued to reign in this world except that another Man— Christ Jesus— came and reversed the process. While Adam brought death to the human race, Christ brought back the gift of life. And this is not just life as we know it, the physical life. This is life all together— the new life we receive by the power of resurrection and our faith in it— and the life we receive at the judgment day when lives must be judged to eternal life or eternal condemnation. Jesus brought life to us. He did not just resurrect for his own glory. He resurrected in order to bring life to the deadness of our hearts, to the deadness of our lives. When a Christian feels alive, it is because he or she is alive— truly alive in Christ. Those who are not in Christ find themselves living a nightmare of anxiety and fear, guild and shame, meaningless existence to do no more than to survive and then only to die. That deadness they feel is precisely reversed by what Jesus had done. So how could there be no resurrection if a man or woman receive the life of God in their hearts and veins. Where does this life come from, if not from Christ. So Paul tells us in verse 22; “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Those who feel the deadness in their hearts, the joyless life, the life of drudgery and pain— all those need faith in the resurrection. When the resurrection faith circulates in their hearts, their joyless existence turns to joy and life. We have life because Jesus defeated the reign of death and brought about his own reign— the reign of life. he is our Life.
In verses 29-34 Paul teaches what kind of life a Christian should live. He talks about the practical life of resurrection faith. In fact this is why most do not find practical use for the resurrection in their own lives, but only dwell on the love and mercy of God. Because in the resurrection there is life but there is also a power to live the Christian life in the way that God intended it. And that is not always smooth sailing. Paul talks about his endless struggles of life. His pain and victory. His life had been so full of resurrection power. He devoted his life to serving the message of the Gospel— the whole Gospel— and not just half Gospel. And this meant that he devoted his life to live as God would have him live. And that was not always pleasant. But it was the perfect will of God in his life. It was this practical faith in the resurrection that urged Paul to deny the pleasure seeking life and to embrace the life of Christ. He says to the Corinthian Christians, especially to those without resurrection faith who were hedonists at heart, who found no reason to engage a life of servantship to Christ— he tells them , “I die every day” (31). Paul lived in resurrection faith. To do that, he had to die to himself and live for Christ.
“Do not be misled:” he tells the Corinthian Christians, “Bad company corrupts good character.’” Meaning that half Gospel is no Gospel at all, and the ease of it, corrupts the very soul and makes it poisonous to the person and to all around them. There are many who are bad company. They speak of forgiveness and of love, and as such they promote half a Gospel— which is no Gospel at all. Paul tells them: “Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning…” (33-34). Those who do not fully engage their faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, who do not join the Christian way of life Jesus called us to walk in, who do not take the Scripture seriously, who believe what they want to believe and reject in Scripture what seems to them unnecessary, who live in their own Christian way and who do their own Christian thing— these are all ignorant of God. For God who sacrificed his Son for the sin of the world will not contend with the sin of unbelief and heresy and spiritual arrogance and such. He gave the life of his Son, but he also raised his Son in order to draw back to righteousness all those who are raised through Christ’s resurrection— to give a new life to those who believe— that they might live a life worthy of the Gospel of our Lord.
Fourth, the glory of the resurrection. In verse 35 Paul poses a question, a question that may have been on the minds of those who did not find any practical value to believe the resurrection. And he continues to explain the glory of the resurrection body of those who believe. Our physical bodies perish. Even the most beautiful of women and handsomest of men will have to surrender their good looks to age and eventually to decay. Even the strongest of men and women lie helpless before an illness, that at times bring about death. Our bodies here on earth are wondrous. They are necessary. There are precious. But they are weak and temporal. How can God allow such bodies into heaven. He does not. Rather God fashions a resurrection body for the Christian soul, and gives it at the proper time. And it is unnecessary to try to imagine what that body would be like— but just believe that it will different from the body we have on earth. That body however even though we cannot imagine it, will be imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual. We will be like Jesus in his resurrection body one day. How will this happen? Of course, through Jesus, because he is the Life giving Spirit that will bring immortality to this mortal body. This body cannot inherit heaven. That is understandable, because it is steeped in sin. Even forgiven, it has no place in heaven. So God promised another body, a resurrection body. That much we must believe. We believe through Gospel faith— through resurrection faith. Just as Christ brought us new life on the inside, he will also one day give us a new body and new life in heaven. This is our hope. This is our assurance.
Fifth, The Ultimate victory (50-58) In these verses Paul sings a song of ultimate victory. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (55-57). There are countless victories in this life. Some are meaningless victories and some are meaningful victories. But they are all victories that will perish some day. In the end they will mean nothing. But there is one victory that will carry on to eternity. The victory Jesus gives us over sin and death. Only Jesus, who destroyed the power of death, can help us live a victorious life in eternity and even now as we live the life God has called us to live as a Christian.
And this is how he wants us to live victorious lives even now. Read verse 58. “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Why does he tell us this? There are seemingly many good things in the world to pursue. It is easy to pursue the things that shine for a while but soon fade out. It is also easy to get caught up with our own problems and the problems around us, and focus on resolving them. But there is a great danger in that. The danger is that we forget the Gospel— that simple Gospel that brought us grace and truth and love and commitment, and devotion to meaningful things, and spiritual life when we had none, and brought us friendship when we were friendless and fellowship and simple joy and peace and also trouble and all. We should not forget this Gospel. We should not let any distractions or temptations nor glittering things move us from where we stand in the Gospel, for we stand in life and in victory, even if humanly our lives seems to have no visible victory, we have Jesus and therefore we have the greatest victory we can have in all eternity. And give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, without grumbling and complaints, without impure motives. And we must know that whatever we do in the Lord, for the Lord, is never in vain. This is the Gospel assurance and promise. We must believe it, and always stand on it. Amen.