Before digging into this chapter, let’s do another quick vocab review that will probably be helpful to us:
From the Greek word- Euaggelion, meaning "Good News". Paul used this word specifically to refer to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and the interpretation of these facts. The Gospel is the basic truth of who Jesus is, what he did for us, and what it means for us now and forever.
One of the most misused terms in modern Christian culture. “Sozo” is the Greek word in question here, and it has the general definition of “to save”. And although we tend to use this word to specifically refer to being saved from eternal punishment, it does not specifically have this meaning every time it is used. Its three common uses refer to different types of salvation.
- Salvation from the penalty of sin. (Called “justification”, this form of salvation rescues us from eternal punishment and removes all sin from our record.)
- Salvation from the power of sin. (Called “sanctification”, this refers to an ongoing process of being “set apart” for God’s purposes, becoming more like God in character and moving further and further from sinful tendencies.)
- Salvation from the presence of sin. (Called “glorification”, this refers to an eternal existence with God, where the human body is made perfect, immortal and indestructible and all tendency toward sin of any kind is removed.
Examining each occurrence of this word and its context is the best way to determine which definition applies.
Although throughout the Bible this word has a variety of specific meanings, in general it means "undeserved favor". Grace is something good given without being earned. If we have anything good that we enjoy in life, whether or not we are Christians, it is ultimately because of the "grace" of God. We don't deserve it, but God has given it to us because he loves us.
In this chapter, it becomes evident that the Corinthians needed a refresher course on the basic message about Christ that Paul had given them in the past. (v. 1) They had developed some illogical thinking that Paul sorted through by reminding them of the resurrection of Christ and how that fact is counter to the philosophy some of them are adopting.
He reminds the Corinthians that they are saved by believing in and holding firmly to the gospel message. (v. 2) (Paul’s reference to “believing in vain” is likely a foreshadow to his point in verse 13.)
In verse 3 and 4, the phrase “according to the scriptures” probably refers to Isaiah 53, specifically verses 4-6, 8 and 11—12. If you’ve not read this passage before, I’d highly recommend it!
(Side Note: Some translations use the name Cephas in verse 5. This is another name for the Apostle Peter.)
Paul reminds the Corinthians that there is good reason to believe in the gospel. In their own time there were eyewitnesses still living that could verify the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. Christianity is not a religion that encourages followers to simply have blind faith in. It repeatedly calls on sound reason and evidence, asking, by implication, to be examined! (v.5-7)
Paul compares himself to someone “untimely born” because compared to the other Apostles, he came to belief after Christ’s Ascension, completely missing Jesus’ earthly ministry before that time. (v.8)
Paul has a very humble understanding of himself and his accomplishments. He calls himself the least of the Apostle and not fit to be called an Apostle, but because of God’s grace, he is an apostle despite his persecution of the church. He also recognizes the amount of work he has put into this role, but even this he credits to God’s grace. (v. 9-10)
After establishing the basics of the gospel, and the fact that the Corinthians believed it to be true (v. 11), Paul points out the poor logic in their circulating belief that resurrection is not possible. After all, if it is absolutely impossible then Jesus could not have been resurrected and their entire faith is a waste of time! (v.12-14)
Not only that, if the resurrection didn’t really happen, that makes Paul and the Apostles liars and it means that no one on earth is or ever has been cleared of their sinful record. Everyone would still be under the judgment of God, those who have died have no hope of eternal life and everyone who hopes in Christ in this life should be pitied more than anyone else alive. (v. 15-19)
Many would agree that Jesus was a wonderful teacher or human being. Some might even say he was a prophet and did miracles. But even Paul admits that if Jesus’ body is rotting away somewhere right now and not literally, physically alive, nothing else matters. Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus and for this reason it is a vital subject for investigation.
Paul’s main focus here, however, is not suggesting that the resurrection may have been a fraud. He’s using an argument method called “reduction to an absurdity”. He takes the illogical assumption of a fraudulent resurrection and carries it to its logical conclusion, which would be absurd for the Corinthians to believe.
When we are considering new ideas about the nature of ourselves, the world and God, it’s important that we compare them to scripture to see if the two are compatible. As we determine our beliefs about God, our minds should be engaged at all times, evaluating the logic of every idea presented to us, or those we suggest to ourselves.
(I’ve found a fun way to do this is to pick apart various presuppositions or ideas presented in the fiction I take in. In fact that’s how I put together the “Relevance” score for my movie reviews!)
Paul affirms the resurrection of Christ and calls him the “firstfruits” of those who sleep. This is a metaphor meaning that those who trust in Jesus who are now dead, will one day have a resurrected body like the one Jesus has.(v.20)
Verses 21-23 explain that because of Adam’s sin, all humans have inherited bodies that will eventually die. But Jesus has countered this and made it possible for all who trust in him to live forever.
Paul gives us a glimpse of what the future holds. Jesus will return to earth and sometime after will abolish earthly authorities and government, forcing all enemies into submission. In some way, death itself will also be defeated! Jesus will then rule the world himself. Then at some point he will willingly give authority of this kingdom to God the Father, making God the Father the undisputed ruler of everything everywhere. (v.24-28)
There’s a huge amount of comfort we can take from this. God is the absolute embodiment of love, mercy and everything genuinely good. And he is the one who will rule everything everywhere. In this life, we have to deal with insecurity and injustice. But those who choose to trust in Jesus will never have a reason to fear either in the incredible life that they will one day live.
Next Week- A further glimpse of resurrected life!
Coffee House Question
How do you go about deciding whether or not an idea is true? What steps do you take and how effective do you think they have been?