1.) Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,
2.) by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you unless you believed in vain.
3.) For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures,
4.) and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures,
5.) and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.
6.) After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.
7.) After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.
8.) Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
9.) For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
10.) But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
11.) Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Today we resume our study of 1st Corinthians, beginning with the 15th chapter. Paul moves from his discussion of what entails proper worship to another issue: the resurrection.
Last week I shared from Colossians about the resurrection. There, also, Paul was dealing with a form of Gnosticism that was very Jewish in nature, which was very works oriented. There Paul tried to reiterate to the Colossians that through their faith and baptism they had died and been resurrected with Christ. There was no need for all the earning of levels to get to the throne of God. Through the finished work of Jesus on the cross, His resurrection, and ascension, believers already had access to God freely given.
The situation in Corinth was different because here Paul was dealing with a Greek mindset. Now, the Gnosticism that Paul was dealing with in 52 A.D. was not the Gnosticism that would plague the church a hundred years later. The situation in Corinth was a belief prevalent throughout Greek society. You see, the Greeks believed in the eternity of the soul but not in the eternity of the body. The body would decay and become corrupted. So, with a belief in the eternity of the soul, combined with an enthusiastic grasping for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the gift of tongues, who needed an eternal body? A belief in a need for a resurrected body was being challenged by some in the Corinthian church. It did not mean that they didn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus (that would become more prominent about 100 years later), but some were arguing against the resurrection of believers, or even the need for it.
What is interesting is the strategy Paul used to begin his argument. These first 11 verses were just the beginning, and Paul would carry this argument throughout the whole 15th chapter. He begins his defense for the resurrection of believers by finding two points on which he and the church can agree.
Point number one is the Gospel of salvation. In verse 1, Paul says, “I declare to you the Gospel which I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand,(vs2) by which also you are saved.” When we read these words, we can easily see that Paul believes the Corinthians are still living in their salvation. He didn’t say “were saved” but “ by which also you ARE saved.” He states, “I know you believe these three things: 1) Christ died for your sins. You believe in sin, the presence of sin in the world, the power of sin in the world, the presence of sin in your life. That you were powerless over that sin, and that Christ’s finished work on the cross washed you from all your sins. 2) Christ was buried. (Being buried means He was really dead. They believed that Jesus really died. In the Gospels, Jesus raised three people from the dead. Jairus’ daughter, the son of the widow of Nain, and Lazarus. Jairus’ daughter was less than a couple of hours , the widow’s son definitely less than a day, probably less than six hours. People could argue that these two were not really dead, just unconscious in some way. Lazarus, on the other hand, no one could deny. He had been in the tomb four days before being brought back to life. The Jews believed that unrecoverable corruption occurred by the third day, so Paul says that the Corinthian church believes with him that Jesus died for their salvation and the salvation of the world, and that He really, truly died.) and 3) Jesus rose again on the third day, and they believed in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
These are three very important tenants of the faith. They capture the work of both the Son and the Father: Jesus’s finished work on the cross, His taking away of all our sins, (not just covering up, but the total destruction of all our sins) through His burial, and the Father justifying us through His resurrection of Jesus. This meant the debt was completely paid, once and for all.
Then Paul listed a whole host of witnesses. These are not in chronological order, but first mentioned is Peter, who Luke tells us in Acts Jesus saw. Then there were the twelve, referring to the original disciples (although we know that the first time there were only 10 because Thomas was absent and Judas was dead). The 500 brethren are believed to be those who saw Jesus’s ascension in Galilee. Next mentioned was Jesus’ half-brother, James, who became a believer after Jesus’ resurrection, and then the apostles which were those who became part of the church in Jerusalem before Jesus’ ascension. Last listed is Paul himself. You see, the church at Corinth could not deny the issue at this time because they had met many of these listed people, and some they even claimed to follow, like Peter.
Paul’s apostleship was the second point on which he knew that he and the Corinthian church could agree. He had already dealt with this once at the beginning of this letter. There was a division over Paul’s apostleship, which meant a division over his authority. Some people preferred Apollos, and others preferred Peter, although it has never been proven Peter had ever been to Corinth. Even though Paul was the founding father of this church, for all kinds of reasons they didn’t think he was worthy to be called an apostle.
Paul agreed with them, referencing himself as “one born out of due time.” In literal Greek, he was saying, “I was stillborn, a miscarriage.” Do you catch his humility here? He said that he was the least of the apostles, inadequate, not good enough. While he and the Corinthians agreed on the status, I don’t think it was for the same reasons. Paul carried around the knowledge and the weight of the fact that he had been a persecutor of the church. The Corinthians believed he didn’t qualify for other reasons, but they both believed Paul just didn’t measure up…
Paul didn’t say, “But I came here, didn’t I? You would have never heard the gospel if I hadn’t come! You would have been still a bunch of unsaved pagans if I hadn’t come!” No. Instead, he gave all the credit to God and His grace. God’s undeserved favor. In essence Paul was saying, “I am an apostle not because of anything I have done, but because of God’s undeserved favor. Nothing that I have done makes me worthy, adequate, or good enough. It is God’s grace that has made my work fruitful. You are now a church, and there are other churches in Greece and Asia Minor because God’s undeserved favor was with me.” The word with in the Greek literally means an inseparable relationship. Paul was literally telling them, “I know what you think of me, but all I have done and will ever do is not based on me, but on the grace of God.”
Then he made reference to the beginning of his letter where he talked about divisions, with some who follow Apollos, some Peter, and some who say they only follow Jesus. Paul reminded them that they all preached the same message, the same Gospel, and they had all believed the same thing – that Gospel.
Notice that Paul began this crucial presentation by finding common ground. I wonder in our world and our lives how far we might get if instead of immediately pouncing on our differences we focused on the thing we have in common in our world, our country. I remember hearing and reading stories of President Reagan and Tip O’Neil doing all-nighters at the White House, both pledging not to leave till they had a deal worked out. Of course I understand whiskey probably played its part as well… But could you imagine President Trump and the Democratic leadership doing that today?…. In the world church of United Methodism, we surely have some things in common. Imagine if the delegates attended General Conference not focused on their own agendas but finding common ground to work together and still be servants of God! Who knows – maybe this will be one good thing to come out of the viral pandemic impacting our lives.
The promise of our resurrection is important! It carries the promise of living and reigning with Jesus. The promise that we will not only be with Him but also like Him. And in the next few weeks, Paul will be telling us why.
Remember during this time to read Psalm 91 in the first person and claim it. Every day.
Blessings and Peace: Now may the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship and communion of His Holy Spirit, be with you, guide you and keep you unto Him. Amen