Our Lord, Come!

Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen. – 1  Corinthians 16:15-24 ESV

Paul wraps up his letter with a somewhat random and meandering closing. First, he recognizes three individuals, Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus. They were among the first converts in Achaia, the province in which Corinth was located. Earlier in this letter, Paul indicated that Stephanas and his family were the only ones he had baptized in Corinth. “I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else” (1 Corinthians 1:16 ESV). It seems that Stephanas and the other two had made a recent trip to visit Paul and had been a source of encouragement to him. He was appreciative of their friendship and ministry, and wanted the congregation in Corinth to treat them with respect. He uses these three men as examples of the kind of leadership to whom the Corinthians should submit themselves. They were worthy of recognition. What stood out to Paul was their hearts for service and their attitude of humility as they ministered to him and their fellow believers in Corinth. 

Secondly, Paul sends greetings from the house church Asia, which was meeting in the home of Aquila and Priscilla. Paul had struck up a friendship with this couple after having met them in Corinth on one of his missionary journeys. “After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade” (Acts 18:1-3 ESV). They had fled Rome due to persecution and had ended up in Corinth. When Paul left Corinth for Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla traveled with him and later settled in Ephesus, starting a church in their home (Acts 18:18-20). Again, these two individuals were examples of the kind of disciples Paul was looking to make everywhere he went. They were selfless and each had the heart of a servant. They were willing to open up their home, share their resources and give of their time in order to see that the gospel spread throughout the known world. And they used their trade as tentmakers to pay their own way. 

Paul puts the finishing touches to his letter with his own hand. He had probably dictated the rest of the letter, but wanted to sign off in his own writing in order to validate that the letter was really from him. And the final lines he penned are interesting in terms of there seeming randomness.

If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. – vs 22

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. – vs 23

My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen. – vs 24

He calls for a curse, prays for God’s grace, and extends his love – an interesting combination of thoughts. And sandwiched in-between them is an appeal for the Lord’s return: “Our Lord, come!” This was an Aramaic expression and would become a standard greeting among believers in the early days of the church. Those in the church lived with a sense of the Lord’s eminent return. Belief that His coming could happen any day was a motivating factor in their lives. They lived with a sense of anticipation and eager expectation. And for Paul, the world become a place that consisted of either believers or non-believers, the saved or the lost. And if anyone refused to love the Lord, Paul’s response was to let them be accursed. As violent and harsh as this sounds, Paul is simply expressing the sad reality of their condition due to their rejection of the Savior. They were already under a curse, which carried the penalty of death and eternal separation from God. Paul was suggesting that their rejection of Christ was going to result in their rejection by God. His return was going to bring bad news and an even worse ending to their lives. But for Paul and the other believers in Corinth, the return of Christ was something for which they could and should look forward.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that we should have no fear of death and that we should eagerly hope for and in the return of Christ.

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. – Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT

In the meantime, while they awaited the Lord’s return, Paul prayed that the grace of Christ would protect them. And he would continue to love them – sometimes in spite of them. He would write them, confronting and encouraging them in their faith, longing to see them face to face, so that he might strengthen them. As he said in his letter to the Romans, “For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord” (Romans 1:11 NLT).

A brotherly love (phileo) for Christ. The undeserved, sustaining grace of Christ. The selfless, Christ-like love (agape) of Paul for them. And the eager expectation of Christ’s return. These were all on the heart of Paul as he wrapped up his letter to the Corinthians. And they should be the passion and priority of every believer in the church today.

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A Few Final Words.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. – 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 ESV

Verses 13-14 are an apt summary of all that Paul has said in this somewhat lengthy letter. As he wraps up his discourse with the Corinthians, he gives them five significant charges. He tells them to be watchful or vigilant. They are living in difficult days and there is a constant threat of attack on the church, both from without and within. They need to keep their eyes open and their heads on a swivel, living with a wariness and an awareness that their faith will face an unceasing onslaught of spiritual warfare. The church itself will be in the cross hairs of the enemy, as he seeks to disrupt its unity and destroy its testimony.

Secondly, Paul reminds them to stand firm. Despite the pressure they may feel or the persecution they may face, they are to persevere, standing their ground and refusing to give up or give in to the enemy. I am reminded of the words of Moses, spoken to the people of Israel as they stood on the banks of the Red Sea with Pharaoh and his army bearing down on them. “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you today. Take a good look at the Egyptians today for you’re never going to see them again. God will fight the battle for you” (Exodus 14:13-14 NLT). They could have run, but they would have been slaughtered. They could have attempted to fight, but they would have lost that battle. Or they could stand their ground and watch God work. And because that is what they decided to do, they were able to experienced an incredible miracle of God’s salvation.

 And Paul is quite specific when he tells them to stand firm in the faith. He is referring to their faith in Christ and the salvation that His death has made possible. Jesus died so that we might have life, abundant life now and eternal life to come. Our faith is to be a future-focused faith, resting in the promises of God, many of which are as yet unfulfilled and unseen. The author of Hebrews describes faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). The Israelites had no idea what God was going to do to save them from the advancing armies of Egypt, but they had to place their faith in the promise of God – that He was going to take them to the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He as not going to let them down or allow their exodus to end on the shores of the Red Sea. Our faith must stand on the promises of God. The apostle Peter reminds that, “by God’s power [we] are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5 ESV). God is not done yet. His salvation of His people (the church) is not yet complete. So we must stand firm, even in the face of difficulties and seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Next, Paul encourages the Corinthians to act like men. It is a call to bravery in the midst of battle. He wants them to boldly stand their ground, because they have God on their side. The God of heavens armies is their commander in chief. They have a power at their disposal that is limitless and guarantees them victory each and every time. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talks about this very same power that should provide us with the impetus to act like men:

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13 NLT

Next, Paul tells them to be strong. This is a call for them to grow in their strength and stamina. They were not to remain as they were, immature and insufficiently equipped to face the challenges ahead. They were to grow in their faith and in their knowledge of God. They were to increase in their dependence upon God and their trust in His ability to provide and protect. It is when, by faith, we stand firm and watch God work, that we grow strong. It is our faith in God that gives us the strength to stand firm. Our bravery is based on His strength, not our own. It is as we trust Him, that our spiritual stamina and strength increases. We discover, as Paul did, that His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV).

Finally, Paul adds an important but oftentimes missing element to his calls to action. He says, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14 ESV). Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to leave this one out? Paul spent an entire chapter of this letter unpacking the power of love in the life of the believer. Love is not an option, it is an indispensable, non-negotiable requirement for each and every one of us. We are to love as He has loved us. As Paul stated in chapter 13, even the gifts, if done without love, are useless and without value. Love is to be the motivating factor behind all that we do. Bravery without love is nothing more than false bravado. Alertness and watchfulness, done apart from love, will result in a self-centered, circle-the-wagons mentality that focuses on self, not others. Even faith-based perseverance and persistence, sans love, can leave us with a me-centered, pride-filled attitude of spiritual arrogance. Love has to be at the core of all that we do. Love for God. Love for Christ. Love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. And even love for our enemies.  

 

Genuine Generosity.

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me. – 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 ESV

Paul opens up this series of verses with the same words he has used throughout this section of the letter:

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote… – 1 Corinthians 7:1 ESV

Now concerning the betrothed… – 1 Corinthians 7:25 ESV

Now concerning food offered to idols… – 1 Corinthians 8:1 ESV

Now concerning spiritual gifts… – 1 Corinthians 12:1 ESV

Now concerning our brother Apollos… – 1 Corinthians 16:12 ESV

In each case, it seems that he is answering a question from the Corinthians or addressing a concern he has regarding the affairs of the church. In this case, he is dealing with their role in assisting the “saints”. This is most likely a reference to the saints in Jerusalem and Judea. Luke describes the situation in the book of Acts.

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. – Acts 11:27-30 ESV

Paul had a strong desire to assist the believers in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas who were struggling through the time of famine. These believers, who were primarily Jews, were not only going without food, but were also having to deal with persecution from their Jewish peers because of their conversion to Christianity. Paul had written to the believers in Rome, “At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem” (Romans 15:25-26 ESV). He went on to say that the believers in Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to do it and even saw it as a debt they owed, “For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings” (Romans 15:27 ESV). 

In the early days of the church, there was a need for community and mutual care throughout the body of Christ. The new, fledgling churches were commonly made up of individuals from the less affluent segments of society. Many, after having come to faith in Christ, had lost their jobs. They had been ostracized from their families. Some of the churches to which Paul ministered on his missionary journeys were better off than others and he strongly encouraged them to use their resources to help those in need, both within their own fellowships, but in other churches located in other cities as well. Paul would write a second letter to the Corinthians encouraging them to get involved in the support of the needs of others, something they seemed to have a hard time doing.

Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. – 2 Corinthians 8:1-7 NLT

Paul was not above using a bit of shaming by comparing the seeming stinginess of the Corinthians with the generosity of the churches in Macedonia. These churches, while enduring their own “deep poverty” were joyfully and eagerly giving to meet the needs of the saints in Jerusalem, even begging for the opportunity to do so. Two times Paul refers to this as a “gracious work” and tells the Corinthians that generous giving is to be pursued with the same intensity and given the same priority as faith, speech, knowledge or even love. In fact, meeting the physical needs of others is one of the greatest expressions of our love for others.

So Paul tells the Corinthians, “On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once” (1 Corinthians 1:3 NLT). He provides them with instructions as to how to take up their collection, fully expecting them to participate in the support of the needs of the believers in Judea. He is not commanding them to do so, but he is fully expecting their willing participation. Why? Because it is the will of God and the evidence of the Spirit’s working within them. God has a heart for the helpless, hopeless, the needy and the destitute. In the book of Micah, the prophet records what God expects of His people:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

The greatest expression of generosity and sacrifice Paul could think of was that of Jesus Christ and His willing sacrifice of His life. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV). He gave His life so that we might live. He became poor, leaving the confines of heaven and taking on human flesh, so that we might become rich, becoming heirs of God Himself. 

The body of Christ is meant to care for itself. There is no room for selfishness and self-centeredness. God blesses some so that they might be a blessing to others. But even those who have little are able to assist those who have even less. This is not just about a redistribution of wealth and the creation of a socialistic society. It is about love. It is about generosity and a desire to express the love of God to those in need.

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7-9 NLT

The goal for Paul was generosity – genuine, heart-felt, Spirit-inspired, love-based generosity that expressed the unity and community for which Christ died. Paul longed to see the churches to which he ministered experience and display the kind of love that was found in the early days of the church immediately after the coming of the Spirit.

All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had…There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. – Acts 4:32,34-35 NLT

Genuine generosity. Godly love. Brotherly affection. Selfless sacrifice. Compassionate care. “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT).

Death to Death.

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?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 ESV

Paul lived with a sense of eminence, an eager expectation and anticipation of the Lord’s return. He fully expected to be alive when Jesus returned for His bride, the church. This attitude of expectation, coupled with his strong belief in the resurrection of the body, is what drove him to live his life to please God and make the most of the time he had on this earth. He wanted to be doing the will of God when His Son returned. And he told the Corinthians, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV).

All that he talks about in these closing verses of chapter 15 concerns, as he calls it, “a mystery.” It has been hidden from view, remaining unrevealed and unknown as to the day of its occurrence. No one knows the day of the Lord’s return. But just because we are ignorant of the timing of His return does not mean we should doubt its validity. And the events surrounding that day, including the resurrection of our bodies, while mysterious and unknown as to exactly how they will occur, are to be believed and eagerly anticipated. Paul says that not every believer is going to die. Some will be alive and well when the Lord returns. And both the living and the dead will experience the resurrection of their earthly bodies. Paul does not explain how this will happen, because he does not know. He simply reveals that it will happen unquestionably and instantaneously – “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52 ESV). He says, “the dead will be raised imperishable” and those who are alive on that day, “shall be changed.” Both groups will receive their new spiritual bodies, made in “the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49b ESV). The apostle John tells us, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). Instantaneously, we will all undergo a miraculous transformation, receiving our new resurrected bodies, made for our new home and designed by God to exist for eternity. “For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NLT). And when that happens, Paul says, it will be a slap in the face to death. Death is the wage or payment for a life of sin (Romans 6:23). When sin entered the world at the fall, it brought with it death.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. – Romans 5:17 NLT

Because of Jesus, death has lost its sting, its power over us. Those who have placed their faith in Jesus no longer need to fear death. That does not mean that we are immune from death. Even believers die. But the real “sting” of death, its power to separate men from their God, is no longer valid. All men die, but not all men will experience eternal separation from God. Those who have placed their faith in His Son, at death, find themselves immediately transferred into the presence of God the Father. Paul alludes to this reality in his second letter to the Corinthians:

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. – 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 ESV

Well-versed in the Old Testament, Paul paraphrases Hosea 13:14, and uses it to taunt death. Because of Jesus, it no longer has any power over us. It is like a toothless, declawed lion – intimidating and with a scary roar, but devoid of any real power to do us harm.

But the real message Paul seems to be trying to convey is that the future assurance the Lord’s return and the certainty of the resurrection of our bodies should embolden us to live godly lives here and now. We are to remain “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Rather than wasting our time arguing about spiritual gifts and debating over who follows who, we need to be sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost and the love of God with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Rather than worrying about death, we need to concentrate on living for God, making the most of every moment He gives us on this earth. We exist for His glory. We are His servants, called by Him to do His will and to spread the message of salvation made possible through His Son’s death on the cross.

But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:22-23 NLT

All Things New.

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. – 1 Corinthians 15:35-50 ESV

The idea of the resurrection of the human body from death has always been difficult to comprehend. And it was no different for the Corinthians to whom Paul was writing. What made it even more unfathomable for the Corinthians was the influence of Hellenistic dualism, the philosophy that taught the separation of the body from the soul. For the dualist, the body was essentially evil and of no value in man’s pursuit of spiritual fulfillment.

“The Corinthians are convinced that by the gift of the Spirit, and especially the manifestation of tongues, they have already entered into the spiritual, ‘heavenly’ existence that is to be. Only the body, to be sloughed off at death, lies between them and their ultimate spirituality. Thus they have denied the body in the present, and have no use for it in the future.” – Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians

The thought was, if the body is evil, what good would it be to have it resurrected? And even if you could resurrect the body, what kind of body would it be? That is the very question with which Paul begins this section of his letter. “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” (1 Corinthians 15:35 NLT). If you think about it, the first part of this question seems logical and worthy of asking. After all, who hasn’t wondered how God is going to restore a fully decomposed body and restore it to its original pre-death condition. And what is God going to do about a body that was buried at sea and eaten by fish. While we know that nothing is impossible with God, we can’t help but wonder at the seeming impossibility of it all.

But rather than acknowledge the validity of these questions, Paul refers to anyone who would ask them as a “foolish person.” They don’t get it. They are focused on the wrong thing. When the hear of the resurrection of the body, they are thinking the human body as they know it, the only body with which they are currently familiar. But Paul uses a series of analogies to help them understand the true nature of the resurrected body. First he uses seeds. “When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting.” (1 Corinthians 15:36-37 NLT). He goes on to point out that God gives the seed a “new body.” It comes out of the ground different than how it went in. And it has to “die” first. The shell encasing the seed must decompose and release the “life” that exists within. The body after death looks dramatically different than it did before. And it is all up to God. “God gives it the new body he wants it to have” (1 Corinthians 15:38 NLT).

Then Paul points out that there are different kinds of bodies in nature. Humans have one kind of body, while birds, fish and animals each have their own kind. We have no problem seeing that validity and necessity of these different kinds of bodies. The human body was not made for living in water. The body of a fish was not intended to sustain life on dry land. So why would we think that the human body, as we know it, could survive life in heaven. It will be a different existence requiring a different an altogether different kind of body. And speaking of heaven, take a look at the planets and stars. Each has its own kind of “glory”, Paul says. They each have their own purpose.

So, Paul concludes, “It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:42 NLT). Using the seed analogy, Paul states that our bodies, after death, will be buried in the ground, only to come out in new life and in a different configuration. “Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:43-44 NLT).

Paul makes an interesting pronouncement that goes against the whole premise behind dualism. After the resurrection, we will have spiritual bodies. They will be no separation. There will be no dual aspect to our nature in eternity. We will spiritual beings with bodies, albeit, a different kind of body. In our current bodies, we resemble our ancestor, Adam. In our resurrection bodies, we will resemble our Savior, Jesus Christ. “Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man” (1 Corinthians 15:49 NLT). The bottom line is that, after death, we will have to have new bodies in order to live with God in eternity. “What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever” (1 Corinthians 15:50 NLT). As impossible as the resurrection of the body may sound, it is a necessity. Without it, men could not exist in the rarefied atmosphere of heaven, any more than a fish could exist out of the water. Our new home will require that we have new bodies. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul puts it this way:

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

New home. New bodies. New life. New nature. New heaven. New earth. It’s all coming some day. And it is the past resurrection of Jesus Christ and the future resurrection of our bodies that make it all possible. “And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’” (Revelation 21:5 NLT).

 

The Reality of the Resurrection.

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? Why are we in danger every hour? I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. – 1 Corinthians 15:29-34 ESV

In verse 29, Paul takes what appears to be a rather interesting and confusing diversion from his primary topic. Actually, he is simply trying to drive home his point regarding the reality of the resurrection. To do so, he brings in another practice that was evidently common in Corinth, perhaps not in the church, but in the pagan community. It involved proxy baptism or baptism for the dead. Now it has been estimated that this one verse has been given as many as 40 different interpretations over the years in an effort to explain what Paul is talking about.

They included that Christians in Corinth were being “baptized into the ranks of the dead” by martyrdom (thinking of “baptism” in the light of Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50), that this was ordinary Christian baptism that took place “over” the grave of the dead, or that new Christians were baptized to “replace” Christians who had died. Though interesting, these proposals lack credibility. The most plausible interpretation is that some in Corinth were getting baptized vicariously for the dead. Several factors, however, put this into perspective. Although Paul does not explicitly condemn the practice, neither does he endorse it. – Christianity Today, August 10 1998, Vol. 42, No. 9

The most likely explanation is that Paul is referring to a practice that was common among the mystery religions found in and around Corinth. These pagan religions encouraged their followers to be baptized on behalf of and in place of their deceased relatives in order to assure their “salvation.” It is the same belief held today by the Church of Latter-Day Saints or the Mormons. But Paul is not endorsing this practice. Notice that he says, “what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?” He is pointing out what others, outside the church, were doing. This was a practice the Corinthians believers would have been familiar with, and Paul is simply using it as an example of how even the pagan mystery religions believed in a resurrection of the dead. Otherwise, their practice of proxy baptism would have been pointless.

Paul’s whole point is that there is a resurrection of the dead. To reject it or refuse to believe in it would be to reject the gospel. And Paul had been putting his life on the line to preach the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). He had suffered greatly as a result of his belief in the resurrection. It was the resurrection of Jesus that caused much of the persecution against the disciples in the early days of the church. Which is what led Paul to ask, “Why are we in danger every hour?” (1 Corinthians 15:30 ESV). It was because of the message of the resurrection. In Acts chapter 4, Luke records that Peter and John, after sharing the gospel in Solomon’s Portico in Jerusalem, were arrested.

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. – Acts 4:1-4

They were arrested for proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead. It was this message that riled the Jewish religious leaders. The next day, standing in front of the high priest and his religious cohorts, Peter and John were asked to explain by what power or authority they had healed a crippled man the day before. And Peter responded, “ let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well” (Acts 4:10 ESV).

It is the resurrection of Jesus that gave the gospel its power and made possible the coming of the Holy Spirit. To reject the resurrection simply because you can’t explain it is absurd. And Paul asks the Corinthians, “And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, ‘Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!’” (1 Corinthians 15:32 NLT). If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Jesus was not raised from the dead and we have no hope of future resurrection. This life is all there is. So if that’s the case, let’s enjoy our life while we can and stop worrying about eternity. But Paul rejects that logic. In fact, he tells the Corinthians, “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:34 EV). It was as if their senses were numbed by too much alcohol, affecting their ability to think clearly. Paul demanded that they “sober up” and start listening to God rather than their pagan friends and neighbors. The resurrection of Jesus was just as much a part of the plan of God as His death. When the women had come to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus they were met by two angels, who said to them:

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. – Luke 24:5-9 ESV

We need to wake up to the reality of the resurrection. It is the resurrection of Jesus that gives us hope. It is what assures us of our own future resurrection. It is because He rose again that we can believe that He will one day come again. And in the meantime, as we wait for that day, Paul would have us remember, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (Romans 8:11 NLT).

The Truth Is…

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. – 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 ESV

Whether or not some of the Corinthians wanted to believe in the possibility of the resurrection of the dead, Paul was unequivocally certain that Jesus had done just that. As far as he was concerned, it was a non-contestable fact and he had firsthand knowledge of its reality. Paul had personally encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and it had radically changed his life (Acts 9:1-7). As Paul stated earlier, after Jesus was resurrected he appeared to hundreds of individuals and, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:8-9 ESV. This was not a point that was up for discussion or debate. It was a fact, and one for which Paul was willing to give his life.

It was the resurrection of Jesus that made it possible for sinful men and women to be restored to a right relationship with a holy God. His resurrection was proof that His sacrifice had been accepted by God, and because God was satisfied with His Son’s payment, He was able to justify sinful men and women, forgiving their sins and declaring them as righteous in His eyes. The resurrection of Jesus is essential the gospel message. The first Adam, through his sin, brought death into the world. Paul clarifies the difference between Adam and Jesus in his letter to the Romans.

For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. – Romans 5:17-19 ESV

Adam brought sin and condemnation to mankind. His transgression resulted in death for all men. But Jesus, through His death, made possible new life and forgiveness of sins. But had He not risen from the dead, none of that would have been possible. He would have been nothing more than a martyr, rather than the Messiah and Savior of the world. But Jesus was physically resurrected from the dead. The tomb was empty. He had a physical body and was seen by many who recognized Him, talked with Him and even enjoyed a meal with Him. He was not a spirit without a body. There is no doubt that His body, in its resurrected state, was different than before. But He ate with the disciples and could be touched by them. His was a tangible, corporeal body. And Paul’s point is that we will one day experience the very same thing. We will receive new, resurrected bodies. Will our body appear just as it did at the point of our death? If I die at 80, will I be eternally an octogenarian in heaven? If a child dies at seven, will he or she be a child throughout eternity? The Scriptures don’t answer these questions. But we are told that we will receive new bodies.

Later on in this same chapter, Paul elaborates on this idea of our new resurrected bodies. He wants to address the confusion and concerns of the Corinthians over the whole idea of dead bodies being given new life.

 But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. – 1 Corinthians 15:35-37 NLT

The point is that there is a body made for this earth and a body intended by God for heaven. Our earthly bodies are designed to wear out, die and decompose. But our heavenly bodies will be eternal and indestructible. He goes on to explain:

Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies. – 1 Corinthians 15:43-44 NLT

The designated day on which we will receive our heavenly bodies is at the resurrection of the dead, an event that has yet to take place. It is on that occasion that God will consummate His redemptive plan. Paul states that the “last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26 ESV). With the resurrection of our bodies, we will no longer be susceptible to death. We will experience eternal life, free from all fear of death – physical or spiritual.

In his letter to the Thessalonian believers, Paul provided them with hope regarding the reality of the coming resurrection of the dead.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words. –
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NLT

When Paul refers to the dead believers rising from their graves, he is talking about their newly resurrected bodies, not their souls. Their souls will have been with God in heaven during the interim time period since their death. But they, along with all those who are alive when the Lord returns, will be given their newly glorified bodies – imperishable and incorruptible. “For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NLT). The truth is, there is a resurrection from the dead. And Jesus was the firstfruits – the initial representation of more to come. We will experience resurrection just as He did. And that will take place when He return for His church at the rapture. As Paul said in 1 Thessalonians, “we will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.” Then the millennial Kingdom of Christ will begin. He will rule for a thousand years on earth, bringing everyone and everything under His subjection. At the end of that period of time, He will turn over all power and authority to God the Father. Satan will be defeated once and for all, and the reign of sin and death will end. That is the truth, and it should bring us hope, joy and confidence in the future. God’s will will be done. Christ’s mission will be complete.


 

 

Because He Lives.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. – 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 ESV

Essential to the gospel message is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Paul spent the entire opening paragraph of this chapter making that point clear. And he claims that the Corinthians had believed the message of the gospel, including the part regarding Christ’s resurrection. And yet, there were those in the church in Corinth who rejected the idea of the resurrection of the dead. This may have been due to their dualistic background. In their minds the body was deemed as evil and non-spiritual. So any idea of the body someday being resurrected or redeemed made no sense to them. Yet Paul regularly taught the resurrection of the body. In his second letter to the believers in Corinth, he wrote:

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-15 NLT

He assured the believers in Rome:

…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. – Romans 8:23-24 ESV

As far as Paul was concerned, the resurrection will involve both our body and soul. We will be glorified. Just as Jesus was resurrected from the dead, so will we. And yet, there were some of the Corinthians who had rejected this idea. They had a hard time believing that God would redeem and glorify their bodies. So Paul has to logically address their concerns and misconceptions. Paul states, quite matter-of-factly:

For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. – 1 Corinthians 15:13-14 NLT

In other words, if you want to reject the idea of the resurrection of the body from the dead, then you have to reject that Jesus Himself was resurrected. Because, as Paul stated earlier, Jesus walked from the tomb with a resurrected body and was seen and recognized by more than 500 eye-witnesses. Paul himself had seen Jesus in His resurrected body on the road to Damascus. Remember what Paul said was of “first importance”. Jesus died, was buried, was raised on the third day, then He appeared to Peter, the disciples, more than 500 believers at one time, to James, and to all the apostles. And He did all this in His resurrected body, which was recognizable to all who saw Him. Even the wounds from the nails and spear were still visible (John 20:27). To reject the resurrection of the body was to reject the resurrection of Jesus. And without the resurrection there is no gospel. There is no good news. Paul exposes the serious consequences of their logic: “if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised” (1 Corinthians 15:16 ESV). But it gets even worse than that.

And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. – 1 Corinthians 15:17 NLT 

In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! – 1 Corinthians 15:18 NLT

The resurrection of Jesus was proof that His death had satisfied the just demands of God. He had paid the penalty for the sins of man and God had accepted His sacrifice. Paul writes in his letter to the church in Philippi: “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV). The resurrection of Jesus was part of His glorification. “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34 ESV). 

It is because Jesus was raised from the dead and sits at the right hand of the Father that we have hope. There is more to come. We have not been saved for this life, but for a life to come. Our glorification will not take place in this life, but in the one to come. “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while [in this life], he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation” (1 Peter 5:10 NLT). But if we reject the reality of the resurrection, we have no hope. Paul puts it in blunt terms: “if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT). We are to be pitied because we still face death and the condemnation that comes as a result of our sins. Without the resurrection, our sins remain unpaid for and our death sentence still hangs over our heads. We may not be able to explain the resurrection. We may have a hard time understanding just exactly how God will accomplish the resurrection. But its reality is assured and our hope in it is essential. That is why the author of Hebrews described faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). It is the resurrection of Jesus that allows us to have faith in what we hope for – our own future resurrection. It allows us to believe in what we can’t see – the future redemption of our bodies. Because He lives, we can trust that we will one day live with Him.

God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus;
He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone,
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

–  Bill Gaither, Because He Lives

 

Of First Importance.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ESV

After having spent three entire chapters dealing with the issues surrounding the use of spiritual gifts, Paul now shifts his attention to what he refers to as “of first importance.” the Corinthians had lost sight of the overwhelming significance of their salvation made possible by the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. In other words, they had allowed the gospel and its life-changing message take a back seat to what they believed to be the spiritual significance of the gifts. So Paul reminds them of the gospel he preached to them. It is the gospel message they had received and, by doing so, allows them to stand as justified before God as His adopted. And it is that same gospel,that is making possible their daily salvation – their transformation into Christ-likeness. The spiritual gifts do not accomplish any of this for them. It is the gospel and the gospel alone that redeems, justifies, sanctifies, and that guarantees our future glorification – our salvation made complete. And just to make sure they understand what he means by the gospel, Paul provides them with a summary statement that contains all the key elements that give the gospel its significance.

Jesus died – the death of Jesus is central to the gospel message. It was necessary that Jesus die in order that the penalty for our sins be paid and God be satisfied. Otherwise, we would still be guilty and under condemnation for our sins against God. But Jesus did die – in our place. He took our sins upon Himself and suffered the death we deserved.

according to the Scripture – Jesus’ death was not happenstance or just a run of bad luck. It wasn’t the result of the Jewish leadership and their behind-the-scenes plotting against Jesus. It wasn’t even the result of Pilate’s orders or the Roman government’s power. It was preordained by God. The Old Testament prophets spoke of His death hundreds of years before it took place. The prophet Isaiah wrote,

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV

Jesus was sent by God to die. The penalty for mankind’s sins against God was death. And God, because He is just, required that the penalty be paid – in full. But out of His mercy, He provided a substitute, His own Son, to satisfy the just and holy requirement for a sinless sacrifice, because as the author Hebrews writes, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

he was buried – Jesus’ death was real. He did not swoon or pass out. He was not put in the grave barely alive only to later revive and escape. He was buried because He was dead and the Romans were convinced of His death. It was His burial that paved the way for His resurrection. The rolling of the stone across the opening to His tomb and then sealed by the Roman guards convinced the disciples that their Messiah was dead and their hopes for a new kingdom were gone. They went into mourning and hiding. And the words of the two disciples whom Jesus encountered along the road after His resurrection reveal just how dejected they were.

Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.– Luke 24:19-21 ESV

he was raised on the third day – Jesus was not a martyr. He was the Messiah, the anointed one of God, who died, but who was raised back to life through the power of the Spirit of God. He was restored to new life and walked from the tomb in His resurrected body, living proof that He had accomplished what He had come to do and had satisfied the just demands of His Father in heaven. Just a few verses later in this chapter, Paul writes, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17 ESV). And he follows that up with the good news that “n fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20 ESV). It is His resurrection that assures us of our future hope of eternal life and glorification of these earthly bodies. The apostle John assures us, “we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 ESV).

in accordance with the Scriptures – Once again, the Scriptures predicted Christ’s death, but also His resurrection. The prophet Isaiah wrote,

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
    Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see  and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities. – Isaiah 53:10-11 ESV

He was crushed, but He was also resurrected and restored. His days were prolonged. And as a result of His death and resurrection, many have been accounted as righteous.

and that he appeared – Jesus was seen by more than 500 people during the days after His resurrection. His appearances to His disciples renewed them hopes and revived their commitment to follow Him. He gave them their marching orders, commissioning them to carry on His work and to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. And He appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, calling him from a life marked by persecution of the church to a new mission of taking the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul’s work and words were given to Him by the resurrected Christ. And he had been faithful to do what Christ had called him to do.

Jesus died, was buried, resurrected and appeared. That is the heart of the gospel message. And when anyone accepts the reality of those facts, placing his or her faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ, they experience salvation. They are born again. They are given new life in Christ. Their sins are forgiven. They receive a new nature. They become a child of God and an heir to the Kingdom of God. They stand before God as righteous, not because of anything they have done or accomplished, but because of the blood of Christ.

 

A Method To God’s Madness.

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order. – 1 Corinthians 14:33b-40

This passage is a land mine of potential controversy. Over the centuries there have been a variety of attempts made to soften its content and diminish its potential impact on the modern church. It has resulted in Paul being labeled a sexist by many and has been used by some to prove their assertion that Christianity is archaic and out of touch with the modern world. There are those who claim that these words are simply the personal opinion of Paul and are not to be taken as a command from God. They use Paul’s similar statement written to his young protege, Timothy, as proof. “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:11-12 ESV).

So what are we to do with this verses? Are we to simply ignore them, write them off as irrelevant, or take them as the word of God and apply them to our local fellowships? To make things even more difficult, it would appear that Paul is contradicting himself. Earlier in this same letter, he states, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven” (1 Corinthians 11:4-5 ESV). It would seem that the context he is referring to regarding prayer and prophesying is that of corporate worship. There would be no need to prophesy in private. Like all the other spiritual gifts, these two were intended for the edification of the body of Christ. So Paul seems to be saying that it is perfectly acceptable for women to pray and prophesy in a worship context. So why does he seem to change his mind and say, “women should keep silent in the churches”?

As always, when interpreting the meaning of a particular verse or verses, we must consider the context. That includes the context of the passage in which the verses are contained. But it also includes the cultural context with which the particular book of the Bible is dealing. We must always consider the original audience to whom the author was writing and the specific issues he was addressing. Here is this letter, Paul is writing to believers in the Greek city of Corinth, most of whom had come out of pagan backgrounds and who were relatively young in their faith. They are a gifted congregation, but because of their spiritual immaturity and the influence of their pagan past, they were experiencing a great deal of disorder and disunity. They were misusing the spiritual gifts and were failing to exhibit Christ-like love for one another. There was an overemphasis on their freedoms in Christ which was resulting in quarrels and contentions over everything from eating food sacrificed to idols to who had the most important spiritual gift.

One of the issues Paul addresses repeatedly is disorder. When it comes to corporate worship, there was to be an atmosphere of order and decorum. Yet, some within the church were using their gifts inappropriately, resulting in confusion and a spirit of competition. It is important to note that just before Paul states that women are to be silent in the church, he states, “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33a ESV). For Paul, the issue of order was directly tied to that of headship and submission. God not only had a manner in which the body of Christ should operate when gathered together, He had established a hierarchy of leadership. Back in chapter 11, Paul discussed God’s ordained headship of the husband over his wife. “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3 ESV). This has nothing to do with value or worth. Christ and God the Father are co-equals and both members of the trinity. But Christ submits to the authority of God the Father. He does the will of His Father. In the garden, on the night of His betrayal, Jesus prayed, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV). The issue has to do with authority and order.

When Paul refers to God being a God of peace, the Greek word he uses refers to harmony and concord between individuals. There was a lack of harmony within the Corinthian church and their worship services were marked by disorder. So Paul is once again addressing an apparent abuse of God’s call for order and harmony.

It is clear from this that the apostle was not concerned about women who properly exercised their gifts in prophesying or in praying, but was greatly concerned about women who disrupted the meetings with questions and comments, and perhaps even challenged the teaching of apostolic doctrine with contrary views. – Ray Stedman, Should A Woman Teach in the Church, RayStedman.org

It would seem from the context that there were women who were stepping out from under their husband’s God-ordained headship and asserting what they believed to be their right to participate in the worship experience. But their actions were viewed as disruptive to the service and disrespectful of their husband’s headship. Paul states that is is shameful for women to speak in the church. It is important to note that the word he uses for “speak” means “to declare one’s mind and disclose one’s thoughts.” It has nothing to do with using their spiritual gifts. A woman using her spiritual gift would be under the authority of the Spirit of God. But for a woman to verbally “declare her mind” and state her opinion, seemingly in conflict with a spoken word of prophesy or revelation, would be out of place. Paul states that “If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home” (1 Corinthians 14:35 ESV). Once again, the issue has to do with order and authority. The wife would honor her husband by bringing her questions and concerns to him first. Even though he might not have the answer to her questions, she would be encouraging him to step up and fulfill his role as God’s appointed spiritual head of the home. Undermining his authority or that of the leaders of the church would accomplish nothing in terms of the edification of the body of Christ. Disunity and disorder are always destructive.

This passage, while difficult to understand, appears to be a simple to submit to God’s will regarding His preordained order for the church and the home. It is a call to unity and a warning to avoid disorder of any kind. Paul ends this chapter with the words, “all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40 ESV). If we are not careful, we will lose sight of his main point and get hung up on what we believe to be inconsistencies or inequities in his teaching. But for Paul, the central concern was the well-being of the body of Christ, the family of God. There was no place for individual rights or self-seeking attitudes. Love was to be the primary motivating factor behind all that was done. The example of Christ was to be the focus of their attention, resulting in willing submission to God’s authority and a selfless desire for the good of others.