Some groups set dates for Jesus’ return.  One, at least, actually went to a mountain top to be ready.  That’s not the “ready” of which I write.  Based on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:29-34, “ready” means this:  future resurrection should shape our present behavior.

Paul is still confronting the Corinthians’ “no resurrection” stance.  Here he does it with a series of rhetorical questions . . .

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?” (15:29, ESV).

In 15:20-28 Paul affirmed it: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead . . . “.  Here he asks rhetorically, like a defense attorney, “Otherwise, what do people mean by baptized on behalf of the dead?”

No other  biblical and no  historical reference to“being baptized on behalf of the dead” exist, leaving us to guess at the practice. Commentators, naturally, have.  But none of their dozen ideas seem really plausible.  Why add mine?

The practice existed and Paul’s rhetorical question clearly means that being baptized for the dead is senseless if there’s no resurrection for the dead to attain.

“Why are we in danger every hour?” (15:30, ESV).

Second rhetorical question.  Not “cool” danger like Jason Bourne (The Bourne Identity spy thriller series), more like never-ending, dismal danger.   “[I have been] in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters . . . ” (2 Corinthians 11:26(.

Why would anyone in his right mind put himself in such danger daily if there’s no resurrection?

“I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!” 15:31, ESV).

Paul boasts about Corinthians’ conversions (not in himself but in the Lord’s work through him (2 Corinthians 1:14), but adds to his danger-question above:  “I die daily”–meaning, “Every day I face the real possibility of losing my life!”  A casual reading of Acts misses that.  Paul’s-eye-view gives us the real picture.

“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” (15:32, ESV).

Again, reading Acts reveals successful ministry with one troublesome opposition, hardly calling for this “beasts at Ephesus” metaphor.  But listen to Paul”s confession:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,  as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).

If there’s no resurrection,  Paul would gain nothing by enduring such hardship  Anybody with a brain would party, not suffer, if the grave marked life’s end.

“Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals” (15:33, ESV).

The statement is more than a generic proverb.  It aims right at the Corinthians’ conduct.  Hanging around with those who deny future resurrection (even if it is one another!) corrupts good morals (literally, “customs, habits”).  Future resurrection should produce right behavior.  Remove the hope of resurrection and you’ve removed a powerful  impetus for that right conduct.

For example, why sacrifice for someone else if this life is all we’ve got?  Why endure suffering for righteousness’ sake if only the grave awaits?  With no resurrection, we “only go ’round once in life”; so let’s party man!

“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. (15:34, (ESV).

Being deceived (15:33) is like being drunk (15:34).  A translation that better expresses Paul’s imperative:  “Sober up!”

How are they “sinning”?  By denying the truth of the resurrection, by boastfully showing off their spiritual gifts, by not pursuing love, and primarily by not having (that is, rejecting) knowledge of God.  This the ultimate put-down.  The Corinthians boast of their “spirituality.”  For Paul to charge some of them as having no knowledge of God is to “shame” them, as he intends.

* * *

I don’t remember, in 44 years of ministry, ever preaching on this particular paragraph nor hearing a sermon on it.  Maybe we preachers shy away from it because of “baptism on behalf of the dead”.  What preacher wants to admit he doesn’t know what a text is about?

That’s a shame, because this paragraph makes a pivotal point:  future resurrection should shape present behavior.  In other words, believing we’ll be bodily resurrected frees us to behave more Christianly.

For example and most obvious:  believing we’ll be bodily resurrected frees us to sacrifice and even suffer for the cause of Christ.  Sacrifice money I could spend on food or clothing or health clubs?  If we’ve got only this life and this body, giving away money for Christ’s sake is a hard sell.

Even harder is suffering.  Few of us face that possibility, of course.  But obey Christ’s call to a mission field where Christianity is outlawed and suffering becomes a real threat.  Not many are so noble to heed the call without the promise of resurrection.

A second example is more personal:  joyful hope in the face of physical illness or disability.  I have to admit, knowing that my body will be resurrected whole isn’t a cure-all.  I still want to walk now, in this life.  I think of that often and get discouraged easily.  But without future resurrection despair would dominate every day.  With it, I have tangible hope that rests on the historical, bodily resurrection of Christ.

Lord, we debate against intellectuals who debunk resurrection.  Soon we’ll celebrate Easter with great joy.  But move us also to live “resurrection-ready”.  Not by standing on a mountain top looking up, but willingly sacrificing for your sake now, even enduring suffering with joyful hope, believing that one day . . .

” . . . the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:52-54, NIV).


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