“Whoa, Keith, look like you skipped quite a bit of 1 Corinthians there! Yesterday we were in chapter 6, and today we’re in chapter 15!” Well, as I told you before, this is a devotional, not a commentary. I’m pretty firmly committed to finishing up this by the end of the year. Also, most of the stuff between chapters 7-14 is material which I don’t want to cover in this forum, or which I’ve covered before. But today’s reading is something I can’t skip over.
We dealt with this passage back when we discussed evidence for the Resurrection, but this is so pivotal that we need to take a second look at it. First, we need a little background on this. One of the most pernicious heresies of the early church was what we now call Gnosticism, which came out full-bore in the 3rd century but which had its beginnings in the 1st. Based on a bastardized form of Plato’s philosophy, it could be basically summarized as “Spirit good, physical bad.” The spiritual plane was something from which everything came, and the further you got from that—meaning the more rooted in the physical world something was—the worse something was. So in other words the ideal was to become a spirit floating around.
As you might've caught on, this is contrary to what the Bible teaches. Yes, this physical world is fallen, and we have to fight the “world” in one sense of the word, but the problem is not physicality; it’s sin. The physical world was created as "very good" in the beginning, and it’s only when sin entered it that we have any problems at all.
And this way of thinking completely contradicted the whole idea of the Incarnation, which is why a lot of folks who bought into this heresy ended up denying this central truth; in fact that’s probably one of the main errors which John was trying to refute in both his Gospel and in his first letter. The idea that God (who is Spirit) would willingly join himself with dirty filthy human flesh would be repugnant to them, and so they rejected it.
That brings us to today’s passage, really the entire chapter. This philosophy/heresy, or at least parts of it, had infiltrated the church in Corinth. With all their problems—church factions, sexual immorality, abusing Spiritual gifts—they also had to deal with this false teaching. Basically they were denying the general resurrection of believers at the return of Christ.
Please keep this in mind as we read the rest of the chapter: There’s no indication that the heretics were denying the resurrection of Christ. No doubt they would if they could, since their belief system would flatly deny that God-in-the-flesh (shudder) would die and then willingly go back to a physical body after his death. Death was looked upon as being loosed from the chains of a crude physical body.
But for now they were just questioning the general resurrection of believers at the end of human history. And that’s what Paul is fighting in this chapter. Before he starts refuting their error, however, he needs to establish just how important the resurrection of Christ really is.
He starts out by reminding them of the “Gospel”—the message of good news--which he presented to them at the beginning. This is the message by which they believed and had been saved. Not only had they believed in this message, but they had taken their stand on this. They were risking life and limb on the truth of this message.
I need to make a quick note about a curious phrase: they were saved “if [they] hold firmly to the word [he] preached to [them].” What does this mean? Is it possible to believe in Christ and then lose your salvation later down the road? No. As we’ve discussed before, once you believe in Christ, there’s nothing you can do later to lose your salvation. However, the same Bible that teaches that we can’t lose our salvation also tells us that if you really are saved, you’re going to demonstrate it in how you live. And if you publically question—much less deny—an essential teaching of the Good News, then Paul, along with John and James, question that you were saved in the first place.
How central is this? Friends, this is not a disagreement about Pre-Millennialism vs. Post-Millennialism. Paul says this is “of first importance.” When I said essential in the last paragraph, I didn’t mean it in the sense of “really really important.” I meant it quite literally, that it is part of the essence of the Good News. Take it out, and you don’t have the Good News anymore. It’s like water without any oxygen molecules.
What is “of first importance,” the essence of the Good News? That Christ died for our sins (according what God had promised), that he was buried, and that he rose on the third day (also according to what God had promised). If you know and believe this, you know the essence of what you need to know in order to be saved. Now, does this mean that nothing else is important? Please keep in mind that magical word: Context. John said that we also need to believe that Jesus came in the flesh, that he’s the Christ, and that he’s the Son of God. These are the nonnegotiables.
And notice that along with the essential elements of the Message, he also lists the fact that the disciples had been witnesses of the Resurrection as well. He’d appeared to the “Twelve,” to over 500 people at once, to his nonbelieving half-brother James, and finally Paul (who was on his way to a town to persecute more Christians). This is listed as an essential part of our faith. Christ didn’t rise again and then go straight back up to Heaven. No, he appeared to multiple witnesses repeatedly over a 40-day period, and then had one last special appearance to Paul.
I’m going to end today’s posting by asking the same question I asked when I recently taught on Luke 24: I supposedly believe in the Resurrection of Christ, but do I live like he’s alive? Do I treat him as a living, breathing person I can talk and listen to right now, who’s actively involved in my life, or do I treat him as a person who’s only a historical figure I read about, like Abe Lincoln or Harry Truman?
Lord Jesus, you are the living Savior, and I need to live like it. By your grace, I want the fact that I worship a living Savior to work itself out in how I think, talk, and act. Please.