- Soul Winning (verse 29)
- Suffering Service (verses 30-32)
- Sanctified Separation (verses 33-34)
First Corinthians 15, and we're going to read from verse 29 tonight. I hope that you remember all that we have already read, there's quite a lot in this chapter that we've studied in great detail - it's a long chapter on the subject of the resurrection of our Lord, and our subsequent resurrection one day in a day that is yet to be. We're coming now to a very controversial verse in particular, and portion of this chapter, and we want to take a good deal of time understanding what God's word is saying to us this evening.
Verse 29 - we'll read from verse 17 just to get the train of thought: "And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all".
Here's our portion this evening, through to verse 34: "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die. Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame".
Charles Swindoll, the author, broadcaster and preacher writes in one of his books that Edgar Allan Poe was one of the most brilliant writers in all of American history and literature. He was one who, he claims, was very misunderstood. His short stories and poems have taken millions of readers deep into the haunting mists of his imagination. Yet because his peers couldn't see the tragedy in his life, they tagged him 'insane', they named him a hopeless drunk, a drug addict, and they failed to honour the truth in his works. Charles Swindoll goes on to say that in a masked autobiography Edgar Allan Poe, under the title 'The Pit and the Pendulum', draws on his own personal experience of despair in his life. In that book he pictures himself strapped into a pit of fate, and above him is the razor-sharp blade of death's pendulum swinging above, moving closer and closer with each swing - it is a picture of no hope, nothing beyond the grave.
Now centuries before Edgar Allan Poe, Swindoll points out very accurately that there was another man by the name of Job, Job the patriarch of the Old Testament suffered tragedies far greater than Edgar Allan Poe. As you read his book in the Old Testament, and I encourage you to do so in great detail, Job was a man who felt the sting of sores that covered his physical body from head to toe. We read relationally that he lost every member of his family apart from his wife, but even lost her affection. He lost all of his servants, he lost all of his possessions, and eventually he lost all of his friends because his comforters fostered the idea that the God that Job had trusted in and served so faithfully, had turned on him and effectually stabbed him in the back, betrayed him. Like Poe, Job expressed his pain in his writings in the book that we can read in the Old Testament, and he asks many difficult questions that usually go hand-in-hand with suffering. In chapter 14 of the book of Job and verse 2, he says this about human beings: 'He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not'. 'Man is born unto trouble', we read within the book, 'as the sparks fly upward' - and we surely see that in the autobiography of this man Job. But the difference between Job and Edgar Allan Poe was that Job believed in the resurrection of the body, and in the midst of all his anguish and all his pain we also read in this book that Job said: 'And though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh and I shall see God'.
Many men and women curse God and deny God's goodness in the midst of their pain, but because Job had hope in a resurrected Saviour he survived all his trial and tribulation, and he certainly did not deny God. Now if the story of Job contrasted with this secular pagan man Edgar Allan Poe tells us anything, it is simply this: what we believe affects the way we behave. I say that so many times from this pulpit, but the fact of the matter is plain in scripture: our doctrine always affects our practice. You see it in the Sadducees in the Gospels - you remember I told you that the Sadducees were sad-you-see because they didn't believe in the resurrection. But because they didn't believe in a bodily resurrection, they could not think straight, and effectively therefore they could not live right. That is why we find them rejecting the words, the work, and the finished salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - because they did not believe in the bodily resurrection, they did not see Christ in His true light.
What does it tell us? It tells us that right doctrine is inseparable, it is intrinsically connected with right moral behaviour. If you do not believe that which is right, you will not live right, because right principles lead to right conduct. This is what Paul is chiefly dealing with tonight in our portion from verse 29 to 34. In verses 1 to 11 we saw that he dealt with the historical facts and evidences of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then in verses 12 to 19 he dealt with the theological implications of Christ's resurrection, and what the implications would be if Christ had not risen from the grave. Last week we looked at verses 22 to 28, how he set out the resurrection, building up his case of proof that we will be raised one day from a prophetic standpoint, showing that one day all of us will rise again from the grave - and he gives us God's programme for resurrection. But now he turns to talk about the subject of our resurrection in a practical sense in verses 29 to 34.
His main point now this evening is: 'Listen Corinthians, if you stop believing in the resurrection, what you effectively do is you remove the greatest motivational factor for the Christian life'. Have you got that? The fundamental incentive for all that we are and all that we do, practically as Christians, is the fact of the bodily resurrection of Christ and our resurrection one day. He cites three areas of Christian experience that have as their powerhouse of motivation and incentive the fact of the resurrection. The first begins in verse 29, so let's read it together: 'Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?'. Now let me just say before we go on any further that this verse, I think must be one of the most, if not the most difficult verse in the whole of holy Scripture. There are several legitimate interpretations of verse 29, but let me also say that although some people may debate what this verse actually means, in the light of the rest of the context of holy Scripture we know for surety and with absolute certainty what this verse cannot be teaching.
This is very important and I want to take time over this. I want to bring before you in a general sense four basic interpretations of verse 29 so that we can get to the bottom of what God's word is saying, and in the context of our message tonight looking at our resurrection incentives. The first interpretation that you will often hear from men that go two by two around your doors is that Paul is teaching here that we can be baptised in our living state for those who are already dead and entered into eternity - it is called vicarious baptism for the dead, or proxy baptism. In other words, you could be baptised for someone else who has already died in order to get them out of hell and get them into heaven quicker. Now let me inform you that a study of Christian history will show you that this was a heresy that was claimed by the ancient Gnostic movement - they were heretics. We see some of their heresies coming to fruition and beginning in embryo in Corinth, and in Galatia, and in Ephesus and throughout many of the epistles of the apostle Paul and the apostle John. We find it taught, chiefly, through one of the gnostic heretics by the name of Marcian - this is all documented fact that you can study in church history. But in our modern age, as we've said many times going through Corinthians, there's nothing new under the sun - and this heresy is embraced today by the false Mormon Church. It is the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, not for the living, but for the dead.
Baptismal regeneration is simply this: that baptism is a salvatory ordinance, a saving ordinance - in other words, that the water at baptism saves your soul. But what the false cult of Mormonism teaches is that your baptism not only can save your soul, but can save the soul of others who already have entered into eternity! Now let me deal with the first point first all: it is completely unscriptural to appoint, to teach, baptismal regeneration. The word of God from start to finish teaches us that salvation is a personal matter of individual faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone - and there are hundreds of proof texts that I could quote from this pulpit tonight to prove that to you, but one that I quoted even last night in the Gospel meeting is in Ephesians 2 verse 8: 'For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast'. Categorically clear that you cannot achieve salvation through works, it is not achieved through a church or through a movement, but it is by the grace of God exercised by a personal faith in Christ and the acceptance of the gift of God which is salvation. The whole of Scripture teaches us from start to finish that it must be the faith of the individual for salvation - 'believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved'. It's very clear that one person's faith cannot save another.
You might have very much faith, but your faith will not save me, and my faith will not save you - it is a personal matter before God. Just as your faith will not save me, and vice versa, then certainly we have to conclude that one person's baptism cannot save another person! If a person cannot save himself by being baptised - and there is not one verse in Scripture that teaches us that if you are not baptised you are damned, not one verse - I challenge you to show me that verse! And if a person themselves cannot be saved by being baptised, can you answer me the question: how can their baptism save somebody else? It is an utterly unscriptural impossibility, and added to that fact it is against the teaching of God's word in relation to eternity, for Hebrews chapter 9 verse 27 says: 'It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment' - not a second chance if your aunt or uncle gets baptised for you! This is a lie of the devil, giving men and women hope beyond eternity where there is no hope - the Bible says, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself in Luke 16, that: 'The rich man lifted up his eyes in hell' - he couldn't even get a drop of water, let alone be baptised by proxy from somebody outside of the grave!
Death ends all opportunity for salvation. Now what the Mormons have done is they have taken this awkward phrase, this awkward text out of Scripture, there is none like it in the whole of the word of God - and this is what the cults do, I would warn you that: they take obscure verses that are hard to interpret, we must admit, but that no other Scripture seems to be in concurrence with, and they build a foundation of salvation upon it!
When in Salt Lake City, which is the capital of Mormonism, some years ago the great evangelical preacher and commentator Harry Ironside met a young Mormon elder who told him of a very wealthy lady who had been baptised in Salt Lake City - wait for it - over 30,000 times. I don't know where you find that in Scripture, I only find 'believe and be baptised' - and that's it, no more baptisms after that. But this lady who was baptised 30,000 times plus, every time - incidentally - she was baptised, she paid a sum of money into the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, that is the Mormons. So you can say that if this doesn't do anything for you in a salvatory nature, it certainly does something for you in a financial nature. Imagine if we were getting paid every time we baptised someone - the building fund would go skyhigh! She was using her entire fortune to redeem people from destruction - that's what she thought, she was paying to be baptised to get them out of hell! She had been baptised for all her friends, for all her relatives, and then - bless her soul - do you know what she did? She went through all the history books, and went through all literature, and she sought out thousands upon thousands of names, and she got baptised for as many people as she possibly could to try and save them!
She was baptised for Alexander the Great, for King Nebuchadnezzar, for Julius Caesar, for Napoleon Bonaparte, for Cleopatra and thousands of other historical characters, in order that she might - by that means - save them! This young Mormon elder said to Mr Ironside, and it is documented, concerning this lady that he felt, I quote: 'I believe in the day of judgment it will be proven that this lady, through being baptised for the dead' - wait for it - 'has saved more souls than Jesus Christ'. He believed, and some Mormon literature teaches, that the members of the Mormon Church are saving more through baptism for the dead than was saved through the shedding of the precious blood of Christ on Calvary's cross. Now if that's not from the very damned pit of hell, I don't know what is.
Let me show you how this error is not even accordance with what we find in 1 Corinthians. Turn to chapter 1 for a moment, 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul the apostle wasn't a Mormon, that's for sure! 'For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel' - now can you get it any clearer than that? It doesn't mean he didn't preach baptism, and we believe in baptism in this church tonight, and we believe it's important, and it's obedience to God's word - but it doesn't save your soul! That's why Paul said: 'I don't want you to get caught up with baptism, but we preach the gospel' - which is what? It's not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect...'For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God'. Baptism is not the power of God, the cross of Christ is that.
Now I hope that that's clear, and we could spend a lot of time on that, but I'm not going to waste it on it - it's not even worth it. It cannot mean vicarious or proxy baptism for the dead. But then there are others who say: "Well, you read it 'Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead' - it means the dead there is Christ, 'What shall they do which are baptised for Christ?'". You might say: 'Well, what does that mean?' - well, you could read it this way, as they do: 'What shall they do which are baptised in honour of Christ?'. In other words, because Christ has died, the New Testament teaches us that when we are baptised we are identifying with the death of Christ. You can read Romans 6 to find that out. So these people interpret this by saying: 'We are, in baptism, honouring the one who has died, Christ' - now that is true, that is what happens when you're baptised - but I do not believe that that's what this means here, chiefly because this word for 'dead' is in the plural. Look at verse 29: 'What shall they do which are baptized for the dead', or, 'the dead ones' - it's in the plural in the Greek language. Not talking about one person, but about the 'dead ones'. Now although that interpretation sits well and does not offend our Christian conscience - we would have to say it's a correct thought - it is not, I believe, Paul's thought here. It's not the sense that we are identifying with Christ here.
Then thirdly some other people say: 'Well, we're dead to the world as Christians, and isn't that what baptism means - that when Christ died, we died with Him to this evil world, and He has delivered us from it. We rise up from baptism into the resurrection life of new faith in Christ. Therefore that's what this means, that we are dead to the world when we confess Christ'. Well, that's true, but the fact of the matter is this word 'dead', and the theme of death throughout this passage has got nothing to do with spiritual death, but everything to do with physical death. He's talking here about physical resurrection, not spiritual death, so we must reject that interpretation although it's not opposed to Christian doctrine as such - it's not what Paul is saying here.
Now here is, I believe, what this verse is saying to us tonight: 'What shall they do which are baptised for', that word 'for', 'the dead'. That word 'for' is the Greek preposition 'huper', and placed in front of a word it can have almost a dozen meanings, but the senses are this: 'in place of', in place of. You find it where the Lord Jesus said in John chapter 10 that the good Shepherd would give his life 'for' the sheep - 'for'. The sense is not 'for the good of the sheep', the sense is 'in the place', huper, 'in the place as a substitute for the sheep'. You find it in other places and it's used in meaning a substitutionary placement - so we could read it like this: 'Else what shall they do which are baptized in place of', not for the benefit of the dead, but 'in place of the dead'. Now that's what the word means, now let's look at the context which is so important. Verse 17: 'And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are still in your sins', and he goes down all of the consequences of what would happen if Christ was not raised. He's arguing now: what would be the point of our faith? What would be the point of our preaching? What would be the point, we're going to see in a few moments, of our martyrs who have died for Christ if we do not rise again from the grave? That is the context, have you got it?
So 'huper' means 'in place of', the context is talking about people who are suffering for their faith and what's the point of it all if there is no resurrection - so what Paul is obviously saying, as far as I can see, is: what is the point of people getting converted, and being baptised to replace those who have died for their faith, if the dead rise not? Now can you see that? It doesn't look like it! Can you see it? Contextually, grammatically, and reasonably it's the explanation that I feel is the only one we can possibly have according to the line of thought that Paul is directing here. Many have illustrated it like this: if you can imagine in one of the world wars, a battalion of the British army going into a battle, and the front line has about 100 men. Straightaway they're wiped out, they're all slain, and the commanding officer replaces that hundred dead men with another hundred. They go into the battle and they're all wiped out as well, just like the first - and he does it again, and he does it over and over so many times that he begins to realise that he's losing the battle. The only option is to retreat - why? Because there's no point in replacing hundreds of hundreds of men, when all that's going to happen is that they'll die and there's no victory!
Paul is saying: what is the point of preaching the Gospel, of there being converts - and remember baptism is very closely linked in the New Testament with conversion, you hardly ever see them divided, because once you were saved you were baptised there and then as a confession. What the point of them - and remember in the New Testament it could have cost them their very lives to be publicly baptised - what's the point of replacing those who have been killed for their confession, if the dead rise not again? Now you know in the Great Commission that our Lord Jesus gave in Matthew 28 that He told them to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, baptising men and women and every creature in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. It was intrinsic to Christ's command, and Paul is saying: what's the point of that command, or following that command, if there is no resurrection of the dead? It could be translated like this: 'Else what shall they do which are baptised to take place of those who have died?'.
Now here's Paul's first incentive: the resurrection of Christ, and our future resurrection one day, is the incentive for soul-winning evangelism. I hope that you can see that. He's saying: 'What's the point in winning souls and baptising them in confession towards the Lord Jesus' lordship, if there's no resurrection, if it's all a farce, what's the point of winning souls?'. But praise God there is a point, because there is a resurrection, Christ has risen, and we will rise one day, and their souls will either rise to the resurrection of the just unto eternal life or the resurrection of damnation for those who will go to hell.
So the question begs to us tonight: how is the resurrection an incentive towards us to winning souls? Are you motivated to win the lost because you know that there's a resurrection day coming? Now listen, I have to say this tonight: if we were living in the light of the resurrection that we will have, and in the light of the resurrection that all men will have whether to life or whether to damnation, we would be making a greater effort to get people under the sound of the Gospel. Now can I speak personally just for a moment to the people in the Iron Hall? We are facing a problem in the Gospel meeting, for there are fewer and fewer unsaved people coming. If one day I stood up and on behalf of the oversight announced that we were going to stop the Gospel meeting, some of you would be the first to blatter on my door to object to it - but here's the question: are we bringing folk under the sound of the Gospel? I know it's hard today, I know the TV is the best on a Sunday night, I know all the arguments - but surely if we were living in the light of their resurrection, I mean if it's real, if the reality of it really gripped our hearts, would we not be at least making an effort?
I believe the thought that Paul may have here is that people were being converted because they were impressed by the martyr's death that many Christians were dying, and they were effectively taking their place - being saved and being baptised, and maybe even themselves going to death. When we look at the book of Acts we find out possibly that the first seeds of faith that were planted in Paul's own heart as the young man Saul, was by the testimony of the great Christian Stephen, as he saw him being stoned. Paul witnessed his death as a martyr, he heard his last dying words of testimony and love for Christ - and could it have been at that moment that the seeds of faith had started to ignite in his heart? It wasn't long before he was joining the ranks, sure it wasn't?
Soul-winning should be given a massive boost of incentive by our belief in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Here's his second point in verse 30 to 32: the resurrection that we will have one day should be our incentive for suffering service. Look at verse 30: 'And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?' - now please note that verse 30 is connected by that conjunction 'and' with verse 29, which means that what he's talking about in the baptism for the dead has some connection with verse 30. Now he's talking about sufferings, so it seems to continue to support what I've been saying in verse 29 - does it not? 'Why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily' - not a spiritual death, a physical death. He is in danger of death every day. 'If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die'.
Now that word 'jeopardy' in verse 30 means 'endanger'. He's saying: 'Why do we endanger ourselves every day as Christians preaching the Gospel if there is no resurrection? Every hour I'm in danger!'. It would be some kind of masochistic mind, suffering for suffering's sake, if suffering was an end in itself and if there was no resurrection. Paul would be right, we of all men would be most pitiable. But the only thing that makes a Christian willing to face abuse, to face the violence, to face the persecution mentally, verbally, physically, and every way, politically, socially, religiously - the thing that made the first believers face the lions, and the gladiators, and the Roman crosses was the fact that they knew that one day, because Christ had risen, they would rise! It's the only incentive to suffer, as far as I can see, and Scripture supports it. In Romans 8:18 Paul says in another place: 'For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us'.
What would be the purpose - answer me - of suffering for Christ, if we would never ever see Him face-to-face? If we would never have rest? If we would never have reward? That's why Paul says in verse 31, look at his words: 'I protest' - he was the first Protestant! - 'I protest'. He's saying: 'You who deny the resurrection, do you know what you do? You make a shambles of Christian service and Christian suffering!'. Now let me tell you: I've no right to protest from this pulpit tonight, I have suffered very little for Christ - but if anybody had the right to protest to what these Corinthians were teaching, it was the apostle Paul.
Turn with me to his second epistle to the Corinthians chapter 1 verses 8 and 9, look what he's saying here: 'For we would not, brethren', chapter 1 verse 8, 'have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure', crushed, 'above strength', had enough, nothing more in me, 'insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead'. The sentence of death in him! Chapter 4, look at it, of the same epistle verses 8 to 12: 'We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you'.
Turn to chapter 11 verse 23: 'Are they ministers of Christ?', this is the false teachers, '(I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches' - and he could go on and on and on of his sufferings, is it any wonder he protests that these false teachers who don't believe in the bodily resurrection are wanting to snatch from him his reward which he has gained by suffering for Jesus? In fact in the book of Acts, when they were trying - Agabus and the Christians - were trying to dissuade him from going to Jerusalem, he said to them: 'I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus'.
What's the point of it all, suffering service, if there is no resurrection? In fact, he says in verse 32: 'If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?'. In other words, 'All this that I've been doing, these great exploits of suffering, have all been done in the manner of men, they've been done in the flesh, it's only my own ego trip, it's got nothing to do with God if there's no resurrection! It's only to propound my own doctrine!'. Here talking about these beasts at Ephesus, he's probably talking about the riot in a metaphorical sense, the riot that erupted because of how he preached against the god Diana of the Ephesians. Demetrius, who made little gods of Diana, the silversmith, for people to worship, he started whispering a campaign against Paul - before he knew it there was a riot on his hands, and he was almost killed. He's saying: 'That would all have been just of my own personal ego, I'm trying to build my own empire and kingdom for the apostle Paul - if there's no resurrection what was the point of all this?'.
Whatever was the occasion he's talking about here, one thing is for certain: he's citing life-threatening, dangerous experiences that he'd gone through many times to show that if there's no resurrection, what's the point of all that? Because there is a resurrection - that's the point! Now here's the question, my responsibility as a preacher of God's word is to bring this down to you and apply it to you, here's the question: what life-threatening circumstances have I ever been through, have you ever been through, for the Lord Jesus Christ? You might say, 'Well, I don't live in the jungle, I don't live in Vietnam, I don't live in Saudi Arabia where I could get my head chopped off, in parts of South America, parts of the continent of Africa'. You know there are situations, I believe, coming up - and even now - when if we were as out and out for Christ as Paul was, our lives would be threatened, and we would have some martyrs maybe here in the Iron Hall! Are we suffering for Christ? If we were asked to suffer for Christ the way Paul suffered for Christ, would many of us not run a mile from it? But Paul's point is this: if you believe in the bodily resurrection, what have you got to lose? In fact you've got everything to win!
Do you believe that? Come on now: do we really believe that? Well, Paul says if you don't believe it, do you know what you might as well do? Go home and eat, drink, and just be merry - live it up, for you'll die tomorrow and your life will be all over, there's nothing more for it - so just live for the flesh. He's quoting Isaiah 22 which reflects in ancient Israel the hopelessness and hedonistic spirit, love of pleasure, that was in their backslidden hearts when they had left God and denied Him and followed other gods. Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes continually repeats the same dismal sentiment over and over again, that life is utter futility, he says: 'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity' - eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die!
I'm led to believe that the Greek historian, Heroditus, tells us of an interesting custom that the Egyptians had - and I quote, he says: 'In social meetings among the rich, when the banquet was ended a servant would often carry around among the guests a coffin in which was a wooden image of a corpse carved and hand-painted to resemble a dead person as nearly as possible. The servant would show it to each of the guests and would say 'Gaze here, and drink and be merry, for when you die such you shall be''. Now that is what Paul is saying: that's it, that is the end - if that is the end then just go out and live it up, sensuality is the only reasonable conclusion and rule of life, so why not grab all you can, do all you can, live it up all you can - for that's all there is! But the Christian gospel and the fact evidenced here is that Christ has risen, and what is intrinsically linked with Christ's resurrection is that we will rise, therefore it's not all - the material world and universe is not all there is, our senses and our pleasures is not all!
Here's the big question for us today: are modern Christians committing the Corinthian sin? What is that? Believing in theory and theology, and dogma and doctrine and all that highbrow stuff in the bodily resurrection of Christ, but living as if they're never going to rise again! Living for down here! Am I doing it? Are you doing it? Rather than living for up there? It makes sense to just live for down here if that's all there is, but what happens if there is an up there? I'm telling you from God's word there is! There is a resurrection!
Look with me to Hebrews 11 for a minute, Hebrews 11 the great hall of faith chapter, verse 33. These great saints of God, prophets and patriarchs, and apostles: 'Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions. Quenched the violence of fire in the flames of martyrdom, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance', oh, that's a statement and a half, 'that they might obtain a better resurrection' - a better resurrection! Why did they suffer it all? Because they had a hope of a resurrection! Why did the Lord Jesus suffer what He did? In chapter 12 verse 2: 'The author and finisher of our faith', the Lord Jesus Christ, we're to look to Him, 'who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God'. He saw His resurrection, He saw His ascension, He saw His glorification, and that is what motivated Him - His incentive was the resurrection incentive!
Now thirdly and finally Paul is concerned that they are deceived, he says in verse 33 of chapter 15: 'Be not deceived' - be not deceived, and the reason why he says that is that Satan would love to deceive believers into living as if down here is all that really matters. In fact, remember in Matthew 24 the Lord said of the end times that if it were possible Satan would have a desire to deceive the very elect. So Paul says: 'Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners'. Now that phrase 'evil communications' is the Greek word 'homelia' (sp?) which could be translated 'company'. You could read that: 'Evil company corrupts good manners'. Now I'm not talking about how you slup your soup or anything like that, or which knife and fork you use - he's talking about morality here. He's talking about, now mark this young people especially, how your friends, your closest friends, can affect your morality.
Now I'm not one of these people that says when you get saved you're to forget about all your unsaved friends, because how are you going to win them to Christ if you do that? But you should not make the influence of those people the chief influence upon your life, because they will corrupt your morality. Goth once remarked: 'Tell me with whom thou art found, and I will tell thee who thou art'. Solomon said in Proverbs 13: 'He that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed'. I have found, and I'm sure you have found too, that men are more obedient to example than they are to teaching. Who you take as your example may be the one that's closest to you - Paul is saying that that company can affect your good morals. That word 'homelia' is the word we get 'homily' from, and it can also mean a spoken, as the Authorised says, communication - a lecture or a sermon. What Paul was getting at here is not just the company these Corinthians were keeping, but what they were listening to - the wrong teaching as well as the wrong association with evil people, and he's saying: 'Look, don't be deceived, it will corrupt your good manners'.
Now that 'good manners' could be translated 'good morals', and if you were hanging around people who said 'Let's eat, drink, for tomorrow we die' - do you not think eventually that's going to rub off on you? One Greek historian reported that when a deadly plague came to the Greek city of Athens, I quote: 'People committed every shameful crime, and eagerly snatched at every lustful pleasure because life was so short, they did not believe in a resurrection, so they believed that they would never pay the price for their vice'. Is that not our world today? 'Live it up, you'll never have to answer, there's no judgment toward God, there's no wages for sin' - and without the prospect of a resurrection for the unsaved person, it has them deceived and duped into thinking that they will never meet their Maker. But more than this: for these Corinthian believers starting to doubt their own resurrection, they didn't believe that they would ever be accountable before the judgment seat of Christ - remember, that's what our resurrection will be! The rapture, the resurrection, and the judgment seat!
I'll tell you, if we were living in the light of our resurrection there would be more accountability, that's for sure. So he tells them, and he tells us now, this is God's word for us - verse 34: 'Awake to righteousness, and sin not'. That verb in the Greek 'awake' means 'become sober' - become sober, return to your senses from the intoxicating influences of the false teaching that you've been listening to, and the bad company that you've been keeping, and the false example that you've been following! 'These people have not the knowledge of God' - I believe he's talking about these false teachers here, verse 34: 'some have not the knowledge of God'. It's interesting, isn't that, that the ones that later call themselves Gnostics, which is from the Greek word 'gnosis', 'to have knowledge', the word for 'knowledge' here is the word 'gnosis' - they don't have any gnosis at all! No knowledge, no knowledge of God that they claim. So Paul says in these first couple of phrases in verse 34 - look at them, they're marvellous - he says two things: wake up and clean up! Wake up and clean up!
I wish we had time, we don't, to read 1 Thessalonians 5:4-11 - do it when you get home - but what Paul tells them in 1 Thessalonians 5 is to separate themselves from sin. Now listen to me: very seldom today do you hear anything spoken about with regards to sanctified separation from the world. Often what you hear about is how we have to assimilate, and be like the world, in order to win people to Christ. Look at this word 'awake' please - awake! It is in the Greek aorist tense - do you know what that means? It is something to be done immediately and done once for all completely, never to be repeated again! Wake up and stay awake! The tense of the verb 'and sin not' is in the present continuous tense, which means this: to be no continuing in your course of sin. Put the two together: wake up once and for all, and continually never sin again! Why? Because some day very soon you're going to be resurrected.
Now let's recap and conclude as we finish: what are our resurrection incentives? Here's the first thing: a belief in the resurrection tightens our ties to believers who have died and gone before. Isn't it wonderful that we believe in the communion of the saints, not just the living saints but those who have gone to glory - we still have fellowship with them! But not just that, this baptism for the dead implies that because there is a resurrection we ought to follow the apostle Paul, the apostle Peter, and James, and all of the patriarchs and prophets in their suffering. We're going to sing in just a few moments a verse of the hymn that says that we must 'bear the torch that flaming fell from the hands of those, who gave their lives proclaiming that Jesus died and rose'.
What is the incentive to win the lost for Christ as our forefathers won those of their day? It is because one day we will rise, and they will rise - the incentive of soul winning. The second is the belief that the resurrection is our incentive to bear today's trials. He asks the question: what does it advantage us? 'Oh, I'm going through hell', you might think, 'Persecution, the demons of the deep seem to be let loose upon my soul - what's the point of it all? Is it worth it?' - yes, it's worth it, for our faith one day will give way to sight, and we will be rewarded in the future no matter what wild beasts we have had to face! The incentive of suffering service.
Then thirdly, the belief that the resurrection acts as a moral safeguard in our lives, the incentive to sanctified separation and holiness. I'll tell you: we will wish that we would have finished many of our little moral squabbles when we get a sight, not a shortsighted view but a longsighted view, of the judgment seat of Christ in our good resurrection. Now here's the question friends, please don't leave it unanswered: do we cling, cling, to the hope of our resurrection in theory - like the Corinthians - or in practice? And if we did, would our lives not be changed? Are we living as if our behaviour today will affect our future tomorrow?
Remember that man, Edgar Allan Poe, that we began with? His logic wasn't too far wrong if there is no resurrection. Without the truth of Scripture we're all strapped into a pit under a swinging pendulum, but the fact of the matter is God's word, and the Son of God resurrected from the grave, testifies - and we can echo what Job said: 'I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter-day upon the earth; and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God'.
What do we need to do? We need to wake up, we need to stop sinning, we need to crawl out of the pit and start living for tomorrow today, because there is a resurrection!
Oh, our Father, we have to ask ourselves tonight in the light of our resurrection and the resurrection of all men - are we winning the lost? Are we replacing those who have gone before us in the hope of that glorious resurrection at the appearing of our Lord Jesus? Are we suffering in our service for Thee? Are we being sanctified in our separation from this world? Oh God, help us tonight, help us to examine ourselves in the light of our resurrection, for we ask these things in the Saviour's name, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fortieth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "Our Resurrection Incentives" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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