In this chapter Paul deals with a particular problem affecting the Corinthian church. Some members had come to question the bodily resurrection of the dead, v12. So, in our passage for study Paul deals with the gospel, both its focus on the bodily resurrection of Christ and how Christ's resurrection power enlivens our new life in him.
v1-2. The argument begins with Paul reminding his readers of the gospel that was preached to them, a gospel which they believed and which is the basis of their faith. It was this message that Paul had delivered to them and their belief in the message achieved their salvation. Of course, if they had not understood the content of the message, then their belief in a gospel wrongly understood produces in them a vain hope.
v3-5. Paul now restates the gospel message, as passed down from the apostles, supporting the fact of the resurrection with a list of appearances. The focus of the message is on the person of Christ, his death and particularly his resurrection.
v6-7. Paul lists a number of extra groups who witnessed the risen Lord. He makes special note of the "more than five hundred", "most of whom are still living". He is suggesting that the Corinthians go and check them out. He includes in his list of witnesses the apostles who, on a number of occasions, saw the risen Lord together.
v8. Christ's final appearing is to Paul himself. This appearance is extraordinary in that it occurs after Christ's ascension. Obviously Paul is referring to the Damascus Road event. For Paul, it was an act of outstanding grace that he should be honoured to see the risen Christ when such revelations had ceased. This is possibly what Paul means by "abnormally (untimely) born."
v9-10a. Paul enlarges on his "abnormally born" apostleship. First and foremost, he had persecuted the church. Gracious mercy indeed, that God should choose him as apostle to the Gentiles. Yet, God's mercy toward Paul has not been without effect. This grace extended toward him has prompted a mighty work for the gospel. The Corinthians are a product of this work.
v10b. Paul immediately corrects a possible misunderstanding. He had indeed worked hard for the gospel, but ultimately, this is not his doing, but rather an inward working of God's Spirit. Paul had met the risen Lord, and the living Lord had given life to him. It was this life which enlivened him to good works, wholly a work of the grace of God.
v11. Paul returns to the main thrust of his argument: the apostolic gospel proclaimed and believed, carries with it a powerful implication for all believers. Because Christ lives, we live also - enlivened and eternally alive.
In the gospels we are given a simple outline of God's good news for humanity: "The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel." In our passage for study we have a similar precise statement of the gospel message, although in a slightly different form. The gospel, God's important message for humanity, is in the form of handed-down tradition, ie. this is what they used to tell people who wanted to know the substance of the Christian faith. What we have here in this passage is the outline of a first century gospel tract, particularly formed for Gentiles, for non Jews.
The passage tells us:
How the message was presented: It is "preached".
The response to the gospel: It is "received" and "believed".
The results of the gospel: People are "saved".
The gospel is presented in its familiar two-part format:
Introduction: "The time is fulfilled" - Christ died for our sins
Primary statement: "The kingdom of God is at hand" - Christ was raised on the third day.
The primary statement in the gospel message comes without theological interpretation, unlike the introduction which explains Jesus' death in terms of the atonement. To expand our understanding of the implications of the resurrection we must look elsewhere.
One of the best shorthand gospel presentations, which explains the functioning of the resurrection, may be found in Romans 4:25. "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification". Our old life, under the condemnation of God, is dead to us in Christ's death on our behalf, and our new life, in all its fullness, is eternally alive to us in Christ's resurrection. All this is ours as a gift of God's grace through faith.
Although Paul expands the gospel into a theological treatise in the book of Romans, it is primarily a message for all humanity. Our task is to understand the message and see it preached to our neighbors.
First, we must make sure that the message we are presenting is the gospel. As Paul reminds the Corinthians, their salvation depends on them holding firmly to the message which came from the apostles. The right content is essential. The center of the message has to do with the resurrection of Christ, and the implications which flow from that. Because Christ lives, we live also, we can live approved before God for eternity, "just-if-I'd" never sinned.
Second, we must communicate this message with church banners, church magazines, tracts, the local press, the electronic media, etc. Let us hand on what we have received.
1. Extract from the passage the gospel as tradition.
2. What is the gospel, what are we to do with it, what can it give us and what must be our response?
3. Do you think that the central statement of the gospel concerns the resurrection? Support your view, either way.
4. What implication does the resurrection have for the believer and the unbeliever?