Lectionary Bible Studies



1 Corinthians

Victory through Jesus Christ. 15:50-58

[Seed logo] Introduction
      This passage forms part of Paul's teaching on the resurrection of believers at the return of Christ, Ch.15. In v50-58 he concludes his argument for a bodily resurrection of the dead and assures his readers of the coming triumph.

The passage
      v50. Paul begins with the proposition that transformation is necessary (essential, v53) for a person to enter heaven.
      v51. He then lets them into a "mystery" (a secret once hidden, now revealed). The living too will be transformed, even the spiritual elite in Corinth who assumed they had already reached spiritual perfection.
      v52. He then explains when transformation will occur. It will be at the Parousia, 1Thess.4:16. He even gives us a picture of that wondrous event, particularly the sounding of the last trumpet to announce the coming of the Lord, Zech.9:14.
      v53. To enter heaven, the mortal must become immortal.
      v54. Paul explains the consequence of the resurrection. It is victory over death. In the transformation of the living and dead in the day of Christ's return, there will no longer be any way death can tyrannize us or hold us in fear. He makes the point by quoting Isaiah.25:8 "God will swallow up death forever" on the great day of God's salvation. Although the text is fulfilled in Christ, it is yet to be realized, but the reality of its realization allows him to assert that the victory is already won.
      v55. The present fulfillment of the text allows him to taunt death in a rewrite of Hosea 13:4. He mocks the enemy whose doom is sealed by Christ's own death and resurrection. In this sense he is looking to the "then" when the living and the dead will rise and thus put death to no effect.
      v56. This thought leads him on. Death will be shown to be powerless, yet death is also powerless for the living at this very moment. The victory "then" takes the sting out of the "now".
      Not only has death been overcome by the resurrection of Christ, and in the age to come our own resurrection, but so also have the enemies which brought death - sin and the law.
      v57. Paul moves to a doxology of praise. God is victorious over death through the resurrection of Christ, praise be to God. We are freed from the partnership of sin and law and its end, death. We are now faithful children of God. Alive to God in Christ. God sees us that way, we are that way eternally, and we are being shaped that way through the power of our risen Lord. Thus we are victorious over sin and death, eternally so, and even in our day-to-day living (albeit imperfectly).
      v58. Paul concludes with an exhortation:
        i] Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Here Paul is obviously referring to gospel truth - to good teaching.
        ii] Work. "Give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord". He is probably thinking here of gospel ministry.

Victory over death
      Although crematoriums were originally designed to display the coffin moving away at the committal, these days there are curtains, fading lights, dimming glass... anything to hide the reality of what's going on.
      Out of sight, out of mind. We fear death. It debilitates us. Our lives slowly slip away before our eyes with little achieved. Our dreams are great, but the limitations of our shell seem to undermine all we ever hoped for. Unrealized dreams, shattered expectations, compounded by the inevitable decline in energy and the ever gathering cloud of death. Always a powerful victor with the sting of a deadly serpent. Always driving us to possess life, as though the passing of time was something that could be possessed. Like grasping at the wind, we deny our mortality in the flitting fancies of a fading light. But says the Lord, "Death has been swallowed up in victory". No longer victorious, now death is stingless.
      If dying is no longer for us the cessation of our being, if death is but a stage, a passing through, a moving on, then no longer are we faced with the need to "get it all in" now. Life becomes but a moment in eternity, a first stage, a schooling for the age to come. Our expectations may be great, but there is no importance in what we have not achieved, rather in what we have achieved within our little moment - small though that may be. It is then that our perspective need not be shaped by what we have not done, or achieved, of all the lost opportunities, rather our vision becomes focused on the moment that remains. There always lies before us new lessons to be learned. This is particularly so in that we are always changing and our environment is always changing. We grow older, we feel differently, see differently. Shapes about us change, the cycle of life moves on. Given that death is not the end, then every moment has purpose, every day an eternal shape.
      The substance of that victory over death is experienced in the present through our victory over death's cause. Sin is no longer victorious over us. We are forgiven, no longer condemned, rather we have risen with Christ and experience his renewing work within. So we sense the mercy of God in our forgiveness. We seem to know his acceptance and love. And also, we sense his inworking renewal. We see ourselves being remade into the likeness of Christ. This but confirms that death is now no longer the end, rather it is no more than a momentary rest in our journey to Christ. This further confirms that every moment has purpose, every day an eternal shape.

Discussion
      1. Why must the body be transformed to enter heaven?
      2. Why would the Corinthians find the "mystery" of v51 a little offensive?
      3. Why has death lost its sting?

Notes

Summary
      In 15:35 Paul repeated the incredulous questions of the members of the Corinthian church. Speaking of the resurrection they asked, "with what kind of body will they rise?" The question carries with it their false notion of a resuscitation of the dead - a resurrection of dead meat!. Paul continues, in v50-58, to explain about the transformation of the dead at the resurrection. We will rise with a transformed body.
      In this passage Paul argues the necessity of transformation if we are to enter heaven, v50, 53, and explains some related details:
        Both the living and dead will be transformed, v51-52;
        This transformation will occur at the return of Christ, v52;
        It will entail the final defeat of death, v54-55;
        This victory is already displayed in our lives in that through Christ we are victorious over sinfulness, v56-57;
        This being so, we are encouraged to press forward in the Christian life - we should try to be what you will be.

The passage
      v56. In what sense has Christ's resurrection overcome the enemies which brought death, namely sin and the law?
        i] Sin. The deadly sting which brought death upon us was sin. Christ's victory over death shows he is also victor over sin in the "now". Sin was put to death on the cross, and it is put to death in our lives in our dying with Christ. In Christ, no longer are we guilty - sin can no longer condemn us. In Christ, no longer are we a slave to sin - sin's power is broken through the renewing work of the indwelling Christ.
        ii] Law. Paul is here making a theological statement. The Corinthians were not facing the same type of problems faced by the Galatians and the Romans. In those churches the Judaizers were pushing obedience to the law in the Christian life as a means of sanctification/ perfection/ holiness. This problem was not evident in Corinth, but he drops in the truth none the less. It is not that the law is evil, in fact it is good. The problem is that sin makes that which is good an evil for us. The law has the following consequences for the sinful person:
          a) It makes sin observable as sin.
          b) It defines us as a rebel and thus secures our condemnation.
          c) It prods us to rebel, making sin more sinful.
          d) It leads into the sin of pride through the minimization of the law, in the belief that we are actually keeping the law.
      The law is but a life-style guide for the righteous child of God, who in the power of the risen Christ is slowly changed into the transformed and glorious person they are in Christ.

Alternate sermon

Stand firm and work
      How should we handle each day given that in Christ we have victory over death - it's lost its sting? What purpose should we seek? The Lord's word is that we should "let nothing move" us, and that we give ourselves "fully to the work" of the gospel.
      Shifting and moving, being "tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming", of "shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard", is something we must daily resist. It is no easy matter to acquire truth, especially when so many either deny its importance or imply the ease of its acquiring. How often have we heard the statement that theology/doctrine is not important? If the wisdom of God, if the mind of Christ, is not important, then it is hard to imagine what is. Such wisdom is eternal. The learning of it here will serve us in eternity. It will enable us to serve Christ in the heavenlies. Of course truth is not just for the "then", it serves for the "now". Bad theology leads to ineffective, warped, sinful and destructive Christian behaviour. It is truth that sets us free, free to serve Christ.
      How often have we heard the statement that all a Christian needs is their Bible to understand the mind of Christ? In one fell swoop we wipe away the ministries of the Word given to the church through the Spirit, ministries of apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor teachers, "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ". Learn of Christ and so "let nothing move you". There lies a shape for each passing day.
      "His work will be shown for what it is, because the day "will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames". We must give ourselves "fully to the work of the Lord". Each day we should strive to shape our lives a little bit more toward the business of realizing the Kingdom in our personal walk with Jesus, in our Christian fellowship, and in making known the good news of Jesus to our broken world. Little by little, living more for Him and less for ourselves. That must be the shape of each day, knowing that our "labour in the Lord is not in vain".
      Every day has purpose, every moment an eternal shape.

[Print page]   A 10pt justified Times New Roman version of the above study suitable for printing in a 1 page A4, or 2 page A5 format.


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