When you hear the phrase “Hope in the Gospel,” what comes to mind? What beliefs come into view? What actions does “Gospel” lead you into? Paul begins his last major section of 1 Corinthians with a reminder of the Gospel. He roots the Gospel as an event in history and not just in a belief. Jesus died for our sins…was buried…was raised on the third day. He then appeared to a bunch of people, including Paul (15:1-8).
Jesus died to save us from our sins. But that is only part of it. The death of Jesus has been the main focus (and sometimes only focus) of Christian belief. Most discussions around the Christian life are centered around Jesus dying for our sins. Subtly, this shifts the focus of the conversations to personal salvation and what one is required to do to receive salvation. You hear one person living their life wild and free, “because you cannot earn grace,” and another person joylessly calculating each part of their life for fear of messing up, “because God has given us a clear guide for going to heaven.” These conversations are missing a clear piece of the conversation: the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Often when we hear the word “Resurrection,” we hear it as a fancy term for our souls going to heaven when we die. The New Testament speaks more about the hope of the resurrection than it does about spirits/souls going to heaven when they die. This would be a great study to do at a later time. Our souls going off to the “heavens” to sit on a cloud and strum a harp is more based in the Greek Philosophy of Plato and read into scripture rather than the Jewish understanding of the resurrection in which scripture was written. I still believe that there is a heavenly existence, but this is not the ultimate hope. The resurrection of our bodies is the final hope that we have. Death will be conquered, and we will be raised new fully illuminated by the Spirit of God as he intended us to be in the first place.
Paul concludes his letter with a discourse on the resurrection for two reasons; First, not only are people are denying it that we will be resurrected when Christ returns, but also because the resurrection is essential for understanding that what happens in our bodies right now does matter. This second part is the main focus this Sunday.
Paul ends each major section of chapter 15 with a call to righteous behavior and faithfulness in doing the Lord’s work, not because we’re trying to earn our way to salvation but because we have been brought into the resurrection of Christ and we work with Christ to make the resurrection a reality in others.
“If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.” – 15:32b-34
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” – 15:58
The gospel’s proclamation of resurrection of the body serves both as a warning that we will be held accountable for what we do with our bodies and, at the same time, as a promise that our bodily labor is significant rather than meaningless.
Paul ends the argument of his letter with the resurrection because everything else he has said up to this point finds meaning in this foundational understanding of the Christian faith. Why do we seek unity? Because it is the reality of the resurrection. Why do we seek reconciliation with others? Because all will be made right in the resurrection. Why do we offer mercy to others? Because mercy is the only reality in the resurrection.
Take a moment to read Romans 8 with the resurrection of all things in mind. When we start broadly with what God is doing in creation to make “all things new” (Revelation 21:5) and then move towards our own salvation, we see that everything we do in this life is working with God to cultivate the creation that he created in the first place. We are co-rulers and co-gardeners with God in bringing about the new creation.
I ran across this in a commentary on 1 Corinthians 15 and I’m still chewing on it. I’ll just leave it here for you to chew on it too:
“If we deny the resurrection, we will find ourselves turning inward and focusing on our own religious experience as the matter of central interest.” - Richard B. Hays