Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Resurrection affects how we behave today (1 Cor 15:29-34)

On Friday I gave a talk on 1 Corinthians 15:29-34 which some think is a tricky passage. On the surface, it does seem like a tricky passage, but once you try to stop fretting about the details that we just don't know about, and look at the function of the argument in this section, I think it all falls into place. It of cause also helps to read some commentaries and listen to other talks on the passage.

I think I aimed this talk a little too high, I even had a few year 8 boys laughed out loud when I said the word "sex" (now you're going to read this looking for that reference). It is all a learning process for both me and the group as we go through this year together.

As you may have discovered this is an interesting passage, with lots of detail about baptism of the dead, fighting wild animals and people who are drunk. Some of this is all confusing but the crux of this passage is that what we believe about the future affects how we behave today[1].

In the Corinthian church, they were doing this ritual, this ceremony of baptising people on behalf of the dead. Now we don’t really know what this ceremony was about - and Paul doesn’t say it is a good thing. It seems to be something specific that some of the people in the Corinthian church may have made up. We simply don’t know the details of this practice and it has now been lost in history[2]. Since there were some people in the church who didn’t believe in the resurrection (v12), Paul’s point is that this doesn’t make any sense. This practice of baptising for the dead assumes a resurrected life in the future. What they believed about the future affected how they behaved in the present.

Paul then points to himself, showing that if there is no resurrection, then the struggles, the fighting, and strife that he has experience and is going through presently in Ephesus[3] is all for nothing. If there is no resurrection in the future, why does Paul live like he does? Paul may not have literately fought wild animals in Ephesus, as it’s not recorded anywhere and he probably wouldn’t have lived to tell the tail; however, his life was not all roses and rainbows and unicorns. Paul had been flogged five times, beaten with rods three times, one time a crowd threw large rocks at him leaving him for dead (2 Cor 11:22-29; Acts 14:19). There were assassination attempts on his life, 40 people vowed to not eat or drink until they had killed Paul (Acts 23:12-15). That sounds kinda stressful. Pauls life was hard, and it didn’t make any sense that he would put himself in that type of danger if there was no future delight[4]. He went through all that because what he believed about the future affected how he behaved in the present.

And this is true for me. I promise you, if you can disprove the resurrection to me and I am convinced, I will quit what I am doing on a Friday night. It would make no sense for me or any Christian to keep on following Jesus if there was no resurrection. If there is no resurrection there is no hope for the future and this will affect how we live today. Instead, we should just go round and round eating and drinking and enjoying and entertaining ourselves because there is nothing else and then we die. Enjoyment now and then death later.

This is the story that we are told constantly. The world says there is nothing after death. You only live once. YOLO. This means you have to experience, you have to enjoy, you have to consume. You will never be a teenager again so make the most of it… Do you have friends who think like this? Paul quote a Greek poet[5] who points out the obvious in verse 33. Bad company corrupts. Did you parents ever tell you this? They are just quoting ancient Greek poets. And they are right. If you are constantly surrounded by people who are telling you there is no resurrection, who live like there is no resurrection, then guess what you will think and do eventually? You will also think and act like there is no resurrection.

There is real power and influence with who you choose to hang out with. Each social group has its own beliefs and assumptions. And I have seen this played out in the past. I used to be a year 11-12 youth leader here many moons ago and I would follow some of the youth when they get to uni. There they make new friends, they get a boyfriend or girlfriend and then they stop coming to church. When I talked with them later, or what I hear back from them from someone else that they are no longer sure Christianity is true anymore. But when it comes down to it, the reason they don’t think Christianity is true is not because they now believe the resurrection didn’t happen, its because they want to have sex with their boyfriend or girlfriend. But they got to that point not because of some great rational argument but because of the power and influence of their friends. It really is the old story of Samson and Solomon and King David. It is all to do with the fear of missing out. Since they think there is nothing better to come they have to take their chance now. Because they see you only live once, because they see death as ruling over this world who will come and stop them from enjoying life now, they have to consume and enjoy themselves now because it is death later. Their behavior shows that they have no real knowledge of God, even if they went through Youth group all those years.

So, Paul wants us to live as people who do not only have a past in Christ but also a future in Him as well[6]. He tells us to sober up, straighten up and stop sinning[7]. As Christians we do not see death as the ruler of this world, we do not see life about consuming and enjoyment now and death later. We see life now as having good gifts from God for us to enjoy. And we are to live under God’s rule and to be on God’s mission. Our lives are to give God glory now and then we have abundant life with God in the future.

This means that if you really believe in the resurrection in the future, your life now will look different. You will not have the fear of missing out on some temporary pleasure, or some momentary experience or feeling. So, when your friends are trying to get you to visit that website and watch that clip or to drink that drink or gossiping and being mean about that girl, you don’t have to. You won’t be missing out on something. In fact, in giving up these things you will be following God, showing that He is ruling over the world and not death. What you believe about the future affects how you behave today.

So what belief are you showing in your behavior? Does death have the final say in what you can enjoy and how you should live? Are you to go on sinning? Or does Jesus’ resurrection mean that you live today knowing that you will not miss out on anything; because in the future it will not be death. In the future, you will have a new resurrected body to live with God forever.

[1] I think I took this point from Alistair Begg, If there is no resurrection... 

[2] 2 Macc. 12:43-45 mentions a practice of making sacrifices for the dead in the hope that they would rise again (of cause only Jesus is the one who is the perfect sacrifice for those who had already fallen asleep). I'm not sure how this thinking may have influenced the Corinthian church 200 years year in a Greek and not Jewish setting.
Tertullian (155-240 AD) says “To be “baptized for the dead” therefore means, in fact, to be baptized for the body; for, as we have shown, it is the body which becomes dead.” (Against Marcion V:10)
Gregory of Nyssa (335-395 AD) possibly takes it to mean “Why are they baptized in the name of a dead Christ?” (See translation notes in Against Eunomius I:22)
John Chrysostom (349-407 AD) (if I’m reading this right) tries to explain this practice by saying that being baptised for the dead is about being baptised/buried in your dead body, which will rise again (Homily XL) - kinda like Tertullian above.
For what it's worth, I think the natural straightforward reading means some (and not all) are performing some sort of vicarious baptism for dead people (maybe their relatives), kinda like what to Mormons do today. This thinking/practice about baptism of cause is wrong, but it's not Pauls main interest in this section.

[3] It is assumed Paul wrote this letter in Ephesus; Gorden D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT), p 771

[4] Alistair Begg, If there is no resurrection... 

[5] The poets name was Menander (342-291 BC) in case anyone cares; N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians, p 218

[6] Gorden D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT), p 773

[7] N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians, p 215


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