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"The Motivating Power of the Resurrection"
1 Corinthians 15:29-34
Wednesday AM Bible Study
March 12, 2008
Theme: Paul shows what happens to the motivation of the Christian life when the doctrine of the resurrection is denied.
Paul had been dealing with the problem in the Corinthian church of the denial of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. He had been showing what is lost when this essential doctrine is denied (vv. 12-19); but broke off from this thought in order to affirm the glories of the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and of how that doctrine fit in with the whole of God's redemptive plan for the ages (vv. 20-28).
Now, he resumes his treatment of what is lost when this doctrine is denied. He begins his treatment with a word (translated "otherwise" in the New King James version), that indicates a contrast from the resurrection he had just affirmed. Specifically, he deals with the impact on the moral life and Christian motivation in the individual believer when this doctrine is denied.
I. THREE LOSSES (vv. 29-32).
A. There is a loss of any motivation to evangelize or add to the number of the church (v. 29). Paul asks, "Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead to not rise at all?" The word "for" is the Greek preposition huper; which, in this case, should be translated "instead of" or "on behalf of".
1. Some have argued that Paul is pointing to a practice that he didn't approve of—that is, of living believers being baptized on behalf of those who believers who had died without being baptized. The argument would be that Paul would simply be pointing to this erroneous practice to show that there would be no point to it at all if the dead to not rise. But it seems very unlikely that Paul would either point to such a practice. Nor does this interpretation do justice to the context of the passage.
2. Rather, given the context (particularly the next verse), it seems better to understand Paul as referring to living converts filling the ranks of those believers who had died— much as a fighting army would recruit new soldiers to battle in the place of those who had fallen. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then why bother continuing to fill the ranks of an institution that had no point in existing, and that was not destined to any hope (see verses 17-19)?
B. There is a loss to any motivation to suffer for the cause of Christ (vv. 30-32a). Paul affirmed that he suffered greatly for the cause of Christ; and that he and the other apostles were in constant jeopardy because of their testimony.
1. Paul himself affirmed "by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord" (that is, in that he expected to share in Christ's glory with them, and labored hard to advance their growth in His grace) that he "died daily". Every day that he woke up, he set himself to the possibility that he could lay down his life before the day is over in his service to God's people for Jesus' sake (2 Cor. 1:8-11; 4:7-18; 7:3; 11:22-33).
2. He refers to having fought with wild beasts in Ephesus; which may either be an incident that isn't recorded, or is a figure for the fierce opposition he received in Acts 19:21-41). If after the manner of men (that is, as those who live this life only and have no hope beyond death) he suffered for Christ, what advantage did he have?
C. There is a loss to the moral motivation of holiness (v. 32b). If there is no resurrection, then we die with no more spiritual hope than the animals (Eccl. 3:18-22; 8:10-15). Why not say, in the words of Isaiah 22:13, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die"?
II. THE PRACTICAL SOLUTION (vv. 33-34).
A. Paul calls the Corinthian believers to repent of this attitude. First, he calls them to awake to righteousness. It's as if they were asleep and had become morally and doctrinally lazy. They weren't seeing the implications of the denial of this important doctrine. Second, he calls them to "not sin"; because the denial of the resurrection ultimately opens the door to all sorts of moral laxity.
B. What's more, not only should they awaken, but they should separate themselves from error. He severely rebukes the church for allowing itself to be influenced in its midst by those who were "ignorant" of God. This would probably be a reference to those who were unbelievers, and who had arrogantly built their philosophy on their unbelief. The church was listening to such people; and as a result, were questioning the essential doctrine of the resurrection. "Do not be deceived", Paul warns; "Evil company corrupts good habits."
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