We’re looking at 1 Corinthians 15 tonight, and we’re going to be examining verses 29 to 34. We’re taking this great chapter in chunks, as we work our way through it, and this, of course, is the great biblical chapter on resurrection - physical, bodily resurrection - and all that is involved in that; namely, eternal life. You will live forever in the presence of God as the very person that you are, perfected and given a perfected and glorified body so that you can dwell in the new heaven and the new earth and worship and glorify and serve the Lord as the very person that He made you to be and sought to make you into through His redemptive purpose.
As we come to verses 29 to 34, let me read it for you and then we’ll kind of work our way through it. Verse 29 begins, “Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them? Why are we also in danger every hour? I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let’s eat, drink, for tomorrow we die. Do not be deceived. Bad company corrupts good morals. Become sober minded as you ought, and stop sinning, for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.”
It’s a very powerful, very potent portion of Scripture. And perhaps at first reading, not at all clear exactly how it hangs together. But it is a very cohesive unit. We have already discussed in this chapter the reality of the resurrection of Christ. Now remember what is behind this is that some among the Corinthians in the church at Corinth were denying bodily resurrection. That is a very serious error. Paul wants to affirm the reality of bodily, physical resurrection, and he starts by clarifying the fact that Jesus rose from the dead; therefore, there is such a thing as bodily resurrection.
The theme, as you remember in verses 1 through 11, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And then in verse 12, he says, “If Christ is preached, and you have believed it and been redeemed by believing it, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say there’s no resurrection of the dead?” If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ hasn’t been raised. Conversely, if Christ has been raised, there is a resurrection. And then it’s only a question of looking to the Word of God to see who also participates in that resurrection.
So Paul starts with the resurrection of Christ and then he moved to a section demonstrating the tragic results of not believing in resurrection. Christ is not raised, we are not raised, the evangelists who preach the resurrection are liars and we’re, of all men, most miserable, all the way down to verse 19. Then in verse 20, he turns a corner and he discusses the order of resurrection, Christ being the preeminent one, the firstfruits, and the rest follow.
And we looked at that last time, and he swept us all the way into eternity when all the redeemed are resurrected, gathered into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, His bride is complete, and then He, in an act of reciprocal love to the Father who gave this bride to Him, returns the bride and Himself to the Father so that God is all in all. So resurrection is defended, based upon the resurrection of Christ, based upon the fact that if you pull the resurrection out, the whole Christian house collapses. And then he gives us the full extent of resurrection, sweeping us all the way into glory.
Now, starting in verse 29, he says that the truth of resurrection has implications, practical implications. And in these few verses, we see those implications laid out for us. This is a little bit like a simple statement, for example, in Psalm 116:12 where the psalmist asks the question, “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” The fact that God has promised us a resurrection has very powerful influence on us. The resurrection is a reality, and now he will discuss for us its practical implications.
Those implications are not only discussed here, of course, all of the gospel in all of its fullness and all of its glory and all of its promises comes with great implications. But particularly in this passage, Paul wants us to see how really practical believing in the resurrection is, and I hope that you’ll be able to grasp that. But let me give you just a few illustrations. Do you think, for example, that Stephen would have offered himself to the stones that crushed out his life if he didn’t believe in a resurrection?
Do you think that Andrew would have confidently allowed himself to be martyred by being tied to a cross and left for days until dead or Peter would have been willing to be crucified upside down or James would have put himself in a position to be beheaded or any other of the apostles who was martyred or any other martyr would have been willing to do that? Or even the apostle Paul would have put his head on a block and waited until an axe chopped it off his body if he didn’t believe in a resurrection?
They drew the reality of the resurrection out of the Old Testament. Job said, “Though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” And this is precisely what was behind the willingness of martyrs to give their lives. They and everybody else who names the name of Christ through all of human history has embraced Christ with the hope of resurrection, with the hope of eternal life. They believed that Jesus was risen and they would rise to be with Him in resurrection glory and to be with all the rest of the saints in resurrection glory.
Here come the Corinthians, however, and for whatever reason, they have bought into the dominating pagan lie that was familiar to them in their culture that there is no bodily resurrection, that material is bad, spiritual is good, the spirit survives, the material does not. And so some of them were questioning whether there was a real resurrection. If there was no resurrection, Jesus didn’t rise, they wouldn’t rise, and that changes absolutely everything. If redemptive history ends as a cul-de-sac in a grave outside of Jerusalem, and that’s where Jesus’ life ended, then some grave somewhere is where ours ends as well.
But that is not what the church has believed and, in fact, all who have ever sacrificed their lives, all who have presented themselves as living sacrifices in the words of Romans 12 because of the great mercies of God which have been promised to us, we do what we do because we have no fear of death and because we have hope of life after death, not hope that we will be some floating spirit, absorbed into the great universal spirit, as some would suggest, but that we will be who we are in the life to come. This is the very foundation of our faith.
Now, the practical implications of this confidence of resurrection lays out for us some very simple responses. Number one, let’s just call it future reunions - future reunions, future fellowship. Christianity does not teach that we will be absorbed into something and that we will lose our identity, which is a very popular pagan idea, or that we will be recycled as somebody else or something else. Christianity teaches that we will be who we are forever in a glorified form. And what that promises us, then, is relationships - relationships.
Verse 29 lays this out for us, even though it is a strange statement that is made here. The assumption behind it has to do with our very point. Verse 29, “Otherwise what will those do who are baptized for the dead?” Now, I know you’ve asked yourself or asked other people, “What does that mean?” And I’m here to tell you I have absolutely no idea what it means. I cannot be dogmatic. There are somewhere between forty and four hundred possible interpretations of that.
Don’t know what it means - and we could wander through a maze. I remember one of my classmates in seminary writing a dissertation on this. What a hopeless effort that was. And in the end, he couldn’t come to any conclusion, nor could he support the one that he leaned toward. I know this has confused many people. The Mormons think it teaches vicarious baptism. This is also the view of others – Marcion. The Mormons didn’t really invent this.
It’s a little bit like Roman Catholicism, that you can do certain things in your life by way of good works that have an effect on somebody who is already dead and stuck in Purgatory. This view claims that Paul is teaching that a Christian who has been baptized allows himself to be baptized again and again and again and again for a person who died without baptism - therefore, being unsaved - so that someone living is baptized for someone dead who is unbaptized, and the baptism of the living person is credited to the dead person and gets the dead person out of wherever he is into the place where he should be - namely, some heaven.
Mormon theology teaches that the spirits of those who have died - and this is a very interesting part of their theology, that the spirits of persons who have died cannot enter heaven until a Mormon is baptized for them by proxy. Now, there must be a lot of busy Mormons being baptized because there have lived and died a whole lot of people before Mormonism got invented. You can’t get into heaven unless you’ve either had a Mormon baptism or been baptized by proxy by a Mormon. Obviously, Scripture is not teaching such a bizarre and foolish heresy. There’s no such thing as vicarious salvation. There’s no such thing as salvation after you’re dead. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that, the judgment.”
So what can we say about this? We can say this, that what Paul is identifying is something we don’t know anything about. But the people to whom he wrote did know about it or he would have explained it. For some reason, in some form in their society, people actually believed that when you died, that wasn’t the end. And that’s the best that you can say about this. They believed that when you died, it wasn’t the end. You continued to live, and somehow you could be rescued by a baptism.
That is not a Christian baptism, this wasn’t happening in the church. This isn’t being advocated. It is only being recognized that people understand that death is not the end of a person’s life. And that is why they do things like the Mormons that they think can accrue to the benefit of the people who, though they aren’t alive in this world, are still alive and still the very people that they are. And that is the best that can be said about it.
There is in the heart of man the sense of eternity. As one writer said, “It’s like the little blind boy with a kite, he can’t see the kite, but he can feel the pull of the string in his hand.” The human heart feels the pull of eternity, of life in the future. That means that people who are alive who would rush to go through some kind of ceremony to try to help the people who are dead still have a link to those people and care about those people.
This is a connection that we feel strongly when unregenerate people face a death and they lose a spouse or they lose a child, they lose somebody they love very deeply, there’s a ripping and tearing out of their heart, the horror of the fact that this is a final separation, and the pain is unlike any other pain in life because that person is so much a part of the other person’s life, of the family’s life, and there’s a longing in the heart for reunion.
And Paul is telling us that God has almost planted in the heart an expectation of reunion, an expectation of life to come. When David’s little son died, even just a little baby, 2 Samuel 12:23, David said, “He cannot come to me, but I will go to him.” “He cannot come to me,” he can’t come back from the dead, “but I’ll go to him.” The longing of his heart even to be reunited with the little life. David had a confidence in the death of an infant being within the purview of God’s saving purpose and that they would be united again in the next life.
It was the Thessalonians who were tragically heartbroken over the death of some believers, and they were wondering what happened to them. And Jesus described the fact that there would be a day when Jesus came to rapture His saints, and the dead in Christ would rise first, and we who are alive and remain would be caught up together to meet them in the air. And then he said, “Comfort one another with these words.” There’s comfort in the hope of reunion.
Many of you have come to Christ and you have come to Christ by the influence - you heard it in the testimonies tonight - of a Christian mom and dad, a Christian friend, perhaps some who have already died and gone on and you have a longing in your heart to see them again. You will. Remember now, in the transfiguration that we studied a week or so ago, Peter, James, and John, they see Jesus transfigured and they all of a sudden see Moses and Elijah - and they were Moses and Elijah, not floating spirits.
And I think the best you can say about this is that there is an expectation that life goes on beyond the grave, and that’s very important to people. If the dead are not raised at all, then why are they baptized for them? Why do they care about assuring that there’s a possible reunion in the next life? Many a father, I have to tell you, through the years has come to Christ because in his heart he wanted a reunion with a wife that he loved, but he rejected Christ while she was alive. There are wayward and rebellious children who have come to faith in Christ, motivated in part by the fact that they wanted to see loving parents again.
If the dead don’t rise, Paul says, then what’s the point of this kind of anticipation? What’s the point of this kind of hope? If all there is is this life and there is no next life and there is no resurrection and we aren’t going to be the people we are then, then why is this such a huge issue in the human heart? It’s a universal argument. It’s not a biblical argument, it’s an argument from the universal reality of the longing for reunions, the sense that there is the hope that we might see the people we care about again.
Why would people care if this weren’t a reality? Where would it come from if it wasn’t something planted in the human heart?
So there is this first aspect of an incentive that we can call future reunion. The second one is present sacrifice - present sacrifice. Paul shifts gears, kind of without warning us. I mean you look at verse 30, and you say, “Why are we also in danger every hour? What does that have to do with anything?” It has everything to do with it. The confidence of a future resurrection is not only a powerful incentive to bring a person to salvation for the hope of a reunion - not only a union with Christ, a reunion with Christ, but with others who belong to Christ - but this confidence of a future resurrection is a powerful incentive to present sacrifice, present suffering.
If I’m not going to be who I am in the future, if I’m going to somehow be melted into the universal consciousness, if I’m going to be folded into whatever is ultimately the eternal entity, then I really don’t care what I do in this life, but I’m certainly not going to inflict any more pain in myself than is absolutely necessary. But if there is a resurrection and there is a reward in that resurrection and I am going to be who I am and I’m going to either enjoy that reward or not enjoy that reward, then what I do in this life has direct implications on my life to come, that changes how I live my life.
Paul says, “If there is no resurrection, in effect, if the dead are not raised, if there is no future, then why are we all so in danger every hour? Why am I doing this?” Because here, this hope of resurrection, this hope of future life, this hope of future reward, this hope of future glory, this reality that I will be who I am in the future, I will be a self-conscious Paul, this is strong motive for me now. A soldier, a warrior, a fighter, an athlete suffers for the hope of victory. Paul and the other apostles are in peril every moment. They’re in peril all the time.
At any hour, a blow of persecution could strike Paul and strike him enough to strike him down. Literally, he says, “I die daily.” He’s not talking about some kind of mystical spiritual experience, he’s saying, “I live my death every day - I live my death every day.”
Most of us, because we live in this very comfortable world, we just try to figure out what can I do this day to elevate my happiness? What can I do this day to elevate my satisfaction? What can I do this day to fulfill my desires? Paul every day was preoccupied with his imminent death - every day. Why do this if there’s no resurrection? He was in danger from the moment of his conversion. First they wanted to kill him as soon as he became a believer, right? They wanted to kill him in Damascus and they had his - his friends had to let him out over the wall in a basket. And from then on it was a matter of escaping death.
Chapter 9 of Acts tells us that the Jews, from the very outset, were plotting his death. He was sent back to Tarsus by the Jerusalem disciples because the Greeks wanted to kill him later in the ninth chapter.
If you want to see how it was for him, turn over to 2 Corinthians, just a few pages to the right in chapter 4, and you get a little bit of a catalog here. Paul loves these kind of catalogs and gives a number of them in 2 Corinthians that relate to his own suffering. But in verse 8, he says, “We’re afflicted in every way but not crushed. We’re perplexed but not despairing. Persecuted but not forsaken. Struck down but not destroyed.” He’s talking about the fact that he takes it on the outside and it doesn’t affect his inside, doesn’t affect his spiritual commitment.
Then in verse 10, “Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.” In other words, I put my life on the line to die for the cause of Christ in order that I might manifest His life.
Verse 11, “We who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” The same thing repeated again. In order that we might demonstrate His life, in order that we might be a model of the transformation of regeneration and salvation, we risk death. Verse 12 says it another way, abbreviated, “Death works in us so life can work in you.”
And you come to the reason for this in verse 13, the reason he was constantly being hounded and threatened and plotted against was because, verse 13 says, “We have the same spirit of faith according to what is written. I believed” - and he borrows this from Psalm 116 - “I believed; therefore, I spoke. We also believe; therefore, we also speak.” The point is the reason we’re in so much trouble is we speak the truth. “Knowing” - verse 14, here it is - “that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.” And listen to this: “And will present us with you.” That’s reunion.
He lived the way he lived because he knew there was a resurrection and a reunion. And he actually says to the believers, “You are our joy and crown of rejoicing.” When I see you in heaven, that will be my crown of rejoicing. “All things are for your sakes,” verse 15, “so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” We do this for you, we don’t lose heart. Even though the outer man is decaying, the inner man is being renewed day by day.
We take this momentary, light affliction because it’s producing for us an eternal weight of glory, far beyond all comparison. And then he gives you his view: “We look not at the things that are seen but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal; the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Keep reading. “We know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” He’s not talking about an ethereal spirit, he’s talking about a new body, a new house in which he will live. This is why he does what he does. This is why he puts his life on the line. This is why he is willing to die if need be.
Look at chapter 6, verse 4, “We would like to commend ourselves as servants of God,” verse 4 says, “in much endurance, afflictions, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonment, tumults, labors, sleeplessness, hunger.” Dropping down to verse 8, “Dishonor, evil report, being regarded as deceivers.” Verse 9, “As unknown yet well known, as dying, yet behold we live, as punished, yet not put to death, as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.” This is that kind of total sacrifice that a man or a woman can make when they understand that there is a future and a resurrection. That’s what Paul is saying here.
Why would we do this? Why would we do this? Why would we die daily? Why would we be in danger every hour if there was no future? Verse 31, “I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus.” This is interesting. “I swear,” he’s solemnizing his statement, “I die daily. And I swear by the joy that I have because you are in Christ. I swear by my joy in the work that Christ has done in your life that I die daily. I wake up every day knowing I could die.” There are so many people after me.
Acts 20 is another rich insight into this. Acts 20, verse 22, “Now behold, bound by the Spirit, I’m on my way to Jerusalem not knowing what will happen to me there except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me everywhere I go in every place, bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course in the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”
He’s saying, “Look as far as this life goes, I’m totally expendable - totally expendable.” “And so now, behold, I know that all of you among whom I went about preaching the kingdom will no longer see my face. Therefore, I testify to you this day that I’m innocent of the blood of all men for I didn’t shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.” And that’s exactly what he said back in 2 Corinthians 4, “I believed so I spoke, I held nothing back, and the result was I am hounded to death - I am hounded to death by people who want to take my life.”
He had plots against him by the Jews. He had plots against him by the Gentiles. He had to escape for his life many, many times. “Why would I do that,” he says, “if there is no future? Why would I long for the reunion if there is no reunion, if there is no resurrection? Why would anybody think about a life after death if there is no such thing?”
So Paul says, “Look, the human heart longs for reunion.” That’s a common understanding. That’s part of sort of implanted theology, like Romans 2, the law of God written in the heart. Why do we long for that if it’s not a reality? Why would we offer our lives up as a daily sacrifice, facing death on behalf of the gospel and the building of the church if there was never any reunion with the church? He says, “I do this for you. I do this for you because someday I’m going to see you face-to-face. Someday I’m going to be with you.”
And then he gives one particular incident in verse 32. If all of this self-sacrifice, if all of this living with death daily simply from human motives, such as, “If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let’s eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
What does he mean, that “I fought with beasts at Ephesus”? Well, it could refer to Acts 19. In Acts 19, he was in Ephesus, and I can just remind you of it, verse 23, “No small disturbance occurred concerning the way,” - that was the identification term to describe Christianity - “for a man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen.” This is the idol business, the idol-making business in Ephesus where they worshiped Artemis, or Diana as she is also known, or he/she.
“These he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades and said, ‘Men, you know that our prosperity depends on this business, you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, this is becoming an economic hit, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence.’” Wow - Paul’s having a massive effect.
“When they heard this, they were filled with rage, began crying out, saying ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.’ The city was filled with confusion. They rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companion from Macedonia, and when Paul wanted to go into the assembly, the disciples wouldn’t let him. Also some of the Asiarchs who were friends of his sent to him and repeatedly urged him not to venture into the theater. So then some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion and the majority didn’t know for what reason they had come together.”
Now there’s a mob. They don’t even know what they’re doing. And so it goes. Paul is rescued out of that situation and it goes all the way to the end of the chapter, verse 41. Was it that? Was that fighting wild beasts at Ephesus? Was that simply metaphoric? Was the mob like wild beasts? Possibly. There is some, I think, legendary tradition that Paul actually was put in an arena and made to fight with wild beasts and wonderfully protected, à la Daniel in the lion’s den. There are other legends that he actually fought with them and prevailed.
The verb form “to fight” here is a verb used to refer to gladiators who fought with wild animals (like lions) in the arena. But others would say that Paul probably didn’t have that kind of experience because his Roman citizenship would preclude that. Whatever it is, we don’t really know what it is. Paul is simply saying, “Why would I put my life on the line with metaphoric wild beasts or actual wild beasts for the sake of the gospel if there’s no resurrection?”
Paul is really trying to tell us that his life was one of immense and incessant danger, and if only from human motives, if this is only a human enterprise that I’m engaged in and it has no real eternal future, why would I do this? What does it profit me? Nothing. I’m going to be dead for what? What a waste. Why all the suffering? Why all the scars? Why face death every single day if there’s no resurrection and no reward, there’s no eternal life, there’s no reunion with Christ and there’s no reunion with the people that I’m doing this for in the hope that we will be together in the presence of Christ as the people we are? It’s ridiculous.
On the other hand, if the dead rise not, let’s just have a party and die. Why would you do this? Just go through the cycles of life, eat, drink, get all you can, be a Hedonist, and die. That’s a Hedonistic, pagan approach to life. It’s a model that the rich fool adopted. Remember the rich fool in Luke 12:19, “Eat, drink, be merry”? If there’s no resurrection, we’re just animals. Sensual enjoyment is all there is and it’s over when you die.
Herodotus, the Greek historian, tells of a custom among the Egyptians. In social meetings among the rich, when a banquet is ended, a servant carries around to several guests a coffin in which there is a wooden image of a corpse. The wooden image of the corpse is carved and painted to resemble, as nearly possible, a person. The coffin with the wooden corpse is shown to each guest, and each guest is instructed, “Gaze here and drink and be merry, for when you die, this will be you.” Well, that would turn the party loose.
The Christian life has a very different perspective. Everything we do has eternal implications for our eternal destiny to start with, and when our eternal destiny is determined to be heaven for our eternal reward, our eternal blessing. Jesus even said, “Use your money to purchase friends for eternity.” The assumption is that when you get to eternity, the friends you’re going to have in heaven are going to be the people who were affected with the gospel because you invested in the gospel.
This is reunion. These are real people. You know, Hebrews 11 says that you ought to obtain a better resurrection, not just sort of the minimal one, but the best possible resurrection. Even Christ goes to the cross. And what does Hebrews 12 say? “He went to the cross enduring the shame for the joy that was set before Him.” The joy of that wonderful reunion. First of all, for us it’s a reunion with Christ. Far better to depart and be with Christ. Absent from the body, present with the Lord.
But it’s more than just a reunion with Christ, it’s a reunion of all the saints. Paul says, “You are my joy and crown of rejoicing.” And that’s a heavenly crown that he’s talking about. If there is no resurrection, then there’s no hope for any of this. There’s no hope for reunion - there is no reunion. And secondly, why in the world are we sacrificing our lives for this if it doesn’t go anywhere? So the incentive to future reunion and the incentive to present suffering is the hope of and the fact of resurrection.
Thirdly, the incentive of the holy living is the resurrection. The incentive to holy living is the resurrection. Verse 33 and 34, “Do not be deceived.” It’s a common exhortation in Scripture, Galatians 6:7, 1 Corinthians 6:9, James 1:16. Present tense, “Stop letting yourself be deceived,” would be one way to translate it. I think the assumption here is that they’ve been deceived. They’ve been deceived into thinking there’s no resurrection.
And then you have this familiar statement - probably you’re going to see it mean something other than you thought - “Bad company corrupts good morals.” What is the point of that? How does that fit in here? Company - what is that word in the Greek? Homilia, bad association. It can even mean bad instruction. Bad association leads to bad instruction. Bad associations expose you to bad theology, and bad theology corrupts your morals. “Become sober-minded, as you ought,” verse 34, “and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God.”
Stop sinning is the point there, for the sake of those who have no knowledge of God, and you need to bring that knowledge to them. Make sure your life is right and if it’s not, then you ought to be ashamed. Here’s what this, I think, is saying to us: You have been listening to bad theology. You have been hanging around people denying the resurrection. You must make a break. Psalm 1, this is so foundational that this is the heart of Psalm 1, and Psalm 1 introduces the whole of the book of Psalms, 150 Psalms. “How blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers.”
You can’t - you can’t expose yourself to bad company because bad company propagates bad theology and bad theology will produce bad morals. What do you mean, precisely? Deny the resurrection and you have just pulled out the great motive for holy living. Truth of the matter is, if you look down deep enough, you know this. You know you can get away with a lot of sin in this world. You have. You can get away with it. The people who are even the closest to you might not know, and the people that you want to impress will surely not know. But you know that there is One who knows. And the great restraint on you comes, I think, from God.
People say, “Well, don’t you need personal accountability?” Well, yeah, sure - sure, but I can fool a lot of folks. If you want to really live a godly life, you have to have a strong sense of divine accountability because you can fool people but you can’t fool God. And if there is no day of accounting with God, there is no judgment seat when your life is scrutinized and your works are evaluated for which you will be rewarded, then hey, live any way you want to live.
So what he is saying to these Corinthians is if you keep company with these people with the bad theology about the resurrection, it’s going to have a direct impact on your life. Wrong doctrine produces wrong living. Thucydides, one of the ancient writers, records how there was a deadly, fatal plague that came to the city of Athens, and people committed every shameful crime, he records, and eagerly snatched at every lustful pleasure because they believed life was short and there was no resurrection so they would have no price to pay for their crimes.
That’s what would happen in the world if all of a sudden we knew that the end of the world was coming in a year. All the people who believed there was no resurrection would fill that up with the fullest expression of their corruption imaginable. Horace gives us his philosophy. “Tell them to bring wine and perfume and the two short-lived blossoms of the lovely rose while circumstances in the age and the black threads of the fates still allow us to do so.”
One of the most famous poems in the world, the Latin poet Catullus wrote. “Let us live and let us love and let us value the tales of austere old men at a single half penny. Suns can set and then return again, but for us, when once our brief light sets, there is but one perpetual night through which we must sleep.” Take away the thought of life to come, take away the thought of resurrection, and you have just removed ultimate accountability. Take away reward, take away punishment as the persons we are, and life loses its value and morality flees.
So Paul insists, “Look, you can’t keep company with people who deny the resurrection because of its moral implications.” On the other hand, verse 34, “Become sober-minded.” Be clear-headed as you ought. Come on, think clearly, get your priorities right, “and stop sinning.” You can’t say it any more specifically than that. Stop sinning. “For some have no knowledge of God.”
That’s an evangelistic emphasis perhaps. You need to stop sinning in order that they might have the knowledge of God through the righteous life that you live. But on the other hand, it might even be contrastive, say stop sinning, agreed, some have no knowledge of God but you’re not included in that group. You need to behave as those who have the knowledge of God. And when you don’t, I speak this to your shame. You can’t claim ignorance. You have the knowledge. You can’t keep exposing yourself to bad theology because it’ll corrupt you. Stop sinning.
What this tells us is they were doing it. It had already happened. They who denied the resurrection were feeling free to sin. Stop, get away from the company of those people corrupting your morals by espousing bad theology because that kind of behavior is to your shame.
So you can see here that the incentives are so powerful for the resurrection. Future reunion, present sacrifice, suffering for the cause of the gospel and holy living all excited in us by the reality of the resurrection. There’s more, but I’ll leave it at that. Next time, we are going to jump into what your body will be like in heaven. And the older we get, the more appealing that becomes. All right, let’s have prayer.
Father, we thank you for a wonderful day and great, glorious, rich, profound truth from your precious Word. Thank you for this beloved congregation, for their faithfulness. Lord, they’re so eager to honor you, to love you, to love one another, to serve you, to serve one another. We see it day after day here in this church. We thank you for them.
Bless them, Lord, show yourself mighty on behalf of each one in whatever area of life the greatest need lives. I pray that you’ll fill their hearts with joy in believing and the hope of resurrection. In the name of Christ. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.