This is one of the first papers that I had the chance to write for a class at Multnomah Biblical Seminary after the Lord called my wife Jennica to be with him. It is such a meaningful chapter to me, and very important as we celebrate Easter!
1 Corinthians 15
Paul begins chapter 15 by reminding them about the gospel that he preached to them, that they received, and that they have taken a stand on (15:1). “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (15:2). In his reminding, Paul passed on the things of first importance: Christ’s death and resurrection (15:3-7). Paul points to himself as an example of a person whose choice of company affected his behavior and theology (15:9), “but by the grace of God I am what I am” (15:10). God’s living redemptive grace was able to change Paul into the gospel-proclaiming apostle who he is now. Paul then reminds the Corinthians that while the messengers may be different, the message is not (15:11). This reminder is similar to what he wrote in 1:13-17, 3:5-9, and 3:21-23.
I think that there is a chiastic pattern in Paul’s response and that there are two distinctly related sections within the rest of this chapter. The first section (v 12-34) deals with the reality of Christ’s resurrection and some Corinthian believer’s denial of a resurrection. The second section (v 35-58) discusses how people’s bodies will be raised and the type of resurrected body they will possess.
A Paul makes a statement and asks a question (v 12)
B Paul gives implications of wrong understanding of the resurrection (v 13-19)
C Paul tells the truth about the resurrection (v 20-28)
B Paul gives more implications of misunderstanding the resurrection (v 29-32)
A Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian believers (v 33-34)
Paul uses his reminder of the gospel (v 1-11) to ask a question about a doctrinal issue and to “demonstrate from their commonly held position-the resurrection of Christ-both the absurdity of their present position (vv. 12-19) and the splendor of his (vv. 20-28)” (Fee, 738). Resurrection is the key purpose to the Corinthian practice of baptism for the dead (15:29; which is not explained or expounded upon), and even Paul’s relentless fighting against “beasts” who opposed him in Ephesus (15:32). In light of the resurrection Paul exhorts the believers to not be deceived, wake up, stop sinning, and to take notice, as he has, of those who have no knowledge of God (v 33-34). “The command to come out of their drunken stupor and to stop sinning caps his argument in this unit. The stupor would refer to a benighted worldliness and a lack of spiritual awareness” (Garland, 722).
A Paul asks a question and makes a statement (v 35-37)
B Paul explains the kind of bodies of the resurrection (v 38-44)
C Paul explains how the dead are raised (v 45-53)
B Paul explains the implications that resurrected bodies has on death (v 54-57)
A Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian believers (v 58)
The second section also begins with questions from the Corinthians. It is the first time in the passage that the word “body” is used and that the Corinthians get a clear picture of exactly what the resurrection looks like because “the Corinthians could not fathom how this was possible, they had abandoned any trust that it was possible” (Garland 727). “Inherent in their denial of the resurrection was the assumption that it had to do with reanimating corpses” (Fee, 779). Therefore, Paul uses examples of the material world such as seeds to connect the Corinthians of the heavenly reality that bodies are transformed “to show that it is not an insurmountable problem for belief in the resurrection of the dead” (Garland, 730). A key to these imperishable bodies is the fact that death is defeated when “we shall all be changed” (v 51) because of our great God “who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v 57). Paul ends this section with an exhortation (v 58) just as he did in the first section. Our victory through Christ and hope of resurrection is what keeps us faithful, loyal, committed, and fruitful to the work of the Lord. “The surprising feature of this exhortation is that, unlike vv. 33-34, it is not directed toward ethical behavior as such, but toward the work of the gospel” (Fee, 807).
Contemporary Application in Ministry
While Paul’s response in chapter 15 was mainly reminding the believers the truth of the gospel, demonstrating the essentialness of the resurrection, and defending the reality of a bodily resurrection there are a few specific ways that I see Paul’s responses as valuable for guiding contemporary Christian leaders and communities today. Two examples that I was especially intrigued by were Paul’s ability to bring the Corinthians to the building blocks of the gospel, and his authoritative humility.
Paul pointed out the essential points of the gospel story: Christ dead, Christ raised, and Christ proclaimed. I believe that today it is essential for these points to be explained thoroughly and acted upon, not just as a church program, but as a lifestyle of the members of Christ’s body. The explanation and application start at the pastoral level, but should be the function and passion of the entire congregation. Understanding the gospel will help in living it out on a daily basis, which will hopefully grow Christians in being able to discern the “bad company that corrupts good character” (15:33) that can lead to moral failure and errors in theological convictions. This bad company could be everyone from the unbelieving neighbor to the nominal Christian.
The second response pattern that I think is helpful by Paul’s example is his attitude of authoritative humility. Paul recognizes that although he is a messenger of God, he is as much a recipient of God’s grace as the Corinthian believers (15:8-10). This realization does not withhold him from being qualified to preach the message (15:11) and making truth claims about doctrine and missing elements of a well-lived Christian life (15:12-58). Paul took his God-ordained role very seriously and encouraged and corrected those entrusted to his care properly.
In many churches today there are pastors who have the right attitude but don’t do well when it comes to correcting those they oversee because they don’t want to be “judgmental” when what they need to be doing is warning those in their care from shipwrecking their faith (1 Tim. 1:19). On the other hand, there are some pastors who are very authoritative in their truth claims about doctrine and correct Christian living, but don’t have the attitude of humility to admit that they are the least, undeserving of God’s call, and in just as much need of God’s grace as the one’s they are preaching and ministering to (1 Cor. 15:9-10).
The way that the problems of being gospel-centered and authoritatively humble can be resolved is by being a leader that creates a culture of grace and truth through relationships. It is unlikely that a lead pastor can know everyone in their church, but it is essential to connecting a regular congregant with the leadership structure of the church so that they know what the church believes and values. If the pastoral staff spends a good amount of resources on training leaders who can explain and authentically live out these beliefs and values then there should be a well-balanced healthy community life, and multiplication of leaders. The relationships that are developed can connect the congregation’s real and felt needs so that the ministry of the church is not only biblical and missional, but relevant to the community of believers and the community at large.
Fee, Gordan. “The First Epistles to the Corinthians.”
Garland, David E. “1 Corinthians.”