I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: Faith in the Resurrection and Sacrifice for Christ
The first two Scottish missionaries sent to the New Hebrides Islands were killed and eaten by cannibals on the day they arrived. After that it proved difficult to find missionary volunteers. But even when John G. Paton agreed to go, well-meaning people in the church tried to dissuade him. One elderly man warned that he would be eaten by cannibals. Paton replied, “I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.” After fifteen years of fruitful ministry, almost everyone on the island of Aniwa where Paton ministered was converted.
It is obvious from Patton's actions that he believed that this life wasn't all that there is but that there is going to be a resurrection from the dead which will make all the good things that happen on this earth pale in comparison. And it will make every sacrifice that a person does on behalf of Jesus Christ more than worth it.
The fact is that right thinking on the resurrection should lead to right actions. That is actions that are selfless and even, at times, will tend toward the sacrificial. A consistent life is the fruit of true belief. By that we mean changing your life to conform to what you say you believe. It's what people do who are totally sold out to a cause worth caring about and fighting over. Belief in the resurrection should lead us to care about the lost and their eternal separation from Jesus Christ. And it should compel us to tell others about the wonderful salvation that we have found in the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.
The assumption of changed thinking, leading to changed actions is what Paul is using in order to give additional arguments for the resurrection in I Corinthians 15:29-34. The people in this passage did things consistent with a belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In fact, if He hadn't actually risen, then what they were doing totally didn't make any sense.
I Corinthians 15 is the great resurrection chapter because the apostle Paul deals with this subject extensively an exclusively. He deals with both the resurrection of Jesus, who is the first fruits, and ours who are part of the complete harvest of the resurrection to come when Jesus returns.
And, as we've said in previous sermons, he is doing this because of false teaching at Corinth from some who are telling people that there is no resurrection of the dead. And worse yet, it appears that some of the Corinthians are actually falling for these lies.
In these verses we are studying, verses 29-34, we see Paul pointing out actions that people are doing because they are convinced of the bodily resurrection of the dead. We can learn much from these verses because, if we truly believe that Jesus has risen and that he has made a path for us to rise from the dead as well, it should change our lives too. There should be no business as usual after we are saved. But, rather, people should be able to look at us and see the difference that our belief in the resurrection brings.
Let's look at these 6 verses and see the changes that are pointed out that are consistent with the belief that is being professed.
I. Belief in Resurrection Brings a Change in Actions (29-32)
First of all, Paul spends the majority of this section talking about those whose actions are clearly changed by their beliefs, including his own. In verses 29-32 he says this:
"Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead? And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise..."
Besides himself, Paul names this other group of people who have clearly changed what they do because of their belief in the resurrection. They are those he talks about who are "baptized for the dead." This is how most modern English translations render it. But just what does that mean? Sadly, not even the most learned of scholars knows for sure. It was something that Paul understood, and the Corinthians understood, but almost no one since has quite gotten it. The meaning seems to be lost to history.
There have actually been more than thirty different interpretations put forward for this one verse. And sadly, whole theology's have been made up from a wrong interpretation of it by cults, both ancient and modern, which is very dangerous, especially since there is no other place in Scripture that talks about this type of thing. Today, the Mormon Church is one group who teaches an unbiblical view based upon this verse because they were taught it by Joseph Smith, their founder.
What this verse most certainly does not teach is that someone can be baptized vicariously or on behalf of a dead person leading to his salvation. Because works don't save anyone, and they certainly don't do so after death. So, the work of water baptism has absolutely no part in salvation. Paul clearly teaches:
"For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works, least any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8,9).
And further, there is nothing in Scripture that says that I can be a proxy for someone else or represent someone who doesn't turn to God in faith on their own. My salvation comes from my faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and not someone else's faith on my behalf.
Some have offered a meaning more in keeping with mainstream Christian beliefs in that they say that Paul is referring to those living believers who give outward testimony to their faith in baptism by water because they were first a witness of believers who had subsequently died. Paul's point then would be that if there is no resurrection and no life after death, then why are people coming to Christ to follow the hope of those who have died?
But the interpretation that I find most plausible is that of this verse not having been translated properly in the first place. The Greek word translated 'for', as in 'for the dead', is huper. And it can have several meanings, depending on the context. It may mean: 'above', 'over', 'instead of', 'for the realization of', or 'for the hope of', depending on the context. Here it is best translated 'for the hope of the dead.' Then it would read:
"Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the hope of the dead, if the dead do not rise at all?"
Paul is thus saying: "What good is it to be baptized if we don't rise in a resurrection from the dead? Why be baptized for a hope that will never be realized?"
This is a possible translation of that verse; however, we can never be dogmatic about it. Nor can one use this passage as Paul's teaching on what we should be practicing or not practicing regarding water baptism. He is not saying that he is doing it. Nor is he commanding the Corinthians to do it. He simply states the fact that some are baptized 'for the dead', or 'for the hope of the dead.'
This verse is a gray area that we must agree to disagree on and just get out of it what Paul is actually teaching. He is telling us that there are those out there who so believe in the fact of the resurrection that they have altered their actions and behaviors in some way. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then it all is for nothing.
However, something happened to these people that so disrupted their former belief system that it has changed it forever. Their lives are lived in a way that they prove that they have faith that Jesus' was raised from the dead, and that they will someday experience something similar to what He did when He came out of that grave 3 days after his death.
That disruption happened to Paul as well. It took place to the extent that he did many things which were out of character for him after being converted to the Christian faith. He was willing to put himself in danger every hour. He said that he 'died daily.' He continually risked his life in self-sacrificing ministry. Why should he risk death daily except for the fact that the risen Christ proved to him that He was alive from the dead?
In verse 32 Paul talks about fighting the 'wild beasts of Ephesus.' This could be literally wild animals. But it is more likely the fierce crowd of the Ephesians incited against him by Demetrius in Acts 19:23-34. Either way he allowed himself to be subject to life-threatening dangers for the cause of Christ. He could have lived his whole life as a Pharisee and be in relative comfort and have the respect of the leadership of Israel. Instead, he became an outcast and ultimately gave his life as a martyr for his belief in the resurrection of Christ.
Paul, literally stood in jeopardy for his life every hour. And he 'died daily'. What does that mean? I think gotquestions.org says it best when they tell us:
“I die daily” echoes Jesus’ command to those who want to follow Him: “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The mention of a cross by a Jewish rabbi would have been shocking to first-century Jews. The cross was a torture tool introduced by the Romans to terrorize those who would speak against Caesar. The cross was a public humiliation that always represented death. Always. So, when Jesus said that in order to follow Him we must carry a cross, He meant that something must die before we can live. We must die to ourselves, our rights, and our desire to be our own boss. We must die daily. Paul saw his life as a daily death to himself."
He was totally sold out to the Lord Jesus Christ. His life showed the dangers he was willing to go through because of his belief in the death of Jesus Christ for his sins, and Christ's resurrection on his behalf. And, like the others mentioned, his actions reflected Paul's conviction regarding that resurrection, and how he believed that he too would one day rise from the dead along with all those who love the Lord Jesus Christ.
Further he concludes that all this would profit him nothing if the dead are not raised. They might as well act like everyone else: "Eat, drink and be merry, or tomorrow we die!" (Isaiah 22:13). But he was convinced and convicted that they will be raised and that Jesus' resurrection proved that fact.
II. Belief in the Resurrection Changes Our Attitudes and Associations (33-34)
So, a true belief in the resurrection should bring a change in our actions, or the way we live our lives. But it also brings about changes in our attitudes and the people that we associate with on a regular basis. We won't want to allow ourselves to be swayed negatively by those who would want to lead us to sin and go against our belief in Jesus. That is exactly Paul's point here in verses 33-34 when he says:
"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. "
The Corinthians were letting themselves be influenced by those who had no belief in the resurrection of the dead. Paul was telling his readers that If you let false believers shape your thinking, you will conform to the ways of the world instead of the way of God. One commentator put it this way:
"Some heathens would encourage the Corinthians to live a sinful life focused on worldly pleasure because they did not believe there was anything after death. Paul told the Corinthians that they should think carefully about what was right, and to stop living sinful lives."
Paul was urging the Corinthians not to let themselves be misled by that sort of person who didn't believe in the resurrection.
The quote: "Bad company corrupts good morals" or, as the New King James puts it: "Evil communications corrupts good manners" comes from a pagan poet/philosopher Menander, in his play called “Thais.” It was probably a famous saying at the time of the apostle's writing. Paul uses it to specifically refer to the danger of becoming corrupted by associating with non-Christians.
This really summarizes what we have tried to glean from this whole section of I Corinthians 15. We who have the knowledge of God and what He has done in raising His Son from the grave are the ones who have the truth. We ought not let ourselves be led astray by those who don't really have a proper knowledge of God and the power He exerted in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Rather, we must allow resurrection thinking to govern what we do. And we ought to be the ones who are influencing the world and not the other way around.
As we conclude, I'd like to share this illustration I heard once in a sermon someone gave. It went like this:
On June 30, 1859, one of the greatest tight-rope walkers in history, Charles Blondin, became the first man in to walk across Niagara Falls. Approximately 25,000 people watched him walk a 1,000-foot line suspended above the raging falls without any safety nets. When he safely reached the Canadian side, the crowd cheered with thunderous applause.
On another occasion, he attempted to cross The Falls once again. This time, however, he was walking with a wheelbarrow. The crowd gasped as he carefully loaded the front wheel of the wheelbarrow on the tight rope. He turned to the crowd and asked if they believed he could do it using the wheelbarrow. Everyone cheered in approval. They all believed he could.
He turned to a reporter who was covering the event. He looked straight at him and asked the question, "Do you believe I can tight-rope across the Niagara Falls?"
Without blinking, the reporter yelled out, "Yes, I do! I know you can do it! I believe."
Blondin paused and stared at the reporter. Then he said, "If you believe..........GET IN THE WHEELBARROW."
The moral of this true story is that if you truly believe God's Word, and if you truly believe in the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead then let your walk match your talk. Get in the wheelbarrow with Jesus! Live a life consistent with your belief.
To quote what C.S. Lewis once said:
"Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
The reason we know that the Christian faith is of infinite importance is because Jesus proved it to be so by His resurrection from the dead. May we all live the rest of our lives demonstrating our belief in that greatest and most important event in human history- Jesus' victory over the grave!
© 2022 Jeff Shirley