- August 11, 2013
- By Susan Pigott / Logsdon Theological Seminary
• The BaptistWay lesson for Aug. 25 focuses on 1 Corinthians 15:3-20, 35-44, 50-57.
We recently watched the movie Warm Bodies—yes, we are behind the times and wait for movies to come out on Netflix. If you don’t know the movie, it’s about zombies. Yes, another zombie movie. But this one is different. Really! It’s a romance and a story about hope.
Spoiler alert: In the movie, a zombie who calls himself R falls in love with a human named Julie. He rescues her from the other zombies, and they begin an awkward relationship. A turning point in the film comes when Julie and R are confronted by R’s fellow zombies and some super zombies—“bonies”—bent on destroying everyone. Julie holds R’s hand, and when the fellow zombies see this, it sparks hope inside them. This hope gradually gives both R and the other zombies the impetus to transform into living beings again.
When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, he had to address numerous issues that came up within the church. One of those issues was the question of resurrection. Paul, like many of the early Christians, believed Jesus would come back in his lifetime. But when fellow believers started dying, questions arose about what would happen to those who died before Christ returned. If bodies were resurrected, would these dead arise in bloated, decayed, flesh-shredded bodies? Would there be a New Testament zombie apocalypse? Such a horrible thought apparently caused some believers to reject the idea of resurrection entirely (v. 12).
So, Paul wrote a treatise on the resurrection, beginning with the good news that many witnessed Jesus in his resurrected form (vv. 1-8). Since Jesus was resurrected, why would anyone suggest there was no resurrection of the dead (v. 12)? Paul emphasized how crucial this doctrine of the resurrection was. Indeed, it was central to the Christian faith (vv. 13-18). Using a typology of Adam (the man of dust) and Christ (the man of heaven), Paul emphasized that although death came through Adam, life came through Christ (vv. 45-49).
A dying seed
Using several analogies (vv. 37-41), Paul argued the earthly body was like a seed—perishable when it is sown. But the seed “dies” and then arises into new life as a plant (vv. 37-38). In a similar way, the human body is perishable. It is “sown in weakness but raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body” (vv. 43-44).
Thus, Paul apparently believed in a sort of synthesis between the Jewish belief in bodily resurrection and the Greek view of a spiritual resurrection. For Paul, the physical body was replaced by a spiritual body that would be imperishable. This is the body that would be resurrected (vv. 50-54).
With this Paul burst into a hymn: “Death has been swallowed up in victory, ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your string?’” (vv. 54-55). In Christ, the victory over death already is won. That is the hope Paul wanted to convey.
The passage concludes, however, not with the resurrection but with the here and now. The whole point of Paul’s treatise was to encourage the Corinthians to live their lives steadfastly, immovably and excellently, because they could be assured their work was not in vain. In other words, the hope of resurrection was what gave them the impetus to live.
How to live
I doubt Paul wanted the Corinthians to fixate on what happened after death, even though the questions they had about the resurrection were legitimate. Rather, Paul wanted them to focus on how to live. That is what the book of 1 Corinthians is really all about—living the Christian life and living it with hope.
And that is what this entire series of lessons has been about—living life. We’ve considered the stories of many heroes and heroines at different life stages and in various life situations. In each case, we’ve discovered something about how to live.
Jesus did not speak much about the afterlife. Instead, he emphasized the kingdom of heaven was among the people now (Matthew 10:7). He taught his disciples they were to create heaven on earth by living lives that went above and beyond the law (Matthew 5:1-7:29). They were to focus on loving God and loving neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40). And that is why I believe Jesus commanded them—and us—to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
As believers, we have the hope of the resurrection. But this hope should be the impetus for us to live lives that create heaven on earth now by feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, visiting the imprisoned and loving the unloved.
It is how we live that matters most.