February 11, 2022 • Article
Scripture – 1 Corinthians 15:14-20 (NRSV)
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
Read all of 1 Corinthians 15 here.
How do those of us who have not seen the risen Lord know that he lives and that our faith is not in vain? Because we see him in each other. Go out and be the love of Christ to all those whom you meet. Our ability to see the risen Christ is depending on you.
When I was a college student thirty years ago attending Bible studies aimed at my age group, it always seemed to me that those Bible studies were always on one of Paul’s letters. Not very many studies on Old Testament books (except, sometimes, for Genesis or Psalms); not too many studies on one of the Gospels—just an overwhelming focus on Paul.
I can’t speak for Bible studies aimed at college students now, and my memory may be kind of faulty. But if my memory is accurate, I think the reason for this is that it’s easy to get doctrinal statements out of Paul, and the people who wrote those 1990s-era Bible studies were interested in me absorbing doctrinal statements. It’s not that there are no doctrinal statements in the Gospels—we’re going to look at one tomorrow, in fact. But much more of the Gospels are taken up with the stories of what Jesus did.
Paul was one of the greatest theologians of the early church; he did a great deal, too, sailing around to new places and starting new churches, but what he is most famous for now are his explanations of who Jesus was and why Jesus did what he did and what difference it all makes. Sometimes people extract short excerpts from those explanations and use them as “bumper sticker” statements of doctrine. But Paul’s arguments are nearly always so complex—I have been known to call them “Paul’s immense algebra problems” in sermons—that this is never a really good idea. So I’d encourage you to read all of 1 Corinthians 15 to better understand today’s passage, which certainly reads like an algebra problem of the “if x then y” type at first glance.
People often quote Paul’s opening comment in this chapter: “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you, in turn, received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2a). This good news is, first of all, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3a-4).
This is one of those creedal statements about Jesus that dot the New Testament, and Paul is quite possibly drawing on a statement that was already being used in worship. But he quickly moves to root that doctrine in the story of the early Christian community and in his own story: “He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).
This is important for many reasons. It reminds us of Paul’s own claim to be an apostle, since he too has seen the risen Lord (see Acts 9), an essential qualification for apostleship among the first Jesus followers. It also sets up where he’s going next—as now we finally arrive at the passage appointed for today, where Paul begins his algebra lesson. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, our faith is futile, Paul says, and we are liars who do not understand God’s intentions. But if Christ has been raised, then we are free from our sins and we have hope. Paul moves on in 1 Corinthians 14:21-29 to make a famous theological argument for this hope. But he’s already made a personal one. Jesus Christ lives, Paul knows, because he has seen him.
When I was a kid, and a teenager attending Bible studies where we got little bumper stickers out of Paul, I used to despair about developing a deep relationship with Christ because I couldn’t see him the way Paul had. I could read and understand Paul’s theological argument, but I had not been on the road to Damascus. I had only Paul’s word to go on that all these experiences added up to the gospel of Christ risen from the dead.
Here’s where it’s important that this passage comes after Paul’s writing on spiritual gifts in community (1 Corinthians 12-14). How do those of us who have not seen the risen Lord know that he lives and that our faith is not in vain? Because we see him in each other. Go out and be the love of Christ to all those whom you meet. Our ability to see the risen Christ is depending on you.
How have you been showing Christ to others?
How could you show Christ to others more fully?
A little later in 1 Corinthians 15, after Paul has explained why Christ was raised from the dead, he reminds us that this will happen to us too in the memorable statement which Goerge Frederick Handel set to music in Messiah: “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Listen to Handel’s music, worship, and let this encourage you to show the eternal love and mystery of Jesus Christ to your friends and neighbors.
Lord, may others see your face in me. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Our Work Is Not in Vain (1 Corinthians 15:58)
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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