Sermon: The Empty Threat of Death, Part V, I Corinthians 15:35-41

People of God, we return to our series on I Corinthians 15. One of the great accomplishments of John Calvin was his preaching ministry in Strasbourg in 1539. Many of us today still look to find brilliant analysis of different passages in Calvin’s commentaries, which were the fruit of many years of careful biblical study. Calvin left Strasbourg in 1539 in the middle of his preaching ministry, and returned in 1541. On his first Sunday back to the pulpit he picked up exactly where he left off a couple years earlier.

Your task is not as complicated. It has been a month since we last discussed I Corinthians 15, and we are going to pick up exactly where I left off in verse 35.

Let’s begin by summarizing our text.

Chapter 15 may appear to be an abrupt change of subject matter of the previous 14 chapters, but Paul is very purposeful. In essence, he is saying: “What is the use of any of these instructions? What is the use of discipline, what is the purpose of tongues in the church, of order and decency, community, love, and gifts if there is no resurrection?”

So, in 58 verses Paul answers that question. He answers it in three parts:

In verses 1-11, he re-establishes their commonly held belief that Christ was raised from the dead. In verses 12-34 he answers two contradictory ideas: belief in Christ’s resurrection and a denial of their own. Paul says that if you believed Christ was raised from the dead, then your resurrection at the end of history is inevitable. First the head is raised, that is Christ, and then the body, his chosen people.

Finally, in verses 35-58, Paul answers the question: “In what form are we raised?” The answer is that our physical bodies are raised at the resurrection.

And so we begin exploring Paul’s third and final response to the Corinthians beginning in verse 35: “But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”’ What is unique about this third response is that Paul now “addresses the root cause of the Corinthians’ skepticism about the resurrection.” What Paul does here is to take the place of a questioner; a skeptic. And he poses the question like someone playing the devil’s advocate. The reality is that Paul knows his audience very well. He is not merely asking a random question. He knows pastorally and theologically that this is the root of their skepticism about the resurrection life in the future. Paul is aware of the conversations that are taking place in the Corinthian Church. The question asked by the skeptics is: “In what kind of body will the dead be raised?”

Make sure you follow Paul’s argument here because it is very carefully made: “You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.”
Paul begins with this strong declaration in verse 36: “You are a fool!” You are ignorant of the truth! Not only have you lost your senses, but you are also a fool in the sense of Psalm 14: “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” What the psalmist is saying applies perfectly to these Corinthians, because they are not only acting like atheists, but they have failed to take “God into account” in the resurrection. They failed to see that God can do what He wills with our bodies.

What is the context of this discussion? These were Hellenistic thinkers. They had an “aversion to the idea that the body could be reanimated after death.” They thought that the Resurrection bodies would be resuscitated, reanimated after death. If the resurrection means that our present bodies are going to receive some energetic boost, so we can come back to life, why then is this desirable? This is how they understood the resurrection. But of course, they badly misinterpreted the resurrection. God is not going to resuscitate your body; He is going to transform your body. Secondly, they did not believe that God could do this. Paul is rebuking them by saying that God will accomplish what we cannot comprehend. The Corinthians did not have this trust. So, Paul is not only correcting this false understanding of the resurrection, but also teaching them that trusting in God’s power is essential to believing in a future resurrection of our physical bodies.

Here is his explanation: “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.” In other words, “you hold the answer in your own hands. Simply look at the way God has arranged the natural order of plant life. In the everyday occurrence of the seed you have the evidence to answer your question.” Paul is saying that the seed must die before it can produce something marvelous. “The seed itself demonstrates that out of death a new expression of life springs forth.” To put it in even simpler language: The present body is not yet what it shall be. The body must die, so a more glorious body might live. Your body is meant for more than this perishable body. Your body is the seed, or as Paul says “naked.” Why? because “it is not yet ‘clothed’ as one day it will be.”
This is not merely a corpse being resuscitated; this is a corpse being transformed gloriously.

Having made the point, Paul now goes a step further and uses a number of analogies from nature.

But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

This section is fascinating because it draws its ideas from Genesis 1 & 2. In fact, all these analogies are taken from the creation narrative. “The creator God made the heavens and the earth, and filled both with his creatures. The creator made every kind of bird, animal and fish; Paul brings them, too, into his argument in verses 39 & 40. He created plants bearing fruit containing seeds, so that more plants could be produced.

What is going on here? Why is Paul using these analogies identical to the first creation in the beginning of the world? Could it be that he is thinking of a new creation here? Can this be the re-creation of humankind through the life-giving activity of Jesus Christ? This is not an accidental parallel. “This is indeed a deliberate and careful theology of a new Genesis, of creation renewed.”

If you understand this point, you will understand Paul’s entire argument in this section; this is thesis: “In the future resurrection at the end of history, our bodies will be radically transformed, but yet there is an organic continuity with the mortal body that preceded it.” God is not going to dispose of our physical bodies, to create a new one. He is going to take this body and transform it. Instead of having a perishable and sinful body, we will have imperishable and sinless bodies. But also our resurrected bodies are in continuity with this body. From the seed, comes the plant. Though the seed dies, it leaves an imprint on the plant. There is discontinuity and continuity between our present and future bodies.

In verse 41, Paul deal with this idea of the glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

Paul is very skilled in the culture of his day. Some in his day believed that the “soul would return to the stars after death.” So, Paul talks about the glory of the stars, moon, and the sun. But understand that this glory means reputation, honor, and proper dignity. He is saying that all these possess a certain reputation for its purpose: the twinkling of the stars, the splendid moon, the brightness of the sun, so too, the body has its own glory, its own reputation. Paul will elaborate on this in the next few verses, but for our purposes today, know that Paul is directly attacking a form of Platonism or Dualism common in the mind of certain Corinthians. What did they believe? They were eager “to escape the prison-house of the body.” The body was something we had to deal with, while on earth. But Paul says the opposite. He says that the “problem was not the body itself, but sin and death, which had taken residence in it, producing corruption, dishonor, and weakness. For Paul, as N.T Wright says: “Being human is good; being an embodied human is good; what is bad is being a rebellious human, a decaying human, a human dishonored through bodily sin and bodily death.” Paul understood that to live in sin is to dishonor the glory of what your body was made for. This is why the disposing of an unborn child is murder. This is why adultery is blasphemous in the sight of God. This is why sex outside of marriage—its intended purpose—is blasphemous in the sight of God. Paul is always debunking the myth of the insignificance of the body. He knows that the future resurrection is an embodied resurrection. To quote New Testament theologian, Richard Hays: “Paul is seeking to make the resurrection of the dead appealing rather than appalling to the Corinthians.” It seems he has succeeded.

How Now Shall We Then Live?

In discussing Paul’s point, I mentioned that we sometimes can act like atheists when we believe that God is not in this transformational business. We are all tempted to give lip-service to the Sovereignty of God. God places us in situation in life where our faith is tested. “Is this sovereignty theology just another nice bumper sticker?” Or do we act upon it? When you lose a job? When that promotion did not come? When the physical pain is unbearable? When you long to get married, but somehow that chosen king or queen has not yet arrived? Do you really believe God can do all these things? The Corinthians had a difficult believing that God could take a mere body, and make it a glorified imperishable body from it. This is just an example of how we sometimes not only doubt God’s power in the small things, but also in the big things as well.

There is also a common Pauline principle here. What you sow, that shall you reap. If you sow immorality, you will reap disaster. The body is to be sown in purity, and bathed in godly desires. Do not allow any other standard, but the Bible shape your view of the body. Treat it well. Care for it. Do not be given over to gluttony or laziness. Young men, especially, need to avoid the prevailing sluggishness in our culture. As we have been learning in Sunday School: “Men are to be preparing to leave; to abandon their parent’s castle, and to form a new one of their own.” You cannot do this without preparing ahead; without training and discipline. This is the responsibility of living a resurrected life.
Do not be foolish as those Paul exhorts, but trust in the power of God to raise dead bodies and transform them, and trust that His promises are Yes and Amen, and Amen.

In The Name of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in I Corinthians, Resurrection and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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