Message # 55 | 1 Corinthians 15:5-19 | September 17, 2017
In a few moments, we’ll be looking a little deeper into 1 Corinthians 15:12-19. Last week we stopped in verse 4. I would like to take a moment, separate from the main message to acknowledge and be encouraged by a side not that Paul makes here. I think it is a divinely inspired side note, but I don’t think it necessarily has to do with his main point in this section. The main point is to discuss the importance of the resurrection and the consequences of rejecting the resurrection.
Verses 5-8 offer to the reader, individuals that were still alive and could verify the reality of Christ’s resurrection. After summarizing the core of the Gospel – that being the death, burial, and resurrection, Paul goes on to write:
and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Cor 15:5–8 ESV).
Verses 9-11 then offer what some may perceive to be a weird mix of self-deprecation and outright arrogance.
For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Cor 15:9–11 ESV).
Instead of seeing either self-deprecation or arrogance in this passage, I believe we find here a beautiful picture of humility. Let me offer a few observations. First, humility is not false modesty. It deals and acknowledges reality. You may have a friend, family member, or acquaintance that seems to frequently have false modesty. What do I mean by false modesty? I am referring to behavior that, on the outside appears to be humble, but is really fake, pretend, and not truly genuine. I had a friend like this in high school. He always was the first to admit that he wasn’t good at something, but would then show everyone up. It was unattractive and wasn’t genuine humility. You may have experienced this at some point. This is not what Paul is doing when he writes in verse 9, “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” He is not offering false humility. He is offering a transparent and real assessment of his credentials. No other apostle had ever persecuted the church. No other apostle had killed people for following Christ. Paul had. If you were to open Paul’s file and look at his record, you would never conclude, “this guys going to be a leader in the church.”
And yet, secondly, humility can still appropriately acknowledge one’s own abilities and effort. Paul does this. He writes in verse 10, “I worked harder than any of them.” Apparently he had. The storyline of Acts would indicate that this is not likely an underestimation of his work and effort. Humility doesn’t reject reality and one’s own gifts. It accepts them, but immediately leads us into the third observation.
Third, while acknowledging one’s own abilities and effort is acceptable, it must be immersed in deflection to the glory of God’s grace. “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor 15:10 ESV). While Paul acknowledged his tremendous effort, he only does this to show the power and product of God’s immense grace. There was no glory that landed with Paul in these statements. It was all deflected to God who enabled Paul to do these works.
And finally, at the end of the day, humility doesn’t care who accomplishes the task. It just desires that it is accomplished. For Paul, it didn’t really matter who proclaimed the message. Whether it was Paul or Peter or one of the other apostles or a new believer is irrelevant. What matters is that the Gospel was proclaimed and that they believed.
So then, drawn from this passage, we could conclude the following. Humility is not false modesty or self-deprecation but instead is an honest assessment of one’s self with immediate deflection of any glory back to God for his immense grace.
If I were to tell you that everything you hold dear and precious is false, that you are living a life of delusion, that everything in which you place your happiness and satisfaction is empty and meaningless, how might you feel? This is in essence what Paul does for the Corinthian believers, if it is true that Jesus Christ has not been raised from the dead – as some of them contend.
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12–19 ESV).
Purpose Statement. If there is no resurrection, Christians are living empty and pointless lives and need to be pitied.
Paul begins this conversation with the negative, and so this purpose statement reflects that reality; but probably within each of us, we want to jump to verse 20 and acknowledge that this is not the case. Paul writes in verse 20, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” So we know that these things are not true. We would prefer to make a positive out this negative purpose statement. There is a resurrection, therefore, Christians are not living empty and pointless lives and need not be pitied. We could take it a step further. Because Christ did rise, Christians can live full, purposeful, and hope filled lives. This statement is positive and refreshing. Yet, in the spirit of the text, we will continue to view this passage through the negative perspective that Paul uses. Let’s consider 4 consequences if there is no resurrection.
Our preaching is in vain, if Christ did not rise. “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14 ESV). A lot of effort and energy has been expended in the preaching of the Gospel. Many have made extreme sacrifices to preach the Gospel, some their own lives. Relationships have been severed. Families have been torn apart. Rejection and persecution have been endured – all for the sake of proclaiming the Gospel. Believers lives have been characterized by sacrifice, and abandonment of the world – all for the sake of proclaiming the Gospel. If Christ did not rise, all those sacrifices and proclamations of the Gospel were entirely pointless.
We love stories of hidden treasures. We place ourselves in the place of the treasure hunters and imagine the thrill of finding a long buried treasure and becoming rich beyond all our imaginations. Whether it is one of Indiana Jones’ many movies, Ben Gates epic adventures in National Treasure, or following the tale of Franklin Roosevelt’s 1910 disappointing search for Captain William Thompson’s treasure on Cocos island, 350 miles off the coast of Costa Rica; we feel the weight of anticipation and hope in each additional clue that brings them ever closer to the valuable treasure. Most often, either the treasure is never found or the treasure is found to be nothing in comparison to what it was claimed to be.
And that is what vain means – empty, without content, literally of an empty container, or emptyhanded, no result, no purpose. If there is no resurrection, and Christ has not been raised, then the message of the Gospel is no more valuable than a fake treasure map that appears to offer hope of a great reward but in reality is incredibly disappointing and the cause of much sacrifice and pain.
Our preaching misrepresents God, if Christ did not rise. Paul takes it a step further. Not only is our proclamation of the Gospel entirely pointless, empty, and extremely disappointing, it proclaims a lie while claiming to be the liberating truth. Paul goes on in verse 15, “We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised” (1 Cor 15:15 ESV). If Christ did not rise from the dead, then we have either been deceiving ourselves and/or deceiving everyone else. If Christ did not rise from the dead, we are guilty of offering hope to the world, and yet there would be no hope to offer. We have offered the greatest lie ever – if Christ has not risen from the dead.
Paul brings this sad reality to the forefront in both verse 14 and 17. “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14 ESV). And again in verse 17, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Cor 15:17 ESV).
Paul uses vain once again in reference to our faith. Not only does our message offer an empty treasure chest to a world madly seeking for hope, purpose, and satisfaction; our faith, which was placed in the victorious work accomplished in the resurrection, is found to be empty and worthless. We have committed the entirety of our lives, both earthly and eternally, into the work of Christ death and resurrection, and this commitment was an exclusive commitment. We placed our faith solely in the work of Christ. We’ve taught and accepted that we must not rest in anything other than Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. And if the resurrection did not occur, we have wasted our faith. This point is given extra punch in verse 17, where Paul writes that our faith would be futile. It would not only be empty but as well foolish and worthless.
While of course, no one wants there message of hope to be empty and worthless, and most certainly no one wants what they placed their faith in to prove empty, worthless, and foolish; but Paul now increases the severity in the consequences if Christ did not rise. Worse so far, we would be left in our sins. Paul writes in verse 17, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17 ESV).
Christ’s death was not an effective payment for sins if he had not risen. He would not have defeated sin, but would instead have been defeated by sin. It was his resurrection that resulted in his death being an effective payment for our sins. Therefore, if he had not risen, we would have remained in our sins.
The consequences of being left in our sins are (1) continued separation from God, (2) remaining under the wrath of God, and (3) still deserving of eternal damnation. It is only through the resurrection that we are (1) brought close to God, (2) experience God’s grace instead of His wrath, and (3) have eternal life instead of eternal death.
Those who have fallen asleep have perished. Not only do we remain in our sins, those who have died before us were as well in their sins and ultimately perished. “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor 15:18 ESV). There would be no hope for them.
Pitied. The only other place the form of this word is used in the New Testament is in the third chapter of Revelation. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:17 ESV). In similar fashion to the passage in 1 Corinthians, the church in Laodicea was living a delusional life. They perceived themselves to be rich, but the reality is that they were spiritually “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.”
And in this superlative form, it means that we are to receive the highest degree of pity. This is why most of the versions add some kind of modifier to pity – “most to be pitied,” “most miserable,” or “pitied more than anyone.” The New Living Translation translates the end of this verse, “we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (1 Cor 15:19 NLT).
If Christ had not risen from the dead, then our entire world view would be proven to be wrong, and everyone should look on us with mercy and pity. Have you ever interacted with someone, typically quite stubborn, who has held so firmly to something but was wrong? There may have been the sense of “poor guy just can’t see his error. Someday he’s going to realize he’s wrong and feel horrible.” Once he does realize his error, there is a sense of despair on his part and a sense of justice and maybe pity on the part of others.
If Christ had not risen from the dead, we would be those people. We hold so firmly to our faith. We base our decisions on this faith. We spend time and money in a church due to our faith. What a miserable group of people we would be if we came to the realization that we were wrong. And we would be wrong, if Christ had not raised from the dead.
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20 ESV). Therefore, we end with the positive spin on our purpose statement. Because Christ did rise, Christians can live full, purposeful, and hope filled lives.
 Timothy Friberg, et al., Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 228.
 Timothy Friberg, et al., Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 254.