Plans and People (1 Corinthians 16:5-24)

Paul concludes his contentious letter to the Corinthians by writing them about his plans and about the people whose friendship they hold in common. First of all, his plans. Paul intends to visit the Corinthians, although he can’t tell them exactly when he will arrive. He will come to them, he says, “after I go through Macedonia.” The important thing is not the timing of the visit, however, but its duration. “I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.” I have often … Continue reading Plans and People (1 Corinthians 16:5-24)

Remembering the Poor (1 Corinthians 16:1-4)

An abrupt transition occurs in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4. Heretofore, Paul has been speaking in lofty theological terms about lofty theological themes. Now, however, he offers four verses of advice on the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of giving. The transition is, if you think about it, a marvelous comment on the Christian life, for the life of faith includes everything from the sublime to the mundane. No aspect of life is untouched by God’s grace. Our ideas must change, and so must our habits – even our spending habits. “Now about the collection for God’s people….” In the early church, a dispute arose … Continue reading Remembering the Poor (1 Corinthians 16:1-4)

The Death of Death (1 Corinthians 15:50-58)

Many years ago, Rocky Aoki – the founder and owner of Benihana Restaurants – remarked, “Life is a one-hundred yard dash with a brick wall at the finish line.” With these words, he expressed a sentiment many have when they have no hope beyond this life. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” is how Rocky Aoki might have put it if he had lived in Paul’s day. All of us must vote in what Bruce Thornton calls “the bleak democracy of death.” That is a fact which we cannot change. But we need not all vote for … Continue reading The Death of Death (1 Corinthians 15:50-58)

Natural and Spiritual Bodies (1 Corinthians 15:45-49)

First Corinthians 15:45-49 continues the argument of the previous paragraph. At verse 35, Paul asked, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” He answered that question in verse 44 by saying that although people are born with a “natural body,” they are raised with a “spiritual body.” Verses 45-49 expand on this answer by means of an analogy between Adam and Christ. Before we get to the analogy, however, it is important to understand what Paul means by the distinction between “natural” and “spiritual” bodies. In Greek, the word for “natural” is “psychikoi” and … Continue reading Natural and Spiritual Bodies (1 Corinthians 15:45-49)

If No Resurrection, Then What? (1 Corinthians 15:29-34)

In 1 Corinthians 15:29-34, Paul points out three consequences of denying Christ’s resurrection. First, Christian theology goes wobbly. Verse 29 refers to the Corinthian practice of baptism for the dead. Nobody’s quite sure what baptism for the dead looked like or why the Corinthians practiced it. Perhaps it involved baptizing a live Christian on behalf of a dead pagan in hope that the dead would receive the benefits of Christian baptism. Whatever it was, it was a Corinthian eccentricity. The New Testament nowhere condones it, it contradicts what the Bible elsewhere teaches about baptism, and no Christian church has ever … Continue reading If No Resurrection, Then What? (1 Corinthians 15:29-34)

That God May Be All in All (1 Corinthians 15:20-28)

Start with the passage’s final words: “that God may be all in all.” God’s all-in-all-ness is the goal toward which the universe and everything and everyone in it are moving. The universe and its inhabitants will not become divine, but rather, it and they will experience the peace that comes from God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Several years ago, my mother gave me a framed nineteenth-century lithograph, which now hangs in my office. It depicts a scene from the prophet Isaiah, who foretold a coming day when the lion would lie down with the … Continue reading That God May Be All in All (1 Corinthians 15:20-28)

The Crucial Difference of Belief (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the gospel that he preached to them and by means of which God saved them. It is the good news that Jesus Christ died for their sins but rose again three days later to eternal life (15:3-4). By believing this gospel, the Corinthians experienced forgiveness of sins and received the hopeful promise that they too, with Christ, could live eternally with God. Now, however, in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19,we discover that the Corinthians have discarded their belief in resurrection. We are not sure – because Paul does not explain – why the … Continue reading The Crucial Difference of Belief (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

The Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)

First Corinthians 15:1-11 reveals the necessity, nature, and effectiveness of the gospel. The Corinthians desperately needed to hear about all three things, because they were in danger of turning away from the faith. Let us consider each in turn. The gospel is necessary for our salvation: “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.” We live in a day and time in which the objective content of Christianity is downplayed in favor of its subjective experiences. Doctrine, we are led to believe, is unimportant. What matters are feelings of wonder, joy, … Continue reading The Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)

Physical Meal and Spiritual Communion (1 Corinthians 11:20–22)

If you are hungry, will the Lord’s Supper satisfy you? For most of us, the answer is no. A bite of bread will not fill our stomachs. A sip of grape juice will not slake our thirsts. Also, for most of us, the question itself is problematic. Despite the name, the Lord’s Supper as we practice it is not a meal, and its outcome is not physical satisfaction. Instead, we view it as a symbol whose outcome is spiritual communion with Christ and other believers. The question is problematic, then, because it commits a category mistake, confusing the physical and … Continue reading Physical Meal and Spiritual Communion (1 Corinthians 11:20–22)

More Harm Than Good? (1 Corinthians 11:17–19)

On November 26, 2010, Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens debated whether religion is a force for good in the world. Blair, former Prime Minister of Britain and a Roman Catholic, argued the affirmative case. Hitchens, an atheist and author of God Is Not Great, argued the negative.   What if the real case is ambivalent? I cannot make this ambivalent case from an atheist point of view, of course, since I’m not one of them. But as a Christian, I can make a religious case against religion. Indeed, I can make a religious case against religion by citing chapter and … Continue reading More Harm Than Good? (1 Corinthians 11:17–19)