Victory in Jesus

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 and 50-58

There are two ways to go through life: victorious or defeated. One Christian, once asked another, “How are you?” The second responded, “All right, I guess, under the circumstances.” To this, the first responded, “What are you doing under the circumstances?” God intends for His people to be victorious in Jesus, not to live under the circumstances, but through and over them. How do we live victoriously?

There were several churches in the New Testament whose members lived anything but victorious lives. Corinth was one of them. Yet, there is a sense in which we can thank God for their weaknesses. You see, to their weaknesses and problems, we have God’s answers in the Bible. For example, where would we be without the wonderful description of true love in 1 Corinthians 13? How often we have heard this at weddings and other special occasions. Had it not been for the Corinthians’ lack of love, Paul would not have had a need to give them such a beautiful description of what love is. Consider the beautiful and powerful fifteenth chapter where Paul explains the power of the good news and our hope of being resurrected with Christ. If there had not been those in Corinth who “say there is no resurrection” (1 Corinthians 15:12), Paul would not have need to give such a forceful and beautiful argument to enlighten us about the resurrection. And then there is the beautiful crescendo towards victory at the end of chapter fifteen. We can be thankful to God that out of all the problems in Corinth, He saw fit to give us these wonderful words.

Let’s go on a walk through Corinth two thousand years ago and see some of the problems there. As we do, imagine what places these would have occurred in the city. (This is not to “look down” on the Christians in Corinth, but to learn from them.) As we walk through Corinth, we observe some Christians quarrelling and dividing, “...there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos, ‘ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:11-12). These quarrels could have happened in the homes where Christians met and even overflowed into public life in the streets as different factions formed and they divided their loyalty to Christ into different cliques. Christians were more concerned about “I” than love for each other. This shows that they really don’t have a clear understanding about who Jesus is. We also see this in their spiritual immaturity, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ” (3:1).

We walk on to a home where something really serious has happened. There is sexual immorality, “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife” (5:1). Under the cover of night and in the various venues of revelry in Corinth, people were committing immoral acts. Some of the lax morals carried into the church. And what is quite amazing is that the Christians did not mourn about this (3:2).

We come to a court. There are Christians suing each other in front of unbelievers, “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbour, dare to go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?” Instead of bearing with one another and solving their own problems, the Christians were embarrassing themselves and bringing down the name of Christ in front of unbelievers.

In the temples, dining establishments, and homes, there was religious confusion about meat sacrificed to idols (8:1-13). Though mature Christians knew the idols were nothing, some Christians thought they had religious meaning and this lead them into sin. In their religious life together, the Christians in Corinth coveted spiritual gifts over love (13:1). Paul had to write many pages (chapters 12 to 14) to put the gifts in the perspective of love and show them the true meaning of the Lord’s Supper and worship. To add to the confusion, there were some who “say that there is no resurrection” (15:12). Imagine that! Jesus raised people from the dead and was raised Himself. Some Apostles raised people from the dead, but some Corinthians did not believe in the resurrection!

In addition to the confusion in their religious life, the Corinthians had other “afflictions” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Some of them also afflicted Paul by opposing his apostleship, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you?” (3:1). There were those who did not accept his leadership and sought evidence of his credibility. Paul invests many chapters in defence of his leadership.

Does this look like a church that is living victoriously? Does this look like a church that is living harmoniously in love? There’s something really interesting about their problems and ours today. If you walked around our city today, you could see plenty of evidence of the exact same problems that kept the Corinthians from victorious living. You can read through the New Testament, make a list of many problems, and notice that we experience many of them today: division, selfishness, marital problems, religious confusion, lack of love, and spiritual immaturity. People may ask why didn’t Jesus solve all these problems while He was on earth? Well, God was working to answer these issues, but in a way that many of the Corinthians and people today do not expect.

Across the Mediterranean Sea from Corinth in the land of Israel, God provided an answer. Now, it is true that Paul gave many instructions to the churches, but there is one very important foundation upon which he built. Paul has dealt with a number of problems in the church as we have seen. He waits until the fifteenth chapter, however, to lay out more fully for the church what is “of first importance” (15:3). Paul tells us what God is doing in a message he refers to as the “gospel,” or good news, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand” (15:1). This good news gives us a place to stand, a firm foundation with God. Notice what it does for us, “by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain” (15:2). This good news saves us if we hold fast to this message which Paul is about to deliver and don’t believe in vain.”

Paul tells us what is the most important, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (15:3-4).

This message transformed Paul’s perspective. He was living one kind of “victorious” life “successfully” persecuting Christians. He was opposed to this good message. Then, Jesus encountered him and Paul’s perspective changed 180 degrees. Then, he based his whole life on this good message. When Paul thinks of the good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, it includes Jesus’ entire experience of His foreknowledge of what was going to happen, His betrayal, the false accusations, abandonment, false trial, beatings, scourging, the journey to cross, His suffering on the cross, His death, piercing, burial, and resurrection. He endured all this in place of the Corinthians. All their sins and the sins of the world separate people from God. They are totally unlike God and cannot be in His presence. To bridge this gulf, Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice. Jesus loves you enough to offer His life as a sacrifice for yours. When Christians are immersed into Him, they are forgiven, united with Him in his death, burial, and resurrection, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3-4).

Not only was Jesus raised, Christians will be raised with Him, contrary to the beliefs of some in Corinth. Notice the awesome beauty of verses 50-57 that describe this victory in Jesus, “Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall 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 shall be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this moral will have put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” Paul talks to death and says Christ is victorious over it and we with Him. Victory swallows death. God gives us victory as a gift (15:57). It is through Jesus. Notice how this can bring meaning to our life here and now: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (15:58). Look at these amazing things Paul encourages us to do: be “steadfast,” be “immovable,” “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” This work is never in vain. In the end, we will be victorious.

What does all of this look like today. What changes can this gospel focus on the good news bring to our lives here and now? Let’s start within our own hearts and move out to the impact of the gospel in our homes, our churches, our workplaces, the market places, our communities, and God’s mission in the whole wide world.

In our own hearts we may have sin, guilt, and shame. But Christ died for our sins! He paid the price that God required for our forgiveness. He despised the shame of the cross (Hebrews 12:2), and died for you. He died to forgive you and remove your sin and its guilt and shame. Our godly sorrow for our sins leads us to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:8-9) and onto peace and joy in Christ.

We may have inner fears and doubts. We may be afraid of death. Christ is victorious over death, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (15:54). Jesus came to “deliver those who through the fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:15). He did this through His death, burial and resurrection which shows us God’s power over death and confirms His promise to raise us with Jesus.

What if you have a sense of inadequacy, low self esteem and worthlessness? Just think of how much you are worth to Christ. He thought enough of you and loved you enough to die for you. Let this thought sink deep into your soul. Let it build peace and appreciation for Him and His love for you. God is for you. He values you enough to send Christ to die in your place, to set you free and keep you in His love forever.

What about in our marriages and homes? In Ephesians 5, Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved His church. And how deep is that love? He died for His church. He suffered death for His church, to purchase it “with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). This sense of love should permeate our relationships and keep us going when it is hard to go on. A while ago I heard of a man who had written a book on communication as the key to a good marriage. Several years later, he wrote a second book, only this time he stressed forgiveness as the key to a good marriage. There will be hundreds of occasions when we must forgive each other (Matthew 18:21-22). Forgiveness is what comes from Christ crucified. This good news is the foundation for a good marriage and a happy home. It helps us through difficulties, heals us, and lightens our burdens, giving us power to go on and grow together as families. It shows we are not perfect, we make mistakes, but we forgive and go on.

Think about the potential impact of the gospel in a church like Corinth or one like it today. Remember that Christ loved the church so much that he “purchased” it, or bought it back, redeemed it, “with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). If the church meant that much to Jesus, surely this love can inspire Christians to get along and value one another. When the church gets weary of well doing, Christians can think of what Jesus suffered for her on the cross, the epitome of weariness. But He went on and finished His task.

In our workplaces, in our offices, shops, and classrooms, the gospel of Jesus is with us. Paul says that whatever we do we can do for Him (Colossians 2:23). The gospel helps us in difficult relationships. We can look at these people and remember that Jesus died for everyone in the world, even our difficult co-workers. The gospel empowers us to extend to others the same forgiveness, hope, and patience we receive from Jesus on the basis of His death, burial, and resurrection. It also guides how we treat those who serve us in the marketplaces, in restaurants, and stores. Jesus died for them. Like Paul, our spending should consider what would be a loss or a gain for the cause of the gospel (Philippians 3:7). In our communities where we live, the gospel should affect how our neighbours see us. Can they see Christ in us? Can they see His love and compassion in our lives and attitudes towards them?

In the big picture, God has given us a mission in this world. God took a big risk. He entrusted this treasure of the good news of His Son into the hands of people, like Paul, Peter, John, the other Apostles, Timothy, Titus, and now us. He has no “plan B.” He committed the gospel to sinners. We take this message to other sinners. The same message that redeemed us is the message that will redeem them.

Paul’s focus was on the gospel, on the good news, and it permeated every part of his life. Not only did he see the awesome value of Jesus’ love and death for him, he saw that he had died with Christ and lived his life by faith in Jesus, “‘I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). Let’s let the good of the gospel of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection for us permeate and direct every part of our lives too. “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Paul Birston

August 8 2004©

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