Preparation for Worship
“In the resurrection of Christ, God declares that for all future time he will sustain, redeem and transform the humanity that was originally made. So Christ’s resurrection points backwards to the creation of human beings and forwards to the transformation of human beings at the same time. Our humanity is both vindicated and transformed. In God’s mysterious purpose, this is what human beings were always intended to become. This is the ultimate goal of the created order.”
This quote from John Stott is a wonderfully concise summary of Paul’s argument as he begins to close out his long first letter to the Corinthians congregation. The Corinthians had been deeply affected by an early religious sect called Gnosticism. Gnosticism, even modern forms of it today, sees the human body and the material existence as bad or dirty and as an obstacle to true spirituality. Affected by these ideas, the Corinthians thought of themselves as being so super-spiritual that they were above “earthly things,” and they thought Paul’s preaching about the physical resurrection of the body was foolish and absurd.
Paul very directly says they are “foolish” (v.36). First, he corrects their misunderstandings about the resurrection. Whereas they thought of resurrection as resuscitation of a dead corpse, Paul insists that Christian resurrection is about transformation of the body into something new. The Christian hope of resurrection is firmly planted in Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead, the “man of heaven,” who is the first-fruit or prototype of the resurrection to come. Our hope, Paul says, is not some disembodied existence or some super-spiritual heavenly realm, but a real, physical body on a renewed creation. Our new bodies and the new creation will have continuity with the old even while they will also be something entirely new (thus his analogy of the seeds).
Basically, Paul is saying that God loves bodies. He made human bodies to bear his image, the Son of God bore a body in his incarnation, and Jesus now inhabits a transformed resurrected body as he waits to renew all things. This is our hope: a resurrected body in a transformed creation. To quote the title of theologian Paul Marshall’s book, “Heaven is not my home.” We await the man of heaven who will come to transform us and the earth. A renewed creation is our home, and Jesus is getting us there.
But Paul ends this chapter by reflecting on what all this means for the present. He says if this is true, if our future really is a renewed creation with transformed resurrected bodies, it changes everything for the present. It gives us hope, courage and purpose for our life and work. It makes every decision we make to live the cruciform life worth it. It makes our material world and what we do with it matter. It moves us forward, knowing that “our labor is not in vain.”
In preparation for worship, I invite you to read through the whole of 1 Corinthians 15 and ask yourself, how would I live differently in the present if I believed this about the future?
Our weekly worship guide can be found here.
1 Corinthians 15:35-58
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another.41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.
50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the deadwill be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.