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The Sunday Sermon – 1st Corinthians 15:29-34


How Then Shall We Live?

1 Corinthians 15:29-34 

Let us take a moment to take an overview of chapter 15.  Following his great plea for sound doctrine in the church, as the only true basis of Christian fellowship, Paul’s structure of this chapter alternates be between what the Puritans might have called, ‘doctrines and uses.’  He expounds a doctrine, then applies it to the Corinthians.  In verses 3-11, Paul gives a series of conclusive proofs for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Then, in verses 12-19 Paul shows that if the Corinthians do not accept the literal bodily resurrection of the Lord, there will be terrible theological, doctrinal and spiritual consequences for the Christian Faith.  In verses 20-28, Paul shows the relationship between the resurrection of the Lord, and the General Resurrection of the Dead at the last day.  Now, in verses 29-34, he illustrates the consequences of what he has just taught, and this time these consequences are not theological, but practical!  The FACT, now well established by Paul’s teaching, of the second coming of the Lord, will have a profound effect on the mind-set of the Christian Believer!  The believer will have:-

A Different Attitude to Dying!

The passage commences with one of the most challenging and interesting verses in Paul’s letters!  It challenges us to think very clearly about death, and those who have died!

  1. The Danger of Carnal Superstition! Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?  Now you will see the difficulty immediately!  Evangelical Christians do not baptise on behalf of others!  Not the living, and certainly not the dead!  To do so would be nothing more than sheer superstition, for no practice of ours, either baptism for the dead, or prayers for the dead, will alter their state of being at all!  The saved dead are dwelling in indescribable bliss, so why would they need our works or our prayers?  The lost dead are enduring eternal torment, and nothing that we might say or do will alter their awful state.  But there are those who do these things!   We know that Roman Catholics pray for the dead, and say requiem masses for the dead, and I am told that if you wish to discover your roots, or trace your ancestors, you should go to one of the many Mormon Churches which have sprung up around the country.  (Not to worship, of course!) In every Mormon Hall there is a database of genealogical records, which go back generations.  I knew a lady (a Presbyterian!) who was anxious to draw her family tree, and who was visiting the Mormon premises for a few hours at a time to help her search.  I asked that lady why the Mormons would have such records.  Her reply astonished me, for I know little about these false cults.  Apparently the Mormons spend time going through these records, looking for records of relatives who have died, so that the living relatives can then be baptised on their behalf!  They must use this verse as their authority for such a practice!  So, why do we not have a similar ‘ordinance’ in our Reformed Churches?  Let us very closely examine this verse:-
    1. Paul’s Non-Endorsement of the practice!  Notice firstly the exact structure of the verse.  Paul says ‘what shall THEY do which are baptised for the dead.’  Now notice that he never says, ‘what shall YOU do,’ or ‘what shall I do,’ when I baptise for the dead.  It seems to me that Paul is observing that this practice exists, but that he is offering no endorsement of it, somewhat in the same manner in which I have just stated that there is a practise of genealogical baptismal practices in the Mormons!  You would know that I am not in any way endorsing any practice of that particular false religion!  So, in the early church somewhere, some people were baptising for the dead.  Paul simply observes the practise and says, what would be the point of it, if the dead were the end.
    2. The Cult of the Martyr!  But there is a tantalising possibility here!  It depends on the translation of the word FOR in the verse.  The word used for ‘FOR’ in Greek is the word γαρ.  Later in the text Paul uses it when he says, “For (γαρ) tomorrow we die.”  But in this verse, Paul uses a totally different word.  He uses the word ‘υπερ (‘υπερ των νεκρων) which we know today pronounced ‘hyper’ as in HYPERactive, HYPERcalvinism etc.  It means ‘over’ or ‘beyond’ or ‘above.’  Now, would it be possible that we could then read the verse, “they which are baptised OVER or ABOVE the dead?”  Could it be that in this early stage in the history  of the church we are seeing the very first seeds of the ‘cult of the martyr?  We know that Christians were already being taken to the arena at Ephesus, (verse 32), and many were being put to death for their faith.  Some superstitious Christians believed that these martyrs were accruing a treasury of merit!  Their death in the arena assured their acceptance in heaven!  In fact, not only did it assure their own acceptance in heaven, but just perhaps they could take some others with them, purely on the strength of their great sacrifice!  Some Christians were so discouraged by their own failures, and their own lack of courage in the face of adversity, that they, sometimes, felt that they could avail of some of the excess merit which the martyrs had purchased for themselves!  But how would they appropriate that merit for themselves?  The answer was simple!  They would be baptised OVER the grave of a Martyr!  Perhaps by being ‘baptised above the dead, they hoped that they would get to heaven!  It was PURE SUPERSTITION!

By the fourth century Julian the Apostate in his book, ‘Contra Christianos’ levelled a number of accusations against the Christians.  He accused them of ‘worshipping the tombs of Peter and Paul ,worshipping dead bodies, filling the country with tombs and monuments.’ Ignoring the words of Christ in Matthew 22:27, Julian alleges, these Christians actually worshipped on top of tombs!


It is not hard to imagine that baptism would have been one of those acts of worship and it shows us the quick descent into apostasy that was happening in the very early church!  And it would get worse, for the next step was to pray to dead ‘saints’ and to seek little memorials of them, relics, which they hoped would confer grace on sinners!

In Martin Luther’s time the situation had developed into farce.  (Although no farce for the poor souls who were being deceived by such superstition.)  Frederick the Wise, the Elector of Saxony had his own private repository of relics. It contained 5,005 particles of the saints, including a thorn that pierced the Saviour’s brow, a tooth from St. Jerome, four pieces of St. Chrysostom, six pieces of St. Bernard, four pieces of St. Augustine, four hairs from the head of the Virgin Mary, three pieces of her cloak, four from her girdle, seven from the veil sprinkled with Christ’s blood, .  There was one piece of Christ’s swaddling clothes, thirteen from his crib, one wisp of straw, one piece of gold brought by the wise men, three pieces of the myrrh, one strand of his beard, one of the nails driven into his hands, one piece of bread from the last supper, one piece of the stone from which he ascended into heaven, one twig from Moses’ burning bush.  By 1520 the collection amounted to 19,013 holy bones!  Anyone who viewed these relics on a day designated by the pope, and made the required contributions to the Holy See could be relieved of 1,902,202 years, 270 days suffering in purgatory!

 What was the designated day?  All Saints day!  1st November, the day of great superstition, the day that is preceded by Halloween, the most superstitious day of the year.  It was on that day, 31st October1516  that Martin Luther, believing that superstitious religion could do nothing for the soul, nailed his 95 theses to the door of the University Church at Wittenberg, and the Reformation of the Church began!  I believe that even today there is superstition surrounding death, and that it even intrudes within the visible church! Please remember, as we consider what Paul has said here, that he simply comments, ‘What would be the point of such an exercise, if the people in those graves are never going to rise from the dead?  You are being baptised over a pile of earth and bones!  Again be careful to note that Paul offers no endorsement of the practice, just comments on its occurrence, and an illustration of why the resurrection affects human beings alive today!

    1. The Cult of the Sacraments!  Here is another type of superstition suggested by this verse!  Calvin believed that the key to understanding the verse lies in the meaning of the words ‘the dead.’   Calvin states, “I maintain that the people who are baptised for the dead are those who are thought of as dead already, and who have given up hope of life altogether.”  An unbaptised beginner in the faith (catechumen) in the early church who had fallen ill would sometimes ask for baptism, so that they would not depart from this world before they had professed Christ, and thus they would carry the seal of their salvation with them into eternity!  Calvin seems to be suggesting that there were some in the early church who were rushing to the death beds of those who had never accepted the Saviour, and administering baptism to them, believing that such a baptism would ensure their place in heaven.  Again we can see evidence of such superstition in the church today.  There are still those who maintain that we are saved by our baptism, rather than by Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the Cross, freely accepted in faith by a repentant sinner.
    2. The Danger of the Christian Stand! And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?  You see, in Paul’s time, in the early church there was a great element of danger in being a Christian!  It was a time when you could be arrested and tried and condemned and put to death, just for professing the name of Christ!  The charge levelled against you would be the charge of ‘atheism’ for you would refuse to sacrifice to the pagan gods of Rome.  The Christian attitude to death would be not to seek such danger, not to court such martyrdom, but to be brave in the face of death!  But why would a believer endure such hardships, and so willingly give up the pleasures of this world for Christ, if there is to be no resurrection of the dead?

So the resurrection will colour the Christian’s attitude to death.  It will not be the attitude of superstition. It will be an attitude of peaceful acceptance of the Lord’s will, in full assurance that one day will rise again!  Numbers 23:10 Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his! Psalm 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Romans 14:8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. 


A Different Attitude to Living!

In the light of the General Resurrection and the coming of the Lord,

  1. We will live a CONSECRATED Life! I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.  Jesus told us that this would be the case!  He told us that if we were going to follow Him we must take up our Cross daily!
  2. We will live a COURAGEOUS Life! If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?  Paul may even himself have been put to the beasts in the roman arena, or perhaps he was just continually exposed to the risk of such treatment, as were all who stood up for Jesus!  There is a great cost to being a disciple of our Lord!
  3. We will live a PURPOSEFUL life! what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?  let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.  The atheist’s life is utterly purposeless.  He is born, he grows up and gleans knowledge from his teachers and his family, he is married, has a career, and children, he grows old and he dies!  He might as well just live for the moment, indulge every moment in a binge of worldly hedonism, for life is now, and there is no enjoyment in the world to come!  Charles Hodge comments, “If a man has no glorious hereafter, he naturally sinks to the level of the beasts, whose destiny he is to share!”We see an illustration of this kind of life in the story of the rich farmer, who saw that he had built up a great business for himself, had made his life comfortable and had prepared his future in this world.  So convinced was he of the permanence of this world that he pulled down his barns and built even bigger structures!  Listen to how Jesus describes such a man in Luke 12:19-21 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?  So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.  For the Christian it is entirely different!  His reward is in the life to come and he lives in the light of eternity!
  4. We will live a SEPARATED Life! Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.   The warning is clear.  The Corinthians are courting disaster by believing in this false doctrine.  Paul warns them that they must not be deceived!  They must not enter into fellowship with people who preach false doctrines, for such fellowship will be a corrupting influence!  You see our companions DO influence us!  If we only make our friendships among those whose life is only for this world, whose conversation is only about the things of this world, and who never speak of heaven or how to get there, our own conversation will soon come down to their level, and our spiritual life be ruined.   A friend of mine was infatuated with a young lady who was not a Christian.  He took her out for a date or two, and eventually they began to become more serious about each other.  Time and again he was counseled about Paul’s warning that a Christian is not to be unequally yoked with an unbeliever in 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 but he continually ignored all the advice he was given.  He brought the young lady among his own friends in the hope that they would be a good influence on her.  I well remember her reaction.  She was totally out of place.  When we tried to involve her even in the most mundane conversation, she would remark, “I can’t stand all this God-talk!”  They married, were quickly divorced, and his spiritual life and Christian service is ruined to this day.  Earlier in this epistle, Paul wrote, 1 Cor. 5:9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators.  In the light of Christ’s coming, watch your company, watch where you go!  When we wanted to know whether we should go to a particular cinema show or a concert, or whether we should be at some gathering, we would always be told, “Ask yourself would you be ashamed if Jesus returned and you were there!”  That’s a fairly good guide to the Christian’s companionship and the Christian’s entertainment!  Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 
  5. We will live a REALISTIC Life! Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.  The Corinthians must be alert to the fact that there are people who will do their best to lead them away from sound belief.  We must wake up!  We must shake off our state of lethargy! We must not sin before the Lord by disobeying His Word, and giving credence to teachers who do not have any knowledge of God, who are not saved!  Churches who allow such errors should be ashamed!  Matthew 22:29 Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. 

And when the Lord returns, we will then not be found wanting!

From → Sermon Notes

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