Paul’s Message (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)
If you wanted to write a message for posterity, what would you write? Now, for only one dollar, you can store your thoughts for your descendants to see. Earth Capsule will store your message on HD-ROM metal disks; the disks are able to store information for a thousand years. That’s the beauty part. The company that offers the Earth Capsule will collect your information, and then send it to repositories in more than 150 cities around the world. A board of trustees will sit on the message for 50 years, and then open them up for our descendants to see. The motto of Earth Capsule: “Say something new, and let it get old.”
In today’s text from 1 Corinthians, Paul sent a message that made it to the church of Corinth in Greece, to churches throughout the Mediterranean, to churches around the world, and finally to this congregation today. It’s a message that’s been written on papyrus, inked on parchment, printed in Bibles, and posted on the Internet. Paul said something new, and then he let it get old-fortunately for us, his message survived the centuries, without the benefit of an Earth Capsule.
But, the Corinthians had taken Paul’s message and placed it in a time capsule and forgotten all about it. They had placed Paul’s message in a time capsule by denying the resurrection. You understand that according to the laws of science, it is not feasible for the dead to be resurrected. I’ve never been to a cemetery and seen a dead person come back to life; I’ve never been in Walmart and bumped whose funeral I just attended. It’s not going to happen; the dead cannot be raised by anything at our disposal-medical technology, science, magical power, or anything.
Because the dead cannot be raised according to the laws of nature, some apparently declared that even God could not raise the dead. Paul rhetorically asks, “How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (15:12). Paul then tells the Corinthians that if the dead are not raised in general Christ has not been raised specifically: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 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” (15:14-15).
Because the Corinthians had stored Paul’s message away and forgotten about it, he writes, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you.” The King James Versions translates this text quite literally and renders it, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you.” The Greek simply means “I make known.” But, notice the whole context: Paul has already made the gospel known to them. Now, because of false teaching, he has to go back and make it known all over again.
A preacher got up in the pulpit one Sunday morning and preached his heart out about brotherly love. The brethren went out and told him that he did a splendid job. The next Sunday, he stood up and preached the exact same sermon again. The people just thought he had forgotten what he had preached the Sunday before, so they overlooked it. The next Sunday, he stands up and preached the same sermon for the third time. One of the elders just couldn’t take hearing the same sermon week after week. So, the elder calls the preacher aside and says, “When are you going to quit preaching that sermon?” The preacher says, “As soon as you start living it!”
That’s a good description of Paul’s situation in Corinth. He has preached about the resurrection; these brethren have come to believe the resurrection and be baptized in Jesus; but, now he has to go back and take his message out of the time capsule.
A Stated Message
Paul writes, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you.”
Paul had preached much among the Corinthians. Acts 18 tells of the apostle’s work in that city. “He reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (v 4). “He stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (v 11).
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a “STATED MESSAGE”-it must be preached. There can be absolutely no salvation without preaching. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (Rom 10:14). “It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:21).
Don Hewitt, creator of 60 Minutes had this to say about his special talent as a journalist: “My philosophy is simple. It’s what little kids say to their parents: ‘Tell me a story.’ Even the people who wrote the Bible knew that when you deal with issues, you tell stories, The issue was evil; the story was Noah. I’ve had producers say, ‘We’ve got to do something on acid rain.’ I say, ‘Hold it. Acid rain is not a story. Acid rain is a topic. We don’t do topics. Find me someone who has to deal with the problem of acid rain. Now you have a story.” We have a far greater story than Don Hewitt has ever told on 60 Minutes. We have one that will connect with people like no story on 60 Minutes. We have a story that can save souls for all eternity, unlike any story on 60 Minutes.
But unless we tell that story, it will never be heard. We have a serious obligation to STATE THE GOSPEL. Jesus says, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Lk 24:47). Paul tells Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2).
I understand that Paul says he preached the gospel to the Corinthians and we have the idea that what I’m doing right now is preaching. Preaching is really much broader than that. The term Paul uses here doesn’t mean to stand in a pulpit; the word simply means to tell good news. Can we not state the good news of Jesus Christ? Can we not tell our children what a wonderful Savior we serve? Can we not tell our co-workers how Jesus changed us from the people we used to be? Can we not tell our neighbors of the wonderful hope we have found because some women found an empty tomb?
Will we be those who STATE the gospel?
A Secured Message
Again, Paul declares, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received.”
Biblically, receiving the gospel refers to learning the gospel. “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received” (15:3)-Paul learned the gospel from the Lord and then he taught it. “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:9). The Galatians had learned the one gospel from Paul and any other gospel wasn’t the true gospel.
Therefore, the gospel doesn’t just need to be stated, but it also needs to be secured-we need to get it, to learn it. Receiving the gospel implies receptivity to its message; in other words, to receive the gospel, we must be eager to hear it. Notice what we read when word got around that Jesus was in Capernaum: “Many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them” (Mk 2:2). Here’s a group of people who have undoubtedly heard about Jesus’ miracles-that’s likely why they’re at the door-but, they come to find out who Jesus is. They want to find out more about him. How eager are we to hear the message? Do we seek to know what God has to say? Do we seek to know his will?
Receiving the gospel also implies a willingness to learn. About Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cyprus, we read: He was “a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:7). Sergius Paulus was willing to hear the word of God, so much so that he called for Barnabas and Paul and asked to know the word. How willing are we to know the word of God? Are we willing to come to Bible study when it would be so much easier to stay in bed? Are we willing to listen to a sermon or a Bible class lesson even if it condemns the way we live?
Have we SECURED THE MESSAGE?
A Standing Message
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand.”
The Greek is in the perfect tense, referring to an event which took place in the past but its results are still being felt. The Corinthians stood in the gospel in the past, but they are still standing in it. When they became Christians, the Corinthians stood in the gospel.
The idea is likely that the Corinthians were remaining in the gospel, i.e., they were established in and by the gospel. The verb “stand” implies that one is not moving, that he is standing still. This term can mean that you come to a standstill, that you stop moving. The New Testament uses the term in just such a manner: “Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Eph 6:13). In Paul’s day, it was quite important that soldiers be able to stand still when facing an enemy. In fact, a Roman soldier’s shoes contained spikes that allowed him to stay put and fight. Paul says as we take up the whole armor of God we will be able to stand against the devil-Satan will not be able to move us. An interesting usage occurs in Hebrews 10:9: “‘Behold, I have come to do your will.’ He does away with the first in order to establish the second.” The word “establish” is actually the term “stand.” The idea, of course, is that God has settled his new covenant, made it immovable.
On May 19, 1780, a terrifying event took place in New England. The day is now known as New England’s Dark Day. The sky over New England and parts of Canada went completely dark for nearly 36 hours. Today, scientists believe the sky’s darkening was caused by smoke from forest fires, a thick fog, and cloud cover. Then, people had no idea what was occurring, and many believed that the end of the world was at hand. At the legislature in Hartford, Connecticut, several men fell to their knees and begged that the assembly be dismissed before the end. Abraham Davenport, a member of the legislature, rose to his feet to say: “The Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish, therefore, that candles may be brought.” Davenport refused to be moved from his duty. What about us? Are we willing to be moved from the gospel?
A Saving Message
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you-unless you believed in vain.”
The gospel of Jesus Christ is a saving message, a message which saves those who respond to it.
There are two things we need to note about the Greek verb Paul uses here. The term is in the passive tense-meaning that the gospel is doing the saving, not the Corinthians. In Bible class, we recently noted the two aspects of salvation. There is an aspect in which we save ourselves. Luke summarizes Peter’s sermon at Pentecost with these words: “With many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation’ ” (Acts 2:40). God isn’t just going to pluck us up and save us; we must choose to be saved and to respond to the gospel.
Yet, there is an aspect in which God saves, because we are not capable of saving ourselves: “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Tit 3:4-5). Praise God that we do not save ourselves! Talk about pulling yourself up from the bootstraps! We are so sinful that we could never save ourselves if God so demanded. God saves us out of mercy.
The verb is also in the present tense: “you are being saved.” We tend to think of salvation as a onetime act. We might say, for example, “When I was baptized, God saved me.” I do not deny for one second the truthfulness of that statement. However, we must not think that Jesus’ blood is only available to us at baptism and not afterwards. Jesus’ blood initially cleanses in baptism, but his blood continues to cleanse us as we strive to please God: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7). Jesus’ blood is always available to those who have obtained access to that blood through baptism.
Notice however the conditional nature of this sentence: Paul says that the Corinthians were being saved through the gospel if they were holding fast to his message. The clear implication is that if they let go of the gospel, if they left the faith, they were outside the blood of Jesus and they were no longer being saved by the gospel. Honestly, it seems to me that some in Corinth had left the faith and were no longer being saved by the gospel because they were denying the very essence of the gospel-Jesus’ resurrection.
Yet, there is more to holding fast to the gospel than knowing for certain that Jesus walked from his tomb three days after he was placed there. We must live consistently with the message of the gospel: “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27). Are you living in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ?