I Corinthians 15 is my favorite chapter in all of the Bible. In fact, I have already skipped a ton of the good stuff to get to these ideas about life, death, and a bodily resurrection.
What does a resurrection mean to us who are learning to train physically in this present age? Why not just let your body decay to dust..because we are all getting a perfect body on the day of glory?
The power punch of this answer is delayed until vs. 58… but all of the lead up to it is of vital importance.
Let me rabbit trail a little bit and mention that this has been a criticism of Christianity in the past, but more recently from the new, bolder and colder atheists. The opponents of The Faith say that our preoccupation with the life after death causes us to be mundane about present problems in life. “Why should Christians care about the environment or the poor? They believe it is all going to be burned. What is their motivation to make things better?”
That theory may make logical sense, but it hasn’t played out in history when you see the full story.
C.S. Lewis said it best,
The question is why?
The answer is that we obey the commands from God… to be good stewards, to love neighbors, to serve, to take care of the temple, to live simple and godly lives, to say NO to sinful passions.
I know this sounds trite, but how many hospitals or orphanages were set up by God deniers? I don’t ever remember seeing,”Free-Thinkers Home for the Blind” and even if they did exist, they would be out numbered a million to 1!
Back to the main gist of today’s devotion…. a big key on living disciplined lives to the glory of God is to FIGHT the enemy- death. Christ fought death and won! We are motivated to fight it as well.
I hate death…I hate cancer… I hate Lou Gehrig’s disease… I hate violence… I hate suicide…. I hate even so called ‘natural death’.
I will welcome it when the time comes- but my plan is to take it head on and look forward to the very next moment… “absent from the body….present with the Lord”.
So to me, the physical training of a disciple is, in a sense, a battle royal of defiance against the curse of death.
And we agree with Paul.. “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Your philosophy of death impacts your philosophy of life.
Remember Pat Benatar? “Love is a battlefield”. Paul was a fighter. But he fought with a great attitude and sense of purpose.
If you believe there is ‘no life after death’ then you basically believe that life has no real meaning.
A great proof of this is the famous poem by William Cullen Bryant, – from where I borrow the title of my internet title ‘jayopsis’.
Bryant wrote the first draft of Thanatopsis as a teenager, and reading it still gives me chills.
I don’t have time to go through the whole poem.. but it basically says that nature soothes us when we are overcome by the darker thoughts of death and the world is one huge cemetery of all the souls who have walked before us. Kings and criminals, rich and poor, young and old, married and unmarried will live and all die the same death.
Bryant says,. Notice his truth? IF all we do is die and decay and become food for a tree root- then life is just a ghost. It doesn’t matter if you were full of vice or virtue.
His final consolation? Don’t go to your death kicking and screaming… go by laying down on a luxurious bed and drift off to sweet dreams……
If the dead are not raised, ”
But now for… the rest of the story.
Paul also knows that there is a resurrection and what you do in this life has utmost importance for the next!
So when we live- eating and drinking- no restraint- no regard of recognition of God.. we are actually proving that we do not really believe in life after death. Though God’s name is on our lips, and though we do the routines of religion.. our choices and lifestyle often are proof of the so-called ‘practical atheists’.
Yes- life is a struggle. It is hard living against the grain. Paul was pressed on every side!
We feel just as pressed….
Hang on… there is a great reason to keep digging.. and the great culminating pump up speech comes in just a few days!
If you want to read “Thanatopsis” you can find it here:
PHYSICAL DISCIPLINE IS AN ALLY IN OUR BATTLE AGAINST SIN AND DEATH
Questions of death and especially how we die has always been on the forefront of my gospel awakening. I became a Christian after we experienced the loss of a high school classmate and I stood looking into the great chasm of the mysterious permanence and knew I was not prepared.
It is quite OK to hate death- to despise cancer- to curse the curse- the key question is…. How do you approach death? Is it secure? Can you die with dignity?
I was first asked these questions by my spiritual mentor, Mr Bill Stegall, on a beautiful golf course on a brilliant fall day. Mr Stegall used to take me out, beat me in golf (he was in his early 70’s and I was in my late 20’s). During those rounds he would ask me questions… about marriage, the Bible, leadership, stewardship..etc. I would answer and he would clarify… every now and then he would say one word ‘EXCELLENT’ and I would feel his supreme satisfaction, like I had hit a home run to win the game.
One that beautiful day, Mr Stegall talked about the glory of the leaves changing for the Fall. And he hit me with the deepest question:
” Jay, all my friends are dying…
these were men who built factories, developed businesses, led churches, strong men.. but now they just seem to wither like scattered leaves… so answer me this…
How do you die with dignity?”
I knew better than to give it a hasty or foolish response- “I’ll have to think on that one Mr Stegall” and we played on.
Great literature has always wrestled with these ideas:
BUT- it was chapter, I Corinthians 15, that gave me the solid answer he needed to hear.
Death is a humiliation- we die in weakness and we are raised in glory.
We are sown in dishonor as a perishable seed… but we sprout new life and glory.
I was on the golf course a few weeks later and Mr Stegall had not forgotten my assignment.
“Yes Sir, I have… a lot.”
“Well, Mr Stegall, I have been reading I Corinthians 15 and I don’t think we die with dignity. Death is sin’s last knockout blow- if we live long enough, we end in shame. We are a man once and a baby twice. Frail..weak…dependent.”
“But Paul makes it clear- we are sown in dishonor but we are raised in glory. We go down in shame, we are raised in victory. Christ has done so for us!”
“Our job is to fight like heck until that last dying breath, which is the great glorious trumpet call of God as He calls us home. If we die in Christ, we do die with honor, no matter what it may look like.”
He looked with deep eyes and a low voice.. “!”
A few years later I held his hands and prayed. The robust 6’5″ man of God had been withered by bone cancer, but he was ready for glory.
Sin causes ignominious ends- men get old and just slip away. Or someone goes untimely in the spring of life. No one escapes it. It happens to bodies, it happens to careers.
BUT…. there is hope. And that is why I never tire of telling the good news of Christ. Please reach out to Him while there is breath and a heart beat.
Longfellow said our heartbeats are muffled funeral marches to a grave. Do not go into that darkness, that mysterious realm of permanence without Jesus. The Lord of nail scarred hands- stretched out in love.
And if we have Jesus… we walk in the valley of the shadow of death with resurrection power- a power that gives us that ability to rage against the night…..
But the best news is still coming in this great chapter…….
Paul endured tough times and fought good battles for a glorious purpose.
He staked all he had on a resurrection of the dead.
He met the resurrected Jesus on the road of rebellion.
And then he became a rebel for the gospel!
How many times have I felt the urge to give it all up?
How many goals have I left lying in a heap of ruins.
Or how many improvements have I made to see it all slip away in a vapor?
Sometimes I find myself agreeing with ‘Thanatopsis”, just lie down and get it over with… all I am doing is chasing a whisper… a dream… a fantasy.
And I agree with Paul’s logic… if there is no resurrection of the dead, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die!
But I see two powerful statements at the end of this glorious chapter…
it is not my victory. It is His victory. He has already won the war. If it were up to me, we would be in deep trouble. But “thanks be to God”.. it is victory through Him.
And then my theme verse. This is the one that has kept me going. This is the one that keeps me getting up every time I either fall down or get slapped to the ground.
Things I do for this life only are really things done in vain.
But nothing I do for the Lord is ever done in vain.
As I try to keep my goals today.. I always need to think of them as ‘labor in the Lord’.
If I do that… it all has value and it all has purpose.
Does that help you to ‘stand firm’, ‘steadfast’, ‘immovable’, ‘abounding in work’?
If you are a student, and your grades are slipping, think about dedicating your study as worship… a labor in the Lord… enjoy Him. My oldest daughter used to play praise music while she studied as a reminder that it was her mission for the Lord at that time in her life.
If you are an addict, and the urge is still there… even after months or years… get up and keep fighting.. as a love sacrifice to the One who rose from the dead to purchase your immortality.
If you are a parent, and tired of fighting the frustration of balancing love, discipline, and training… don’t quit… your labor in the Lord is NOT IN VAIN.
If your marriage is on the rocks, if the bills are mounting up, if you feel like your prayers are going unheard…. claim these promises from the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
It sure helps me here on this mediocre spring day! Easter season is still pressing in…..the battle if life and death is still pressing on..... how can we not get fired up!