Striving for Unity – 1 Corinthians Chapter 15: All About the Gospel

By Jenny Fulton

How do you end a conversation with someone you care so deeply about when you have so much to say?

This seems to Paul’s state in 1 Corinthians 15. After having spent days and hours with the Corinthian Christians in person, how could he fit all he wished to say into a single letter? As he brought his writings to a close, Paul focused on and reiterated some of the most essential principles he wanted them to grasp and apply.

Paul began his letter by emphasizing their oneness in Christ. “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.[1]

He ended it by emphasizing the vital importance of the work of the Gospel in their lives.

Verses 1-11: The Gospel

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“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,[2]

In verses 1-4, Paul summarizes the Gospel and its impact on the Corinthian church.

The Corinthians received this Gospel (v. 1).

They stand in this Gospel (v. 1).

They are saved by this Gospel if they hold tightly to it and continue in it (v. 2).

If they don’t hold tightly to this Gospel and continue in it, then their faith will accomplish nothing (v. 2).

What is this Gospel? According to verses 3-4, according to scripture and that which Paul received:

  • Christ died for our sins
  • He was buried
  • He was raised on the third day
  • He appeared to many

That’s it. That’s the Gospel in its most basic form.

Paul then goes on to describe (v. 5-8) who and in which order Christ appeared after his resurrection.

  • Cephas (Peter)
  • The rest of the 12 apostles
  • More that 500 other believers
  • James (likely the half-brother of Jesus since the apostle James would have been included with the 12 apostles)
  • All the apostles (is Paul referring to the 12 apostles again or is he referring to a larger group that was later sent out to proclaim the Gospel after Christ’s resurrection?)
  • Himself “and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.[3]

It stands out to me is that Paul sees no glamor in his conversion experience. Rather, he refers to himself as, “the least of the apostles” and “not fit to be called an apostle” since he once persecuted the church. It was with great humility and awareness of who he once was and who God’s grace had made him to be that Paul labored with every ounce of strength he possessed to share this Gospel with everyone he could.

As hard as he worked, Paul’s focus was never on himself. He didn’t desire the accolades or the high positions of prestige within the church. After all, according to Philippians 3, Paul had been privy to all the advantages of his station in his pre-conversion years, and all that prestige had left him empty. His humble, unassuming attitude is evident when he says, “Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.[4]” Paul truly wasn’t concerned about who the messenger was so long as they preached the message.    

Verses 12-19: If Christ wasn’t raised…

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Have you ever thought about what it would be like if Jesus hadn’t been raised from the dead?

Apparently some at Corinth were saying people wouldn’t be resurrected, and/or they wouldn’t be resurrected with a body.

Paul lays the groundwork for his argument for why it’s true that Christians will be resurrected with a body by stating the authority (Jesus) and the fact (He has been raised from the dead).

“Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?[5]

Paul goes on to describe the what-if scenario. It’s true that Christ was resurrected, but what if He wasn’t? What if there is no resurrection from the dead? According to Paul’s progression of logic,

  • If there is no resurrection, then not even Christ could have been raised from the dead. (v. 13)
  • If Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, then our faith is empty – without meaning and power. (v. 14)
  • If Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, then Paul and all those who said he has been raised are liars who have served as false witnesses and testified against God. (v. 15)
  • If resurrection is impossible and doesn’t happen for anyone, then it also couldn’t have happened for Christ. (v. 16)
  • If Christ hadn’t been raised from the dead, then our faith would be empty and useless. (v. 17)
  • If Christ hadn’t been raised from the dead, then our sins wouldn’t have been forgiven and we would still be enslaved to them. (v. 17)
  • If Christ hadn’t been raised from the dead, then all those who die, still in their sins, would be destroyed forever. (v. 18)
  • If there is no resurrection, then our hope in Christ only applies and is present in this life. There is no hope for anything after death. If this is the case, then Christians are the most miserable people on earth and should be pitied for their poor, empty faith. (v. 19)

Verses 20-25: Since Christ was raised…

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Thankfully, Christ was raised from the dead! According to Paul, the fact that Christ has been raised is proof that those who follow Him will also be raised. His resurrection was the first of many to follow.

Just as Adam’s sin resulted in the death of all people, so Christ’s work of grace results in life and resurrection for those who follow Him. This truth is also explained in Romans 5:12-18.

As with many other aspects of the Christian life, there is an order in which the resurrections occur.

  • Christ as the first fruits (that which is given to God as a promise that the rest of the harvest also belongs to Him)
  • Those who are Christ’s

At the end, when the time is right, after Christ has completely conquered and destroyed all the enemy rulers, authorities, and powers that oppose Him, He will hand the kingdom over to God the Father. The last enemy to be destroyed is death (v. 26).

Verses 27-28: The Authority of the Godhead

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These next two verses have a lot of pronouns. To help provide some clarity, I’ve started with verse 25 and replaced all the pronouns with the nouns they are, to my understanding, taking the place of.

“For Christ must reign until God has put all His enemies under Christ’s feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death.[6]

“For God has put all things in subjection under Christ’s feet. But when God says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that God is excepted who put all things in subjection to Christ.

“When all things are subjected to Christ, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One [God] who subjected all things to Christ, so that God may be all in all.[7]

When Christ ascended to heaven after His resurrection, God gave Him the kingship and authority over His Kingdom. Christ, in His resurrected body, is now reigning over God’s kingdom, and he will continue to reign until all of God’s enemies, even death, have been conquered. At that time, Christ will hand the kingdom back to God for God’s final judgment.

Why is this significant in this passage? Why does Paul include this here?

Given that Paul’s emphasis is the resurrection of a body with a spirit, I think perhaps this is here to highlight the significance that the One who now reigns over a kingdom that consists of both the bodies and spirits of God’s people, also possesses a body as well as a spirit. Because Christ was raised from the dead with a body and spirit, He, understanding what it is to serve God with a physical body, is now reigning over all others who are likewise serving God in this form. God’s enemies will be conquered and placed in submission to a King with a body and a spirit. At the end, when death is conquered and there is no further need for resurrection, the kingdom will be returned to God.

Verses 29-32: Baptism for the Dead

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“Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?[8]

What does this mean? What is Paul referring to when he mentions the baptism for the dead? With the context of the next few verses, it sounds as though he supports this practice, so whatever it is, it must be in line with God’s laws.

The Cultural and Historical Notes in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible proved very helpful in shedding light on Paul’s meaning. According to these notes, the most likely interpretation of these verses involves the translation of “baptized in place of the dead” rather than “baptized for the dead.” In this kind of baptism, a living believer would symbolically take the place of one who had been killed for the faith and continue the work on behalf of the one who died.

This explanation seems to fit the context of what Paul says next: “Why are we also in danger every hour?[9]” Paul mentions the practice of being baptized in place of the dead and immediately launches into a discussion of the risks that believers face for believing in and following Christ.

If there is no resurrection from the dead, why would you risk death? Why would you willingly take up the work of someone who died while doing it? Why endanger yourself if this life is all you have to live and hope for? “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.[10]”      

Verses 33-34: Live Rightly

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Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’ Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.[11]

Um…, what do these verses have to do with the ones preceding them?

My best idea is that Paul is highlighting the necessity of living the short time we have on this earth in a way that is intentional and honoring to God. Since we’re not here for very long, and because we have a resurrected eternity to look forward to with God, we should take heed to how we’re living this life. We have one opportunity to live this life on this earth, one opportunity to share God’s hope and love with those who have no knowledge of Him. Because of this, let us be intentional about how we’re living.

We have one opportunity to live this life on this earth, one opportunity to share God’s hope and love. Because of this, let us be intentional about how we’re living. #onelife #hope #love #intentional

Verses 35-44: The Resurrected Body

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But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?”[12]

To be fair, there are a lot of questions about that which it is impossible for us to see and know. Questions are usually good. However, there are different kinds of questions. There are honest questions from a heart that truly desires to know and understand, and manipulative questions from a heart that desires to trap and destroy. Based on Paul’s tone, and his words in verse 36 (“You fool!”), it appears that the question asked in verse 35 is of the latter nature. Someone who doesn’t believe in the resurrection is trying to trap and destroy with doubt those who do believe in it. The reasoning goes that if the believer cannot satisfactorily answer their questions about the resurrection, then the resurrection must not be true.

Paul addresses the heart of the question, “You fool!” and then proceeds to answer it. The main points of his answer:

  • In order for a seed to have life, it first “dies” to its original form so that it can grow into something better.
  • Not all living things have the same body. Humans, animals, birds, and fish all have different kinds of bodies, (each type of body has a specific purpose that fits the environment in which it was created to live).
  • There are physical bodies and spiritual bodies. Physical bodies have one kind of glory and the bodies of spiritual entities have another kind of glory.
  • The sun, moon, and stars each have a different physical form, each with its own kind of glory.
  • Just as each of the above has a different body suited for its time, place, and purpose, so also will the resurrected body be different than the body we now have.
  • The body we have now will die and decay. It is subject to sin, shame, weakness, bound by the natural laws and forces of this physical world.
  • Our resurrected body will never die or decay. It will be raised in glory and power and will possess the spiritual qualities of its spiritual form.

Verses 45-49: The First and Last Adam

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“So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.[13]

The first Adam, in Genesis 2, was made of a physical substance: dirt. When God breathed His zao – His life force into Adam, the man made of dirt received physical life. As we saw in 1 Corinthians 2:11, Adam was also given his own spirit that could communicate with God’s Spirit. But this spirit in and of itself was not of an eternal nature. The first Adam received God’s spiritual life so he could have physical life and a spirit that operated within that body for as long as the body endured. In like fashion, all those born after Adam received a physical body with physical life and a human spirit that was made possible by God’s zao. The last Adam, Christ, was born with a physical body that possessed both physical life and God’s eternal Spirit. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, this last Adam was given the ability to offer His spiritual life to the physical creations (us) so that we may have eternal life with an eternal spirit.

In the rest of these verses, Paul notes:

  • The physical body was given first, and the spiritual body will be given later.
  • Adam originally came from the ground, but Christ came from heaven
  • Just as we now have an earthly body like Adam, when we are resurrected, we will have a heavenly body similar to that, or in the image, of the risen Lord’s.

Verses 50-57: Victory!

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Because Christ was raised from the dead, there is hope and victory for all who believe in Him. For us, death is not the end. While our bodies will perish, we have been given the Spirit of God that never dies. Our present physical body will come to an end, but “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet[14]” we will live again. Our body will be changed into an immortal form that can never deteriorate, decay, or die.

“ ‘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.[15]

Because Christ was raised from the dead, there is hope and victory for all who believe in Him. #Resurrection #Hope #Christ

Verse 58: Stand Firm

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Because of all these things, because of this hope, because of Christ’s resurrection, Paul urges the believers to stand firm in their faith and to work hard for the Lord with the knowledge and assurance that their efforts aren’t in vain. The physical work done now on behalf of God to help people know Him has eternal results that don’t end when the work does. Doing physical work for God is a spiritual act with eternal consequences. For this reason, let us stand firm and press on in the faith of Christ’s resurrection and the hope that it gives.

Take-Aways

  • Knowledge and belief in the resurrection of Christ brings hope. Without this belief, there is only despair. This hope brings light and life to the here and now. May we never take it for granted.
  • Because this hope is so vital for our lives now and in eternity, we should willingly share it with others who are without this hope and pray fervently that they may also believe.
  • Because we only have a short time to live in this physical form, we should be intentional about how we are living it.
  • Because of the resurrection and the hope it brings, we don’t need to fear death. As Paul says in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.[16]

United or Divided?

Things That Divide Us:

  • Not believing in the resurrection of Christ
  • Not believing that those who follow Christ will also be resurrected
  • Professing Christ while deliberately living this life recklessly and immersing ourselves in a lifestyle of sin

Things that Unite Us:

  • Believing in the resurrection of Christ and the hope it brings
  • Believing in the resurrection of those who follow Christ
  • Standing firm in this hope and working for God with all our heart
  • Living life with intentionality in a way that is honoring to God
  • Encouraging one another in this hope and sharing it with others

What Do You Think?

What stood out to you from this chapter?

What are the results and implications of Christ’s resurrection?

What impact should the hope of our resurrection have on our life now?

In this Series

_ _ _

* Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay


[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 1:9.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:1.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:8.

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:11.

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:12.

[6] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:25–26.

[7] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:27–28.

[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:29.

[9] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:30.

[10] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:32.

[11] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:33–34.

[12] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:35.

[13] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:45.

[14] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:52.

[15] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 15:55–57.

[16] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Php 1:21.

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