Working By God's Grace

“I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” 1 Cor 15:10

I want to work hard and get lots done. I want to be productive for the kingdom of God. But I know what it is like to do that is my own strength and be limited to my own abilities. I have the grace of God with me. Grace = what God gives me. And not just all that he has already given me, even the strength and abilities to which I could limit myself. His grace is daily, moment by moment. I want to consciously draw from his grace in me by faith for each task.

Are You "In the Ministry"?

The American church has professionalized and glorified ministry. So much so that it is no longer seen as the responsibility of us regular believers. What does the Bible say about ministry? I have uploaded the next part in the series on Doing the Work of the Lord from 1 Corinthians 16:5-18. You can listen to it in the Teaching Audio player on the right side bar.

Be Strong and Courageous!

Serving God is not easy. There are visible and invisible enemies of God that come against us. There are temptations, distractions, discouragement, risks, threats, fear. This is obviously not an advertisement for serving God (although I love giving those too--there are many, many benefits of serving God that far outweigh these negatives). The teaching I just uploaded from yesterday is encouragement for those who are committed to serving God. It covers three ways to stay strong in doing the work of the Lord from 1 Corinthians 16:13. When doing the work of the Lord,

  • Be watchful
  • Stand firm in the faith
  • Be courageous

You can listen to this message in the Teaching Audio player in the right sidebar of this site or go here. Don't forget you can subscribe to future messages by clicking on the iPod icon at the bottom of the audio player.

Socrates, Paul, and Baptism for the Dead

“Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?” 1 Cor 15:29

Here is a notoriously difficult verse. There are two reasons for its difficulty: 1) “There is no historical or biblical precedent for such baptism,” and (more importantly) 2) Paul mentions a clearly unbiblical practice “without apparent disapproval.”[1] Gordon Fee states that “at least forty different solutions have been suggested.” However, most of these propose interpretations that do not match the straightforward meaning: some are being baptized vicariously for those who have already died. Whatever they were actually doing (which Fee says cannot be known), “what is certain is how the text functions in the argument . . . those actions are a contradiction to the position that there is no resurrection of the dead (v. 12).”[2]

The very same week I began to study this passage, I also started reading Plato’s The Last Days of Socrates. The introduction includes a discussion of the persuasive strategies of Socrates. One strategy is called elenchus. “It is a tool for the exposure of problems with beliefs and inconsistencies in sets of beliefs rather than for demonstrating what is true and what is false.”[3] Based on observations of Paul’s argumentation and rhetoric, it is reasonable to assume that Paul would use such a strategy. For the sake of this argument, Paul ignores the fact that being baptized for the dead is a bad idea and demonstrates that those who claim there is no resurrection have an inconsistent set of beliefs. This possibility is supported by Paul’s unusual use of third person (usually 2nd person in such a context, cf. v. 12) and its clear contrast to the first person in the next verse. He certainly keeps his distance from this practice. He goes on to demonstrate that his own actions only make sense if the dead are raised, and therefore are consistent with his claim about the resurrection (vv. 30-32).

Paul assumes that one’s worldview should be internally consistent. I’m sure than none of us want to contradict ourselves. Although we may have theological consistency, it is possible we have not thought through the implications of our faith for other parts of a worldview – economics, philosophy, politics, sociology, etc. It is not uncommon to find people with a biblical theology and an unbiblical political position. More to Paul’s point in this passage is the consistency of our faith and practice. Are our daily actions and lifestyle habits consistent with our professed faith? If not, it is appropriate to ask whether we believe it at all (James 2:18-26).

[1] Fee, 1 Corinthians, 764.

[2] Fee, 1 Corinthians, 763.

[3] Introduction to The Last Days of Socrates, xv.

Is My Life Evidence of the Resurrection?

I continue to study through 1 Cor 15 as I am teaching it at our church. Paul is explaining how the fact of the resurrection as a historical event is critical to the Gospel. Verses 30-32a comprise another argument for the resurrection, the evidence of Paul’s life! Why would he put himself at risk, denying himself, and engage in battle for Christ, if there were no resurrection from the dead? This is not direct evidence that there is a resurrection. Someone could believe there is a resurrection, and act on that belief, but there not truly be one. This is evidence that Paul believes there is a resurrection. The implication of this is that since Paul brought the Corinthians the gospel and is a respected apostle, belief in the resurrection must be consistent with Christianity. The weight of this evidence depends on Paul’s credibility and authority. This is a powerful and legitimate form of persuasion. If people we respect believe something, we are certainly prone to believe as well.

The application is obvious: can I point to my own life as evidence of hope in the resurrection? Would such evidence matter to anyone?

What Happens After Death?

There are three great questions that humans have asked through the ages: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? It is striking to me that people have assumed, or at least hoped, that there is something more than our brief time on earth—some greater cause, some purpose, some destination. Most worldviews and religions attempt to answer these questions. The Christian worldview believes that God has revealed himself and such answers in the divinely inspired book, the Bible. In our church, we have been studying the book of 1 Corinthians and our next passage is 15:20-28. In vv. 20-23 Paul explains that all those who belong to Christ will be resurrected because Christ was resurrected. He is teaching on the resurrection because the believers in Corinth were disagreeing on how to answer the last big question: What happens after death? Some were claiming that there is no life after death (v. 12). In vv. 12-19, Paul argues that such a claim is logically inconsistent with the Christian faith.

God reveals that there is life after death. This truth is now connected to another great truth: Christ will gain total victory over all his enemies. Paul is arguing that there must be a resurrection because we know Christ will defeat all enemies and one of his enemies is death. Therefore, the resurrection of the dead is part of Christ’s final victory over all enemies (vv. 24-28).

For those who do not believe in Christ, this claim provides a motivation to make sure that he has honestly and carefully selected his worldview. It is possible to critically evaluate the various worldviews based on logic and evidence. This particular claim of a future event cannot be thus evaluated, but the Bible and other claims of Christianity can. Consider your position carefully, because if the Bible is right about this, there will be life after death, and you certainly do not want to be an enemy of Christ in the end.

For believers, this truth is a reminder that we cannot live short-sightedly. We must lay up treasures in heaven instead of on earth (Matt 6:19-21). And we must live without fear, having full knowledge of the final and total victory of Christ in the end.

Participation in Worship

Paul gives some instructions about order in worship in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. There are some interesting broader implications for worship that do not seem to fit many of our normal worship service practices.

  1. When believers worship together, it is to be edifying, peaceful, and orderly (vv. 26, 33, 40).
  2. When believers worship together, there are a variety of activities (v. 26)?
  3. When believers worship together, a variety of believers participate (not just leaders).
  4. When believers worship together, there are some unplanned contributions (vv. 29-30).

There is a level of openness in the participation of the body that may seem foreign to some of our worship traditions. I can understand why we would exclude open contributions to our meetings . When you allow open participation, things can certainly go wrong. That is exactly why Paul is teaching the Corinthians how to have edifying, peaceful, orderly worship. But to remove the openness for the sake of order is not the biblical answer to difficulties resulting from open participation. Open participation can provide a rich time of encouragement as the variety of giftedness in the body is exercised. There is a balance between openness and peaceful order that is edifying. Teaching the church about how to participate in an edifying manner and providing leadership in the service help to strike this balance.