Non-Negotiable   Leave a comment

There were folks in the Corinthian church who doubted Paul’s gospel message. They weren’t sure he was an apostle. At some point, Paul needed to address this.

Image result for image of the non-negotiability of the gospelA lot of people spend more time thinking about destinations where they’re going to spend two weeks of vacation than they do their eternal destination. We pack more carefully for a weekend in the woods than we do for our trip to eternity.

Some useless, but interesting trivia – 1 Corinthians is the longest epistle in the New Testament and Chapter 15 is the longest chapter in this letter. Yeah, a monk riding a balky mule set out the chapters and verses of the Bible, but in the case of 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, the segregation falls neatly around a carefully selected subject – the resurrection. Paul’s words can be divided into two sections – the first addressing the reality and certainty of the resurrection and the second explaining how the resurrection is possible and the nature of resurrection bodies.

The Corinthians had come to believe in life after death without a bodily resurrection. Yet, Paul didn’t try to prove the resurrection of Jesus so much as argue from it that Christians will be resurrected. The Corinthians evidently believed in the immortality of the soul but had bought into the popular Greek view that once a person takes his last breath, it was curtains for the physical body. Paul argued in great detail from Scripture and from reason that there is a future for our physical bodies, as well as for our souls. Before he could adequately defend the believer’s resurrection, he had to deal with Christ’s resurrection, for His paved the way for ours.

The gospel is trustworthy 

15:1 Now I want to make clear for you, 1  brothers and sisters, 2  the gospel that I preached to youthat you received and on which you stand, 15:2 and by which you are being savedif you hold firmly to the message I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. 15:3 For I passed on to you as of first importance 3  what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 15:4and that he was buriedand that he was raised 4  on the third day according to the scriptures, 15:5and that he appeared to Cephasthen to the twelve.

In this first section, Paul explained our relationship with God with regards to the resurrection. Paul didn’t try to prove that the resurrection of Christ actually happened. He assumed the resurrection as fact because no one can deny the resurrection of Jesus and count themselves a believer in Him, and remember, Paul was speaking to Christians.

As with some of the other topics dealt with in this letter, Paul starts answering the problem even before he defines it in 15:12. I’m told this is a common Jewish rabbi technique. What Paul says in this passage is no different than what he shared with the Corinthians previously. This was not the first time the Corinthians had heard this truth. Paul was reminding them of something they had forgotten, that he had taught to them when he lived in Corinth. Frequently, the sermons I hear and the Bible passages God directs me to are merely review. As Christians what we really need is to be reminded of what we already know. We need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day. When we do this, we experience a new surge of life and love for Christ.

Paul reminded his readers of what the gospel is. The term “gospel” means “good news.” This is the message that Paul preached to the Corinthians for the 18 months he served as their pastor. Paul wrote with the confidence that the Corinthians were bona fide believers.

  • Paul stated that they had “received” the gospel as a past response. Salvation is once-in-time miracle. If the gospel worked for you when you believed in Christ and it’s not working for you now, you changed, not the gospel.
  • Paul stated that the Corinthians “stand” on the gospel. The verb “stand” indicates present stability on the basis of past action. The gospel gives us a place to stand. Jesus Christ is our stability and security.
  • Paul affirmed that the Corinthians were “saved” by the gospel he preached. To be “saved” means “to be delivered or rescued.” The words “are saved” should be translated “are being saved” to reflect the present tense verb. There are three phases to salvation: past, present, and future. Having received the gospel at a point in the past, God begins to work on us so that we become more like Him. If we hold fast to the gospel we initially received, we will experience spiritual health. The phrase “unless you believed in vain” is referring to the hopelessness of our faith apart from Christ’s resurrection.

Paul had great confidence in this gospel message because Christ’s death and resurrection is prophetically and historically verifiable. In 15:3-5, Paul clearly and succinctly shared the core elements of the gospel. “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buriedand that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephasthen to the twelve.” An important phrase immediately jumps out because it is repeated in 15:3-4: “according to the Scriptures.” In the Old Testament, God predicted that Christ would die and rise again. One of the strongest arguments that Jesus is the Christ is how He fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. In 15:3, Paul stated he delivered to the Corinthians the gospel he had received from other apostles. This gospel was “of first importance” and foundational to everything else in the Christian life. We can debate the charismatic gifts of 1 Corinthians 12-14 and other non-essential issues, but the gospel is “of first importance.” The gospel is non-negotiable. Without it, we are not saved. The gospel did not originate from Paul or any other man; rather it was received from God and then delivered to people. It is God’s gospel, not ours. No one would have ever devised a plan of salvation like this one. We prefer to earn salvation, but the good news of the Christian gospel is that salvation is a free gift—costly to Christ but free to us. Paul provided the basic facts of the gospel in a nutshell.

Fact 1: “Christ died for our sins.” The gospel centers on Jesus Christ, not Buddha, Mohammed, not even God, and certainly not Paul or the other apostles. Do you believe in God? That’s special! But God wants to know: what are you going to do with Jesus Christ? Responses such as: “I go to church every week and I’m a good father or mother” have nothing to do with the gospel. The gospel centers on Jesus Christ, Who died. One quarter of the gospel accounts focus on the death of Christ. Plenty of other information was left out so that we would grasp the death of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the issue is what happened on the cross and why did it happen? Jesus did not die as a good example; He did not die because He was a nice martyr; Jesus Christ died for our sins. Sin is kind of a taboo concept in American culture today. We hear about illnesses, addictions, and disorders, but we don’t hear much about sin. But there is no way to come to salvation without admitting that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of every man, woman, and child that has ever lived. Sin is the reason Jesus went to the cross.

Christ had to die because you and I were in trouble with God because of our sin. Let’s define that term “sin”. Sin is anything contrary to the character and commandments of God. It’s merely leaving God out and failing to worship Him properly. If you have ever done this, you’ve qualified yourself to be a first-degree sinner. Me too. I’m standing right beside you. The only reason God made us was to have fellowship with Him, but you and I have continually rejected His affections. Therefore, we are sinners.

The word “for” in this passage means “in the place of, because of.” This is substitution. A substitute is a person who takes the place of another. We should have died for our sins but Jesus died in our place. Jesus took your place that you might have His place. He took your hell that you might have His heaven. That is His substitutionary death. It is the heart of the gospel. Jesus’ life does not save us. His teachings don’t save us. He saves us by His death on the cross. There is no other way to get rid of our sins. The good news of the gospel is that when Christ died for our sins, He died for our past, present, and future sins. He covered all of our sins for all time. Are you having trouble forgiving yourself for sins you have committed? Remember, Christ’s death was sufficient for your sins. His death satisfied God’s wrath against sin.28

Fact 2: “Christ was buried.” Christ’s death was not an accident that left Him resting along some deserted roadway. He did not endure His agony away from the notice of the crowd. His death was the center of the city’s attention in a public execution by soldiers whose own lives depended upon their ability to carry out the death sentence. There were no heroic efforts to save His life. No emergency unit was called to rush His body to a trauma center where it could be placed on life support systems until vital signs returned. The evidence states that Christ actually died and spent three days in a tomb. His death was confirmed by His executioners, who didn’t take any chances but plunged a spear into His side. Then He was wrapped according to the embalming custom of the day, and placed in a tomb, sealed by a heavy rock. The emperor’s seal was placed on the tomb to warn grave robbers away, and a Roman guard was posted to make sure that no one brash enough to risk his life to steal a dead body would be able to do it. All of this is a reminder to us that what happened three days later was not just a physical resuscitation. Christ didn’t rally from a nonfatal injury. He was not buried alive. He died!

Fact 3: “Christ was raised.” Jesus Christ arose! Buddha died. Mohammed never rose from the dead. What makes Christianity distinct from other religions is that the Messiah of Christianity is no longer in the grave. His bones are nowhere to be found. He is alive! The firm foundation of the Christian faith is an empty tomb.

When you buy something at a store, the clerk accepts your money and gives you a receipt confirming that the bill was paid in full. If there is ever a dispute about whether the payment was made, all you have to do is produce your receipt. When Jesus cried, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), He uttered the Greek word tetelestai, which means, “Paid in full.” The payment for sin that God demanded has been paid, and the empty tomb is proof that the payment was received and the debt satisfied. The resurrection is our “receipt” from God the Father that He accepted His Son’s payment for sin on the cross.32

Fact 4: “Christ was seen.” Paul noted Jesus appeared to Peter and the apostles. This is evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. Yes, Jesus appeared to the women at the tomb, but His first visit to the apostles was to Peter who had denied Him three times. This ought to encourage you. God is a God of restoration. He has forgiven you for all of your sins—past, present, and future. All that He wants is for you to run to Him like Peter did (Luke 24:12).

15:6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters 5  at one timemost of whom are still alive, 6  though some have fallen asleep. 7 

Paul moved from the message of the gospel to a strong argument for the resurrection of Christ—historically verifiable witnesses. At the time of Paul’s writing, about 25 years after Christ’s death, there were still living eyewitnesses to the resurrection Paul invited people to check out the reality of the resurrection for themselves. Jesus had appeared to nearly 500 people some 20 years before, following His resurrection. His audience could go ask them to corroborate what Paul taught. This is very convincing proof of the resurrection, because Paul would never have challenged people like this in a publicly-circulated letter if these eyewitnesses couldn’t corroborate his story about the resurrected Christ. Paul was convinced that his witnesses would confirm the facts. Yeah, maybe the 12 experienced a group hallucination, but 500 people … it just strained credulity.

15:7 Then he appeared to Jamesthen to all the apostles.

Paul gave another convincing proof: Jesus also appeared to James. James was Jesus’ half-brother, who did not believe in Him until after the resurrection. He grew up in the same home with Jesus, but he rejected Him until after Jesus rose from the dead. After his encounter with the resurrected Christ, James became the leader of the Jerusalem church … not exactly the safest job at the time. What another great reminder that God is a God of grace.

The people that Paul mentioned were living too close to the time of Christ’s resurrection to effectively deny it. They simply could not explain away this great historical event any more than a person today can effectively deny the reality of the Holocaust. There are people today who try to deny the Holocaust, but they don’t get very far because there are still too many survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. You and I, of course, are almost 2,000 years away from the resurrection. We can’t talk to eyewitnesses like the people to whom Paul originally wrote his letter. Nevertheless, we have the testimony of Scripture and plenty of changed lives.

15:8 Last of allas thoughto one born at the wrong time, 8  he appeared to me also.

Paul referred to himself as “one untimely born.” The Greek term here is the word for a miscarriage or an abortion. Paul meant that, spiritually speaking, he was like an aborted fetus or a stillborn child, referring to his state of wretchedness as an unbeliever and persecutor of the church. Before his call and conversion, Paul was spiritually dead but he was miraculously given life through God’s grace.

2. The gospel is life-changing (15:9-11). 

15:9 For I am the least of the apostlesunworthy to be called an apostlebecause I persecuted the church of God.

The proof of the gospel is its inherent power to change lives. Paul demonstrated this by sharing three characteristics.

First, the gospel leads to the recognition of sin. All of the others to whom Christ appeared were believers, while Paul was a violent hateful unbeliever. He chased down the early Christians and sought to have them incarcerated or even killed. As a result, Paul never ceased to be amazed that, of all people, Christ would have appeared to him. I don’t think a dream about Jesus could ever have produced the kind of humble assessment of himself that Paul came to. It took a direct encounter with the living Lord, the very person he had rejected, to help him see his sorry state. Here, Paul called himself “the least of the apostles.” Elsewhere he labeled himself “the foremost” of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and “the very least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8). Paul understood that apart from Christ, he was nothing. Like Paul, do you see and feel your own sin? Do you grieve over your sin? Are you more concerned about working on your sin instead of other’s sin? It is so easy to be consumed with the sin of others (e.g., spouse, children, boss, neighbors), yet a mark of godliness is a concern with your own sin.

Like Paul, do you see and feel your own sin? Do you grieve over it? Are you more concerned about working on your sin instead of the sins of other? It is so easy to be consumed with the sin of others (spouse, children, boss, neighbors), yet a mark of godliness is a concern with your own sin.

Second, the gospel results in a total transformation of character.

15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I amand his grace to me has not been in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:10a

Paul may have been a mess when Jesus found him, but Christ didn’t leave him that way. Because of God’s mercy and grace, Paul became a great missionary, preacher, and theologian. It is only the one who has experienced the power of the resurrection in his life who can experience such a thorough transformation in character and then give the credit to God. It didn’t change Paul’s past, but it certainly changed his present and future.

Lastly, the gospel produces a redirection of one’s entire life.

In factI worked harder than all of them – yet not Ibut the grace of God with me. 15:11 Whether then it was I or theythis is the way we preach and this is the way you believed. 1 Corinthians 15:10b-11

In response to God’s grace, Paul worked harder than everyone else. Paul didn’t believe he was repaying the divine grace shown to him with hard work. Rather, Paul was like a child who joyfully gives his mom a birthday present after having spent the parents’ own money to buy it.

All of Paul’s effort and energy was bound up in God’s grace. In the same way, we are saved by grace and we minister by grace. “Grace” is mentioned three times in 15:10. In a general sense, the word “grace” means “an undeserved expression of kindness.” Grace,  therefore, is an expression of the kindness of God that is given to those who do not deserve it. That involves not only the initial grace of salvation but every other expression of undeserved help we ever receive from the Lord. Don’t let this point escape you.

In 15:11, Paul reprised what he wrote in 15:1. “We preach” included all of the apostles, and the present tense conveys that it continued to be their message. Christ’s resurrection is the common denominator on which all were in accord. It is non-negotiable and cannot be jettisoned without gutting the Christian faith.

Posted October 8, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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