III. Response to the Corinthians’ Letter (1 Corinthians 7:1–16:4)

7:1 Paul begins to address matters that the Corinthians wrote to him about. A literal rendering of the Greek text into English is, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” Touching a woman is a euphemism for engaging in sexual activity with her. Thus, for those who are single, abstinence is God’s good plan until marriage. God created sex for marriage between one man and one woman. He designed it and knows best how it is to be expressed. Pursuing it outside of the covenant bond of marriage is sin and will not bring the fulfillment that God intends.

We are not required to come to the Lord’s Supper without any sin in our lives. If we had to be perfect, we’d never be able to partake. But we must take it seriously, recognizing its significance and the principle of the unity of his body (the church), which this ordinance is designed to encourage. We must not sin against the Lord by showing contempt for his sacrifice.

11:28-29 Therefore, Paul says, let a person examine himself so that he may partake of this holy meal in a worthy manner (11:28). In view here is not only the addressing of personal sin but the way in which believers relate to one another. The absence of unity and the presence of racial, social, and class division are to be avoided. How we relate to Christ’s body affects how God relates to us. To treat it with anything other than respect is to eat and drink judgment on oneself (11:29), which brings to mind the case of Ananias and Sapphira (see Acts 5:1-11). Unless you recognize that the Lord’s Supper represents Christ’s victory on the cross, through which he transfers spiritual victory to your life, and unless you are also in fellowship with his spiritual family, the Communion moment that’s intended to bless you could actually hurt you.

11:30-32 Paul explains that the Corinthian believers had been experiencing such divine judgment. Their selfish actions around the Lord’s Table had resulted in many of them becoming ill or falling asleep (i.e., dying). Since they had not judged their own actions properly, God had severely disciplined them.

The Bible is clear that suffering and poor health are not necessarily a result of personal sin. Job, for instance, was a righteous man who suffered much. A man whom Jesus healed was not born blind because of anyone’s sin but “so that God’s works might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Nevertheless, sin can result in suffering, sickness, and even death. That’s what had happened to many of the Christians in Corinth. So examine yourself before you partake of the Lord’s Supper. Ask, Do I recognize that it points to the judgment of God, the forgiveness of sin, the defeat of Satan, the victory of grace, and the unity of the church? Do I expect God’s blessings to flow to me through Communion, while I ignore known sin and disunity in my life? This will allow repentant believers to access the healing benefits of the cross (Isa 53:5; Jas 5:15-16)

11:33-34 Paul concludes the matter by urging them to eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner. When you gather together with Christian brothers and sisters, show love and hospitality. If you’re hungry, eat at home before Communion. Approach the Lord’s table with reverence—not only reverence for the Lord but also for his spiritual family—and receive his blessing.

12:1-3 Next Paul takes up a lengthy discussion of spiritual gifts (12:1). The essential feature of all those who have trusted in Jesus Christ is that they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Before coming to faith in Christ, the Corinthian believers were pagans . . . enticed and led astray by mute idols (12:2). But by the power of the Spirit, they were enabled to turn to God and say, Jesus is Lord (12:3).

12:4-7 Before discussing the multiplicity of gifts that the Spirit provides to believers, Paul wants to emphasize the unity believers ought to have. The different gifts Christians receive equip them for different ministries and different activities. Yet making all of this possible is their triune God: the same Holy Spirit . . . the same Lord Jesus . . . the same God (12:4-6). Though our God exists in three persons, yet he is one God (see Deut 6:4). And since the one God stands behind each gift received by every Christian, then he intends for them to work for the common good (12:6-7).

Not only is the church of Jesus Christ made up of a variety of people of both genders and of different ethnicities, nationalities, languages, and ages, but all those individuals receive from God a variety of spiritual gifts. Our physical and spiritual variety is good. But we were all created—and recreated in Christ (see 2 Cor 5:17)—by the same God who saved us for a single purpose: service in his kingdom. A spiritual gift is a God-given and empowered ability to serve him in ways that benefit others. Our variety is to be unified in submission to our King’s agenda for the good of all. We must not use our spiritual gifts for selfish ends, promoting division among God’s people.

12:8-11 Next Paul mentions some of the various spiritual gifts that the same Spirit makes available to believers (see also Rom 12:6-8; Eph 4:11). Notice that one Christian is given this gift, and another Christian is given that gift (12:8-10); thus, no one obtains a spiritual monopoly. Rather, within the church, we are dependent on one another for the exercise of all these different gifts. Furthermore, one and the same Spirit distributes to each person as he wills (12:11). You don’t choose the spiritual gift of your preference. The Spirit gives as he sees fit. He knows what you and his kingdom need better than you do, so trust him to supply you with the spiritual ability with which you can best serve him and bless others.

12:12-14 Paul uses the analogy of a human body to describe how the church—the body of Christ—ought to function. Indeed, a body best illustrates what the church is: many parts that are one (12:12). Not only does the body consist of a variety of external parts but also many complex internal systems, including the circulatory, respiratory, nervous, skeletal, and digestive systems. Nevertheless (when working properly!) all of the parts and systems function together for the good of the whole. Indeed, the body is not one part but many (12:14).

Though the Corinthians consisted of Jews or Greeks . . . slaves or free, they were all made a part of the same body. Paul elaborates, noting that believers are baptized by one Spirit into one body (12:13). The Greek verb baptizo means “to immerse.” It could be used to describe the action of immersing a cloth into a dye to change its color. The baptism of the cloth in such a case brings about a transformation that changes its visible identity. In the same way, the Spirit transforms all believers for a new way of life that is to be done together. They are baptized “into one body”—the body of Christ, the family of God.

12:15-16 What happens when Christians operate on their own, when they disconnect from the church and do not benefit others? Paul describes the absurdity of this by again using the human body analogy. If a hand or an ear says, I don’t belong to the body, breakdown results. Because of the loss of use of the hand or ear, the body is left incomplete. Moreover, the severed hand or ear does not benefit from the rest of the body.

Too many believers are detached from the church, unwilling to commit to being fully functioning members. As a result, both the believer and the church lose out on the blessings God intends. A light bulb may be in a light socket, but if there’s no light coming through, it’s just taking up space and providing no benefit. Similarly, believers who are disconnected from active involvement in the local church are living outside of the will of God.

12:17-20 No single person in the church is more valuable than any other. After all, Paul asks, If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? (12:17). We must not expect everyone to be exactly like us. Without the multiplicity of spiritual gifts operating within the church, we lose out on essential functions. No single body part is more important than all the rest. But while you are a critical part of the body of Christ, you are only one part. You’re not the whole thing; it’s not all about you. Nor should you expect everyone to be just like you. If every part of the body were the same, it would cease to be a body (12:19)!

In the same way that God designed the human body with each part functioning exactly as he intended, so also God has arranged each part of the body of Christ just as he wanted (12:18). The one who created you gave you the spiritual gift that he wanted you to have. To insist that you want to serve the church in a different capacity than what God intended is like an ear insisting on being an eye. Not only is such a stance futile, but it is also a prideful rejection of your King’s wise and perfect plan for you.

12:21-22 No part of the body can say to another part, I don’t need you! (12:21). Every part is necessary. We may not always be aware of how a certain part is contributing or visibly observe its contribution, but that doesn’t mean it’s pointless. As Paul says, those parts of the body that are weaker are indispensable (10:22). For instance, the internal parts of our bodies that we cannot see are incredibly significant! Without their functions, the external parts could not function.

Often we place too much emphasis on members and ministries that are visible. But this wrongly equates visibility with value. Not every member has the same gift, the same role, or the same level of responsibility. But every member matters. Those whose ministries go on behind the scenes are vital to the health of the church.

12:23-24 Paul notes that we give greater honor to the less honorable parts of our bodies (that is, our private parts). We treat unrespectable parts . . . with greater respect (12:23). Though they are not displayed for the world to see, they perform indispensable functions. So it is in the body of Christ.

12:25 In light of the necessity of every body part, there should be no division in the church so that every member has the same concern for each other. If every member is needed, then we ought to be concerned if any one member is suffering or experiencing dysfunction. This, in fact, is why Scripture places such emphasis on caring for one another (see, e.g., John 15:12; Gal 6:2; Eph 4:32; 1 Thess 5:11). We are responsible to and accountable for one another because we all share in the same body.

12:26 A little toe may seem fairly insignificant. But if you stub yours, it will shut you down! The pain affects the whole body. Indeed, if one member of the body suffers, all the members suffer with it. Therefore, don’t be concerned only for your own needs within Christ’s body. As Paul says elsewhere, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). This is simply an application of the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39).

12:27-31 The church in Corinth (and every other local church) is an expression of the body of Christ, and all Christians are individual members of it (12:27). Paul mentions several offices within the church for which individuals are spiritually equipped. Their ranking (first . . . second . . . third) has to do with the level of the office. The apostles were those who had seen the risen Jesus and were appointed by him as foundational leaders to teach doctrine to the church. The prophets communicate God’s revelation to God’s people. Teachers explain the meaning of God’s truth (12:28).

Notice that various kinds of tongues are mentioned last on the list (12:28). Though more is said about this topic in chapter 14, given how controversial the issue of speaking in tongues is today, note two important things. First, since it comes last in the list, it should not be given such supreme importance as some have assigned it. Second, observe that Paul asks, Do all speak in other tongues? (12:30). This question implies that not all Christians have been given this gift; therefore, it is not a super-Christian status indicator or the only sign that someone has been baptized by the Holy Spirit. Paul’s instruction regarding tongues is written to a carnal, divided church (see 3:1-3). Thus, the exercise of the gift of tongues is not necessarily a sign of spiritual maturity.

Paul’s questions in 12:29-30 indicate that no one receives every gift. But each receives the gift that God intends him to receive. Nevertheless, Paul says it is not wrong to desire the greater gifts to be manifested in the church (12:31)—that is, the higher-ranking gifts (if God chooses to grant them)—in order to provide the broadest edification to the church.

13:1-3 Paul insists that love is critical to any understanding and application of spiritual gifts. If love is absent, spiritual gifts do not edify. No matter what language one speaks (angels only spoke human languages in Scripture), without love the sound is nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (13:1). No matter how visible and effective my gift or ministry may be, if I do not have love for my fellow Christians, I am nothing and I gain nothing because spiritual gifts are for the benefit of others (13:2-3). The gift does not matter when love is missing.

13:4-7 What does love look like? Paul explains what love does and what it does not do. Biblical love is the decision (not merely a feeling) to compassionately (out of concern for someone else), righteously (based on God’s standards), and sacrificially (giving to meet a need) seek the well-being of another. Notice each of the characteristics of love: it is patient . . . kind . . . not [envious] . . . not arrogant . . . not irritable. These things are only possible when we put others before ourselves (13:4-5). Love does not affirm someone in their sin or their false beliefs because love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth (13:6). Love does not quit; it endures through thick and thin (13:7).

13:8-10 One day when we experience the joyous intimacy of God’s presence, spiritual gifts will come to an end because we will no longer need them. But not love. Love never ends (13:8). When the perfect comes, though, the partial will come to an end (13:10). By “perfect,” Paul is referring to spiritual maturity. The more a person grows in spiritual maturity, the less dependent one is on the particular gifts of prophecy and tongues (13:8).

13:11-12 A child speaks, thinks, and reasons like a child. But a man has grown in maturity and put aside childish things (13:11). Our Christian goal is spiritual maturity. Full maturity will only finally occur in God’s glorious presence, but we are to progressively mature now. Currently, our experience is like looking at our reflection in a dim mirror, but eventually we will see face to face. Even as I am fully known to God now, one day I will know fully reality as God meant me to know it (13:12). All will be made clear.

13:13 These three remain: faith, hope, and love—but the greatest of these is love. In eternity, you will no longer need faith because you will have sight. You will no longer need hope because your expectations and anticipations will all have been met and exceeded. But the love that will characterize our eternal relationship with God will continue since “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

14:1-5 Since love is critical and eternal, Paul exhorts them to pursue love. Love is superior to spiritual gifts and enables one to understand and utilize spiritual gifts rightly. Though he wanted them to desire spiritual gifts (14:1), exercising them was not for the purpose of self-exaltation because that would be contrary to love.

Apparently, the Corinthians were using the gift of other tongues to show off; thus, Paul confronts them. He prefers that they prophesy because the one who does so brings a clear word from God to everyone, edifying and encouraging the gathered body of believers (14:1, 3). But the one who speaks in another tongue speaks only to God. Unless someone is able to interpret the tongue, no one understands, and the church is not built up (14:2, 5). Since the person who speaks in tongues only edifies himself, while the person who prophesies edifies the church, prophecy is clearly the greater gift of the two (14:4-5). Paul wishes they all spoke in other tongues (14:5) so that someone was always available to interpret. But, of course, as he already said, God doesn’t give the gift of tongues to everyone (see 12:30).

It’s important to understand what Paul means regarding the gift of speaking “in another tongue.” Though some interpret this to mean “a heavenly language,” the New Testament evidence favors the meaning “human language.” Note the key passage in Acts 2:4-11 when the apostles had been “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues” (2:4). The context makes clear that these “tongues” (2:4, 11) were actually various native languages (2:6, 8) spoken by those who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost.

14:6-12 In these verses, Paul emphasizes how important it is that all believers understand what is spoken when they gather together. Even if the apostle Paul himself came to a meeting speaking in other tongues, the church could not benefit if he communicated something that no one could understand (14:6). After all, if someone plays a musical instrument—a flute or harp or bugle—without playing clear notes, the result will be incoherent noise (14:7-8). In the same way, an uninterpreted tongue is unintelligible to anyone who hears it (14:9). It’s nothing but hot air. Without an understanding of the meaning of the words spoken, members of the church will be like foreigners to one another (14:10-11). Shared understanding is necessary for communication to be meaningful. Thus, Paul wants their zeal for spiritual gifts to be matched by an equal zeal for building up the church (14:12) so that the Spirit could do his work among them.

How do you view the spiritual gift that you have received from the Holy Spirit? Is it a tool for winning attention, admiration, and praise from others? Or do you consider your gift to be an opportunity to glorify God and lovingly build up your brothers and sisters in Christ? It could be that you need to reread 13:1-7. In any case, don’t misunderstand the purpose of spiritual gifts, and don’t forget the chief element of exercising them: love.

14:13-17 In light of Paul’s concerns, he urges those who do have the gift of another tongue to pray for the gift to interpret (14:13). For to pray in another language without understanding is unfruitful (14:14). Prayer and praise must be accompanied by understanding if anyone is to hear and say, Amen (14:15-16). How can you affirm what someone has spoken if it’s unintelligible gibberish to you?

14:18-19 Though Paul himself spoke in other tongues more than all the Corinthians, he didn’t consider it a badge of honor to be flaunted (14:18). He preferred to utter five comprehensible words that edified others, than ten thousand incoherent words that benefited no one (14:19). May God grant that our convictions be the same as Paul’s.

14:20 The only case in which its beneficial to be childish and immature is with regard to evil: we do not want to be experienced in wickedness. Otherwise, we want to be adult and mature in our thinking. Excitement about exercising exotic spiritual gifts that no one can understand is immature. A more mature stance is to exercise gifts for the good of others.

14:21-22 Paul quotes from Isaiah 28:11-12, which recounts the defeat of the rebellious and unbelieving Israelites at the hands of the Assyrian army which spoke a language the people couldn’t understand. Based on this, he says, speaking in other tongues . . . is intended as a sign . . . for unbelievers—that is, a sign of judgment—while prophecy is for believers.

14:23-25 If the church is gathered and the members speak in other tongues when unbelievers are present, the unbelievers will think the Christians are crazy since they hear what they can’t understand (14:23). But if the unbelieving visitor hears prophecy, he can be convicted by the truth of the gospel, be saved, and acknowledge God’s presence among them (14:24-25). Thus, Paul desires the meaningful use of spiritual gifts.

14:26-28 Still concerned that the church be edified, Paul next moves to the issue of orderliness in the gathered church. If each person has a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, another tongue, or an interpretation, Paul insists that everything is to be done for building up and in an ordered manner (14:26). A coherent process should be followed. At most there should be three people speaking in another tongue; however, if there is no interpreter people should remain silent, speaking only to themselves and God (14:27-28; see 14:13).

14:29-33 Prophecy should likewise be regulated, Paul insists. Only two or three prophets are to speak at one gathering, and those prophecies are to be evaluated to determine that they are true, as the Word of God is applied to a particular circumstance in the life of the church (14:29). Thus, the exercise of prophecy has to be orderly. One can’t irrationally begin spouting off a prophecy; rather, people are to prophesy one by one so that all can learn and be encouraged (14:30-31). The prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets—meaning they must exercise self-control in giving prophecy because God is not a God of disorder but of peace (14:32-33).

These last words are important for both individual believers and the church as a whole to apply. Since “God is not a God of disorder” (since he is unified in his triune nature), then he expects his people to do everything in a proper and orderly way (see 14:40). Such behavior promotes understanding, edification, and harmony.

14:34-35 When Paul says women should be silent in the churches (11:34), he’s not forbidding a woman from praying and prophesying when the church gathers. After all, he has already made clear that a woman can do so if she submits to the spiritual authority of her husband and the church’s leadership (see 11:5). Apparently, though, some of the women in Corinth were being disruptive during the church service and not submitting themselves to their husbands (11:34; see commentary on 11:4-6). Rather than engaging in disorderly and distracting conduct when prophesies were being given, they were to ask their own husbands at home (11:35) to preserve order and peace in the gathering.

14:36-38 For those who might become disgruntled and oppose Paul’s instructions on these matters, comes this reminder: the word of God did not originate from them (11:36). Rather, Paul had proclaimed it. Furthermore, he maintains that anyone who claims to be a prophet or a spiritual person will recognize that he wasn’t offering mere personal opinion but the Lord’s command (14:37). Thus, to reject this teaching is to reject the Lord. Such a person will be ignored by the Lord (14:38).

14:39-40 Paul concludes the topic with an exhortation to engage in these spiritual gifts—prophecy and speaking in other tongues—in accordance with his instructions so that everything is carried out decently and in order. Obedience to this invites the blessing of God who “is not a God of disorder but of peace” (14:33). Righteous unity is critical for the church to experience God’s presence in its midst.

15:1-2 Paul seeks to make clear for the Co-rinthians the gospel—the good news—that he had preached to them on his previous visit, which they had received, and on which they had taken their stand (15:1) In other words, he was repeating to them the same thing he had told them then. The gospel they had received had kept them standing thus far—and would continue to do so. Paul also affirms that the same gospel that justifies sinners, giving them eternal life, also sanctifies them as saints (being saved here refers to present tense salvation for deliverance from the power of sin). But they must continually abide (i.e., hold fast) in the knowledge and application of God’s Word (15:2).

15:3 There were many things that Paul could have spoken about to the Corinthians when he first visited them. What did he tell them? What had he himself received and passed on to them? What was it that he considered most important?

First, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. The reason these facts are so significant is because of who Christ is and what his death accomplished. Jesus Christ is the God-man. He is the Word of God who became flesh (John 1:14). He is the Son of God, the second Person of the Godhead, who became a man without giving up his deity (see Phil 2:5-8). He is the one and only person with both a divine nature and a human nature, unmixed forever. Therefore, he could serve as a perfect substitutionary sacrifice for sinners because as God he is without sin, and as a man he could die in our place. By bearing our sins on the cross, he suffered the wrath of God that we deserved so that we might be forgiven, receive eternal life, and be saved (see, e.g., 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:24).

15:4 Second, he was buried. Jesus didn’t merely swoon on the cross; he died. The Old Testament predicted that the Messiah would give his life as a sacrificial offering (see Isa 53:4-12), and the New Testament record assures us that this was indeed true of Jesus (see John 19:33-42; Phil 2:8).

Third, he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. Jesus suffered and died on our behalf; he made payment for our sins. Was this payment accepted? We can be certain that it was because God raised him from the dead. This is the clear and consistent testimony of the early church (see, e.g., Acts 2:24-32; 3:15; 5:30; 10:39-41; 13:29-37; 17:31). Jesus has risen from the grave, and the apostles and many others were eyewitnesses to this. The resurrection, then, is your receipt that God accepted Christ’s payment for your sins and mine. And all of this happened “according to the Scriptures.” The Old Testament not only foretold the Messiah’s death but also his resurrection (see Ps 16:10). As Paul essentially says later in this chapter, without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is no Christianity (see 1 Cor 15:13-19).

15:5-8 The risen Lord Jesus wasn’t seen by merely one or two people. On the contrary, Paul assures the Corinthians that there were numerous eyewitnesses to the resurrection. He appeared to Cephas (Peter) and the Twelve (the apostles) (15:5). One of the qualifications of being an apostle was to have seen the risen Christ (see Acts 1:21-22). Besides this, he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one timemost of whom were still alive and could verify this claim. This was no conspiracy concocted by a small band of people, then. Hundreds saw him! He also appeared to James (15:7), the Lord’s own half-brother. Though he didn’t believe in Jesus during his earthly ministry (see John 7:3-5), when he witnessed the resurrection, James believed, became a leader in the early church (see Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18), and wrote the New Testament letter bearing his name. Finally, Paul says, he also appeared to me (15:8). The persecutor of the church had been called by the risen Lord Jesus himself to be an apostle (see Acts 9:1-22).

These are the essential truths of the gospel. Through the sacrificial substitutionary death and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ, all those who place their faith in him are forgiven of their sins, reconciled to God, adopted as his children, and receive eternal life. Sinners can be saved. This is the good news that the church is called to proclaim to the world.

15:9-11 With his typical humility (see 1 Tim 1:15), Paul declares that he is the least of the apostles and not worthy to bear the title of apostle since he had been a violent persecutor of the church (15:9). He never forgot the horrific actions he had taken against God’s people when he was an unbeliever. But the grace of God bore fruit in his life; it was not in vain (15:10). Paul’s understanding of and appreciation for God’s grace through Christ inspired his labor and love. This appreciation for grace is what should empower and motivate Christians for service. Paul didn’t care whether he or others received the credit for the spread of the gospel, as long as the good news was proclaimed and sinners were saved for God’s kingdom (15:11).

15:12-14 Some of the Corinthians were claiming that there was no resurrection of the dead (15:12). Whether the teaching had come from within the church or from outside is unknown. Perhaps they thought Christ had risen spiritually to heaven but not bodily from the grave. Whatever the origin or the particulars of this heresy, Paul confronts it because it strikes at the heart of the gospel. The resurrection is essential. If Christ has not been raised, Paul’s preaching—and the Christian message—would be empty and meaningless. Moreover, the Corinthians’ faith was wasted because you can’t have a living faith in a dead Savior (15:14).

Our salvation depends on the truth that Jesus Christ is the sinless Son of God whose death paid for our sins and whom God vindicated by raising him from the grave. Without this, we have no sinless Savior, no high priest who always lives to intercede for us (see Heb 7:25), no forgiveness, no hope of being raised from the dead ourselves.

15:15-18 Paul continues stating the implications of a denial of Christ’s resurrection. It would mean that Paul and the other apostles were false witnesses, lying to Jews and Gentiles about what God had accomplished through Christ (15:15). If Christ has not been raised, then their faith was worthless. Instead of being alive with Christ (see Eph 2:4-5), the Corinthians were still dead in [their] sins (15:17; see Eph 2:1). A dead Savior is no Savior at all. Therefore, believers who have died would be lost forever (15:18).

15:19 Then Paul sums things up: If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. Indeed, if our belief in the resurrection is something that does not extend beyond the grave—that is, if it’s not true—then we have no hope of eternal life after death, are living a lie, and ought to be pitied by the world.

15:20 Contrary to what some Corinthians were claiming, though, Paul insists that Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep—that is, of those who have died. The use of “firstfruits” here calls to mind Leviticus 23:10-14. In that passage, the Israelites were to bring the first portion of their harvests to the priest as an offering to the Lord. This was done in anticipation of the full harvest that was to come, as they trusted in God to provide. Thus, Christ’s resurrection is the promise that believers will one day be raised.

15:21-22 Adam disobeyed God and brought both spiritual and physical death to the human race. But through his own resurrection, Christ—the second Adam (see 15:47)—has made eternal life available to all.

15:23-28 God has a plan and an order to his resurrection process. Christ, the firstfruits, was the first to rise. At his next coming, all those who belong to Christ will receive resurrection bodies (15:23; see 1 Thess 4:13-18). At the end, after his millennial reign, he will hand over the kingdom to God the Father, and abolish all his enemies—including death—putting everything under his feet (15:24-27; see Ps 110:1). With everything else subjected to him, the Son will in turn be subject to the Father (15:28).

The Son will have succeeded where Adam failed and fulfilled the created kingdom destiny of man to rule (see Ps 8:4-6). He will have established a kingdom to defeat Satan’s kingdom, ruling on behalf of humanity for God. When he hands over the kingdom to the Father at the end of his millennial reign, his earthly mission in history will be complete, ushering in eternity. And God will be all in all (15:28).

15:29 Paul mentions a practice that some in Corinth were engaging in: being baptized for the dead. It appears that some were being baptized by proxy on behalf of those who had died before they could be baptized. Paul isn’t advocating this practice; rather, he’s pointing out its absurdity if there’s no resurrection. Why be baptized for the dead if the dead are not raised?

15:30-32 Paul speaks about how the truth of the resurrection affected him personally. He was in mortal danger on a regular basis because of his gospel ministry (15:30-31). Both Jews and Gentiles had tried to kill him. He contended with wild beasts in Ephesus—which may be a reference to those who opposed God’s kingdom. Yet, what was the point if the dead are not raised? If there’s no resurrection, Paul says, quoting the self-indulgent attitude of the Israelites in Isaiah 22:13, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die (15:32).

15:33-34 The apostle argues, Bad company corrupts. The Corinthian believers needed to stop hanging out with those who were promoting false doctrine, denying the resurrection, and living unrighteously. You cannot make unbelievers your constant, intimate companions and think you will escape unscathed. Cozying up to heretical teachings and lifestyles is dangerous. Thus, Paul tells the Corinthian believers point blank, Come to your senses and stop sinning (15:34).

15:35-44 To those naysayers who ask, How are the dead raised? and, What kind of body will they have? Paul exclaims, You fool! (15:35-36). In their attempts to ridicule the resurrection, they forgot that what you sow does not come to life unless it dies (15:36). What is sown is only a seed (15:37). God gives us bodies as he pleases. In fact, there are bodies for humans, animals, planets, and stars (15:38-41). The human body is like a seed. It is sown in corruption and weakness, but raised in glory and power (15:42-43). Just as seeds are transformed, so our bodies will be transformed. A dead natural body will be raised as an eternal spiritual body (15:44).

15:45-49 Paul compares Adam to Christ; he discusses the first Adam and the last Adam. Adam is Hebrew for “man.” The first man, made of dust, became a living being through the power of God. But the second man, who has come from heaven, became a life-giving spirit (15:45, 47). The natural man could only die; the spiritual man can give life (15:46). We have all borne the image of the man of dust. What we need is to bear the image of the man of heaven (15:49). From birth, all human beings are “in Adam,” but through faith in the gospel we are “in Christ” and granted the hope of resurrection to life (see 15:22).

15:50-57 One day we will all be changed . . . in the twinkling of an eye (15:51-52). Our corruptible bodies will be clothed with incorruptibility; our mortal bodies clothed with immortality (15:53-54). Pain, sickness, disease, disability, and suffering of every kind will be gone. Our resurrection bodies will be indestructible and incorruptible. For all those who are in Christ Jesus, there is no sting to death, for death will be swallowed up in victory (15:54-55). Death is the result of sin (see also Rom 6:23), and sin gets power from the law (15:56). When God’s law commands, “Do not,” the sinful human heart desires the opposite (see Rom 7:7-11). But because of his faithfulness to perfectly keep the law and bear our sins, our Lord Jesus Christ has given us the victory (15:57).

15:58 Therefore, Paul concludes at the end of this glorious chapter on the resurrection, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. The salvation Christ accomplished through his cross and resurrection is the gracious gift of God for sinners. We can’t earn it. But after we’ve received it, we’re not to sit back and do nothing. In light of our victory over sin and death due to our faith in King Jesus, believers are encouraged to labor for their Lord.

So make God’s kingdom agenda your own. Don’t become weary or give up because your labor “is not in vain.” It’s not wasted. You’re not spinning your wheels when you engage in faithful kingdom service. God sees your work for him, and he has a reward in store for you that will exceed your wildest expectations.

16:1 Following his exhortation in 15:58 to do “the Lord’s work,” Paul encourages them to apply this principle by taking up a collection for the saints. Though Paul doesn’t say explicitly whom the collection is for, references elsewhere make it clear that he’s talking about a relief gift for the impoverished believers in Jerusalem (see Acts 24:17; Rom 15:25-26; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15).

16:2 He asks them to take up the collection on the first day of the week (Sunday) as a part of their weekly worship gathering. Paul desires that each person set something aside in accordance with how he is prospering. Thus, giving was to be planned—not haphazard—and based on one’s personal means. Moreover, setting aside the offerings in advance would prevent Paul from having to chide or browbeat them when he visited, avoiding embarrassment for everyone.

16:3-4 Paul had a burden for the poor in Jerusalem. He greatly desired that the Gentile believers might bless Jewish believers in their time of distress. As he told the Christians in Rome, “If the Gentiles have shared in [the Jewish believers’] spiritual benefits, then they are obligated to minister to them in material needs” (Rom 15:27). His plan was to send the gift to Jerusalem through trusted representatives whom the Corinthians selected (16:3).

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