Monday, March 7, 2011

What Gospel Service and Farming Have in Common

Reading: 1 Corinthians 15—16   
What is the Gospel? What is the foundation of faith in the resurrection of Jesus? Why is the resurrection a vital part of the Christian faith? How will we be raised; what kind of body will we have? These are all questions that might direct us to 1 Corinthians 15, where we will find good answers for each of them. Because there is so much in this chapter, I wonder at times if we might miss one of the significant issues that Paul is talking about, as if it gets lost in the shuffle of discussion about these other important matters. And it is no small issue.
Have you ever heard someone say, “Even if Christianity wasn't true, I'd still believe it because my life is better as a result”? Paul wouldn't have! He says,
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:19)
Of course, no problem here, for Paul immediately asserts, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) And how could he be so confident? Because of the resurrection evidence which both he and others had confirmed (1 Corinthians 15:4-8). But Paul doesn't think his earthly life is better off because of following Jesus; he thinks he should be pitied more than all men if Christ has not been raised. Why?
Paul's faith in the resurrection, grounded as it was in his personal witness to the resurrection, enabled him to live a farmers life! A farmer takes perfectly good corn, or wheat, and buries it in the ground. Why? Because he believes he will receive a harvest in another season. Paul, who had many reasons to be satisfied in this life prior to his conversion, was burying his life in the ground every day in hope of a harvest.
For Paul, the resurrection was the basis of his earthly life. “Now if there is no resurrection...why do we endanger ourselves every hour?” (1 Corinthians 15:29-30) Since Paul was convinced of the resurrection, he continues,
31I die every day— I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (1 Corinthians 15:31-32)
Paul was dying daily because he was sowing his life for the age to come. If there wasn't a confidence in the resurrection, then why not live as if the present party is all there is! Party on! How often do we as believers live our lives, in the mentality that we need to enjoy all we can in this life because tomorrow we die. That is worldly thinking. While I am not certain of what Paul is referring to as “beasts in Ephesus,” it is certain that it wasn't pleasant. It may well have been a metaphor for the opposition he faced there (see 1 Corinthians 16:8-9; Acts 19:23-41).
Paul expands on how it is that we practice this farming; how we sow our life for the age to come.
The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
I used to think that this was talking about our funeral. We plant one body in the ground but another kind will be raised. The problem is, that doesn't fit what is said, nor does it fit one of the key themes of this chapter which has to do with whether or not we are living our lives for the advance of the Gospel. At a funeral, the body which is buried (sown) is not perishable—it has perished; it is not weak—it is dead. It seems that these verses are picking up on what Paul was talking about in vs. 30-32. Paul lived his life endangering himself for the gospel, dying daily. In fact, he is capturing the same language he used earlier in this letter when he said,
10We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. (1 Corinthians 4:10-13)
Paul was sowing his life, perishable (not already dead), weak (not dead), dishonored in the eyes of this world. He did so knowing that he had a hope stored up in heaven (Colossians 1:5). It is for this very reason that he could urge us to always give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because we know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). It isn't in vain because as you labor in the Lord you are sowing a perishable body in weakness, and at times in seeming dishonor, but you will be raised in power in a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:43,44). This is the hope that stands behind the instructions given in 1 Corinthians 16:13-16. This hope is essential for the advance of the Gospel.
What do Gospel service and farming have in common? We are to be sowing our lives every day into the field of the world for the advance of the Gospel in hope of the harvest in the age to come. Don't tire in doing good, for we will indeed reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9). Endanger your reputation when accused by entrusting yourself to God and not defending yourself. Endanger yourself in a dispute by preferring to be wronged rather than to wrong another. Endanger yourself by loving your neighbor as yourself. Endanger yourself by sharing the Gospel with those you meet and know.  Endanger your personal time by serving others in love. 
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

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