In the ‘Real World’

Think back to the last time you lost something. What was it? Was it something valuable or something meaningless and the fact that you lost it just annoyed you? Did you panic and your heart race? Experience a temporary loss of breath? Look around in desperation? Frantically search? Do a pat down (wallet, phone & keys)?

We have all lost something at one point or another. We have all been there. We have all forgotten to hold onto and felt that temporary panic, that mini heart attack that threw us into a cognitive whirl.

The ‘real world’ always wants us to lose our purpose, our mind, and our hope; it wants us to loosen our grip on the reality that we are commanded to hold on to. How can we make sure we lose none of these realities?

Hold fast to the gospel. When we hold fast to the gospel we will find our purpose, a changed reality, and an everlasting hope. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is essential to the gospel,[1] and thus our reality as Christians. Because of the reality of the gospel[2] we are shown reminders that the resurrection matters, that we now exist in an upside down world, and that we have a purpose.

In gospel reality, we are given a purpose.

Paul, writing from Ephesus to the church in Corinth, is correcting some beliefs of the Corinthian Christians in his first letter. Within this context, Paul has changed his thought process at the beginning of chapter fifteen. He addressed many things in this letter to Corinth, most noticeably revolving around the message of the cross and its implications on their lives, which brings about corrections and admonishments. Because the main implication is unity in 1 Corinthians, Paul always wants to maintain a unity theme. It is important to Paul where the Christians stand on crucial cultural, spiritual, and social aspects that are a result out of the gospel, which has a direct correlation on unity.[3] “The gospel by itself does not save, but God through the gospel saves a person in Christ.”[4]

Paul must jog their lost memory of what Paul had preached.[5] He preached a message that most thought was folly, but those who were standing in Christ know that life is always better with Him than without. Paul was sure to pass on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Paul knew of the reality of the resurrection because of his conversion and immediately preached this (Acts 9:20).[6]

In particular, because many Christians in Corinth were Gentiles, they were now in right standing with God because of Jesus Christ and the grace that was extended through his death, burial, and resurrection. When this message was preached it flipped the world upside down.

Because the gospel announces the reality of our new standing with God through the blood of Jesus Christ, it also gives us a purpose. We have a purpose in God’s redemptive story—the gospel reality. He is moving and working in the world and he has always invited us into what he was doing. He called Paul into this story. Paul intentionally labors for this purpose in his preaching. His aim is to always present the Gentiles holy and sanctified to God based on the work he is doing.[7] Paul was preaching, planting churches, and making disciples of all nations, specifically within his calling, which was to the Gentiles though he always tried to reach the Jews. Our purpose derived from the gospel is found in this same passage because the of the reality that is presented.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. – 1 Cor. 15:1-7

That is the power in the reality of the gospel.

In verse 2, Paul states, “by which you are being saved” and again verse 3, “Christ died for our sins.” If Paul believes that holding true to the gospel is saving them, then living out the response to the gospel becomes our purpose. They would be ‘holding fast’ to the truth that Paul undoubtedly preached about the King[8], His kingdom, and the spreading of that good news. They would not be fulfilling the purpose the gospel demands, making disciples, if they believed in vain, which Paul questions. If their standing has been changed and they begin to love what God loves and accept what God accepts, then the weak and the lowly would be sought after. This message would be their “first importance.” There would be a purpose to take this heralded message of the new reality that is the kingdom of God and its King to others.

 What example do others have of the reality that is the gospel? If Jesus has been risen then there would be proof. We are that proof. The appearances of Jesus to people and that they have lived out their new standing before God by fulfilling their purpose of making disciples provides evidence of a new reality. The gospel offers us up as proof. People from various backgrounds come together as a family and a new community; different and distinct from the world is proof that something has changed. The appearances listed in this section are mostly Jewish, who formed a community that welcomed, rather than excluded, unlike the religious Jews of the day. Just look at who he appeared to. He appeared to the most unlikely people, which is offered up as proof that his resurrection is life changing. Paul echoes what is most likely an early creed for the expansion of the gospel.[9]

The gospel is the announcement that Christ died for our sins, the announcement that Christ was buried, the announcement that he was raised. That he then appeared to Peter—the one who said it could not be done. That he then appeared to the other disciples. He appeared to 500 other witnesses, who can back up his story. He even appeared to James, who did not remotely like his brother.

The gospel is the vehicle through which we are given a purpose. Holding on to the gospel is not merely standing still, but holding on to the heralded massage taking it forward. You will either take this message forward or everything else you believe is meaningless. We must hold fast to the gospel.

Have you ever walked into a room in your house and forgotten what you went in there for? You stand there for a moment, scratching your head, and racking your brain and you just cannot remember for the life of you what you went in there for.

Many times when we enter into an environment we walk in for some reason and we lose our purpose for entering. The purpose we have been given is to make disciples. The purpose we have been given is to teach a gospel that people will receive, stand in, and be saved by. So I have to ask, when was the last time you built a relationship with someone and were able to share the gospel with them? When was the last time you were able to share the gospel reality of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and how that gives purpose to life? Hold fast to the gospel because in gospel reality we are given a purpose.

In gospel reality, we recognize a changed reality or an upside down world.

So Paul just explained what the gospel is, in a bulleted list, so that the Corinthian Christians are clear on where they should stand and if they believed what saved them. He continues on, taking a slight digression on where he views himself in light of the gospel.

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. – 1 Cor. 15:8-11

Paul writes with such anguish in his voice. He views himself as a miscarriage or an abortion.[10] He acknowledges that anything good he has ever done has been by the grace of God. “I did not deserve what was given to me.” God’s grace toward him was not it vain. God’s grace flipped Paul’s world upside down through the Damascus road experience. God’s grace changed Paul’s reality. Because his reality is changed God’s choice to give him a purpose was not worthless. Paul proves grace’s effect based on the work that he performs through preaching. He stopped persecuting the church and started preaching to the church. Realities changed through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Paul is laboring for a purpose. The kingdom takes the realities of the world and flips them on their head. Paul throughout his letters writes how those who think they are strong and those who would be considered the weak in society are the strong. This message challenges that standing of everyone on a consistent basis. Paul adds on that he appeared to him because he has one of the most powerful stories about how the reality that is the risen King, Jesus Christ, impacted his life. Rather, than receiving punishment for what was due, he received grace. This motivated Paul to take the gospel to everyone who had not heard. It flipped his world so upside down, that he was moved and motivated all the way until death.

Hold fast to the gospel. It will turn the world upside down.

What was the last time you did something shocking? I am not talking about something that surprised someone, but something that was actually shocking. Something so shocking that your action caused a loss for words. Did it change anything?

Do you believe you deserve grace? Or do you recognize that you have been given a gift, a new reality, by the grace of God? Does our community look different than the world? Are we taking the gospel to the most unlikely people because they need the good news the most? We should hold on to the gospel so tight that the effects flip the ‘real world’ upside down, hold on so much so that everything else is rubbish.

In gospel reality, the resurrection matters.

Paul is anticipating their response to what he has just said. Paul has refreshed the Corinthians on his stance on the gospel. He now moves to direct critique of their supposed stance against a Christian’s bodily resurrection.[11] Does it even matter if Christians think there will be a bodily resurrection?

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. – 1 Cor. 15:12-19

Paul writes with intense sarcasm.[12] With no hope in the resurrection of the dead it negates the gospel. Everything is worthless—the preaching, their faith, and Christ dying—if he did not raise from the dead. All those who have died are dead in sin. They have not experienced forgiveness. Even worse, Paul is guilty of bearing false witness about what God did. Why would Jesus be an exception to the rule? “Irrespective, however, of all the promised good in the present age, the substance of the believer’s hope is anchored in the future.”[13] With all the torment and tough life that Christ brings, why would Paul follow him unless there was more? It just does not make any sense. If Christ really loves us, why would he raise from the dead? Just to rub it in our face? Everyone should just feel sorry for us. We deserve to be the laughing stock.

What is so amazing is that Paul continues this line of thinking another 39 verses. He has to over kill this topic because if he did not, then they would still be under the greater impression that the real hope is in this life. We know how this story goes. The gospel struggles to change their reality. Their hope is drowned out by the ‘real world’ that Paul has to write a Second Corinthians. He cannot get them to hold fast to the gospel.

Johnson writes in his commentary,

“Recently I attended a funeral service for a well-known Christian man who had been my personal friend. He was eulogized extensively and quite appropriately for his dedication, selfless service, determination and rugged individualism. Several participants, including the pastor in his sermon, referred to the deceased as having ‘gone into presence of the Lord’ and ‘entered into glory,’ as ‘enjoying the splendors of heaven’ and so on, but no mention was made of the resurrection of the dead as the great Christian hope. This experience has been repeated numerous times in Christian funeral services I have attended over the past several years. It is almost as if we believed these persons were fulfilled, complete, at rest, glorified right now without any need for the resurrection.”[14]

“Paul kept his central theological hopes focused upon a future created anew by God.”[15] Where is our hope? Do we hope in what this life offers or do we hope in what will come? Is your time, money, and energy focused on kingdom living or earthly hope?

We must hold fast to the gospel.

Imagine if we walked out the doors of our houses this week with a purpose and we are able to see actual transformation. What would our churches look like with renewed hope in the gospel now and gospel future? What if we are able to see resurrection in people, who we thought were dead, but made alive through Christ because they held onto a gospel that is real? What if we walked out these doors today, shaped by a gospel reality, and flipped the ‘real world’ upside down? Hold fast to the gospel.


[1] “Paul starts from first principles. He shows that Christ’s resurrection is fundamental to the gospel, then that the resurrection of the Christ implies the resurrection of the Christian.” “If men’s grip of the gospel is such that they are not really trusting Christ, their belief is groundless and empty” (Morris, Leon. The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 203, 205).

[2] Evangelion is used 41 times in the New Testament. It is usually followed by of the kingdom or of God and also surrounded by either preaching or proclamation. “Paul starts from first principles. He shows that Christ’s resurrection is fundamental to the gospel, then that the resurrection of the Christ implies the resurrection of the Christian.” “If men’s grip of the gospel is such that they are not really trusting Christ, their belief is groundless and empty” (Morris, Leon. The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 203, 205). Specifically, I will use gospel to refer to the announcement that Jesus is Lord. The recipients of the gospel are those who believe, have faith, and trust. The place that it gives is one of standing, purpose, and proof. God’s redemptive story is one that began before creation in Genesis and finishes with the new kingdom in Revelation. It came to a climax with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

[3] Witherington assesses that the thesis of this letter is unity (Witherington, Ben. Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 94-97.), while Fiensy maintains that it is the foolishness that is the message of the cross (1:18) (Fiensy, David. Class notes)

[4] F. W. Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes, New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), p. 347.

[5] Paul preached in Corinth in Acts 18.

[6] Simon J. Kistemaker, 1 Corinthians (New Testament Commentary) (Nashville, TN: Baker Academic, 1993), 525.

[7] Romans 15:16

[8] Paul specifically uses Christ to represent Jesus’ Messiahship or his Lordship, and thus is establishing a new kingdom as a crucified King.

[9] For in detail examination of the early creed and its historicity, see Michael R. Licona. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historigraphucal Approach. (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010), 223-235, 333-339.

[10] Refers to his apostleship in comparison to the conversion experience of the other apostles (Baker 534). All scholars do not agree on this, however, Witherington references Paul’s appearance or what others may have said about him. Ben Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary On 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995), 303.

[11] Jews and Gentiles alike would have supposed that the bodily resurrection of anyone is outrageous. The body is evil, so the worst thing in the whole world would be for a soul to be rejoined with its body. (Class discussion 3/5) (NT Wright Video).

[12] “It was a regular proactive for a rhetor to try to refute and argument by showing that its logical consequences were unacceptable and thus that the logic must be flawed.” Ben Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary On 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995), 303.

[13] Richard Oster, 1 Corinthians, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1995), 349-63.

[14] Alan F. Johnson, The Ivp New Testament Commentary Series, vol. 7, 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 279-89.

[15] Richard Oster, 1 Corinthians, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1995), 349-63.

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