Connections 02.17.2019: “To Infinity…and Beyond!”

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

“To infinity…and beyond!” is the catchphrase of the Toy Story movies’ character Buzz Lightyear.

The statement is nonsense. For one thing, infinity isn’t something you can go to. For another thing, infinity has no boundaries, so you can’t go beyond it.

We wish we could, though. We wish we could break through the boundaries and limitations of our lives and soar to something so wonderful that it’s beyond imagining. Forget shuffling off this mortal coil—we’d like to blast beyond our troubles and live free of troubles, pains, and worries.

Should we think of resurrection in such terms? I mean a couple of things by that. 

First, should we think of it as escape from this life? Paul says, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (v. 19). He seems to believe that the hope resurrection gives us for the next life is important. We should remember that Paul is arguing against some people who taught that “there is no resurrection of the dead” (v. 12b). Still, resurrection certainly is entryway into the next life, so we shouldn’t downplay that.

But entry is not necessarily escape, and I’m not sure we should think of resurrection as escape from this life. I think we might do better to think of it as the fulfillment of this life. That is, it is the fulfillment of following Jesus in this life by dying to self and being enlivened through his resurrection. Our resurrection is the continuation of the life with God in Christ that we are already living.

Second, should we think of resurrection as beyond our ability to imagine? Yes, we should. How can we imagine the unimaginable? How can we imagine the post-resurrection life? And even if we try to imagine it, how could our imaginations, which are limited by the confines of our experiences in this world, ever come close to imagining something that may well take us beyond infinity?

This is the second of three lessons on 1 Corinthians 15, which means it is the second of three lessons on what Paul says about resurrection. Hopefully after studying these lessons we’ll know a little more about it.

But I hope we’ll have even more reason to celebrate and anticipate it. We can’t accurately imagine it, but we can look forward to it and praise God for it!

Discussion

  1. What might have led some in Corinth to say there was no resurrection of the dead?
  2. Why is Christ’s resurrection so important to our faith?
  3. What kind of hope does Christ’s resurrection and the hope of our future resurrection give us in this life?
  4. We wouldn’t say that there is no resurrection from the dead. But are there any ways we might live that would seem to reflect a lack of belief in resurrection? If so, what are some of those ways? How might we correct them?

Reference Shelf

What is the result of denying the resurrection of the dead? Twice he insists that it also means denying the resurrection of Jesus (15:13, 16). The first consequence of this denial is that his preaching and their acceptance of it have been in vain (15:14). He has proclaimed and they have believed some- thing that is simply not true. Furthermore, Paul and the other apostolic proclaimers are exposed (heuriskometha) as false witnesses regarding God (15:15). Their preaching is not only “empty” (kenon), it is libelous. They have testified against (kata) God by claiming that God did something God did not do. If, however, it should prove to be the case that they have testified truthfully regarding God’s resurrection of Christ, then those on the other side would be exposed as false witnesses against God because they have claimed that God did not do what God actually did do.

The second consequence is that their faith is meaningless and they are still “dead” in their sins (15:17). That “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” is affirmed by the creedal statement. But that statement also affirms that “Christ was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” If the latter affirmation is invalid, then so must be the former. Furthermore, all those who have died believing have simply perished, for there is no afterlife of any kind (15:18). They died in their sins and have suffered the fate that awaits all unredeemed persons. Believing or not believing the gospel matters nothing because believers and nonbelievers both perish.

Paul’s final loss that comes from denying the resurrection adds a poignant note of pathos. If there is no afterlife, and Christ only has significance for this life, then believers are the most pitiable fools of all (15:19). His last point may raise some eyebrows. “Would it not be better to live now for Christ, to follow his teachings now, to practice Christian love now, and to try to improve the world in his name—even if there is no afterlife—then not to do so?” For Paul, even though such a life might be virtuous, noble, and more commendable than one of immoral self-indulgence, it would still be pitiable. It would be based on an understanding of God that is too limited. It would be rooted in resignation to the admission that the gospel’s message of God’s ultimate triumph over evil is a pipe dream. It would abdicate the hope for justice to the realities of an unjust world. It would sadly accept that human life has no ultimate value or meaning beyond the few fleeting moments experienced here. For some persons, such a perspective might be considered “realistic.” For Paul, it is supremely pitiable.

Robert Scott Nash, 1 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2009), 402–03.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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