Thursday, 26 March 2015
If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” 1 Corinthians 15:32
This completes Paul’s thoughts which are tied to verse 29 concerning the difficult words “baptized for the dead.” In that verse, he noted “…if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?” He again ties in the same thought concerning the dead rising now. In preparation for that, he explains what he meant in the preceding verse which said, “I die daily.”
Putting it in the form of a question, he asks, “If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me?” First, “in the manner of men” is speaking of his mortal nature. It is a nature which can and will die. It could come about by any event, from a mild infection turning into a greater one, to a sudden heart attack, or even to an external disaster such as being run over by a stampede of bulls.
Life is tenuous and it can end in a myriad of ways. And so to stress the foolish nature of living a life for Christ if the dead do not rise, he uses a real-life example which could have lead to his death and which was not accidental, but purposeful. That example is fighting “with beasts at Ephesus.” It is unknown here whether Paul is speaking of literal beasts, or if he is speaking figuratively. The book of Acts, and his other writings, tells us nothing of him fighting with literal beasts, and so this is probably a figurative term for people who fought rabidly against him. This type of speaking is common in the world and even in the Bible. In just one psalm, there are three examples of it –
“Many bulls have surrounded Me;
Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me.
13 They gape at Me with their mouths,
Like a raging and roaring lion.” Psalm 22:12, 13
“For dogs have surrounded Me;
The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me.” Psalm 22:16
“Deliver Me from the sword,
My precious life from the power of the dog.
21 Save Me from the lion’s mouth
And from the horns of the wild oxen!” Psalm 22:20, 21
Paul even comments that he was “delivered from the lion’s mouth” in 2 Timothy 4:17, certainly speaking metaphorically. Additionally, as a Roman citizen, he would not have been subject to fighting beasts in an amphitheater. Therefore, the probability is that he is speaking figuratively. This then would be in contrast to “in the manner of men” that he opened this verse with.
Regardless of this, whether real beasts or enemies with the characteristics of beasts, if he willingly put his life in peril in such a manner, knowing that the dead do not rise, it would be an utterly foolish gesture. If life is tenuous on a good day, how much more so when one eagerly steps into harms way; and that for a cause which he would have known to be false.
Rather than such a foolish waste, it would be so much better to follow another path – “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” If the dead are not raised, then this life is all we have. Wouldn’t it be better to party the time away and do all the things that we wanted to regardless as to whether they were moral and proper? Wouldn’t it be better to get all one could get, experience all one could experience, and live life to the fullest? If this one life is it, then why not make the best of it.
And to show even more forcefully that this is the case, he cites a portion of Isaiah 22. In that passage, Isaiah speaks of Jerusalem being hemmed in by enemies, ready to be destroyed. For the people inside, they made a choice. Rather than reaching out to God in repentance because of their sin which caused the destruction to come, and rather than asking for His powerful hand to have mercy and save them, they turned to tables full of food for one last delightful meal. Here is the account, which contains the verse cited by Paul –
“And in that day the Lord God of hosts
Called for weeping and for mourning,
For baldness and for girding with sackcloth.
13 But instead, joy and gladness,
Slaying oxen and killing sheep,
Eating meat and drinking wine:
‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!’
14 Then it was revealed in my hearing by the Lord of hosts,
“Surely for this iniquity there will be no atonement for you,
Even to your death,” says the Lord God of hosts.” Isaiah 22:12-14
The utterly disrespectful attitude of those in Jerusalem was so brazen that the Lord said their sin would never be atoned for. Even if they lived through the siege, they would never be forgiven. Paul uses their words as the ultimate example of futility in a life without hope of the resurrection. If there is no resurrection, then there is also no atonement. If there is no atonement, then the prospects of meeting God are to be considered utterly futile. Only condemnation awaits the departed soul.
This line of reasoning by Paul explains the difficult meaning of “baptized for the dead” in verse 29. “What will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all?” The answer is, “They will perish like all flesh.” Without the resurrection, there is no hope at all. But because Christ is risen, there is hope and therefore there is a reason to put oneself in harm’s way. With Christ, every action we take has purpose if it is done in the hope of the resurrection.
Life application: Instead of “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” our attitude should be “Let us rejoice, for our souls live… even if we die.”
O my wondrous God! As I think on the resurrection of Christ and what it means for me, I lose all fear in this life. What can man do to me? What can sickness take from me? What heartache can I not endure? All of these things are temporary and will be replaced with joy everlasting. Every tear shall be wiped away as eternity unfolds before me. What can steal my joy? Notta thing! No fear here. I am in Christ. Amen!