Be A Serious Church !

1 Corinthians 15:12-34
By Paul Robison

Someone has said: "It is not so important to be serious as it is to be serious about important things" (Hutchins).  Listen to some startling statistics regarding important matters.  Seventy percent of Americas don't attend church anymore; seventy percent of teenagers can't explain to you why Easter is celebrated; sixty-seven percent of Americans do not believe that the Bible is the literal Word of God (Reeves, The Empty Church). Last year, a book was published called America's Four Gods.  The writers did extensive polling and gave these results: 28% of Americans believe in an authoritative God—He made the world, is engaged with it, and will one day punish the wicked; 22% of Americans believe in a benevolent God—He made the world, is engaged with it, and is more loving than punishing; 21% believe in a critical God—He made the world, is not very engaged with it, but He will bring about an end of history; 24% believe in a distant God—He made the world, is not very engaged with it, and He won't make any kind of intervention in the future; this leaves 5% who are probably atheists (Foresee and Bader).  Now notice something here: almost 30% of our citizens believe there will be no resurrection and no final judgment!  Some of the Corinthians brethren weren't taking the resurrection very seriously?  Again, they were bringing some of their cultural background into the church.  You see the "Greeks saw the body as a prison house and a source of evil, [and] immortality lay precisely in getting rid of the body. For [them], the resurrection of the body was unthinkable. ... [Remember that] Paul never said that we would rise with [the] body with which we died.  He insisted that we would have a spiritual body [which would be an eternal body. So each person's] personality and individuality would survive" (Barclay).  Some of the brethren in Corinth were denying that there would be a general resurrection of all people, and this is a devastating falsehood!  Paul wants to help the brethren in Corinth to see the seriousness of their situation.  Our theme today is: Be a serious church!  Let's look at four ways that Paul shows us how.
First of all, recognize there is false teaching!  Note verse 15:12 once again: "Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?" Did you hear the cultural carry over?  Some among you say that the resurrection of all people is unthinkable and impossible.  Of course, this is a false teaching, but some of the Corinthian members were promoting this mistaken point of view.  Recognize there is false teaching!  Believing a falsehood is not something to which Christians are immune.  Jesus warns in Matthew 7:15: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves."  The apostle Paul warns the elders from Ephesus in Acts 20:29: "For I know this, that after my departure, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also from among yourselves, men will rise up speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them."  The apostle Peter warns in 2 Peter 2:1: "But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction."  Are you getting the picture? There can easily be wolves among us who promote destructive heresies that tear down members’ faith.  The writers of the New Testament warn us to be alert.  Our culture tries to inculcate us to think that we can't say any longer, "I am right, and you are wrong."  We must now say, "I'm OK, and you're OK."  But consider something here—with this kind of tolerant thinking, sin and truth are exterminated!  You see, a false teaching is the opposite of a true teaching, and the sin of those who hold false teaching is that they have deviated, twisted, or perverted the truth!  Recognize there is false teaching!  We need to take to heart Paul's advice for elders in Titus 1:9ff: "Holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught [Why should he do this?], that he may be able, by sound doctrine [or healthy teaching], both to exhort and convict those who contradict.  For there are many insubordinate [or those who do not respect authority], both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision [of the Jews], who mouths must be stopped, who subvert who households, teaching things which they ought not ... Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth."  Hold fast the faithful word because here is the source of truth!  We may think, "Now how in the world could those Corinthian brethren have brought their cultural viewpoint into the church?"  It's easy.  Give up on God's Word and buy into your culture's thinking.  Now if 67% of Americans don't believe the Bible is God's literal Word, what would be the percentage of members right here in this congregation that have carried this cultural outlook right over into the church?  We have had a Bible reading program here for the last three years and there are some members here who have never cracked open their Bibles whatsoever [or at least you've never reported doing it]!  Jesus said in John 8:32 that knowing the truth would set us free, and He says in John 17:17 that God's Word is truth.  So how can we ever defend the truth if we don't open up our Source of truth?  Are we setting ourselves up to be subverted and led astray by false teaching?  Recognize there is false teaching! Be a serious church!
Next, realize the awful consequences of falsehood!  Let's notice Paul's response to the false teaching that there was no resurrection in verses 13-19 and 29-32: "But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.  And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.  Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise.  For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen.  And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!  Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. ... Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all?  Why then are they baptized for the dead?  And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.  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!'  Now notice that Paul did not say: "Well, you brethren that think there won't be any resurrection, God bless you.  You just go on your way thinking what you want, and we'll just go on our way thinking what we want, and we'll all be one big happy family!"  Oh no, Paul saw that this false teaching undermined the whole Christian system, so he came swinging the sword of Spirit using both edges trying to help the righteous members at Corinth to see what a disaster it would be for them to embrace this falsehood.  If you buy into this cultural falsehood that there is no resurrection, then Jesus has not been risen from the dead, our preaching is empty, and your faith is useless!  Swoosh!  We have become false witnesses (and if you'll recall, not bearing false witness was the ninth commandment of the ten), all those Christians who have died at Corinth will perish, and you are still in your sins!  Swoosh!  Why do the religious pagans practice baptism to help their dead since they [notice it's third person in verse 29, not second person] believe there will be a resurrection?  Paul's argument here would be like our saying: "Why do the Indians bury a dog and a spear along with a warrior if they don't believe there will be an afterlife?"  This doesn't mean we approve the practice, but we're trying to show how the practice is sustained by a particular belief.  Why should we risk our lives every hour of every day if there is no resurrection?  Why do I face such hardships and opposition like that I had in Ephesus (remember, those silversmiths) if there is no resurrection?  Why don't we return back to open immoral epicurean lifestyles if there is no resurrection?  Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh!  Hear him swinging that sword of truth!  Think it through!  Reason it out!  Consider where this falsehood is leading you!  Those who are in the right don't get led astray by those who are in the wrong!  Paul wanted the Corinthian brethren to be horrified at what the false teaching of no general resurrection really meant (Shelly)!  Realize the awful consequences of falsehood!  Let's return to our statistics again for a moment: we saw that 21% of Americans view God as critical, 24% view Him as distant, and 5% are atheists.  Now, that's 50% who all share this common belief—God is not very engaged in our world!  Now if 50% of Americans believe that, how many in our audience here today have carried that same cultural falsehood right here into the church?  Let's consider three passages which reveal something about God.  The first is Hebrews 4:13: "And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account."  That sounds like God sees our actions!  The second is Hebrews 12:9ff: "Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect.  Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He [God] for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness."  That sounds like God disciplines us in this life for our own good.  The last is James 5:4: "Indeed, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabbath [or the Lord of Hosts]."  That sounds like God hears those whom we oppress!  Now if God sees us, disciplines us, and hears those we mistreat, how dare we even begin to think that He is distant and disengaged!  If God is our Creator, doesn't it stand to reason that He will also be our Sustainer?  If God is disengaged, why worship?  Why pray?  Why forgive?  Why do good works in Jesus' name?  Realize the awful consequences of falsehood!  Be a serious church!

Next, relearn the glorious consequences of truth!  Let's read verses 20-28: "But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.  But each one in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming.  Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.  For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.  The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.  For 'He has put all things under His feet.'  But when He says 'all things are put under Him,' it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted.  Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all."  After swinging that sword of truth, Paul just couldn't wait to jump in and to set the record straight. Did you notice how Paul shifts gears here?  He puts down his sword and starts laying down concrete blocks of truth of form a solid foundation on which the Corinthian members can stand!  Relearn the glorious consequences of truth!  Notice how Paul launches this discourse by clearly affirming: "But now Christ is risen from the dead!"  And what are the glorious consequences?  Christ is the firstfruit and the second Adam! He will be the Deliverer, the Conqueror, the Destroyer, and the ever submissive Ruler!  Firstfriut is an Old Testament concept based on the Feast of Firstfruits where the Jews would bring the first of their crops and offer them to the Lord.  The firstfruits offering was a guarantee that a harvest would follow.  Christ's resurrection is now a guarantee that all people will one day be raised!  Jesus is the second Adam.  In contrast to the first who brought death to mankind, Jesus will now bring life to all! Then, Paul affirms that the end of history will come, and what a glorious climax it will be!  Jesus will be the Conqueror over all the forces of evil, He will be the Destroyer of death itself, He will be the Deliverer of His kingdom to God, and then He will continue to be the submissive Ruler that He is even now, and God will permeate everything!  Here are glorious consequences of the truth that Christians can build and stake their lives on!  Christ will overcome Satan, his evil forces, and death, and God will restore the paradise that was lost!  Now isn't there something about that glorious affirmation that all people want to believe?  Evil will fall, justice will triumph, and God will be supreme!  A songwriter put it this way: "There where the tempest will never be sweeping us, won't it be wonderful there?  Sure that forever the Lord will be keeping us, won't it be wonderful there?  Won't it be wonderful there!  Having no burdens to bear!  Joyously singing with heartbells all ringing, Oh, won't it be wonderful there!"  "Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, forever and ever" (Revelation 5:13)!  Relearn the glorious consequences of truth!  Be a serious church!
Next, repent of your own stupidity!  Let's read verses 33-34: "Do not be deceived: 'Evil company corrupts good habits.'  Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God.  I speak this to your shame."  "Too much is at stake in this [falsehood about no] resurrection.  [So,] Paul counsels those who share his hope to avoid the corrupting company of those who deny the resurrection and thus to avoid their sin of false teaching" (Shelly).  "Stop sinning" shows that actions and thoughts are interwoven (Morris).  Saying there was no resurrection was not God's knowledge.  "Come back to your senses" is the idea (Morris).  A brother comments: "Arouse from your stupidity on this subject!  The toleration of the skeptical teachers was a public disgrace to the church" (Coffman).  Repent of your own stupidity!  We see Paul here practicing what he preached to Titus.  Remember what we read earlier in Titus 1:13-14: "Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth."  Paul was rebuking these brethren sharply to get them to wake up to righteousness and to keep with the true teaching about the resurrection!  To be sure he is not misunderstood, Paul clarifies that these righteous brethren should be ashamed of tolerating these evil brethren who are trying to corrupt their good habits.   It is shameful and stupid for these good brethren to be playing with TNT and not realizing the severe damage that could occur!  "I speak this to your shame!"  Repent of your own stupidity!  Jesus affirms in Matthew 11:22: "But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you."  Also in Matthew 13:30, He says: "Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, 'First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.’"  Also in Matthew 25:31-32 He declares: "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.  All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats."  He proclaims in John 5:28-29: "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."  A day of judgment is coming.  That's not my idea; that's Jesus' promise.  If you're not taking that promise seriously, I beg you, with a loving heart, wise up and soberly consider His words. Repent of your own stupidity!  Be a serious church!
You know, the easiest way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it or spend time denouncing it; the easiest way is just to lay a straight stick down beside it.  Jesus once said: "I am the way, the truth, and the life."  His teachings are the truth!  May we always take them seriously! 
Let's pray: “Father, thank You for Your revelation because it is truth.  Help to realize that truth counts, and falsehood can be destructive.  Help us to see where error and falsehood can lead.  Help us to be ready for Christ’s return.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
"But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers" (1 Peter 4:7). "God forbid that we should traffic in unlived truth" (Ironside).  How seriously are you trying to put Jesus' teachings into practice in your life?  How seriously do be believe what's written between the covers of this book is the absolute truth?  How seriously are you convicted that Jesus will come again and that you'll stand before Him to give an account of your life?  Christ wants us to put Him above our culture.  Be serious about the important things.  And what's more important than your eternal destination?  Listen to His voice, repent of your sins, and be immersed in His name for forgiveness. God is vitally engaged in this world and wants you to be close to Him!