1 Corinthians 15 is a fascinating chapter for a variety of reasons. It is there that we find the simplest presentation of the Gospel in all of Scripture (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). We read of Paul's astounding apologetic for the Resurrection -- eyewitnesses (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). We have that interesting exercise in logic -- "If there is no resurrection of the dead ..." (1 Corinthians 15:12-20). And who can forget the classic "mom" line: "Bad company ruins good morals" (1 Corinthians 15:33). This chapter includes the glorious "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55) and that wonderful promise of being changed from perishable to imperishable "in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Corinthians 15:51-57). Lots of good stuff.
In one spot 1 Corinthians 15 seems to oppose Pascal's Wager. Pascal is famous for suggesting to the skeptic, "There just might be a God, so it would be in your best interest to believe in Him and if it turns out He doesn't exist, then you haven't lost anything." (Or something like that.) Paul writes,
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19).
In his book, Desiring God, John Piper sees this as an indictment of western Christianity. I think he's right. Think about it. Given life in today's "Christianized" world, in what sense are we "most to be pitied"?
Paul lived a radically different Christianity than we do today. He was "in danger every hour" (1 Corinthians 15:30). He fought wild animals in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32). In his second epistle to the Corinthians he has a whole list.
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).
And lest you wish to chalk all this up to Paul and his times, he offers the alternative. What would his life be like if he wasn't a believer? "If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (1 Corinthians 15:32). Paul's suggestion is a two-sided coin. On one side, the rational life without Christ is to simply enjoy life's pleasures. That just makes sense. The other side of the coin is that Paul didn't.
Contrast that with western Christianity in general and American Christianity in particular. While most of us haven't succumbed to the "health and wealth gospel", that false gospel that suggests that all true believers deserve to be rich, we're not too far off. According to reliable studies, only a third of church goers actually give financial support to their churches. Christians worldwide give an average of about 2% of their income to Christian causes, with only 3-5% actually tithing. While it may be true that something like $103 billion went to churches in 2007, it still begs the question as to what they're doing with all that money. Most of it is spent on buildings and salaries and events rather than Christ. And this is just in terms of money. How about time? Is your time your own, or is it the Lord's? Or your job? Is your job your business or is it God's business? There are so many of these questions. Family, future, retirement, vacation, leisure, charity ... on and on it goes. Where are your priorities?
Why does Paul consider us to be "most to be pitied" if we only have hope in Christ in this life and not the hereafter?
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith -- that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:8-11).
It's all right there. Assuming that Christ is raised, that Christianity is genuine, that what we believe is true, Paul says that it completely revamps your value system. Status, birthright, income, all of it goes away. It falls in the "loss" column. The only thing of any value is "knowing Christ Jesus my Lord". The deepest longing of Paul's heart was to share in the sufferings of Christ.
You may think I'm pointing fingers. Trust me. It is my own sense of conviction that weighs most heavily on me. I am nota modern example of Paul's Christian values. I do not die daily. I live a comfortable life and would be hard-pressed to do otherwise ... to my own shame. I have wrong values. I suspect, however, that I'm not alone. So I thought, while I'm mulling over my shortcomings, that maybe you'd like to join me to see if you have some similar problems. Where are your values? Do you consider comfort and lifestyle more valuable than knowing Christ. Is "sacrificial giving" a term that makes you uncomfortable? Do you see suffering for Christ's sake as a necessary evil at best? (The Bible describes it as something of great value.) Are you offended if there is a hint that you might have to suffer some loss of some sort for your belief in Christ? Then maybe you have some value problems just like I do. Because the way American Christianity works, we are not the most to be pitied, are we?
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