I Corinthians 15:1-11
In the text before us, Paul gives the Corinthians a refresher course in that which he preached during his ministry in their city. Paul was moved to write that which he had preached (and the Corinthians had received) because he received reports that some within the church were saying that there was no resurrection from the dead (see v. 12).
Earlier in this epistle, Paul stated that he had come to Corinth to declare the testimony of God (I Cor. 2:1). In chapter 2, Paul said that he was determined to know nothing among them except Christ and Him crucified. Paul preached much more than Christ crucified. He preached Christ crucified, resurrected, sitting at the right hand of the Father making intercession for all who believe and Christ coming again. Paul had preached these things, yet, there were some who said that there be no resurrection of the dead.
In verse 1, Paul stated that the Corinthians had received that which he preached. They had taken hold of the gospel (the good news from God) which he had delivered to them.
In verse 2, Paul wrote that the gospel which he preached is the gospel “By which also ye are saved”. Verse 2 does not end with the word, saved. Attached is the condition that one must hold in memory or must hold fast to that which Paul preached. There are some who take this condition to mean that one can lose his or her salvation. The closing words of verse 2 say something different.
The closing words, “unless you have believed in vain”, constitute something which is not possible. One cannot believe the word of God without effect (in vain). Believing God changes everything forever. One cannot fail to hold fast to the word of God which Paul preached unless one never believed that which God said.
In verses 3 and 4, Paul stated that he had delivered that which he had received. The scriptures are the word of God. The scriptures declare that “my righteous servant” shall justify many because he shall bear their iniquities (Isa. 53:11). The psalmist declared, “neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption (Ps. 16:11) and “Thou hast ascended on high” (Ps. 68:18). Paul preached that which the scriptures declare. Paul preached the death and resurrection of the Lord. If the Corinthians received the gospel which Paul preached, they believed that Christ rose from the dead.
There were some in the church who only believed part of the good news which Paul had delivered to them. In verse 2, Paul directly addressed those who only believed part of that which he preached. They believed that Christ died for them but not that He rose on the third day. One cannot have certainty of salvation if one does not believe the entire testimony of God which the gospel proclaims.
The believers in the church at Corinth, unlike the vast majority of present day believers, were not reared in a culture that was acceptant of the resurrection. The view of resurrection of the dead in the Greek culture is seen in Acts 17:32 — “ . . . some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.”
In verses 4-8, Paul lists those who saw the resurrected Christ. Peter (Cephas) saw Him (Lk. 24:34); the twelve saw Him. There were more than five hundred in all who witnessed the resurrected Jesus. Jesus was seen by James (likely the author of the epistle of James). Last of all, Paul experienced the resurrected Christ on the Damascus road.
The Greeks viewed resurrection of the dead as an impossible thing. All of the witnesses which Paul listed witnessed the impossible. Paul did not believe until he witnessed the impossible. Paul did not know God until he saw the impossible.
Believing in the resurrected Christ changed him. Saul became Paul. Saul persecuted the church of God; Paul labored to build the church of God. In verse 9, Paul stated that he was not worthy to be called an apostle. Paul was an apostle because he was appointed by Christ to deliver the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul considered himself unworthy because he had zealously persecuted the church. Paul was appointed by Christ (Acts 9:15). Paul was qualified, not by any works (he had none). Paul was qualified by the grace of God (v. 10). Powered by grace, and grace alone, Paul labored more abundantly than all the other apostles. Paul stated, “ . . . not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
Paul preached Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures and that He rose again according to the scriptures. Paul, powered by the grace of God, preached and the Corinthians believed. God reveals Christ and Him resurrected to all who will believe. By grace, we hear, and by grace we believe.
Let us, by grace, declare that which we have received.