Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany – Epistle

by Crossings

What You Don’t See Is What You Get
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Analysis by Carolyn Schneider

12Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ — whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

DIAGNOSIS: If Christ has not been raised…

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – False Witness?
Paul disagrees with “some among you” in the Corinthian congregation (1 Cor. 15:12). In essence, these “some” are accusing Paul of breaking the 8th commandment and “bearing false witness” against God-like a false prophet would-because Paul declares that Christ has been raised from among the dead. “Some” say that there is no resurrection of the dead; thus God did not do what Paul preaches. Paul traces the consequences of this rival claim. What are the assumptions that lie behind it?

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Worthless Faith
Paul notes that if Christ has not been raised because there is no resurrection of the dead, then that also means that Christ cannot be with the believer. He is dead. Christ can be nothing more than a great historical example of a righteous life. But that creates another problem; because, like the true prophets, Jesus died condemned, without wealth or honor. Thus, to follow his example of how to live the righteous life, one must live in such a way as to experience similar rejection. But if shame in this life is all that it means to be Christ’s followers, then Christians are indeed a pitiful people. Our faith is empty of any content if we believe that what we are (or anyone is) and what we have (or anyone has) is all we will ever be and have. Then Christ has accomplished nothing for us and we are still in our sins. Then it is also true that what you see is what you get: Blessed are the rich; woe to you who are poor… (contrary to Luke 6).

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Lost People
On one count, Paul does agree with the other party: You do get what you see. If what you see is that the miseries of this life-up to and including death-cut a person off from God, then indeed, even those “who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost” (v. 18). Christ himself is lost. If you cannot trust God to be with you even when everything else is gone, including your own life, then you are like a shrub in the desert that cannot see relief when it is near. The trouble is that it is natural for all human hearts to “turn away from the Lord” like this; as Jeremiah declares, “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse-who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:5-6, 9). And people with perverse hearts are lost people.

PROGNOSIS: But in fact Christ has been raised…

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – First Fruits
But in another sense, what you see is not at all what you get, as Jesus makes clear in his sermon on the plain in Luke 6:17-26. Jesus had to look up the hill to address these words to his disciples because he had descended to where the people were (specifically, the people who were sick and troubled). He taught them that even if they did not possess wealth and honor were not with them, God was still with them. Paul is extending that line of thought: Even if life is no longer with you, God is still with you. He insists on being with you. God raised up the condemned and executed Jesus from the dead, like a plant sprouting from the buried seed, and accepted him as the representative portion of the whole crop (the “first fruits,” v. 20).

Step 5: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Solution) – Full Faith
Those who identify themselves with this Messiah who is living, not dead, become like riverside trees, achieving their mature state without fear even when the heat comes (see Psalm 1:3 and Jeremiah 17:8). Such faith is not empty but full of life though, of course, the life is not necessarily what we see (or at least, not yet). We will get what we do not yet see when we have lost everything that we do see-including our present existence; then God will be everything to us, and we will see God as God is. Certainly believers who (in Luke’s words) are poor, hungry, crying, hated, excluded and spoken against already know what this is like.

Step 6: Final Diagnosis (External Solution) – Living Words
Surely, the Corinthians who claimed that there is no resurrection of the dead claimed to know Christ. But Paul argues that he has been able to make Christ known to them because Christ is alive. One can only know another by being introduced. So Paul bears fruit by preaching Christ (the “first fruits”) so that neither he nor the Corinthians will be named as false witnesses against the God who raises the dead. This is our legacy too: That we, who have received the promise of Christ’s resurrection, may grow in him and bear witness to him.


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