Which is better; that God change the world, or that he change us? How many times have we prayed to God to change the situations we find ourselves in, but not to change us…
Which is better; that God change the world, or that he change us? How many times have we prayed to God to change the situations we find ourselves in, but not to change us, to change our attitudes about the things that we experience? The people at the time of Jesus were just as caught up in this as we are. Even Jesus’ disciples wanted to believe that he was the kind of Messiah who was going to save them from the political, social, and economic oppression and the crushing cruelty of Rome. But Paul gives us the proper perspective on this in this passage from his first letter to the Corinthians. The whole of chapter 15 is a discourse on the ultimate meaning of the resurrection. He shows us that our hope is in the resurrection, not in some mere political, social or economic salvation. We live for something greater than those temporal, finite, and ultimately frustrating things.
ʺBut [IF] Chirst is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? [IF] there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And [IF] Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise [IF] in fact the dead are not raised. For [IF] the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and [IF] Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. [IF] for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.ʺ (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)
Paul knows his audience here. He is writing to a Greek community that is steeped in the practice of philosophical argument. Paul is laying out his argument in the form of a syllogism, an ʺif, thenʺ statement. The argument goes this way: [If] there is no such thing as resurrection of the dead, [then] everything we preach about Christ risen, and our willingness to suffer abuse and even death for the risen Christ, is false. Using this form of argument in this passage, Paul is addressing the human tendency toward skepticism, which was as prevalent in his time as it is in ours. But Paul is also setting up his audience for the rest of the argument, which is given in another, more certain, syllogistic form, the ʺSince, Thereforeʺ form. ʺ[Since] death came through a human being, [therefore] the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being.ʺ Christ, the Son of God, in dying on the cross and rising from the dead, has conquered death and its cause, sin, forever. This is something worth being hoped for. This is something worth believing in. Indeed, this is something worth living for with all of our being.
History is rife with evidence that hoping for some kind of earthly political, social, or economic paradise is a fool’s dream. Such things have failed over and over again, throughout history, and throughout our own personal lives, because of the very nature of their finite and flawed human origins. A Christian hopes and believes in something much greater than these things. We believe that Jesus did rise from the dead, that in doing so, he conquered death and made eternal life available to all who believe in him. It is not politics, or social justice, or economic wealth that moves us to love one another as Jesus loved us. Rather, it is because we believe in Jesus and in His resurrection that we act in this world out of faith, hope, and love. We know that faith and hope in Jesus sustains us in this life. We know that only love is eternal. We know that only love has the power to truly change us, or the world, for the good. Kings, presidents, forms of human government come and go, like the grasses in spring and winter, and it is foolishness to put all of our hope in them. Gold and silver are as so much dust in comparison to the eternal love of God, who alone has the power to conquer sin and death forever.
Those who put their hopes in nothing more than political, social, or economic ʺpowerʺ are pitiable indeed. For all of those things will fade and be forgotten. But those who put their hopes in Christ, will live justly out of love here on earth and will live forever in heaven in the presence of the One Who Is Love. Because of Christ:
ʺDeath is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?ʺ (1 Corinthians 15:55)
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)
Let us, then, pray always that God will change us, and in doing so, we may, with his grace, do our little bit to change to world around us through our love and our faith in Jesus Christ.