We shall follow Paul as he continues his polemic (battle) against the evil communications that corrupt the good manners, the pious walk of the godly, which is only possible and real in the hope of the resurrection.
A little leaven leaveneth the entire lump. It doth eat like the cancer. Soon the entire walk of godliness, a walk of sanctification will be gone. The believers will be lulled to sleep. For evil communications corrupt good, Christian ethics.
Paul is acutely aware that a denial of the resurrection sounds the death-knell for all Christian heroism. Had Abraham, Isaac and Jacob not in hope sought a better and an enduring, substance they would surely have returned to the country of their fathers. But now they declare plainly that they seek a better country, that is, an heavenly. God is not ashamed to be called their God for he hath prepared for them a city. Heb. 11.
And such is Paul’s striving too. It is the key to understand Paul’s dangerous mode of life as an ambassador of Christ. If the dead rise not then surely Paul is a fool than which there is none greater. Among all those who are the most pitiable of all men, Paul may then safely be ranked as surpassing them all in being an object of pity. Does he not labor more abundantly alone than all the rest of the apostles together?!
Paul does a little self-analysis here in the text, and formulates it into an argument in favor of the hope of the resurrection. It is evidence of the hope of the resurrection. He is an example of all the longsuffering of God to sinners. However, he is also an example for all to emulate. I Tim. 1:15-16; Phil. 3:17. This is particularly true of his walk in hope.
Wherefore he writes: “And why stand we in jeopardy every hour. I protest by our rejoicing which we have in Christ Jesus, I die daily. If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die. Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this unto your shame.”
We would call attention to the following here.
In the first place we should take notice of Paul’s danger dangerous life as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Says he: “We are in jeopardy every hour.” This is somewhat likeRomans 8:36 where Paul writes: “Even as it is written, For thy sake are we killed all the day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Psalm 44:22. Evidently Paul, when speaking here in the plural “we,” includes also the other apostles and all who walk godly in this world. II Tim. 3:12. But it is particularly to himself that he has reference. Was not that which was lacking in the sufferings of Christ filled up in a goodly measure in his life (Col. 1:24), and that, too, for the church?
The record is in the Scriptures concerning this life of Paul in jeopardy every hour. Paul writes in II Corinthians 11:23-33, which we here quote in part: “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times did I receive forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep. In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watching often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness . . . .” Dear reader, does not the record here speak for itself. Yes, Paul lives in jeopardy every hour. And this began as soon as he became a minister of Christ. Does he not relate here the incident also recorded in Acts 9:23-25 of his being let down by the wall in a basket. That was the beginning when “the Jews took counsel to kill him.” That moment stands out so very clearly in Paul’s mind as the beginning of this life of “jeopardy every hour.”
And why does Paul relate this?
Why does Paul call attention to his hovering on the brink of death each day? Was it to gain some sympathy from these Corinthians? Not at all. Is it that Paul was seeking martyrdom? That cannot be for when danger is near Paul repeatedly flees. He thinks of this dangerous living not as an end in itself. It is far from pleasant. It is dying daily! Think of what Paul writes in I Corinthians 4:9-13, where we read: “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed unto death: For we are made a spectacle (theatre) unto the world, and to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake but ye are wise in Christ . . . even unto this very hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place . . . We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.”
Why does he write this? He would excite them to a life of Christian hope. He would stop the mouth of those who say that the “dead rise wholly not.”
Hence, he adds even an oath in this connection. Writes he: “I protest by the boasting which I have concerning you, brethren.” Paul could boast of this congregation that even if they had “ten thousand instructors in Christ,” yet had they not many fathers. Had Paul not begotten them in Christ by the Gospel, preaching the gospel where others had not preached before him? See I Cor. 4:15-16, and Romans 15:20-21 (Is. 52:15). He therefore adjured them by God that what he says about his life being in jeopardy every hour is truth. He dies daily. It is as stated very succinctly by Calvin, “an oath by which he wished to arouse the Corinthians to a more attentive listening to him as to the matter at hand, in effect saying, brethren, I am not some philosopher prattling in the shade! As I expose myself every day to death, it is necessary that I should think in good earnest of this heavenly life.” Truly, by thus swearing Paul reminds these Corinthians that he expects them to keep this faith and hope in constancy.
To drive this point home he asks them the rhetorical question, “If after the manner of men I have fought with the beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me if the dead rise not?”
If the dead rise wholly not, what is the advantage of a life of suffering and deprivation, of hunger, thirst, peril, nakedness and sword. If there is no resurrection, then there certainly is no reward. Then the point of living is in this moment and not for a distant and better hope.
It must have been exceptionally trying what Paul experienced when he fought with the beasts at Ephesus. That is why Paul cites this case here. Just what Paul has definitely in mind as an incident he does not say. It may very well refer to a rather long period, calling for exceptionally much patience and fortitude. There are two explanations, of this phrase, “fought with beasts at Ephesus.”
There is first of all the literal interpretation. This holds that Paul had been thrown into the arena in Ephesus, and had to fight with the lions or other wild beast, and had there been doomed to die. However, the Lord then delivered him. What is cited against this interpretation is that the uproar in Ephesus occurred after Paul wrote this first epistle to the Corinthians. Besides, it is urged that in the catalogue of sufferings as given in II Cor. 11:23ff (see above) no mention is made by Paul of his literally having been in peril of lions, etc.
The interpretation which holds that the phrase “fought with the wild beasts” must be understood figuratively of evil men, to our mind, is the correct one. The wild beasts then refers to cruel men, who opposed the gospel, and would stop at nothing to tear Paul in pieces. They made life well-nigh unendurable for Paul. This interpretation is backed by the fact that unbelievers and enemies of the Cross are often compared to beasts. Just to cite a few instances we call attention, first of all, to the warning of Jesus to his disciples in Matt. 10:16: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” And warning against false prophets he says: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, BUT INWARDLY THEY ARE RAVENING WOLVES.” Matt. 7:15. And did not Paul warn the elders in Ephesus saying: “For this is known that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” Acts 20:29. (Incidentally that was what I preached on in Jan., 1944, when I preached a sermon for installation of office-bearers. It was on the last Sunday of my ministry in Pella, Iowa.)
From this it is evident that “wild beasts of Ephesus” refers to evil men in their fierce opposition to the Gospel and the hope of the resurrection in Jesus Christ.
But why all this suffering and defense of the Gospel if the dead rise not? Could Paul not have lived another life than this having his “life poured out as a drink-offering”? It were far better then to live the reckless life of Israel of old when the Assyrians came into the land. Rather than mourn they said: “let’s eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Merrily they go to destruction. They cast all restraint to the wind.
That is the far better alternative too “if the dead rise not.” But the dead do rise. Christ arose! He is the first-fruits. And the full harvest shall surely come in the resurrection morn!
Therefore, all this talk of there being no resurrection is very deceptive and dangerous. It corrupts Christian ethics. For only they who have the hope of seeing God purify themselves as he is pure. I John 3:3. And, these who deny the resurrection, do so because as the Sadducees they know not God nor the power of the God in the resurrection. They have not a saving knowledge of faith in God.
It is really a shame that Paul must tell the Corinthians all this. They cannot blame the teaching of Paul for it. There is one reason and one only. It is sin in them. They are not spiritually sober. They do not have the loins of their mind girt up, and hope perfectly for the revelation of Jesus Christ in that day.
Those who are roused from their indolence and stupor are to distance themselves from such evil speakers.
They must remember that it was preached to them that Christ died for their sins according to the Scriptures and that He arose again the third day according to the Scriptures.
But Paul will presently say: I have kept the faith, I have run the race, and presently there is laid away for me a crown of life; and not for me only but for all who love his appearance.
Thus we have preached and thus ye have believed.
Stand, therefore, in that faith looking for the hope of glory.