So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. I Cor. 15:54-58.
The term death in this Scripture is an abstract noun, and is therefore the signification of an abstraction. The apostle in his mind draws death away from the thing which is dead—the sinner—and conceives of it as something apart. This, of course, can be done in the mind only. Fact is, that the sinner is dead. Death is a state or condition of being, both physical and spiritual death. The death of the Scripture we now deal with is physical. This is evident from the context. There were found, in the Christian assembly to which the apostle directs these words, those who at least questioned the raising up of the dead. How, such would ask, are the dead raised up and with what body do they come? “Fool,” said the apostle, “that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die. And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some grain; but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body.” The apostle goes on to say that all flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts. . . . The new body, then, will not differ, as to kind from the earthy body shed. However, “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. So also is the resurrection of the dead. The two bodies,—the one shed, the earthy, and the body of the resurrection—do not differ as to species, but as to glory. The body shed is corruptible, dishonorable, weak. It is raised in glory and power, a spiritual body. So it appears that the theme of this chapter is the appearance of the saints in the day of Christ. Then this corruptible will have put on incorruption, and this mortal, immortality. . . . then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory (verse 54), and the apostle jubilantly exclaims: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Death here is thought of as a poisonous insect with a deadly sting, operating in man, wounding him, and gnawing at the very root of his earthy existence.
Man takes death with him from the womb, and becomes aware of its operations in him as soon as he attains to self-consciousness. Every ache and pain is a testimony to the fact that this body is being assailed and mortified. And though the very strong survive for many a year, the dimmed vision, the impaired hearing, the faltering step, the furrowed visage peculiar to the evening of man’s life, warn them that they, too, shall soon succumb to death’s assaults. The final thrust is made when the soul forsakes its earthy dwelling. The lifeless frame is then placed beneath the sod and the grave has gained another victory.
The sting of death is sin. There is, then, a causal relation between sin and death. For sin, returning to the sinner as guilt slays him through death. Man is the sinner. He is this, first of all, in the head and representative of the race to which he belongs. There is the transgression of Adam extended to all mankind, a corruption of the whole nature producing in man all sorts of sin. It is by their sum total that the house of man’s earthy tabernacle is being assayed and destroyed. And if it be considered that the wound of any one sin is fatal, the conviction cannot be escaped that man is certainly headed for the grave.
The apostle asserts, further, that sin is strong, and that its strength is the law. The transgressed law demands that sin return to the transgressor as guilt and slay him through death. The soul that sinneth shall die. The law must be associated with the unrelenting righteousness of holy God so that it is He who must demand the death of the transgressor. Death, then, being transgression of the law, is a Divine necessity, certain and sure as the great God is mighty to revenge, as unrelenting as the Almighty is holy.
Further, death contemplated as punishment ripens man for a grave that constitutes the gateway to hell. The law is not satisfied until the transgressor has disappeared into the region of eternal night where men weep and wail only.
So it appears that the inward reality of death is sin. This the fool refuses to admit. Being stupid he refuses to recognize the facts of man’s existence. The very thought of death he puts far from him and insists that his house shall stand forever.
The apostle, wonderful to say, derides death’s sting and the victory gained by the grave. “O death, where is thy sting. O grave, where is thy victory.” They no longer exist for those who are in Christ. For death has been swallowed up, devoured, reduced to nothing, wiped out of existence. Sin through death does not wound and slay the believer, does not ripen him for a grave constituting the gateway to hell. How must it be accounted for then that the believers die and descend into the grave? Death hath been swallowed up in victory. That is to say, respecting the believers, death as the instrument of sin has been conquered, overcome and rendered their servant, their slave. What may be the service death renders to the believer? A very important one. The believers are earthy. They bear the image of the earthy. Their regenerated spirit dwells in a house of an earthy tabernacle—this body of flesh and blood. However, flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of God. Neither can corruption inherit incorruption. And, fact is, the house of this earthy tabernacle is corruptible, dishonorable, weak. The believer cannot enter into the heavenly mansions clothed with this body. It must be shed, broken, torn, destroyed. Death not as the instrument of sin, but as a servant of the believer, renders the believer this great service. And when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, death shall have completed its task. Then shall have been realized the saying it is written, death is swallowed up in victory.
It is God that giveth the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. God through Christ gained the victory for His people. Assuming full responsibility for our sins, He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. It pleased the Lord to bruise Him, to put Him to grief, and to make His soul an offering for sin. Christ, then, suffered sin’s penalty, and thus removed, took away, for His people, sin. He thus destroyed death and at once silenced the law, so that it no longer demands that the transgression returns to the believer in the form of guilt and slay him through death. By Himself dying, and living again He loosed death from sin and converted it from a servant of hell to a servant of life and heaven. By Himself passing through the grave, He loosed it from sin and converted it from a gateway to the realms of eternal darkness, to the gateway of heaven. From the grave the way led into the sanctuary above, which He entered taking with Him His loved ones. Thus did the Father give to us through Christ, the victory. For, being included in Him we were affixed with Him to the cross, passed with Him through the grave and were set with Him in heaven. The victory, then, is our lawful property. Therefore must and does death serve us, and when death shall have done its work, Christ in and through the believers will shake death off them as upon the morning of the resurrection He shook it off Himself, to reclothe them with a body congruous with their heavenly mode of existence. O death, where is thy sting; O grave, where is thy victory? What doth it avail the that thou destroyest this house of my earthy tabernacle? Of what value to you, grave, is thy victory?
“Therefore my beloved brethren,” so the apostle continues, “be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain to the Lord.”
This admonition was occasioned by the presence of the sceptics in the Christian assembly at Corinth. In his reply, the apostle calls attention to the fact that the resurrection of the just is imaged in creation. The seed sown, dies. In this seed, however, is hidden an invisible life that abides. What decays is the body housing this life. The latter receives a new body—the plant. So, too, the believer. He is an organism housing a new principle as such invisible, to-wit, the regenerated spirit or ego, which at death is set free and received in heaven. What remains is the lifeless frame of man, which decays and returns to the dust. In the day of Christ that which is born of God receives a new body. The two constitute the glorified organism that takes its place in the eternal kingdom of light.
It is with a view to the resurrection of the just that the apostle wrote: “Be ye steadfast, unmovable.” The term steadfast is self-explanatory. Man must stand somewhere. God alone is not in the need of standing room distinct from His own being for He rests in and stands upon Himself. The place upon which man takes his position is distinct from self. The steadfast are such as keep to the position once taken up.
The believer takes his stand upon the truth, as it is in Christ Jesus. The truth in addition dwells in him and constitutes the element in which he abides and moves. To the unseen realities reflected by truth he feels himself attracted. They constitute for him the pearl of great value for which he sells all, which he seeks with a singleness of purpose and a persevering diligence called steadfastness.
The particular truth to which the apostle admonishes his readers to keep is that of the resurrection of those who fall asleep in Jesus. Paul would not have his readers be moved from this truth by the sceptics. Doing so they would needs be taking their stand upon the opposing lie to the effect that there is no resurrection of the dead, that man therefore had better eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow he dies. On the other hand, abiding unmovable their speech would be: There is a resurrection of the just to eternal life. Hence, let us abound in the work of the Lord for we know that our labor is not in vain.
Be ye unmovable. Do not shift positions by passing from the truth to the lie. Would this be possible for the saint? Indeed not? However, to be unmovable requires real effort as well as to enter in thru the narrow gate. Satan and the world in conjunction with the flesh combine to jolt us loose from the truth. All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life may engage our minds so that we lose out of sight the unseen realities. God worketh the will to be unmovable.
Many are being moved this day by the mockery of the scoffers. The circle still cleaving to the truths of Christendom is becoming ever smaller. Of the doctrine of the resurrection of the just unto glory the world must have nothing of. For its other side defines the resurrection of the unjust as the prelude to their disappearance into that region of outer darkness. It is a doctrine that constitutes an argument in favor of taking a stand over against the lust of the flesh. The wicked, however, will to love and to serve the flesh. They therefore despise the truth and take their position upon the lie. The reason why the truth is hated and the lie loved is an intensely practical one.
One may have glided from the truth without having openly broken with the truth. This sort of thing may happen in those circles whose members have been living all their lives on familiar terms with the truth. What tells us that a shifting process is in progress is the growing worldliness on the part of the one having shifted. The lie is always lived before confessed.
“Be ye unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Abounding in the work of the Lord characterizes the unmovable Christian. “The work of the Lord.” The Lord, then, has a work called His, to wit, the execution of the counsel of God. Of this counsel the outstanding article is the one asserting that the elect shall be called out of darkness into the light; that the church shall be cared for, and that the world shall be made ripe for judgment. The work of the Lord is to execute these Divine decrees. In this work the unmovable Christian abounds in a manner compatible with his being creature. The unmovable Christian places before his eyes the high ideal of fearing the Lord, letting his light shine, conforming his whole life to God’s law, living in every department of life out of the principle of regeneration. Doing so, this unmovable one is engaged in the work of the Lord. As the Lord’s instrument he is calling by his light, out of the world, God’s people, nourishing those who dwell in the light, and condemning by his light the world. This in general. There are, of course, many specific tasks which in a specific sense constitute the work of the Lord. A number of such tasks are mentioned in this sixteenth chapter, such as the helping of the poor in Jerusalem. Further, the Corinthians are charged by Paul to see to it that Timothy be among them without fear and to submit themselves to the house of Stephanus.
He who would abound in the work of the Lord shall be prepared to practice much self-denial. He must be prepared to suffer for the sake of the Lord. Therefore the apostle adds that his readers must keep before their eye that their labor is not in vain in the Lord. The saints, then, labor, must consciously labor in the Lord. This labor is the Lord’s and it must be performed in the Lord. The laborer shall transport himself through faith in the Lord and contemplate the Lord as One who merited the good works in which he as the Lord’s laborer may be engaged. These works have been prepared for him that he should walk in them. This laborer should contemplate Christ further as one who by His Spirit worketh in him both to will and to do; as One who is the true vine apart from whom the laborer can bear no fruit; as One in whom dwells the fullness of life and power. This laborer, finally, must know himself as the Lord’s instrument, in and through whom the Lord performs His labors. Any labor performed in any other frame of mind is an abomination in the sight of the Lord.
This kind of labor is not in vain but will be rewarded. And the reward, the redemption of our bodies—the main theme of this epistle—and the adoption of children, in a word, the aggregate of the blessings of the kingdom, Christ is pleased to call a reward though it constitutes a blessed boon merited by Him, a reward for the faithfulness and perseverance of which he again is the Workman.