If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for human motives, what did I gain? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."
I. THE FOLLY OF SELF DENIAL AND SUFFERING FOR CHRISTIANITY. These must be branded as imbecile; yet they have ever seemed most sublime. But if there be no resurrection (the resurrection of the body being vital to the gospel and all its hopes, as Paul has shown in preceding verses of this chapter), the argument for such conduct fails. Why order one's life for a future which will never be realized? Why suffer for a lie as though it were a truth? There were some who had been "baptized for the dead" - an obscure expression, but probably meaning baptized to take the place of those who had suffered martyrdom. Why should these court so stern a fate if Christianity were a deception? The apostle had "fought with beasts at Ephesus" - probably figurative, to express his contest with beastlike men. He "died daily" in his faithfulness to his commission as a preacher of - what? Ah! upon the what depended everything. According to the answer, Paul was an utter fool or a marvellously heroic saint. If there was no resurrection, and if therefore the gospel fell to the ground, he was undoubtedly the former.
II. THE REMOVAL OF RESTRAINTS FROM INDULGENCE AND VICE. The denial of the doctrine of the resurrection involved the denial of the gospel, and with this perished the hope of salvation. Christians thus became as men of this world, having no bright hope of the hereafter. Consequently the check upon natural appetite was removed. Common sense would seem to favour a life of Epicurean pleasure. If there be no hope concerning the world to come, let us make the best of the world that now is: "Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die." "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years: take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." The apostle is not supposing that there is no future existence. By "the resurrection" in this chapter he means the resurrection of the body, but he shows that with the rejection of this doctrine Christianity is destroyed, and here he is showing that if Christianity be destroyed the incentives to a pure and virtuous life are removed. His thought seems to be that, apart from Christianity, there is nothing in the world which will constrain men generally to live great and noble and self-denying lives. And this is a matter for our most serious reflection. If Christianity be done away with, what is there which will restrain men from indulgence and vice? No other religion can compete with Christianity; if it falls, all religion is doomed. Can philosophy do the practical work required? Alas! it is possible to be a very excellent philosopher and a very poor moralist. Will general education restrain men? It will, when cleverness and goodness mean the same thing, but not before! Will art and refinement effect what is needed? The palmiest days of art have been the days of most glaring obscenity, and refinement has shown over and over again how easily it allies itself with brutal lust. If Christianity falls, the prevailing doctrine amongst men must be, "let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die."
II. CAREFULLY SHOULD WE GUARD AGAINST EMBRACING THIS FATAL OPINION. We may find difficulty in believing the doctrine; we shall find disaster in rejecting it.
1. The apostle notices one thing very likely to lead us astray. "Evil communications [or, 'evil company'] corrupt good manners" - a line borrowed from the Greek poet Menander. "Can a man touch pitch and not be defiled?" Many mix amongst the ungodly, confident in strength, and fall. We need remember that, in our present state, we are more easily influenced towards the wrong than the right. Our minds are not equally poised. There is already a bias. Strange that those who are so bold to venture into the atmosphere of moral evil shun that of physical evil. A professing Christian will company with an arrant unbeliever, but not with a man suffering from small-pox.
2. Sin must not be yielded to. (Ver. 34.) Those who live in sin easily persuade themselves of the truth of anything which they would like to be true. As denial of the resurrection leads to sin, so sin leads to the denial of the resurrection. Sin blinds the intellect as well as corrupts the heart.
3. If we have been at all betrayed, we should at once seek to recover our position. "Awake to righteousness," or, "awake up righteously." We are more than half asleep if we deny that for which there is abundant evidence. We need to rub our eyes or to ask the great Physician to touch them. "Awake," or "be sober." The condition of those who deny the resurrection is one of carnal intoxication. In denial our faces are towards evil; in assent and reception we turn towards righteousness. "Righteousness" in the world depends, according to the apostle, upon the reception of this doctrine, because with it stands or falls Christianity itself.
4. Denial involves ignorance of God. (Ver. 34.) To the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, Christ said, "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God" (Matthew 22:29). Men say, God cannot do this thing; but with him "all things are possible." True knowledge of God marvellously helps our faith. We doubt and question, not because we know so much, but because we know so little. The Corinthians boasted much of their knowledge; here Paul charges them with gross ignorance. - H.
If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me if the dead rise not?
I. A LOW JUDGMENT OF HUMAN NATURE.
1. There is no good reason for taking the text literally. Had such a terrible struggle taken place it would have been recorded in the Acts, and often referred to by Paul himself.
2. By wild beasts he means men, gross and savage in wickedness. Heraclitus called the Ephesians θήρια. If we refer to Acts 19. we shall find that certain men were entitled to the designation. We read of them "being full of wrath," of the whole city "filled with confusion," of some "crying out one thing and some another." They seem to have been bereft of reason and given up to the wildest fury of passion.
3. Paul was not alone in classifying such men with beasts. The Baptist called some of his hearers vipers, and Christ compared such men to swine. The Bible speaks of wicked men in two stages lower than humanity.(1) The sensual, who are in a state where the senses rule the soul, where the animal is supreme. Is not this the state of the mass of men? The great question is, What shall we eat, what shall we drink? etc.(2) The devilish. Men have the power of getting lower than the beasts. By the power of their imaginations they kindle their passions into a diabolical heat, and, by bringing the elements of nature into new combinations, they generate and nourish unnatural appetites.
II. A FIERCE STRUGGLE FOR HUMAN NATURE. "I have fought with." Paul fought with men for men.
1. The battle was inevitable to his mission. He was the messenger of truths that struck directly at their prejudices, their habits, their greed (Acts 19:27).
2. The battle was most benevolent on his part. Love, not anger, was its inspiration. He fought for them by fighting against their prejudices and their sins.
3. the battle was most unequal in circumstances. Numbers, authority, influence, wealth, were all arrayed against one penniless foreigner. In moral battles numbers are an inferior consideration. One man in truth may conquer a nation in error.
III. A GREAT PROBLEM FOR HUMAN NATURE. "What advantageth it me?" etc. The apostle does not say either that there would be no advantage in a godly struggle for truth were there no future life, nor that such a struggle was to be conducted with a view of advantage. He puts the question and leaves it to be answered. Our answer will be that on the assumption that there is no future life, godliness will be —
1. Of physical advantage to man. The habits of life promoted by Christianity are conducive to bodily health and longevity.
2. Of mental advantage to man. It generates sentiments, it starts trains of thoughts, it awakens hopes, which yield to the mind a happiness which nothing else on earth can afford. If Christianity is only a dream, it is a dream from which we would not awake.
3. Of social advantage to man. Christianity has proved itself to be infinitely the best system for promoting the peace of families, the order of society, the prosperity of nations.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
I. THE FINE POSSESSION OF A MANLY REMINISCENCE. We always have a high respect for a difficulty we have actually surmounted. Evermore there remains deep in our hearts the joyous consciousness for once at least of having stood true when under fire.
II. QUICKENED GROWTH IN GRACE. Conflict makes men sober and thoughtful; then it makes them gentle and kind; then it makes them forbearing and charitable.
III. POWER FOR LEADERSHIP AMONG MEN. Men trust the veterans from hard-fought fields.
IV. FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST (Hebrews 12:3). Those who are persecuted for Christ's sake receive precisely what He received; the disciple is mot above his Master, nor the servant above his Lord.
V. IT RENDERS MORE LUMINOUSLY WELCOME THE HEAVENLY OUTLOOK. "No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast." All will be peace and rest and satisfaction.
(C. S. Robinson, D.D)
Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die1. The text is the epicure's proverb, began on a weak mistake, thought witty by an undiscerning company, and prevailing greatly because it strikes the fancy and maintains the merry meeting. The pagans recommended sensuality in this life because they knew of no enjoyments in another.
2. They are to be excused rather than us. They placed themselves in the order of beasts, making their bodies but receptacles of flesh and wine; therefore they treated themselves accordingly. But why should we do the same things who have higher principles, and the revelation of immortality?
3. To reprove the follies of mankind and their improper motions towards felicity. Note —
I. THAT PLENTY AND THE PLEASURES OF THE WORLD ARE NO PROPER INSTRUMENTS OF HAPPINESS. A man must have some violence done to himself ere he can receive them. If we go beyond what is needful, we put that to hazard which nature has secured. It is not nature that desires superfluities, but lust. By a disease we acquire the passion for luxuries, which eventually become necessaries, and then cease to gratify. Contrast the happiness of the virtuous poor man in his cottage, his sound sleep, quiet breast, easy provision, sober night, healthful morning, and joyous heart, with the noises, diseases, passions, which fill the houses of the luxurious and the hearts of the ambitious.
II. INTEMPERANCE IN EATING AND DRINKING IS OPPOSED TO THE EPICURE'S DESIGN. The voluptuous man has the least share of pleasure.
1. It is an enemy to health which is a handle by which we can apprehend pleasure, and the same which makes life delicious. For what content can a full table administer to a man in a fever? Health carries us to Church, and makes us rejoice in the communion of saints; but an intemperate table makes us lose all this. It bears part of its punishment in this life, and has this appendage, that unless it be repented of it is not remitted in the life to come. The epicure's genial proverb might be a little altered. "Let us eat and drink, for by this means to-morrow we shall die"; yet it is not so, for such men lead a healthless life; they are long in dying, and die in torment. What folly for men to pray for healthy bodies, and then pour in loads of flesh and seas of wine. The temptations which men meet with from without in these cases are in themselves most unreasonable, and soonest confuted. He that tempts me to drink beyond measure, what does he, but tempt me to lay aside my reason, or civilly invite me to a fever? When Athens was, destroyed by the plague, Socrates escaped through the temperate diet to which he had accustomed himself. He had enough for health, study, philosophy, and religion; but he had no superfluities to bring on groans and sickly nights. All gluttons are convinced of the excellence of temperance in order to moral felicity and health; for after they have lost both they are obliged to go to temperance to recover them. Fools, not to keep their health by the means which they seek to restore it! Such men "heap up wrath against the day of wrath." When the heathen feasted their gods they gave nothing but an animal, poured a little wine on the altar, and burnt a little frankincense: but when they feasted themselves they had many vessels of Campanian wine, turtles, beeves, wild boars, etc. And little do we spend on charity and religion; but we spend so much on ourselves that we make ourselves sick, and seem to be in love with our own mischief.
2. A constant full table is less pleasant than the temperate provisions of the virtuous, or the natural banquets of the poor. "Thanks be to the God of nature," said Epicurus, "that He hath made that which is necessary to be ready at hand, and easy to be had; whilst that which cannot easily be obtained is not necessary at all," i.e., in effect it cannot be constantly pleasant: for want makes the appetite and the appetite makes the pleasure; so that men are greatly mistaken when they despise the poor man's table. Fortune and art give delicacies, nature gives meat and drink; and what nature gives fortune cannot take away, whilst every change can take away what is only given by fortune. Moreover, he that feasts every day, feasts no day; and however a man treats himself, he will sometimes need to be refreshed beyond it. A perpetual fulness will make you glad to beg pleasure from emptiness and variety from humble fare.
3. Intemperance is the nurse of vice, and no man dare pray to God for a pure soul in a chaste body, if he lives intemperately, "making provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof." For in this case he will find "that which enters him shall defile him," more than he can be cleansed by vain prayers that come from his tongue and not from his heart.
4. Intemperance is the destruction of wisdom. "A full gorged belly never produced a sprightly mind." The heavy and foul state of an intemperate person may be compared to the sun, clouded with fogs and vapours, when it has drawn too freely from the moisture of nature. But temperance is reason's girdle and passion's bridle, the strength of the soul and the foundation of virtue.
5. Intemperance is a dishonour to the nature, person, and manners of a man. But naturally men are ashamed of it, and night is generally a veil to their gluttony and drunkenness.
III. SOME RULES AND MEASURES OF TEMPERANCE.
1. Our natural needs. Hunger, thirst, and cold, are the natural diseases of the body; food and raiment are their remedies, and therefore the measures. But in this there are two cautions —(1) These are only to be extinguished when they are violent or troublesome, and not to the utmost extent and possibilities of nature.(2) These must be natural, not artificial and provoked: for many men make necessities to themselves, and then think they are bound to provide for them.
2. Reason. Eating and drinking so as to make the reason useless or troubled is intemperate. Reason is the limit beyond which temperance never wanders. Intemperate men are so stripped of the use of reason that they are not only useless as wise counsels, but have not reason enough to avoid inflicting evils upon themselves.
3. The fitness of the body for useful service. Overloaded with food or drink, the mind cannot think, nor the body work with any sprightliness.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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