1 Corinthians 15:30-34
And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?…
We have now reached the second of St. Paul's argumenta ad hominem. The first is the argument for the resurrection from the baptism of the dead. The second is the argument which he derives from his perils and sufferings. Admit that his hope would not make him ashamed, and his career was noble and heroic: deny it, and his career was a senseless bravado. Good trees do not spring from evil roots. Devotion to truth, a charity capable of all sacrifices — these are qualities which do not grow out of a lie, or faith in a lie. That cannot be a lie which made St. Paul so true and great a man. St. Paul begins by asking, "If the dead rise not, why stand we in jeopardy every hour?" and he affirms, "I die daily" (vers. 30, 31). We know what his life was like.
I. THE APOSTLE'S LIFE WAS A DAILY DEATH, AN HOURLY JEOPARDY.
1. Elsewhere, he furnishes us with a more detailed description, and thus supplies us with the best commentary on these words (2 Corinthians 11:23-28.) But mark how he says it (ver. 31). Instead of "I protest," read, "I swear"; for St. Paul here uses a common Greek form of oath. He frequently employs the most solemn adjurations. Christ's "Verily, verily," is an oath. Nay, the Almighty Himself is represented as swearing by Himself (Hebrews 6:16-18; Genesis 22:16-18). But let us also note by what Paul swears — "by my boast of you which I have in Christ Jesus." The Corinthians were the seal of his apostleship. His very oath, therefore, must have touched their hearts, and have predisposed them to a cordial acceptance of that which he was about to advance. It is, indeed, by these delicate touches of a most tender and loving nature, that St. Paul declares himself to us and constrains us to love and admire him.
2. The apostle cites one special instance of the jeopardy in which he always stood (ver. 22). If we assume that St. Paul did on one occasion fight with beasts in the Ephesian stadium, his argument is plain. It means that here again he was a mere idiot to incur deadly peril, if he were teaching a lie. But this is improbable. Paul was a Roman citizen, and could not therefore be legally condemned to the arena, he could very hardly have escaped from it with his life. In the Acts, moreover, there is no hint of any such conflict; nor does the apostle ever refer to one in any catalogue of his dangers. On all these grounds we conclude that he is here speaking metaphorically, viz., that he had to encounter men as brutish and fierce as wild beasts. Such figures of speech are common in all ages and lands. Heraclitus expressly calls the Ephesians "beasts," using the very word which St. Paul employs. And no one who reads Acts 19 will deny the propriety of the epithet. The multitude rushed into the theatre like a herd of bulls in wild stampede, and, like bulls, bellowed some one thing, and some another: and then, like beasts irritated by a red rag, as soon as they heard that Alexander was a Jew, went mad with rage, more like beasts that want discourse of reason than rational men. As St. Paul listened to their din, the epithet of Heraclitus may have occurred to him and have fixed itself on his memory. And if his letters to the Corinthians were written after the tumult at Ephesus, he may here allude to that confused and terrible scene. In Ephesus, as elsewhere, he risked all, because he believed in Christ as the resurrection and the life (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:8-10).
II. TO RUN SUCH A RISK DAILY AND HOURLY, ST. PAUL AFFIRMS TO BE IMPOSSIBLE TO MEN WHO DID NOT BELIEVE A FUTURE LIFE (ver. 32).
1. Those who believe that dead men are not raised have as their motto, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die," which the apostle cites from (Isaiah 22:13). Yet it is curious to note that at Anchiale in Cilicia (the apostle being of Tarsus in Cilicia) there was a statue with this inscription: "Sardanapalus, the son of Anacyndraxes (Sennacherib), built Anchiale and Tarsus in one day. Stranger, eat, drink, and play, for all the rest is not worth this" — this being a fillip which the fingers of the statue were in the act of giving. In the prophet it has a special historical reference. Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians. The slain lay unburied in its streets. Dearth preyed on the living. By all these calamites God was calling His people to repentance. Instead of responding and waxing desperate with despair, they gave themselves to reckless mirth and revelry, crying, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." It is this outcry of desperate ghastly mirth — which has been heard in Athens, in Florence, in London, in Paris, as well as in Jerusalem — which St. Paul quotes, which he puts into the mouth of those who deny a resurrection. To them, human life is a mere siege. The hosts of death are encamped against it. The fatal assault may be delivered at any moment. Why should they restrain their appetites? "Why deny themselves to-day for a to-morrow that may never dawn? Why desire a morrow which brings no hope with it? Better eat and drink, and snatch what little pleasure may be had! (cf. Wisdom of Solomon 2:1-9).
2. This was the tone taken in the apostle's time by the degenerate Epicurean school. It was the prevalent tone of the empire. In Corinth the ghastly revel was at its height.
3. Hence it is that St. Paul, when writing to the Corinthians, lays such emphasis on the resurrection. If he can help it, he will not so much as have them listen to those who jest about the future life, or deny it, or urge them to riot and excess because they must soon perish. They may think there can be no great harm in hearing what these scufflers have to say. "There is harm in it," replies St. Paul. One of your own poets long since said, "Vile speeches honest customs do corrupt." And if you listen to the Epicurean speeches which are rife about you, your habits of thought and life will degenerate. And we have not outgrown the need of this proverb. I have known men listen complacently to jests against good morals or religious truths, although they themselves condemn irreligion and immorality Their excuse is that it is "only a jest," that "words break no bones," that "a little freedom of speech does no harm." The wise Greek poet was not of their mind; nor was the holy apostle.
4. From the words with which St. Paul closes this paragraph (ver. 34) there is reason to fear that the good Christian customs of some of the Corinthians had suffered from the vile speeches of the heathen. "Wake up from your orgies," he exclaims. Their only hope lay in rousing themselves to righteousness. They would come to "the knowledge of God" as they set themselves to do His will. They would learn that there was a resurrection unto life as they ordered their present life wisely, holily, and in the fear of God. Conclusion: Of the many points of interest incidentally suggested by these verses, none, perhaps, is more pertinent to the present time than St. Paul's use of the Greek poets; for there are still good people who object to the introduction of what they call secular topics into religious discussions or exhortations, and object to a classical curriculum for students destined for the Christian ministry, and, therefore, it may be well to ask them to consider the example of St. Paul. Here, if he quotes from a Hebrew prophet, he also quotes from a Greek poet; and it would be hard to deny that the same spirit which moved him to cite Isaiah also moved him to cite Menander (see also his quotation from Aratus and Kleanthes in Acts 17:28, and from Epimenides in Titus 2:12). The probability is, that he had studied the Greek poets only less earnestly than the Hebrew prophets. His use of them sanctions our use of them. There is also abundant proof that the apostle was as familiar with the Greek philosophy as with Greek poetry: we cannot so much as gather his meaning in many parts of his Epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, etc., except as we acquaint ourselves with the themes and terms of Hellenic speculation. This is a sufficient proof that secular learning is lawful and desirable in those who handle "the things of the Spirit"; that this, like all other gifts or accomplishments, may be and ought to be devoted to the service of God and of His Christ.
(S. Cox, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?