1 Corinthians 15:55-58
O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?…
There are two aspects in which this language might be regarded.
1. As the sentiment of the redeemed after the resurrection. Literally, then, death will have lost its sting, and the grave its victory.
2. As the expression of an exultant sentiment which the apostle felt even now, and which may be enjoyed by all true Christians. This is the view that we now adopt. Death was to the apostle, as yet, an idea, and it is worthy of our notice that death affects us, while living, only in idea. It is a friend or foe — victim or victor — according to our mental conception. If our ideas be gloomy, it will cloud the sunshine of life; but if bright, we shall spend our days in cheerful usefulness, and view the grave as a lumined pathway to an immortal future. The passage suggests —
I. THE POPULAR IDEA. It is implied that the bulk of men viewed not death as the writer did. The popular idea —
1. Has a "sting." The allusion is to some venomous serpent, having not merely mortality, but agony, in his sting. There is no idea that stings an ungodly man like that of death.
2. A "victory." It not only stings like a serpent, but crushes like a conqueror not merely the body but the soul — the man. Some are all their lifetime subject to bondage through this idea. The boldest worldling cowers and turns pale before it. Hence on deathbeds princely fortunes have been offered for its postponement. Dr. Johnson was the slave of this idea.
3. A felt connection with sin. The sinner's sense of guilt will be according to his knowledge of law, and the terror of death will be according to his sense of guilt. The apostle means either that sin is the cause of death, or the cause of the poignancy of the idea. Both facts are equally true, but the latter is most to our present purpose. It is felt guilt that gives a "sting" and "victory" to the idea of dying. All that is horrific in the idea starts from a sin-stricken conscience. Such, then, is the popular idea of death. Wherever Christianity is not received, you find it. Hence it is pictured as a cruel hunter laying snares for men; an horrific angel, with a cup of poison in his hand; a gaunt and ghastly skeleton; a mower, with his scythe, cutting down every blade in the field of humanity; and sometimes a king of terrors, treading empires in the dust.
II. THE CHRISTIAN IDEA.
1. Has neither sting nor victory. "Where is thy sting?" "Where is thy victory?" They once existed, but are gone.
2. Instead of sting and victory, has rapture and triumph. "Thanks be unto God," etc. The victor has become the victim — the anguish of the sting has given place to the ecstacy of the song.
3. Comes to man through one medium. The old idea of death has given way to this, not through the philosophies or religions of the world, but through Christ.
(1) How does Christ give this idea? The common answer is, by taking away the sense of guilt, and bringing "life and immortality to light." This chapter suggests, by awakening in the soul a new spiritual life. No intellectual conviction could ever plant this ides in a soul "dead in trespasses and sin."(2) But how does a new spiritual life do this? Because it involves —
(a) A stronger sympathy with the Arbiter of our destiny than with any other being — a moral oneness with that God in "whose hands our breath is, and before whom are all our ways." Where this is not, there can never be anything but gloom in death: a dread of God must give a dread of death.
(b) A stronger sympathy with the spiritual than the material. Wherever the attachments of life are on the material, the idea of death must ever be distressing, on account of the separations it involves; but where the most sympathy is with the "unseen and eternal," death will be regarded, not as severing connections, but as uniting them in closer and dearer fellowship, and will therefore be joyously welcomed.
(c) A stronger sympathy with the future world than the present. Where there is a stranger sympathy with the present world than the future, the idea of severance must ever be painful; but where it is otherwise, the event will be hailed.
(3) Now, this spiritual life comes to man through Christ. To give it was the object of His mission. "I am come that ye might have life," etc. What, indeed, could give a controlling sympathy with the Eternal but Christ's revelations of His infinite love? What could remove guilt from the conscience, but faith in His sacrifice? What could awaken a generous sympathy with the spiritual and the future but His disclosures of the "many mansions"? His doctrines, works, example, death, spirit, all are to quicken the spirit in this new life. Conclusion: The subject supplies —
1. An argument for the value of Christianity. The world's idea of death is a miserable one: whatever mind it possesses, it paralyses. Christianity alone can destroy this idea, and help man to meet his fate with a halcyon soul.
2. A criterion of character. What is your idea of death? Are you its victim or its victor? I take this to be a testing question. Fear of death is heathenism, not Christianity.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?