Wilberforce, Anchors, and Alarm Clocks
My favorite movie of all time is “Amazing Grace.” It tells the story, in the distorted way that Hollywood does, about William Wilberforce the British statesmen, who spent his life trying to end the slavery in the British Empire.
While the movie does major on Wilberforce’s solid faith in Jesus Christ, it doesn’t flesh that faith out. To Wilberforce, one’s faith in Jesus Christ was not something you pulled out on Sunday mornings on your way to church. Our faith is something that affects everyday that we live.
He wrote a book to that effect: “A practical view of Christianity.”
through this book, he tried to convince those who call themselves Christians to pursue "the real nature and principles of the religion which they profess." As is written about the book: Christianity is not a mere morality, to be held in private. Christianity is revelation from God, bringing new rights and correspondent duties. It is an entire way of life that requires diligence and study and that should affect every aspect of the Christian's public and private life.
To many Christians throughout the centuries have a Sunday morning religion, rather than daily life that is changed through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Corinthians were the same. They were beginning to accept some false teaching and that false teaching was influencing them to live like the world around rather than like a someone redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
Paul has such strong feelings about this, that he writes an strong oath in the original language, that most English translations do not translate.
Let’s read the passage:
Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.
Will you pray with me?
Paul grabs the Corinthians by the lapel, shoves them against the wall, and screams in their face: wake up!
This letter has shown Paul becoming more and more frustrated with the Corinthians, diving deeper and deeper into their sin. He comes to the root issue of their actions and beliefs, the resurrection, and he pleads with them, and us, to wake up.
1. Wake Up to Belief
1. Wake Up to Belief
He calls them to wake up to belief.
The passage opens up with the most hotly contested sentence in 1 Corinthians.
Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?
There are over forty different interpretations of these sentences. Who am I to solve what great men of God have disagreed about for the past 2000 years?
What does it mean that the Corinthians were baptizing people “for the dead?” As I said, there are over 40 different ideas.
By just a simple reading, it seems like certain Corinthians were concerned for their loved ones who died and had themselves baptized on their behalf so that their loved ones would join the resurrection.
The problem is: we have no historical record of this sort of thing happening in the early church. And, this flies in the face of everything the Bible teaches about Baptism. Though, this wouldn’t be the first time the Corinthians did or believed something heretical.
200 years after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, there were some Gnostic cults, people who believed false things about Jesus and salvation, who practiced baptism for the dead. And, today, we have the Mormons who practice baptism for the dead, actually pointing to this verse as proof why we should do that.
However, if this is what the Corinthians were doing, Paul doesn’t applaud them. He merely states that it is happening, just like the man who is sleeping with his step-mom.
Another interpretation is that people are being baptised because of the dead. People who were not saved saw their saved loved ones die, slip into eternity. Because of the witness of the resurrection, these unsaved believed in Jesus and were baptised, so that they could be reunited in the resurrection.
I wish the interpretation could be that one, a good correct thing. But, knowing the Corinthian church, it is probably the first one, the heretical one.
Either way, Paul’s argument stays the same. Something is happening in the Corinthian church and that thing is tied to the resurrection, whether it is a correct practice or a heretical one. Paul says: you are doing this thing because of the hope of the resurrection, yet you are allowing people to teach that the resurrection will never happen? And you agree them that the resurrection will not happen?
Paul says: Wake up and believe!
One of the core truths of our faith, a foundation stone, is that Jesus rose from the dead. And one day, he is coming again to bring all those who have placed their faith in him into eternity with him. All those who have not placed their faith in him will be resurrected to death.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Wake up to belief!
Everyone who takes a breath starts life on the road to death. That second death is assured to them. Our sinfulness, our depravity keeps us on that path.
But, Jesus came that we might have life.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
And he offers that life to everyone who comes to him in faith. Some among the Corinthians claimed that this life was only for this earth:
If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
Today, many people teach the other extreme that the life Christ offers is only for the next. But, Christ offers both, hope for this life and the next. Because a guarantee of the resurrection changes our thoughts on this life:
I always read 1 Thessalonians 4 at graveside services.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
That last sentence is the key: Therefore encourage one another with these words. If we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there will be a resurrection, we have courage for today. If we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there will be a resurrection, we will have hope today. If we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there will be a resurrection, what we do in our worship will have new meaning, and it might weed out some of the things that we do.
Paul looks at the Corinthians church rituals and their stated beliefs and says: something doesn’t match. Wake up to belief!
2. Wake Up to Hope
2. Wake Up to Hope
He then urges them: Wake up to Hope!
And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
What we believe affects how we view situations around us.
Paul did not live a nice cushioned life, relaxing on a couch every evening, watching the latest show, surrounded by his loving family.
We have no idea what happened to Paul’s family. Some people believe that his wife divorced him over his conversion. Interesting idea, but we don’t know. All we know, is after his turning to Christianity, he spent the rest of his life going from one hardship to another.
He details some of them in 2 Corinthians:
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
Not the nice life that we all would like to have, but it is the life that many of his will have in the future. God doesn’t promise us a lifetime of happiness. What carries us through the pains of this life, both outward and inward pains?
Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
We know that Jesus is alive and one day he will return to take us into eternity where we will live on this earth again, where nothing is out of place, there will be no more sickness, pain, sin, or death. That hope that is in Jesus Christ is like an anchor.
Do you know what an anchor does? It holds a ship. When a storm is coming, the sailors try to come to a place where they can lay their anchors. The storm hits and the ship is tossed upon the waves and the wind, spiralling around and around on the anchor, threatening to capsize, threatening to pull the anchors up and be driven upon the rocks. If that happened, the ship would be smashed and the people aboard might die. Everything is dependent on that anchor. We need the anchor to hold in the storms of life.
Too often, we place our anchor in the sins of our life, in the hopes and dreams of our life, in the people around us, our friends and our family, our pocketbook, our ability to be in control. But those anchors do not hold.
The only anchor that holds is Jesus Christ, the fact that he is resurrected and he is coming back for us.
That anchor holds. That’s why Paul was able to face death every hour. That’s why he was able face persecution in Ephesus that seemed like wild animals. That’s why he was able to bear the pressures of the churches.
Hope. And that hope not only carries us through the chaos and storm of this world, but it gives us joy.
One of my life verses, that I forgot until recently:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We seize that joy that comes from hope and we run the race of this life, just like Jesus:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Paul says: Wake up to belief! Wake up to hope!
3. Wake Up to Action
3. Wake Up to Action
Finally, he says:
Wake up to action.
Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.
If we don’t believe that there is life following this life, we are going to live this life however we want to live it.
“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
That phrase is found in Isaiah 22. The Israelites were living their life without regard for the God who had declared them his own. They were living according to their own priorities and desires, following the gods of the culture, and they were about to experience judgment for it.
The Lord, the Lord Almighty, called you on that day to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth. But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! “Let us eat and drink,” you say, “for tomorrow we die!” The Lord Almighty has revealed this in my hearing: “Till your dying day this sin will not be atoned for,” says the Lord, the Lord Almighty.
What a harsh passage. But, that idea, that philosophy of the Israelites is so prevalent today.
We have that attitude so much. I think about the parable of Jesus:
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
We get caught up in this life, forgetting the life to come. So, naturally, if we forget that we will live forever, we try to take forever today.
We get involved in so many activities, that we don’t have time to spend with God once a week, much less once a day. We think that we have to be involved in everything, seizing the chance while we can, but forgetting that we are going to live forever. We better be preparing for eternity.
We come across our pet sins, whether they are small and “don’t hurt anyone” or big and definitely do, and we say: you know, it would feel so good, or it wouldn’t do much harm, only one more time, is it that bad? Those are phrases that show that we have forgotten eternity. We are living for now, instead of for then.
What about our kids and grandkids? What are we showing and teaching them for. Are we setting them up for success in this life, through education and sports experiences, things that will be done away? Or are we preparing them for eternity, a life that will last forever?
Which are we living for? and Which priority are we passing on?
Paul uses some interesting imagery. He says:
Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.
That phrase: “come back to your senses” is literally “sober up.” Throughout Scripture, God resoundly denounces drunkenness as something which no Christian should participate in. It controls our actions and emotions, when only the Holy Spirit should do that.
But, Paul is not talking about drunkenness, he is using a metaphor, a figure of speech. When we live for today instead of for eternity, it is like we are drunk, living in a stupor, experiencing a chemically-induced fake life, responding and reacting in idiotic ways.
And he slaps the Corinthians and says: Wake up! He throws some cold water on them and then slaps them again. Wake up!
We all need that done to us. We all slip into drunkenness, when we start living for today, and we need to shake ourselves back to our senses.
Why? Because the world is watching. They don’t know God. The only way that they know God is because of us and our witness. If they see us living for today, having no care for eternity with God, they won’t want an eternity with God either. If they see us having misplaced priorities, they will to.
It’s like we are a car, and the world around us is going where we drive. Do we want to drive drunk and possibly send those who are in the car to an eternity of damnation? No! We need to sober up and say: I am going to live for eternity. I am not going to have my senses dulled by the priorities and desires of this life. I am going to influence those under my care and those who are watching to stop living for today and see the hope and joy that comes for living for the resurrection.
Paul says: Wake up to action!
A mentor challenged me to do something, which I have begun doing: take one day a month, and pray over what happened that month and what is going to happen the next, and write down three goals that I want to focus on for the next month, to remind myself of why I am here and what I need to be doing.
I encourage you, we need that. We all need times of refocusing where we assess our priorities and our desires and realign them with God’s call and our hope of the resurrection. I challenge you to take sometime this week to take some time this week to see whether your beliefs line up with your actions. When they don’t, Wake up and change.
Paul says: wake up to belief. Wake up to hope. Wake up to action.