“AS OF FIRST IMPORTANCE”
1 Corinthians 15:1-5
1. This phrase seems especially appropriate at the beginning of the year.
a. It has been translated “first of all,” but it means “first in importance, not in time” (Lipscomb), or literally “the first things” (Interlinear).
b. When we read it we are being told what Paul “put in first place” whenever he brought the news of Christ to any place.
2. One of the most precious paragraphs in the New Testament turns on this thought.
a. First Corinthians 15 is the chapter “where are recorded the title deeds of man’s highest hope” (J.B. Coffman, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 247).
b. The opening paragraph is “a testimony of inestimable value concerning the form in which the gospel was preached in the very first generation of Christianity” (Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians, 255).
3. The most important things from the first. These are the matters that are to be treated “as of first importance” among us, too, and the start of the year is a good time to say so.
1. What is made known emphatically is the nature and character of the word that was preached.
a. By nature, it is good news.
i. The word for “the gospel” (v.1) actually means “good tidings.”
ii. My Bible dictionary explains, “In classical literature the word designated the reward given for good tidings. It also indicated the message itself, originally the announcement of victory, but later applied to other messages bringing joy. That it is found more than 75 times in the NT indicates a distinctly Christian connotation. The gospel is the good news that God in Jesus Christ has fulfilled his promises to Israel, and that a way of salvation has been opened to all.” (New Bible Dictionary, 435)
iii. Doesn’t that hold an interest to you? Haven’t you noticed that nobody is getting out of this world alive? Don’t you realize that there is evil in this world which effects us all? Aren’t you aware of your own flaws and weaknesses and sins?
b. As to character, it is the truth.
i. Sometimes when we really want to stress the reliability of a statement, we add, “That’s the gospel truth!” We say that because “the truth of the gospel” is insisted on in the NT (cf. Gal. 2:5,14; Col. 1:5).
ii. “For I delivered to you...what I also received”(v.3) is the apostle’s way of stressing the divine origin and truthfulness of the word he preached: what he received from the Lord is what he handed on, in tact, to others (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23).
iii. Galatians 1:11,12....The gospel is the truth because it is about what happened, not what has been imagined, and because it what the Lord has revealed, not what someone has invented.
2. What is of first importance is the content of what was preached and believed.
a. The debt for our sins has been paid.
i. “That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures...” He didn’t die for any sin of his own. He wasn’t merely the victim of a murder. He gave himself up for us (Eph.5:2) and he did it to deliver us from the present evil world (Gal. 1:4), and he did it by the will of the Father, continuing and completing his promises to Israel.
ii. Like the precious Passover lamb by whose blood a people was redeemed from slavery, and like the Scapegoat who on the Day of Atonement bore their sins off into the wilderness, and like the suffering Servant who poured out his soul in death as the LORD laid on him the iniquity of us all, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).
iii. For sins–our sins–he paid our debt to give us life instead of death, cleansing instead of guilt, righteousness instead of evil.
b. Our deepest fear has been faced.
i. “That he was buried...” may seem to be a surprising detail in such a brief summary of the gospel, but this was a part of Christian preaching because it is a crucial truth (cf. Acts 2:29; 13:29).
ii. It means that he really died, and that he fully identified himself with us, facing even the grave and whatever lies in the unseen world (cf. Jn.19:38f).
iii. Besides, “the burial of a dead body is the necessary prelude to the empty tomb” (L. Morris, 1 Corinthians, 205).
c. Our worst enemy has been overcome.
i. “That he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures...” The original language is passive perfect–the Father raised him up, and the results are continuing! (Hays, 256)
ii. It was not possible for death and the grave to hold him (Acts 2:24f), and this was in keeping with the prophecy of Psalm 16:8-11.
iii. That it occurred on the third day not only completed “the sign of Jonah (Jonah 1:17; Matt. 12:40), but also removed any room for doubt about whether this was from God’s hands.
iv. The Son of God, as he came to do, has brought to nothing the one who has always held our race in bondage to the fear of death (Heb. 2:14,15).
v. He is now and forever the Living One who has the keys of Death and Hades (Rev. 1:18).
d. The Lord is active in behalf of his people.
i. “That he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve...” His sacrificing work was done, but his interest in his people isn’t.
ii. These appearances were part of Christian preaching, serving both as evidence of his life and of the authority of his apostles as witnesses (Acts 10:40-42).
iii. His appearance to Peter in particular is thought-provoking. That it happened is mentioned in Luke 24:24, but it is not described. Was the Lord seeking out a disciple who gone out weeping bitterly after denying him? Isn’t this just a hint of the fact that when we sin we have an advocate with the Father (1 Jn. 2:1)?
3. What holding fast to that word causes us to do “as of first importance.”
a. “Which you received” (v.1).
i. There is no doubt about how this happened at Corinth (Acts 18:8).
ii. This fits with what happened at the beginning (Acts 2:41).
iii. Hebrews 4:2
b. “In which you stand” (v.1).
i. The gospel is now their foundation, and this determines both their spiritual position and their conduct. (Grosheide, First Corinthians, 347)
ii. A Christian is one who is standing in the grace of God (Rom. 5:2), firm in the faith (2 Cor. 1:24).
iii. William Barclay observed, “The very first function of the good news was to give a man stability. In a dangerous and a slippery world it kept him on his feet. In a tempting and seducing world it gave him resistance power. In a hurting world it gave him power to withstand a broken heart or an agonized body and not give in.”
c. “And by which you are being saved” (v. 2).
i. There is a sense in which being saved is an ongoing process, to be completed at the day of the Lord.
ii. In this book Paul has taught his readers about unity in Christ, sexual purity and marriage, how to treat each other as brothers, how to use their freedom and knowledge, about spirituality and worship, and now about their beliefs regarding the resurrection.
iii. Applying the gospel in matters like these is the kind of thing he meant by “being saved, if you hold fast the word” in the same way it was delivered.
4. As we begin our journey through this year, let us clear our minds and focus our vision and regard these things “as of first importance.”
5. Growing as a Christian doesn’t mean outgrowing these truths of first importance, but growing to appreciate their profound implications more and more.
6. Have you received the gospel? Are you standing in it? Are you being saved by it?