Many times prayers will be centered around standing on the promises of Scripture – agreeing with Bible verses that talk about healing, earnestly praying by enlisting others to pray for the same thing, praying at all hours of the day, everywhere you go – believing it fully so that what you bind on earth is bound in heaven. Does it always work out so neatly? Christian movies would have you believe that it does – give God one last chance and he’ll pull through no matter how many times before that he chose to remain silent or not to do anything (from your perspective.) Carve out a ‘war room’ in your house and God will pull through for you but without one you’re out of luck. Every day show someone you love them and God will make them love you back. But real life isn’t like the movies. Sometimes there actually are miracles and sometimes not so much. I think about the televangelists who promise miraculous healing if you’ll just stand on the word of God, test him on this and give him your tithe by giving their ministry as much money as you can spare and then some. The more money you give them, the more you invest in God’s work for which he will reward you by curing you of what ails you. It doesn’t help that they often air testimonies of people like this: “We were down to our last dime, we had no food in our house, we were in debt and about to lose the house. But we saw the televangelist speak a word of knowledge to our situation and we prayed with him, we called the ministry and maxed out both of our credit cards to pay the tithe. Not long after that, we both found jobs. he got a promotion. I won the lottery. Now we’re debt-free, the house is paid for, and we’re enjoying life.” It’s easy to see so many mixed messages and stand on the wrong thing. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the gospel. They aren’t promised that being a Christian means having an easy life, good health, no debt, no persecution, or not having to die. Which means that we aren’t promised it either.
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
Sometimes theology gets a little difficult. In this section, there’s a similarity with the verse back in 1 Cor 9:27 – ‘I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.’ and ‘By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain’ both bring up a difficult question – is it ‘once saved always saved’ is it ‘God will keep people from falling away’ or is entirely possible for people to lose their faith? I can understand how the first verse was in keeping with it’s metaphor – it’s not a great idea to train yourself for the olympics and yet get yourself disqualified from the prize you earned. But does that point to a spiritual truth that for all of the Bible reading, church attending, gospel witnessing, and service to the poor we do it is not enough in and of itself to get us into heaven? If we believe exactlly the right things, then does that excuse us from having to read the bible, attend church, witness, and serve the poor? When it comes down to it, what exactly are the essentials?
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
This is the essentials of Christianity. It’s not the Christianity I know. I’m so used to “Christianity and …” In my churches it’s been a whole lot of “Christianity and Creationism” or “Christianity and Complementarianism” or “Christianity and Male Headship/Authority” or “Christianity and Female Submission/Headcoverings.” It’s only around Easter that we hear the essentials, that is, we read about the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. The rest of the year is left up to it’s own devices – a reminder of Hell come Halloween, or Jesus’ Birth for Christmas. No, we don’t believe some other gospel – we just believe in certain things along with the gospel that can sometimes take priority or precedence over the gospel. It is, after all, a tired old message. Who wants to hear that Christ died, was buried, raised on the third day, appeared to the women first, a few men next, and then to many believers both men and women? Isn’t more important that we preach Creationism so that people know why they’re sinners in the first place rather than the gospel of how they be saved from being sinners? Isn’t it crucial to teach complementarianism so that everybody’s family adheres to the Biblical standard rather than letting them come into the family of God one by one where the only standard is that we are all brothers and sisters with no authority over each other?
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
Some believe that the office of ‘apostle’ ends with the Biblical narrative. Paul considers himself the least of the apostles. So who are the apostles? We have the twelve disciples (Matthias replacing Judas as the twelfth) and it seems like Paul counts two more in Romans 16:7- Andronicus and Junia – putting himself at last. I don’t think he was saying that “I’m last so that I may be first” – seems to be thinking about how much grace has been bestowed upon him because of the guy he used to be and the guy he is now. Whether it is Paul or the rest of the Apostles – they preach “Christ and him crucified” this is what we believe – the essential truth of our faith.