If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)
Paul concludes from his hourly danger, and his daily dying, and his fighting with wild beasts, that the life he has chosen in following Jesus is foolish and pitiable if he will not be raised from the dead.
If death were the end of the matter, he says, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32). This doesn’t mean: Let’s all become gluttons and drunkards if there is no resurrection. Drunkards are pitiable too — with or without the resurrection. He means: If there is no resurrection, what makes sense is middle-class moderation to maximize earthly pleasures.
But that is not what Paul chooses. He chooses suffering, because he chooses obedience. Ananias came to Paul after his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road, with the words from the Lord Jesus, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16). Paul accepted this suffering as part of his calling.
How could Paul do it? What was the source of this radical and painful obedience? The answer is given in 1 Corinthians 15:20: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” In other words, Christ was raised, and I will be raised with him. Therefore, nothing suffered for Jesus is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
The hope of the resurrection radically changed the way Paul lived. It freed him from materialism and consumerism. It gave him the power to go without comforts and pleasures that many people feel they must have in this life. For example, though he had the right to marry (1 Corinthians 9:5), he renounced that pleasure because he was called to bear so much suffering.
This is the way Jesus said the hope of the resurrection is supposed to change our behavior. For example, he told us to invite to our homes people who cannot pay us back in this life. How are we to be motivated to do this? “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14).
This is a radical call for us to look hard at our present lives to see if they are shaped by the hope of the resurrection. Do we make decisions on the basis of gain in this world, or gain in the next? Do we take risks for love’s sake that can only be explained as wise if there is a resurrection?
May God help us to rededicate ourselves for a lifetime of letting the resurrection have its radical effects.