Right in the middle of his great support of the bodily resurrection of Christians, Paul makes an amazing – but curious – statement:
“If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Interesting, right? In other words, if there nothing more than this life – no new earth, no new body, no raising with Christ – then Christians should be the most pitied of any people. More pitied than the lowest members of the caste system. More pitied than the widow and the orphan. More pitied than the egomaniac millionaire with oodles of dollars but no friends.
Christians should be more pitied than all those.
There is an enormous assumption behind Paul’s statement here, one that obliterates the very thought that faithfulness to God would necessarily result in health, wealth, and prosperity. You ready for it? Here it comes:
The Christian life is going to be hard.
Jesus said it: “You will be hated by everyone because of My name” (Matthew 10:22).
Peter agreed: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
James affirmed: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials…” (James 1:2).
It’s going to be hard. Don’t be surprised. Expect it. Know that it’s coming, and stand in the midst of the trial. But let’s not stop there, because the three references above are referring to situations of persecution and hardship – things that affect all of us because we live in a world marred by sin. But Christians aren’t the only ones who get cancer. They aren’t the only ones who are in car accidents. They aren’t the only ones who are downsized in their jobs.
So if that’s the only kind of “hard” that afflicts the Christian life, then Christians at most should be just as pitied as every other kind of man.
The fact that takes the assumption to the next level isn’t just that the Christian life is meant to be hard. It’s that as Christians, we are meant to make choices that make our lives hard:
- We are to turn the other cheek when it would be easier to take revenge.
- We are to love those who hate us when it would be easier to malign them behind their backs.
- We are to choose honesty when it would be easier to tell a seemingly insignificant lie.
- We are to work not to build huge bank accounts but to have something to give to those in need.
All these choices make life hard… at least from a temporal perspective.
See how it comes into focus? If there nothing else, no heaven, no new earth, no redemption, then we are to be pitied above all men because Christians are making choices, day in and day out, that make their lives temporarily harder and less comfortable than anyone else.
Pity them if there is nothing else. Pity us if there is nothing else. But here’s the real kicker. Here’s the truth that knocked me in the teeth today:
- Am I making the kind of choices that make my life pitiable if there is no heaven?
- Is my lifestyle ludicrous if there is no resurrection from the dead?
- Do my choices display an absolute confidence that there is indeed more to come?
Weigh your choices against these questions today. I’m weighing mine. And I’m discovering that, if indeed I believe in the resurrection of the dead, that my life is not nearly pitiable enough.