CAN YOU EXPLAIN, “IF IN THIS LIFE ONLY WE HAVE HOPE IN CHRIST, WE ARE OF ALL MEN MOST MISERABLE?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” is actually 1 Corinthians 15:19. We turn the pages of Scripture and let the Holy Spirit enlighten us!
Before we deal with the actual verse, we look at the general context. The Book of 1 Corinthians is quite lengthy—16 chapters to be exact—because the Apostle Paul had to address and correct various problems in the Christian assembly at Corinth. While these saints were secure in Christ and members of the family of God (1 Corinthians 1:4-9), they were not behaving like who they really were. Rather than living according to God’s grace and their new life in Christ, they were relying on their flesh, their own reasoning, human philosophy. In doing so, they were subverting and sabotaging their own spiritual growth. Rather than listening to and believing the doctrine that the Holy Spirit had taught them through Paul, they had allowed the surrounding pagan Greek culture to influence their thinking and disrupt their Christian service.
Chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians is a systematic argument of the doctrine of bodily resurrection. Paul provides various lines of evidence to support this most cardinal belief of Christianity. His first and foremost argument was to present as historical fact Jesus Christ’s own bodily resurrection. We look at the first 12 verses: “ Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;  By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;  And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:  And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:  After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.  After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
“ And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.  For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet 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 which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.  Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.  Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?”
Verse 12 identifies why Paul bothered to mention bodily resurrection in the epistle to Corinth. Why did he spend a whole chapter—58 verses—on that one topic of bodily resurrection? In Acts chapter 18, he had preached to the Corinthians how that Christ died for their sins, was buried, and rose again the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). These pagan idolaters had believed that Gospel message, received forgiveness of sins, entered into a relationship with the one true God, got a place reserved for them in Heaven, and left Satan’s kingdom forever! However, after Paul left Corinth, Greek philosophers had persuaded the Corinthian believers to reject resurrection. Hence, 1 Corinthians 15:12 inquires, “How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” Some of the Corinthians were not faithful to the doctrine the Lord had committed to them through Paul, God’s apostle of the Gentiles (Romans 11:13). As the Galatians abandoned Paul’s “mystery” doctrine in favor of Moses and legalism (see the Book of Galatians), so the Corinthians had forsaken Paul’s “mystery” doctrine in favor of man and pagan philosophy (see the Books of 1 and 2 Corinthians).
Since some of the Corinthians doubted the reality of bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12), Paul outlines a number of problems that arise if bodily resurrection is fiction. Notice his logic, and the resulting hypotheticals, in the succeeding verses: “ But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:  And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.  Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.  For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:  And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.  Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”
What an argument, no doubt from the pen of the Holy Spirit Himself! If resurrection is untrue, then Christ did not resurrect. If Christ did not resurrect, then Paul preaching Christ’s resurrection as true is empty, worthless, and pointless. If Paul’s preaching was pointless, then the Corinthians believing that message was also purposeless. If Paul’s preaching was nothing more than a false message, then it made Paul a liar. If Christ did not resurrect, then the Corinthians’ faith was meaningless. If Christ did not resurrect, then they were still dead in their sins. (After all, Romans 4:25 says Christ’s resurrection serves as the receipt that He paid our sin debt in full.) If resurrection is fiction, then Christ did not resurrect. If Christ did not resurrect, then we will never be resurrected either. If that were the case, then those who died in Christ are literally lost to us forever, never to be seen again. If there is no resurrection, then the Christian life is actually experienced for nothing!
Now, with background established, we get to the heart of this study—“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” The expression “this life” is our earthly life right now. If only on Earth we have hope, death being the end and resurrection never happening, we would truly be miserable. Here, we have lost family relationships for Christ. We lost “friends” to follow Christ. We were called names and were unfairly criticized. We may have lost our jobs for standing up for Him. Perhaps we were tortured, imprisoned, or killed for His sake. We spent countless years studying the Bible, praying, preaching the Gospel, teaching the Bible, passing out Gospel tracts, traveling abroad going to conferences and starting local churches, on and on. We would be the most miserable people in all the world if, after everything we did for Christ, it would amount to nothing! To keep working in Christian service, not pursuing a carefree materialistic life like the rest of the world, knowing we will die for nothing and all that work will amount to nothing! Without resurrection, our earthly lives would be a total waste of time. There would be no “eternal life” after all!
The Christian life is all about the life of Jesus Christ being manifested in our mortal flesh. There is such joy, peace, hope, love, and fulfillment in Christ. However, when death comes, that earthly life is over. Death would take it all away. If there were no resurrection, we would be the most miserable of all people. We would stay dead. Our Christian experience would only last as long as we lived on Earth. It would be about a century, at the most, before ending forever. Would Paul be so silly as to spend his whole life risking it for Christ, just to have it taken from him by Rome and never returned? Would the Corinthians be so foolish? Would we?
If, however, bodily resurrection were true, and we believe it is true because the Bible says it is true, that means our Christian experience is momentarily interrupted (physical death). It is not permanently abrogated (namely, we being dead forever). Resurrection ensures that we will be physically redeemed from sin, just as our souls were redeemed from sin the moment we believed the Gospel. Romans 8:23-25 talks about our physical resurrection, the “redemption of our [physical] body:” “ And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.  For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?  But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” This “hope” of future resurrection is contrasted with the present “hope” of 1 Corinthians 15:19.
There is a brief reference to our bodily resurrection in Philippians 3:20-21: “…The Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” This is our deliverance from the presence of sin, physically rescued from the sin-cursed world and these weak, failing bodies related to Adam. You can read about the resurrection of all the members of the Body of Christ by consulting 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. That event is commonly called “the Rapture,” our mass gathering unto Christ. Our resurrection bodies are also described in 2 Corinthians 4:16–5:8.
It would do us well to conclude this study by looking at the very last verse of 1 Corinthians chapter 15: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (verse 58). Rejoice, friend, be not “most miserable!” Our labor is not in vain in the Lord because physical death does not end our Christian service. Our earthly Christian sojourn will end one day. All of our earthly ministries will cease. Still, there is in Heaven waiting for us, a reward, a resurrected body, and a reunion with the saints of the ages. We will talk again with those departed brethren, and all work together in eternity to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ! Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!