“If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
1 Corinthians 15:32
The truth of the Resurrection is an incentive for believers to persevere in service for Jesus Christ.
Certainly Paul’s statement in today’s verse is an extraordinary one, but it reiterates that the truth of Christ’s resurrection and the hope of believers’ resurrection are definite incentives for Christian service. It allows us to look more closely at what motivated Christians like Paul, and how we also should be motivated for service.
The apostle may have fought with literal wild animals at Ephesus. Or he may be speaking figuratively of the wild Ephesian mob that opposed him in Acts 19. But whatever the case, Paul knows that no mere human motives were compelling him to engage in such battles or continually risk his safety in other ways. He would not have put up with so many difficulties had his purposes and objectives been only temporal and worldly.
Paul and all Christians throughout history have been willing to labor under adversity, suffer, be persecuted, and continue diligently in the Lord’s service because they were convinced God’s kingdom extends beyond the frailties and limits of this life (Rom. 8:18). If our ministry on earth were an end in itself, then it would make sense to “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
However, you can praise God today that your life does not have to end simply with sensual pleasures and comforts. The hope and motivation in all your service for Christ can be identical to faith’s giants in Hebrews 11 who earnestly served, that they “might obtain a better resurrection” (v. 35).
Suggestions for Prayer: Pray that God would use the truth of the Resurrection to motivate you toward more faithful service in a difficult area of ministry or in a ministry in which you have been inconsistent.
For Further Study: Memorize 1 Corinthians 15:58. What does the “therefore” refer to? Make this verse a constant reminder of the incentive you should have for serving the Lord.
If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? What human motives could Paul have had for continually risking his safety and his life? We cannot be certain that Paul fought literal wild beasts at Ephesus, but it seems entirely possible that such was the case, and this interpretation is supported by tradition. It may be that Paul was speaking metaphorically of the wild crowd of Ephesians that was incited against him by the silversmith Demetrius (Acts 19:23–34). In any case, he was speaking of one of his many dangerous, life–threatening experiences.
Why would he have endured that, he was saying, and have continued to endure such things, if his only purpose and only hope was merely human and temporary? If we live only to die and remain dead, it makes more sense to say, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die—a direct quotation from Isaiah 22:13 that reflected the hopeless and hedonistic view of the backslidden Israelites. It also reflects the dismal futility repeatedly expressed in Ecclesiastes: “ ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’ What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?” (Eccles. 1:2–3).
The Greek historian Herodotus tells of an interesting custom of the Egyptians. “In social meetings among the rich, when the banquet was ended, a servant would often carry around among the guests a coffin, in which was a wooden image of a corpse carved and painted to resemble a dead person as nearly as possible. The servant would show it to each of the guests and would say; ‘Gaze here and drink and be merry, for when you die such you shall be.’ ”
If this life is all there is, why should the sensual not rule? Why not grab all we can, do all we can, live it up all we can? If we die only to remain dead, hedonism makes perfect sense.
What would not make sense is the godly self–sacrifice of those “who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, … wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground” (Heb. 11:33–34, 38). Their hope that “they might obtain a better resurrection” (v. 35) would have been futile and empty.
“Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, … for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). It was anticipation of the resurrection, of being raised to be again with His Father, that gave our Lord the motive [or dying on our behalf. He was willing to die for us because He knew He would be raised for us.
15:32 The apostle now recalls the fierce persecution which he encountered at Ephesus. We do not believe that he was actually thrown into the arena with wild beasts, but rather that he is speaking here of wicked men as wild beasts. Actually, as a Roman citizen, Paul could not have been forced to fight with wild animals. We do not know to what incident he refers. However, the argument is clear that the apostle would have been foolish to engage in such dangerous warfare as he had if he were not assured of resurrection from the dead. Indeed it would have been much wiser for him to adopt the philosophy: “If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!’ ”
We sometimes hear Christians say that if this life were all, then they would still rather be Christians. But Paul disagrees with such an idea. If there were no resurrection, we would be better off to make the most of this life. We would live for food, clothing, and pleasure. This would be the only heaven we could look forward to. But since there is a resurrection, we dare not spend our lives for these things of passing interest. We must live for “then” and not for “now.”
 MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 428–429). Chicago: Moody Press.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1807). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.