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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 15:30-32 Wild animals

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, July 21, 2023

30 And why are we living in danger every hour? 31 I die every day, just as surely as I boast about you, brothers—a boast that I make in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild animals in Ephesus only for human reasons, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Now Paul uses himself and the other apostles as his example. Why would anyone face the dangers that Christian missionaries faced (and still face) if there was no hope of a resurrection? The risks Paul took would have been useless and foolish. But Paul took them on account of his commission—the command of Christ—to go and preach the gospel. He sums up his troubles in three ways: Danger every hour, dying every day, and fighting wild animals in Ephesus.

First, he lived in danger “every hour.” This can mean either all the time or hour by hour. There were occasions when Paul’s life was on the line hour by hour, such as during his several shipwrecks (2 Corinthians 11:25; Acts 27:41) and when he was stoned almost to death at Lystra (Acts 14:19).

Second, Paul says, “I die every day.” The Christian minister is in agony all the time over the way he carries out his ministry. When he tries to shepherd the flock, they rage and snap at him and tell him that their lives are none of his business. At the same time, he knows he will stand before his Judge on the Last Day and be judged “more stictly” (James 3:1) because that is what will happen to “we who teach.” There are surely days when he will carry out his work dreading the thunderous voice of God asking, “Why did you not go after this or that sheep when they went astray?” He agonizes over his preaching: Am I rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)? Am I studying and constantly learning from the Scriptures, delighting in them and learning from them (Psalm 119:47-48)? Am I able to paint hell black for my people, and paint heaven bright shining gold? Do they know? Do they understand the damnable seriousness of their sin and the glorious gift of their Savior?

Third, Paul says, “I fought wild beasts in Ephesus.” This phrase becomes more complex and more confounding the more one knows about the ancient practice and the status of Roman citizens. Modern commentaries question whether a Roman citizen would be forced to face wild animals, but Domitian forced a citizen (and former consul) named Acilius Glabrio to face a wild lion in the arena (Glabrio, famous for his strength, actually killed the lion without being injured). On the other hand, a man would probably lose his Roman citizenship after being subjected this way, and Paul later claims his Roman citizenship in Acts 22:25-29.

Despite these difficulties, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that Paul did indeed face wild animals in Ephesus, just as he claims, and even fought them, as he clearly says he did. While it’s true that saying one was facing “ten leopards” was a way of talking about Roman guards (Ign. Rom. 5:1), it is also true that the same Ignatius says that sometimes the animals in the arena were unwilling to kill their human opponents and even had to be coaxed or driven to it (Ign. Rom. 5:2). Luther says: “St. Paul glories in this, that he was thrown to the wild beasts to be dismembered by them, but that he nevertheless fought them off and was delivered from them, contrary to the will of the world, just as Daniel was saved when he was thrown in the lion’s pit (Daniel 6:6), whereas others, his accusers, were immediately torn to bits, together with their wives and children, and had their bones crushed by the very same lions” (LW 28:156).

So whether or not the reader wishes to take Paul at his word here, I will do so to explain the direction of Paul’s argument: That despite facing death every single hour on account of his faith, and more than that, despite dying every day for the sake of his Savior’s name, and still more than that, having even faced the ultimate sacrifice being thrown to the wild animals all on account of his preaching and testimony about Jesus Christ before the jewish synagogue there who “became obstinate, refused to believe, and publicly maligned the Way” of Jesus Christ (Acts 19:9), Paul did it all for the sake of the kingdom of God. Just as surely as he boasts about the faith of the Corinthians, he laid his own faith on the line (and did so constantly) all with the confidence of the resurrection. For without that promise, why be killed (horribly mutilated) for it all? Why face death every day? Why face death every hour? The very courage of the Christian only comes from the hope and promise of what lies beyond.

For what else brings the believer such confidence apart from the resurrection? Without the resurrection, we would have nothing at all. We might as well, as Paul quotes from Isaiah, “Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (Isaiah 22:13). That is the same way the modern skeptics talk: “When you’re dead, you’re dead.” They dismiss any other possibility because in their arrogance they cannot imagine anyone else being right about what is to come, and that they are wrong. There have always been braggarts and bullies who jeered at the prophets. Isaiah faced them. Joel, Jonah, Elijah, Elisha and Samuel all faced them. Before the flood, Enoch and others faced them. Enoch preached against them and against “all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against the one true God” (Jude 1:15).

The Christian faces death in the same way Paul did: with faith in Christ. The Christian never has a firm grip on life in this world for we are assailed by the attacks of the devil and of death every day. Our parents, our friends, our colleagues all perish. Our children and our spouses die. Our neighbors die one after another. And while the pit of hell gapes at us, and the sickle begins its quick, relentless swing (Joel 3:13; Revelation 14:15), we consider God’s judgment and tremble. But Christ speaks to us. “Dear friend, I have carried the burden for you. I have made a place for you. Your troubles in this fallen world are soon over for you. Come to me, put your faith in me, and I will give you life, rest, recovery, healing, and joy for all eternity.” “Through his resurrection he has overcome all. Therefore, even though I am a sinner and deserving of death and hell, this shall nonetheless be my consolation and my victory, that my Lord Jesus lives and has risen so that he, in the end might rescue me from sin, death, and hell.” The proof of the resurrection is in every promise of Jesus our Lord.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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