growing

Bible study

Bible passage: I Corinthians 15 v 35-58

Old age and dying as a time of growth

The theme to be explored in this study is that of old age and dying as a time of growth towards our ultimate reality which we know finally after death. In every day life, we know that it is the things that could tear us down – our disappointments, the sufferings we endure – that can have the opposite effect and make us stronger. At the heart of the Christian faith is that it’s what appears to be ultimate defeat and failure in death which is the pathway to the ultimate growth and life. It seems nonsensical to say that the journey towards death is about growing. Our instincts tell us it’s more about diminishment. Yet there is much in the Bible that turns our traditional wisdom on its head and reminds us that God’s way of looking at the world is completely different to our own.

Before reading the Bible passage(s) your group may find it helpful to look at this artwork by Edward Burne-Jones, called Tree of Life, which dates from 1888.

Burne-Jones' Tree of Life painting
Edward Burne-Jones: Tree of Life (V&A Museum)

Notes on the painting

  • This is a mosaic ceiling from the American Episcopal Church in Rome, St Paul-within-the-walls.
  • It shows not Mary and John standing at the cross, but Adam and Eve by the tree of life.
  • There are sheaves of corn growing abundantly in place of the curse that God gives Adam in Genesis 3v19 where Adam is forced to bring forth bread by the sweat of his brow.  Brier thorns may still be drawn on Eve’s side to represent her state of sin, but the eye is drawn much more to the lilies, the symbol of purity.
  •  Cain and Abel are represented not as murderous brother and victim, but as two babies, shown in innocence with the opportunity for growth.
  • The Latin inscription means: ‘You shall have affliction in the world, but have faith, for I have overcome the world’.

opening questions

  • Does it speak to you of life or of death?
  • Do you find it threatening or welcoming? Why?
  • What symbols and figures stand out to you? Why are they there?
  • Bible passage

    35 But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ 36 Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.

    42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is[a]from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will[b] also bear the image of the man of heaven.

    50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters,[c] is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die,[d] but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

    ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
    55 ‘Where, O death, is your victory?
        Where, O death, is your sting?’

    56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    58 Therefore, my beloved,[e] be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.

     

    questions

  • Paul confronts the question of what will our existence be like after our deaths. How do you imagine it to be?   What is Paul’s answer to the Corinthians?
  • How does Paul use imagery from nature to explain what happens to us at death? Do you find this helpful?
  • What is the difference between a physical body and a spiritual body?
  • What links and connections does Paul make between our bodies now and our bodies after death?
  • Paul finishes his passage with a great cry of victory over death. How do you feel about dying?  Take time to think through your own attitude to dying – either in silence, or you may feel able to share with the group how you feel.  What are those things that scare or concern you?  What is it that holds no fear at all?
  • wider questions

  • Why does Jesus use so many parables from nature and about growing in his teaching?
  • How has your attitude to nature changed through your life? Since your childhood?  Since you were a younger adult?
  • Where do you see God in nature? Or do you find it easier to see him at work outside of nature?
  • How do we fit into nature’s plan of living and growing?
  • Additional passages

    Here are four  passages in addition to the main one above. You could have a one-off study on a single passage, a series using all five passages, or break up a larger group into small subgroups to look at one passage each and then come back to share common themes. Click on the texts to find the suggested questions.

  • What is the analogy that Jesus is drawing out between Christian discipleship and nature? Does this take on particular relevance as we get older or is it true at all times of our lives?
  • Why does Jesus answer Philip and Andrew as he does? What do you think the Greeks at the festival would have made of the answer?
  • Jesus appears to be talking of his own death. How do these words connect with our lives?
  • Do you think the idea of a single grain of wheat can be applied as a metaphor to a community as well as an individual? What might it mean for your church community?
  • What does pruning have to do with growing?
  • Is Jesus talking about individual disciples here or a community? Do the words make sense to both? If so, how does pruning take place in your life as you get older?
  • Can you think of a local or national example of a Christian endeavour that began small and has grown into a big network? Share examples with each other.
  • How can you as an individual make a difference?
    • Imagine that the unveiled faces of which Paul speaks are like sunflower heads turned towards the light.  Does this image ring true of certain Christians that you know as they have grown and matured in their faith? What is it about them that makes you think they are being transformed ‘from one degree of glory to another’?
  • As you get older, are you more or less insistent on the need for physical proof for things?
  • Does Thomas show more or less faith than the other disciples in his response to Jesus compared to the others?  Why is this?
  • Thomas is always called ‘Doubting’.  Is doubt connected in your mind with faith or a lack of it?   Is doubt or faith related to at all to growing with age?
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