Dealing with Death (Part 1)

Main Text:  I Corinthians 15:26, 34


(1Co 15:26)  The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.


(1Co 15:34)  Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.


Three things to note from this text:


  • That death is an enemy
  • That death will finally be destroyed
  • In light of the above we should stop sinning and come to the knowledge of God.


If death which is regarded as an enemy of humanity with the promise and hope that it  will be destroyed, the imperative for all of us is to come to the knowledge of God, to awake to righteousness and stop sinning.  The book as a whole was written to a community of believers, as one sees from the opening chapter.  These were saints in Corinth.  Seemingly a serious dispute concerning resurrection, amongst other things, had arisen in this church with some members contending that there is no resurrection.   Paul begins his forceful arguments from verse 12 of chapter 15, showing the theological significance of resurrection.


The African concept of death and resurrection has led us to adopt certain statements that we use to comfort those who are bereaved.   These statements of comfort reveal in a profound way our religious and theological understanding of death.  I have listed at least three of these with a brief comment:


Ukugxwala emswaneni:


The English equivalent though not very precise would be to “crying over spilt milk.”  This Xhosa  expression has to do with crying that is done by cows when one of them has been killed. Cows are known to gather together at a point where the contents of the dead cow’s intestine have been emptied.  They make this funny and mellow sound as if they are crying.  The obvious meaning is that, it is not only pointless but needful for these cows to do this either as an expression of solidarity or hopelessness.


The problem with this expression when used to comfort the bereaved is that it does not point to any reflective exercise.   Cows do not leave to reflect as to the meaning of the life that was or what to do next to avoid this kind of death.  But according to our text, death is an enemy that will be destroyed and because of that, we are called to do something and this inspires us with hope.   We know that a time is coming when we will not be engaging in “ukugxwala emswaneni” for death will have been destroyed.





Isitya esihle asidleli


This is also a very interesting expression.  This refers to a situation where your most expensive and beautiful crockery is seldom used for eating.  The meaning is that those amongst us who exhibit good behavior usually do not last long.  The implication being that God takes them to heaven and are therefore not allowed to remain with us and be a blessing.


This, as can be readily seen, poses a serious problem in the way we view not only death but God Himself.  Here God is represented as one who seeks those who are good and by employing death takes them to heaven for His benefit and advantage.  He is viewed as this divine being that will not rest until He has killed and taken all the good people on earth to populate heaven.  God the giver of life cannot be at the same the one who takes it.  A misrepresentation of the character of God is one of the strategies the devil uses to destroy us.


Secondly, death then is viewed as a vehicle that takes all the good people to heaven.  Well of course this does not address those who may not be good.  In fact the opposite is true, no one would be motivated and inspired to be good for this would tantamount to committing suicide.  And yet the Bible encourages us to continue to do good so that people may see these and glorify God who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).  It would appear that God is not necessarily glorified by people who go to heaven but by those who remain on earth doing good by His grace.


Akuhlanga lungehlanga


This represents the last statement we want to look at in this series.  The literal meaning of this statement has to do with the fact that death comes to all people.  The attempt here is to view death as a normal phenomenon, something that is part and parcel of humanity.  While this is true, the tendency is to carry it too far.  Indeed the Bible does look at death as an enemy meaning that it is a reality and is not just the figment of our imagination.  One cannot miss the idea of hopelessness that seems to pervade this statement.  In other words there is no hope of this cycle coming to an end.  This would be going on indefinitely, in this regard it is not different from the first statement.


The beauty of I Corinthians is that as much as it is accepted that death is an enemy, there is no attempt to make it permanently a part of our lives.  To begin with death is an intruder, something evil that has invaded our human sphere.  Secondly, it will be dealt with, plans are underway to destroy it and do so permanently.  Of course our cooperation is needed, sin is at the center of this phenomenon and hence the appeal by the apostle to do away with it.


The three parts of the main text that we have highlighted need a further explanation.
We hope to do this in the next series.  But we need to reemphasize these points once again for more clarity.  Death is a reality, we do not need to be convinced of that, it is something we experience everyday.  But we may have to argue about is how to view it, as a foe or friend.   Must we embrace death or must we reject it? Is it a necessary part of our ecosystem or is something that must be dreaded?  The apostle Paul, seems to be very clear on this point, death is an enemy. The Bible is clear that Christ came to give us life in all its abundance (John 10:10).   The good news is that death will be destroyed, that if for anything gives us hope.  There will be an end to this fiasco; there are plans afoot to force death to face its demise.


Lastly, we have a role to play in the destruction of death, we need to find a way of doing away with sin.  We need to come to terms with God.  We need to come back to our senses as Paul puts it.


How will death be destroyed?  If death is an enemy; are we then expected to be fearful or must we hate death?  What are the implications of not believing that there is resurrection?  And lastly, what if there is resurrection, does that make any difference?  These are some of the questions we need to look at in the next series.


Stay with God.

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