Not in Vain

I’ve always needed and loved Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:58:  “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”

The implication of this exhortation is that the Corinthians (along with us) would’ve been tempted instead to be faltering, movable, and unabounding in the work of the Lord.  They would’ve been tempted (along with us) to sink into the slough of despond and to think that their kingdom labors were in vain.

The older people might’ve started thinking that their church ministry wasn’t significant anymore because the younger generation was too hip to learn anything from them.  “The world's going to hell in a handbasket and I’ve only got five more years to live at most.  What can I do?”  The middle-aged women may have begun to wonder what they might be useful for in the Lord’s work since their children were now out of the home and they were starting a new stage of life.  “I’m meeting in a house every Sunday with twenty-five people on the outskirts of Corinth, and what are we accomplishing?  Is this really worth it?”  The young people might’ve been wondering what the will of God was for their lives and asking themselves that piercing, nagging, strangling question, “What am I going to do when I finish school?  And what will it all be worth?”

This is why I love 1 Corinthians 15:58.  I love it because in the midst of discouragement and weariness and wavering and purposelessness, Paul sounds a clarion call for hard kingdom work, for sanctified labor, for Christian fatigue.  He calls for exhausting service, for overflowing acts of love, for blistered hands and wiped-out minds.  And how can he do this?  He can do it because he knows (and he wants you to know) that “your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”  And how does he know that?

Verses one through fifty-seven:

The resurrection.

A better day is coming.  A restful day is coming.  It’s been two millennia since Jesus’ tomb was found empty, but for all who are willing to look into it again, it has the power to haunt them with the blessed thought: “It’s worth it.”  I’m only twenty-five years old, but I’ve already lived long enough to agree with Paul that if this sin-cursed life is all there is, then the only thing that makes sense to do is to eat and drink and be comfortable and pursue a self-protective life.  “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32b).  If there’s nothing that comes after this thing called life, then I’m just going to relax and make sure that I get mine.

But, if Jesus Christ did rise from the dead, if He is seated at the right hand of the Father, if He is coming again to reward the righteous and punish the wicked, if His kingdom will prevail against all odds, if sin and death don’t have any more sting or any chance at final victory, and if I really am going to be raised from the dead to share in the joy of the Father and the Son and the Spirit for all eternity—then perseverance is worth it.  Endurance is worth it.  Burden-bearing is worth it.  Sacrificial acts of love are worth it.  Financial generosity is worth it.  Fighting personal sin is worth it.  Evangelism is worth it.  Waking up every two hours to feed your newborn baby is worth it.  Working hard on your end-of-the-year paper even when you don’t feel like it is worth it.  Every “work of the Lord” is not empty precisely because the tomb is empty.

After fifty-seven verses of resurrection theology, Paul gives us the reminder that we need to hear every morning, afternoon, and night.  It is a message for every day, not just Resurrection Sunday:  Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”

Keep working, friends.  You can rest when you die.  And you can rest when you rise from the dead.


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