Labor Not in Vain (Phil Johnson)

1 Corinthians 15:58   |   Sunday, April 14, 2013   |   Code: 2013-04-14-PJ

      First Corinthians 15:58. This is the last verse in one of the New Testament's longest chapters. Keep in mind that it comes at the tail end of Paul's long discourse on the doctrine of resurrection. The whole chapter leading up to this final verse has been about resurrection. And then Paul writes: "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."

      Now that's an important text, and it marks a strategic point at the very climax of Paul's first epistle to the church at Corinth. This letter was written to a troubled church as a corrective. Throughout the epistle, Paul has been addressing a number of serious problems that had arisen in that church in his absence. Paul, of course, was the founding pastor of that church, but after he had established the church and in effect been their pastor for 18 months, his ministry took him away from them, and several problems arose almost immediately. They wrote Paul for help, raising several questions for him to answer. First Corinthians is a catalogue of his answers to their questions—and this verse is the pinnacle of the whole epistle. (Chapter 16 is dominated by assorted loose ends and personal greetings. So this verse marks the end of the didactic portion of 1 Corinthians.) It is a short, one-sentence summary of the practical lesson of the whole epistle.

      First Corinthians is a unique epistle, because (as I said) it is the apostle Paul's answer to a series of questions the church had sent to him. In the process of answering questions they had sent to him, he deals with this laundry-list of significant problems that were severely hindering the growth and fruitfulness of the Corinthian fellowship.

      Most of you will remember what kind problems Paul was dealing with, because we have talked about this church many times before. They had factions. Everyone in the church had lined up behind their favorite teacher, or identified with their favorite Christian leader, and they had formed little groups based on these intramural rivalries against one another. Chapter 1, verse 12-13. Paul says, "Each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?"

      They were also tolerating serious sin in their midst. They had, for example, a man who was having an incestuous affair (Chapter 5, verse 1). He was somehow involved in an immoral relationship with his father's wife. Paul doesn't give the details, so we don't know if this was actually the man's mother or his step-mother, but in chapter 5, verse 1, Paul says it was "sexual immorality . . . of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans." The Corinthians evidently had adopted a postmodern view of what it means to be loving and tolerant, because rather than dealing with the man's sin, they regarded it as a badge of honor that they were sophisticated and seeker-sensitive enough to embrace such a person into their fellowship—and make that church a safe place where he could live out his faith-journey in spite of his failings. But in chapter 5, Paul rebukes them for that attitude and orders them to discipline the man who was in sin.

      Another major issue in that church was that they were bringing lawsuits against one another. (That's what Paul deals with in chapter 6.)

      According to chapter 7, they were also confused about the issues of marriage, celibacy, sexual purity, singleness and the role of widows in the church.

      They were having disputes over Christian liberty, and specifically, whether it was lawful to eat food that had been offered to idols. So Paul addresses that issue in chapters 8-10.

      They had women who were trying to usurp the role of men in the leadership of the church (chapter 11). We also learn in chapter 11 that they had people disrupting their observance of the Lord's table by turning it into an occasion for drunkenness and gluttony, and they were losing the sacred significance of the ordinance.

      They had people abusing their spiritual gifts and turning the church services into contests to see who could produce the most spectacular display of tongues and prophecy (verses 12-14).

      So this was a church with a lot of problems.

      And notice that virtually all those problems had to do with selfish, greedy, egocentric, childish, and self-centered attitudes. You might say it this way: the besetting sin of the Corinthian church was that people refused to esteem one another as better than self. Therefore everything in Corinth was being done through strife and vainglory.

      Furthermore, notice that most of their problems were problems of polity and practice. They were problems related to disorganization in the church and personal sin in the lives of people who were trying to step into prominence now that the apostle Paul was no longer there to lead them.

      In other words, these were pretty typical church problems. But they were very serious problems, any one of which could destroy the Corinthian fellowship if not corrected.

      Now you may be surprised to see such problems so widespread in the early church—especially a church that the apostle Paul had founded and nurtured and personally led for a year and a half or so before his ministry moved him on to other mission fields. You might think that a church with such a rich heritage of good teaching and wise leadership under the influence of someone like the apostle Paul himself would be immune from the same kind of petty problems that trouble the average church in America's Bible Belt today, but that is not the case. The church is a fellowship of redeemed sinners—people who sometimes bring their sinful habits and carnal tendencies with them into the kingdom of Christ, and that is why the church as a whole—and every local fellowship as well—needs to be constantly reforming. Churches, just like the individuals that make up their membership, constantly need to be sanctified.

      Paul seems to have saved the most serious problem in Corinth for the very last. Notice the logical progression: He first dealt with the internal divisions, and the immorality, and the lawsuits, and the marital issues, the question of the role of women, and their abuse of the charismatic gifts—pretty much in that order. (When you rehearse them like that, it really does sound like a catalogue of the sins of the 21st-century church, doesn't it?)

      And then at the end of chapter 14, he sums up his answer to all those problems in a single, simple, straightforward principle (1 Corinthians 14:40): "All things should be done decently and in order."

      Now, the New Testament does not give detailed answers to a lot of our practical questions about church polity and structure, but if we simply take what Scripture does teach and apply that basic principle consistently, conscientiously, and carefully, it would solve the vast majority of church problems related to leadership and church politics. Here is a perfect one-sentence answer to 90 percent of the problems that were plaguing the Corinthian church: "All things should be done decently and in order."

      But that church also had a serious doctrinal problem, too, and Paul deals with it in this classic chapter in defense of the doctrine of bodily resurrection.

      Apparently someone in Corinth was spreading a belief among the church members there that the idea of resurrection from the dead was not necessarily a literal truth to be embraced and taught as true. Since the idea of bodily resurrection was so foreign to Greek culture, some of them decided it was a doctrine that did not need to be taken seriously; or that it didn't need to be interpreted literally; or that it was not to be insisted upon strictly as one of the core articles of Christian belief. Someone either in the church itself (or more likely someone on the outside who came to Corinth and insinuated himself into a position of influence in the church by pretending to have some kind of teaching authority); someone was telling these Christians that belief in the literal resurrection of the human body was not an essential element of the Christian message. And some of the Corinthians had bought that idea and were spreading it among the flock. They were saying you could be a Christian without believing in an actual physical resurrection of the bodies of dead people. Perhaps they were saying that what counted was that you believed in some kind of spiritual afterlife, or whatever. But it is clear that serious doubts had been sown in that church about whether the physical bodies of dead believers really would one day be resurrected. Verse 12, Paul says, "Some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead."

      Now, we know from Scripture that the idea of bodily resurrection was an extremely controversial topic in Greek intellectual culture. It was deemed unsophisticated and unscientific (just as it is today) to believe that the bodies of the dead will one day be restored to life. The very idea was dismissed out of hand as ignorant and superstitious—just as it would be in the typical science class in any modern university.

      In Acts 17, when Paul preached to the elite minds of Athens in the Areopagus, he attacked practically every distinctive of Greek religious belief. He said that God doesn't dwell in temples made with hands. He proclaimed that God demands all men everywhere to repent. He announced the coming day of judgment. But what set off the commotion that ended his sermon that day was when he spoke of the resurrection of the dead.

      All of Greek culture and education considered such an idea grotesque and utterly absurd. They had the idea that everything corrupt and evil about the present world is embodied in physical existence. They regarded the material world as the seat of all that's evil. They considered the body unredeemable. To them, paradise could only be obtained by breaking free of this material world and our physical bodies. That same kind of thinking lies at the root of Buddhism, hinduism, neo-gnosticism, New Age belief, and most other religions even today.

      And the Corinthians, steeped in that Greek culture, were confused by the belief-system that dominated their society. And they were perhaps embarrassed to proclaim a belief that the rest of society found grotesque and unsophisticated. Just how important was the resurrection?

      Notice: Paul deals with the resurrection of the dead as one of the primary and utterly essential truths of the gospel. In fact, based on what he says in this chapter, Paul believed no other single truth was more vital to authentic Christianity than the idea of bodily resurrection, staring with Christ's own resurrection.

      So he spends an entire chapter defending that truth and expounding on it. He names 500-plus eyewitnesses to the physical resurrection of Christ. He points out that the whole Christian doctrine of atonement presupposes that the resurrection of Christ was real—that He rose in the same body in which he died. That body was glorified and changed in a way that made it eternal and incorruptible, of course, but it was the same actual physical body that had been placed in the tomb—not an apparition or a vision or a merely spiritual thing. It was the very same body, only transformed into something greater and more glorious than before.

      And Paul says if that were not the case (v. 14)—"if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." Verse 17: "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins."

      Then he spends the remainder of the chapter answering the scoffers' objections—pointing out (in the words of verse 53) that "this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality." He insists that this body—the SAME body that is "sown in dishonor . . . is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power" (v. 43). He leaves no wiggle room for anyone to spiritualize the idea or allegorize away the plain meaning of the text. He insists that the resurrection of the dead will be a real, physical, glorious resurrection of our mortal bodies, which will then be clothed with immortality. And he insists, likewise, that the resurrection of Christ was a real, historical, verifiable resurrection of the very same body that was crucified. Anything less than that, he says, is not Christianity at all. To those who want to save their intellectual stature or their academic respectability by putting some kind of clever spin on the resurrection in order to explain away the true, miraculous, literal nature of the miracle that occurred when Christ rose from the dead—Paul in effect says, if you do not believe this literally happened, and that it was physically verified by those of us who saw with our own eyes and handled with our own hands—then you're not a believer at all.

      And let me say this: if you truly believe in the physical resurrection of the dead, there's no reason to question any other miracle, especially on supposedly scientific grounds. If this chapter puts so much stress on the literal reality of the bodily resurrection, which is the pinnacle of all miracles—then there is no reason whatsoever to give any latitude to people who try to explain away the lesser miracles of Scripture, whether by spiritualizing the meaning of the Bible or by treating this or that chapter as a special literary genre so that we can make it mean something other than what it says.

      That goes especially for the Genesis account of a six-day creation. I have no sympathy whatsoever for those who think it's unsophisticated and naive to take the biblical account of creation at face value. The spirit of that kind of skepticism is really no different from the ancient Greek skepticism about the doctrine of bodily resurrection.

      Anyway, that is the context of 1 Corinthians 15. Paul spends the entire chapter defending the truth of bodily resurrection as a literal reality, an essential tenet of the Christian faith, and the singular foundation on which all our hopes are grounded. He argues for the doctrine by citing eyewitness testimony about the resurrection of Christ, by pointing to biblical prophecies that foretold the resurrection of Christ, and by highlighting New Testament principles that hinge on the truth of a real, bodily resurrection. He conclusively proves that the resurrection is an absolute necessity—and he says that if the resurrection isn't true and sure and certain, then nothing is true and sure and certain.

      But it is true, he says, and he declares it with the absolute confidence of someone who was himself an eyewitness.

      And if we share Paul's confidence, that conviction needs to have a practical impact on the way we live our lives.

      Now I have pointed this out many times in the past, but I don't want you to miss it here: Paul had a pattern he consistently followed in his teaching, and we see it here. Paul's preferred style of teaching was to expound a doctrine fully first, and then he would make some practical application of that doctrine. In Romans, for example, the first eleven chapters are all about doctrine—specifically, the doctrine of justification. He fully expounds that doctrine for eleven chapters, and then he spends the final chapters of Romans making practical applications of the doctrine he established in the first eleven chapters.

      Ephesians—same thing. You've got three chapters of in-depth doctrine about election and the call of God; then the final three chapters give practical instructions for "walk[ing] in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called." Galatians: you've got four and a half chapters of doctrine, followed by a chapter and a half of practical exhortation.

      And pretty much always, the practical section is introduced with the word therefore.

      Notice: sometimes Paul gives nearly equal amounts of doctrinal instruction and practical help—as in Ephesians, where the "therefore" comes right at the halfway point. But normally Paul weights his teaching heavily toward the doctrinal side. Doctrine always comes first, and usually the doctrinal section is far weightier and more detailed than the practical section. (That's exactly backward from the style of preaching that is most popular today, isn't it?)

      Now, here in 1 Corinthians 15, you have that pattern in microcosm. The chapter itself is a treatise on doctrine; and all the stress is on this one vital doctrine about bodily resurrection. Paul deals with the doctrine carefully and thoroughly across 57 verses. He anticipates and answers his opponents' arguments, and he sets forth an impressive array of proofs and points of doctrinal orthodoxy. Those 57 verses constitute one long doctrinal discourse on a single point of doctrine.

      And it's not until the very end (the fifty-eighth verse—the very last verse of the chapter) that he finally gets to the therefore: "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." That is the sum of his practical application. One verse. Simple principle. It's a sweeping commandment, but it's not the least bit complex or difficult to apprehend.

      Here is what the promise of bodily resurrection means to the apostle Paul in practical terms: It's a reason to remain steady. It's a reason to stay busy. And it's a reason to be confident as we head into an uncertain future.

      And this morning I want to think through verse 58 with you—and we'll analyze what Paul is saying under those three headings. Here is his rationale for placing so much stress on the doctrine of resurrection, especially in a pagan culture like Corinth: It's a reason to remain steady; a reason to remain busy; and a reason to remain confident. Let's start with argument number 1. It's—


1. A Reason to Remain Steady

      This is the very first phrase of the verse: "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast[ and] immovable." Stay steady, he says. "Be steadfast, immovable." Paul uses two very strong verbs that are near synonyms. The word translated "steadfast" comes from a root that speaks of being seated. One commentator suggests it is so strong as to contain the connotation of being "sedentary."

      But of course, Paul is certainly not advocating any kind of inactivity or inertia—and you're going to see that in a minute. He's not saying, "sit down and take it easy"; he means "be firm and secure in the faith." Be calm and unbending in the face of opposition. Don't move from position to position depending on what popular thinking says at the moment, but plant yourself firmly on those foundational truths of the gospel (the pillars of true faith that never will change) and make that the place where you take your stand.

      Steadfastness is not a popular virtue in these postmodern times. I had a good friend a few years back who was a gifted teacher and a fairly influential teacher. Some of you would recognize his name if I said it. He spoke at conferences in lots of the same places where I'm sometimes invited to minister. In those days, I thought we saw eye to eye on most of the truly important things. I had learned from him, and I generally looked up to him. My one concern about him was that he seemed to have a tendency to change his mind suddenly, even after he had already studied and taught and published material on an issue. As a result, he took up new issues all the time, and every other year or so, he tended to make a new hobby horse out of whatever caught his interest at the moment. I always thought he fell short of explaining why he changed his mind about things so often and so quickly.

      He had started the Christian life as a kind of mainstream, midstream evangelical, and then he discovered the doctrines of Grace. So he became a hard-line Calvinist for a couple of years. In fact, he was flirting with hyper-Calvinism for a while, until he had an epiphany about the dangers of that. Then he became interested in the history of revival; and for a while that's what he spoke about wherever he went. At first his radical changes of mind were mostly good, and his moving from one point of view to another seemed harmless at first. But he was establishing this pattern of making regular and radical changes in his focus and his belief system every few years.

      And then he started to flip-flop on more important issues—and not always for the better. At first he was ardently opposed to the kind of ecumenism that was seeking to unite Protestants and Catholics and gloss over our differences about the gospel. But then he suddenly became a cheerleader for all the ecumenical trends. He changed his views on justification by faith in order to embrace a view that was more compatible with his newfound desire to find common ground with Roman Catholicism. Then he began to take an interest in postmodernism and the Emerging Church movement. And now he speaks only in circles where the most radical and trendy doctrinal novelties are in vogue, and he has become an outspoken critic of practically every conviction he and I used to share in common.

      The turning point was an article he wrote a few years ago in which he said he had come to the conclusion that the very essence of humility was a willingness to change your mind. He also said he had come to see certitude as a fleshly, egotistical thing—not even something to be desired. Doubt was preferable to certainty, he decided, because nothing in his belief system had ever really been settled with any kind of finality. Now he says he is fed up with wanting to be right, and tired of trying to be certain of what he believes, so he has simply given up the quest for certainty.

      That explains, of course, why this guy had always undergone these major paradigm shifts in his theological perspective every other year or so. He never saw steadfastness as a valid goal to pursue or as a virtue to be cultivated. Instead, he believed true humility required him to reject and condemn his own belief system every few months, and that is exactly what he did. In his mind, people who don't regularly rethink and renounce some of their deepest convictions are simply headstrong and arrogant.

      That's a surprisingly common opinion in these postmodern times. We've all been conditioned to think of certainty as presumptuous and egotistical. We think we're not supposed to be immovable in our convictions. That's what our culture tells us.

      In fact, people nowadays don't want to hear how sure you are of this or that doctrine; they want to hear about your doubts. They recoil when you state anything with conviction, but they love it when someone throws out old orthodoxies in favor of newer, trendier ideas. And the more you criticize the old orthodoxies, the easier it is to gain an appreciative audience. Defend the old orthodoxies, and you are the one who will be called arrogant.

      But preaching is supposed to be done with conviction and firmness. Paul told Titus, "Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you." A sermon is not a vehicle for thinking out loud. Wee need to be certain of any doctrine before we teach it or affirm it in print. And anyone who continually does flip-flops on the basic details of gospel truth is not truly humble; he's weak in the faith, and he is fit to be a preacher. Our convictions are supposed to be firm and fixed. That's what this verse is calling for, and there is simply no virtue in trying so hard to over-nuance every doctrine or pretend we're uncertain about things we're supposed to be sure of, just so we'll fit better with the academic approach that happens to be popular at the moment.

      I once wrote something like that on my blog, and a young seminary graduate, wrote me back to say he thought I should rethink my position on that. He said he believes settled convictions are over-rated; doubt is good, because it makes us think deeply. Changing one's mind regularly is a practical way to cultivate humility, he insisted. All confidence is over-confidence because we are fallen creatures. He cited Psalm 10:6, where the wicked atheist "says in his heart, 'I shall not be moved,'" and "His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity."

      Now it is obviously true, and we all need to admit, that arrogance is a sinful tendency of all fallen flesh, including mine. It would be arrogant to try to pretend that our hearts heart are free from any kind of arrogance. But it's not arrogant to believe that God's Word is true, and it's not arrogant to refuse to budge in your convictions every time someone thinks he has come up with a new reason for doubting. Scripture commands us to be steadfast and unmovable in our faith.

      Besides, who is more "arrogant"? Someone who refuses to compromise even when popular thinking shifts against him—or the guy who never settles on any truth and yet constantly wants to argue about everything anyway? Isn't it the very height of arrogance for someone so wracked with doubts to be so argumentative? The chronic doubter invariably wants to argue about practically everything, and by his own admission, it's not because he himself has stumbled on something he is certain about, but just because he can't stand for someone else to have strong convictions while he is reveling in his own uncertainty. When did constant waffling on life's most important questions ever get to be an expression of humility?

      Listen: when God has spoken to us as plainly as He does in His Word, that kind of chronic skepticism is not humility at all; it is the very height of carnal arrogance.

      Don't be like that, Paul says: "be steadfast, immovable . . . for you know." The two words are near synonyms. Paul is repeating the idea in order to make the point as emphatic as possible. "Steadfast," again, evokes the idea of someone seated, fixed comfortably in place—settled and stalwart. It speaks of the strength of one's convictions. To paraphrase Paul: Here is a truth you can count on implicitly. It is as sure and as certain as the historical fact of Jesus' own resurrection. You too will rise from the dead in a glorified, imperishable, bodily form. Of all the verities and certainties and essential doctrines of the Christian faith, this one ranks at the very top. Count on it. Live your life accordingly. Settle into that conviction and don't let anyone persuade you differently. "Be steadfast." That's a very positive and powerful term.

      The other word is a stronger expression yet, and it is stated as a negative: "Be . . . immovable." Steadfast means "fixed, stationary, permanent"; and immovable means "resistant to change; defiant against those who would move you." It is a very powerful combination of words, and it echoes Colossians 1:23, where Paul instructs the believers in that church to "continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard."

      Now I cannot stress this enough: this is a command, not a suggestion. It applies to rank-and-file believers, not only those who teach and actively defend the faith. It means the false humility and glorified uncertainty that our postmodern world suggests is the highest of virtues is actually no virtue at all, but a grievous sin. We're supposed to be sure of what we believe, and we're supposed to be fixed and immovable—despite the fact that our culture has glorified uncertainty, and in bold opposition to those who insist that chronic doubting is the only true humility.

      The resurrection epitomizes all the reasons for our unshakable confidence in the truth. It is true and verifiable in every conceivable sense. Because it's true, we can believe the whole gospel with absolute confidence. And because we believe the gospel, we ourselves will be participants in the resurrection that lies at the heart of the gospel promise: John 6:47: "whoever believes has eternal life." John 5:24—Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." And as He expanded on that promise, Jesus made it clear that the promise entails the guarantee of our bodily resurrection. In the very next verse, John 5:25, Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live." A few verses later (verses 28-29), He makes it even more explicit: "Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment."

      There is no more important truth than that, and nothing in this world is more vital to be settled and certain about than the question of whether you will be resurrected to life in an eternally glorified body—or merely raised from the grave to face judgment for your sins.

      Either way, the principle of resurrection is a certainty. Jesus said so. He proved it by rising from the dead. Paul has spent an entire chapter giving proofs and answers to the skeptics. Now he says, in the simplest but most important practical application ever: "Be steadfast, immovable." Make certain where you stand. Fix your heart on faith in Christ and the promise of resurrection—and refuse to budge from that certainty.

      Doubts and fears will assault you. The world will attack your faith and try to undermine your confidence. But be steadfast and unmovable. You can count on the promise of resurrection—and the living, breathing, tangible proof of that is Christ's own resurrection from the dead. There is no better reason to remain steady.

      Now, I said earlier that being steadfast and immovable does not mean being sedentary and inactive. Paul says the same thing. He says the doctrine of bodily resurrection is also—


2. A Reason to Remain Busy

      Look at the verse again: "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord." Stay busy, and the resurrection is a great motive for staying busy. The glories and rewards of eternity are given in greater measure to faithful workmen. Or perhaps a better way of saying it is this: staying busy in the work of the Lord—rendering faithful obedience to His commandments and His calling in this life—is one of the best ways of laying up treasures for ourselves in heaven.

      The promise of bodily resurrection guarantees that our earthly life and our temporal labors have eternal ramifications. In his vision of heaven in Revelation 14:13 the apostle John says, "I heard a voice from heaven saying, 'Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Blessed indeed,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!'"

      The Epicureans, you know, were a cult of Greek Philosophers who denied any possibility of an afterlife. Therefore they believed it was important to enjoy as much pleasure and avoid as much of the labor and pain of this life as possible. (Our contemporary culture operates on pretty much the same set of presuppositions. Most of you are old enough to remember those beer commercials that said, "You only go 'round once. Grab all the gusto you can!"

      That makes pretty good sense if there's no resurrection coming.

      Try to imagine what first-century Christianity looked like to a person steeped in Greek culture—especially the Epicureans. Christians were being persecuted and killed for their faith, and yet they persisted in proclaiming their message, they were known for their willingness to sacrifice and serve one another, they remained joyful in the midst of horrific trials, and the church kept growing. You cannot explain that, except for the fact of the resurrection. Someone like Stephen, martyred for his faith at the height of his ministry. How does that not seem hopeless from the Epicurean point of view?

      But, from a Christian point of view, in light of the hope of our resurrection, there is every reason not only to remain active in the work of the Lord, but to abound in it—and not merely to abound in it, but to abound always. Paul is deliberate in his choice of words, and here he compounds the modifiers for the sake of emphasis. Abound in the work of the Lord, he says, and the clear implication is that your labor will receive a full reward.

      In fact, Hebrews 6:10 says, "God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do." God will reward the works of His people—and the full richness of that reward won't even be seen until the resurrection. There's no better reason to stay busy—always and abundantly. As the final phrase of this verse says, "You know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

      And that brings us to Paul's third practical argument rooted in the hope of resurrection. First, it's a reason to remain steady; second, it's a reason to remain busy; and now, it's—


3. A Reason to Remain Confident

      What better motive for hope? "[You know] that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." No matter how fruitless or frustrated your earthly labors may appear to carnal eyes, if you are faithful, you will reap an eternal reward. The clear implication is that the reward will be exceedingly abundantly more than we could ask or think. None of our labor will be lost. None of it is unprofitable. Therefore we have the highest reason for the utmost confidence: "[You know] that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."

      This is the proper and necessary perspective for every laborer in the Lord's vineyard. Our labor may not always be fully rewarded in this life—and that's a blessing. Whatever reward you receive in this life is only temporary. That's what Jesus stressed with the Pharisees. They did their alms to be seen and praised by other men, and Jesus said if that was what they wanted, that's the only reward they would receive.

      If you are motivated only by visible success and instant rewards, you are going to be a vacillating and discouraged Christian.

      But if you don't care about earthly rewards, and if you don't judge your success and fruitfulness by this world's standards, you can be certain you'll receive an eternal reward that is greater yet. The resurrection is the proof and the down-payment on that reward. If heaven where you set your affections—if that's where you focus your hopes—then "[You know] that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."

      That is the motive for our confidence no matter how difficult the trials of this life might become. If you cultivate that heavenly perspective, it won't matter to you whether you receive praise or recognition from other people.

      Let me close with a quotation from Spurgeon:

      Our work of faith is not in vain, because we shall rise again. If what we do for God were to have its only reward on earth, it were a poor prospect. Strike out the hope of the hereafter, and the Christian's reward would be gone; but, beloved, we shall rise again. Our work is ended when our eye is closed in death, but our life is not ended with our work. We shall preach no more, we shall no more teach the little children, are shall no more talk with the wayfarer about the Savior; but we shall enjoy better things than these, for we shall sit upon our Savior's throne even as he sits upon his Father's throne. Our heads shall have crowns to deck them, our hands shall wave the palm of victory; we shall put on the white robe-the victors apparel; we shall stand around the throne in triumph, and shall behold and share the glories of the Son of God. O brethren, shrink not, for the crown is just within your reach.