Not in vain
Stand firm in God’s service
1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
On a rainy day some years ago when I was working as a youth pastor, I drove 30 minutes to a high school in a neighbouring city to meet a student for lunch. I parked out front and waited in the same spot we had met several times before. The lunch bell rang students and started to stream out of the school – everyone, it seemed, except for my appointment.
Despite my attempts to get ahold of him, he never did emerge. The bell rang again and the students went back inside the school.
I was frustrated. Nearly two hours of my day had been wasted! The situation repeated itself a few weeks later.
Further compounding matters, I felt like I was not making any kind of a difference in the youth’s life with the significant difficulties he was facing even when we were able to talk.
When you don’t see progress
Have you ever had an experience like that? When you thought you would make a difference in someone’s life, or leave a positive impact on your church or community, only to end up feeling completely ineffective, even useless? It can be frustrating and defeating to work so hard and not see any progress.
In God’s providence, I spent one of the 30-minute drives to my would-be meeting with this student, listening to a podcast sermon from Bill Hybels. He expounded upon what he referred to his “Life Verse”: 1 Corinthians 15:58.
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.”
This verse comes at the end of a long chapter in which Paul writes about the reality of the resurrection – both the past resurrection of Christ (15:1–11) and the future resurrection of all believers (15:12–34).
Clearly, there were some in Corinth who were denying that Christ had been risen from the dead and doubting that there would be a future resurrection. The consequence of this kind of thinking is seen in verse 32: “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.’” In other words, if there is nothing beyond this life, let’s do whatever we want because there will be no consequences for what we do!
Don’t lose sight of the resurrection
I suspect that this kind of mindset is not limited to the people at Corinth 2,000 years ago. In fact, if we as Christians lose sight of the reality that Christ will return and we will be raised to new life with new resurrection bodies (15:35–56) we can easily be tempted to abandon the ways of Christ when they are not popular and to give up serving God when it seems like we are not making progress.
Verse 58 serves as a sharp exhortation against that kind of thinking. In fact, Paul writes, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (15:19). There is an eternal reality awaiting us after death and what we do here matters for eternity!
To be clear, Paul isn’t advocating salvation by works here, but is reminding a group of people who were tempted to give up that Christ’s resurrection foreshadows our own resurrection and the eternal glory we will share together with Jesus.
What we do here matters!
Notice, then, the resolve with which Paul writes. Put another way, he says:
Be completely committed to what you know is true about Christ.
Give yourself totally to serving the Lord, not just when it is convenient or productive.
Rest assured in the knowledge that what you do in Christ’s name is never in vain, worthless or a waste of time.
We may never see the earthly outcomes of our commitment to serve Christ with everything we’ve got. I still can’t see the results of the many meetings I did have with that young man, but I trust that even if I never see the fruit of those conversations, God is pleased with me for serving in that way. I will be able to stand before God, knowing I did what I was able to.
I need that encouragement from time to time. Perhaps you do, too.
Let’s be people who serve wholeheartedly, knowing that our service is never in vain!
—Craig Thiessen is pursuing an MDiv at MBBS. He and Jenny have two children, Joshua and Kenzi, and attend Ross Road Community Church in Abbotsford, B.C.