Laboring Not in Vain

I find one of the most difficult aspects of the Christian life to communicate is the last verse of 1 Corinthians 15, the great resurrection chapter.

1 Corinthians 15:58 (NRSV)
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

This is such a crucial thing to take deep into our hearts. The resurrection gives our specific histories, our particular accomplishments meaning. Without the resurrection history, including our own small, unrecorded, unremembered histories are pointless, void, fleeting, and but a breath.

NT Wright gets into this well in his book Surprised by Hope on pages 191, 192

When we turn to Paul, the verse that has always struck me in this connection is i Corinthians 15:58. Paul, we remind ourselves, has just written the longest and densest chapter in any of his letters, discussing the future resurrection of the body in great and complex detail. How might we expect him to finish such a chapter? By saying, “Therefore, since you have such a great hope, sit back and relax because you know God’s got a great future in store for you”? No. Instead, he says, “Therefore, my beloved ones, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.”

What does he mean? How does believing in the future resurrection lead to getting on with the work in the present? Quite straight-forwardly. The point of the resurrection, as Paul has been arguing throughout the letter, is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die. God will-raise it to new life. What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it. And if this applies to ethics, as in s Corinthians 6, it certainly also applies to the various vocations to which God’s people are called. What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of snaking the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it, “Until that day when all the blest to endless rest are called away”). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.

In Yancey’s chapter on Job in The Bible Jesus Read he touches on this too. I wouldn’t have imagined to find lessons on this from the book of Job.

Why does God permit, even encourage such tests of faith? Could it possibly matter to God whether one man or one woman accepts or rejects him? Elihu, the last and most mysterious of Job’s comforters, scorned the very notion of God caring about Job’s predicament. He scoffed at Job,

If you sin, how does that affect him?
If your sins are many, what does that do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to him,
or what does he receive from your hand?
Your wickedness affects only a man like yourself,
and your righteousness only the sons of men. (35:6-8)

The opening chapters of Job, however, reveal that God staked a lot on one man’s wickedness or righteousness. Somehow, in a way the book only suggests and does not explain, one person’s faith made a difference. That, to me, is the most powerful and enduring lesson from the book of Job.

p. 65

In exaggerated form, Job affirms the mystery that, for whatever reason, God has given individual human beings a significant role to play in remaking a spoiled planet. When a pastor goes to prison for his peaceful protest against injustice, when a social worker moves into an urban ghetto in order to rebuild community from the ground up, when a couple refuses to give up on a difficult marriage, when a parent waits with undying hope and forgiveness for the return of an estranged child, when a son or daughter chooses to care for a terminally ill parent rather than investigate euthanasia, when a young professional resists mounting temptations toward wealth and success—in all these sufferings, large and small, there is the assurance of a deeper level of meaning, of a sharing in Christ’s own redemptive victory. “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:19).

p. 68

I like these sections because they encourage us to fight both against temptation and to work for positive change in the world. That is so greatly needed.

One of the most vital things I’ve learned from Tim Keller (should have learned it younger from the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession but didn’t) is that my motivation comes not from fearing God’s condemnation (“there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”) but rather from gratitude AND the gravitational force of the impending resurrection and revelation of the children of God (Romans 8:19)

Like a force far more powerful than the moon’s effect on the seas in the tides, the resurrection pulls us into the relational polarity of the life of God and energizes us to pour ourselves out in causes imagined by the world to be petty and futile. Faith in us is like the old woman’s joints that predict the storm, only ours predict the renewal of all things. They both cause us to groan and excite us by giving us pre-resurrection sitings when others just see a feel-good story.

How the work of the saints fits into the renewal of all things is as mysterious as how that valley of bones in Ezekiel can live again, to arise to be the army of 144,000 in Revelation 7. Lord, help us to see. Help us to believe.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in Devotional Reflection, Quotations and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.