Ministry is challenging. Whether you serve in a small town or a big city – whether you are in full-time vocational ministry or in part-time lay ministry – whether you serve in the nursery or stand in the pulpit, ministry is challenging. It is filled with peaks and valleys, ups and downs, joys and sorrows.
The Apostle Paul knew well the challenges of ministry. His letters reveal the heart of a man enflamed by the glory of God and burdened by the challenges he faced. In particular, his letters to the church at Corinth reveal a man who knew well the difficulties and hardships of serving the Lord. At the same time, they reveal a man whose identity was found not in the things of this world, but rather in his union with the risen Christ (1 Cor 1:30).
Simply put, these epistles reveal a man who walked “by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7), who knew that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor 4:17), who pressed on in service of the Lord “looking not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Cor 4:18). The Apostle Paul knew that his identity, purpose, and his source of strength were grounded in the resurrected Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul revels in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this chapter, he expounds both the reality and the theology of the resurrection. As Paul states, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (vv. 14, 17). But Paul goes on to declare the reality that Christ “was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (v. 4).
Moreover, Christ was raised as the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15: 20). His resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection! His resurrection is the first installment of the great resurrection harvest at the last day. As believers, we have been raised with Christ spiritually (Rom 6:5- 11) and we look forward to the day when we will be raised bodily and will see our Savior face to face (1 Cor 15:35-49; 1 John 3:1-3).And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins (1 Cor. 15: 14, 17).
Furthermore, by means of Christ’s resurrection, the new creation has exploded into this present evil age in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). The age of the Spirit has come in Christ (Acts 2:33)! And it is this truth of the resurrection that strengthens Paul and enables him to persevere. Indeed, it is this truth that will enable us to persevere in service to Christ and his church. Paul closes the majestic chapter of 1 Corinthians 15 with the following words: “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” (v. 58). There are a few items to note in this verse.
First, note the transition term, “therefore.” We must read this conclusion in light of what Paul has just declared in chapter 15, specifically, in light of Christ’s resurrection. In light of his victory over sin and death – “O death where is your victory, O death where is your sting” (v. 55) – we are called to do something. Christ has conquered sin and death and has given us his Spirit (Col 1:13; Heb 2:14-15; Acts 1:4-5; 2:33). Brothers and sisters, this truth must, and in fact most certainly will, impact our lives and our ministries.
Second, in light of Christ’s resurrection, we are not to be moved from our hope in the gospel. We are to be “steadfast” and “immovable.” In other words, we are to let nothing move us (cf. Col 1:23). While some in the Corinthian church were denying the resurrection, Paul calls the Corinthians – and us – to take our stand on the resurrection. We stand on the gospel of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection – and we must stand firm as good soldiers for Christ (2 Tim 2:3). Just as the world was seeking to move the Corinthians from the sure truth of the gospel, so the world today tries to move us from the sure foundation of the gospel. It is all too easy to give up, give in, and simply go with the flow of the world’s thinking (Eph 4:14; Col 2:8).
In the counseling office, the Sunday school room, and the pulpit – in the US and around the world – it may be easier to give the world what it wants to hear. But then we would only be giving them a poison pill, a false gospel. Rather, the Apostle Paul calls us to stand firm on the gospel of Christ. Christ calls us to be “steadfast” and “immovable.”
Third, we are to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” We are to be overflowing in our service to Christ. Serving the Lord is not a part-time responsibility; it is a full-time job. As my grandfather would often tell me, “there is no day off in the Lord’s army.” We are to serve him and to live for his glory all the days of our lives. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). Or as Peter puts it, “As each has received a gift use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10-11).Serving the Lord is not a part-time responsibility; it is a full-time job.
Thus, not only are we to be steadfast, not only are we not to be moved from the foundational truth of the gospel of Christ, but we are to press forward on the old paths of the gospel. We are to be “always abounding” in the work of the Lord!
Now what exactly is “the work of the Lord” in which we are to be always abounding? What or whose works of the Lord does Paul have in view? He doesn’t explicitly tell us. I would suggest, however, that the ‘brothers’ of v. 58 is the same ‘brothers’ of vv. 1 & 50. It is those who heard Paul’s preaching (vv. 1-2). Simply put, in these verses Paul is addressing the whole congregation. Thus, the ‘work of the Lord’ is our work in service of the Lord. It is the work of each child of God in service of Christ, whether seen or unseen, whether acknowledged or hidden.
This work may sound difficult. This sounds exhausting. But Paul closes this verse and this chapter with a wonderful word of assurance: “knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” What a truth! Regardless of the outcome or the results, our labor for Christ is not in vain. For those united to Christ and empowered by the Spirit, our service for the gospel is never empty. The Lord is always, always at work in and through the humble labors of his children. It is a wonder of wonders that the Lord would use feeble efforts in the spread of the gospel. Even the smallest work for the Lord is not empty, but is pleasing in his eyes and used for his glory.
The faithful prayer of a grandmother, the simple faith of a five-year-old boy, the Bible reading of a tired, single mom, the leading in family worship of a busy father pulled in a hundred directions, or the humble, faithful testimony of the young professional – all are pleasing to our Lord. Our believing is not in vain (1 Cor 15:2) and our labor for the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor 15:58). Brothers and sisters, may we always abound in the work of the Lord knowing that we belong to the risen and conquering King!