…Be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the LORD, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the LORD.
1 CORINTHIANS 15:58
Those who are active in Christian service must beware of two opposite pitfalls: the elation that comes with success on the one hand, or the discouragement that comes with failure, on the other.
These may be considered by some as trivial, but the history of the Christian ministry will not support this conclusion. They are critically dangerous and should be guarded against with great care.
The disciples returned to Christ with brimming enthusiasm, saying, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name,” and He quickly reminded them of another being who had allowed success to go to his head.
“I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven,” He said. “In this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.”
The second of these twin dangers need not be labored. Every minister of the gospel knows how hard it is to stay spiritual when his work appears to be fruitless. Yet he is required to rejoice in God as certainly when he is having a bad year as when he is seeing great success, and to lean heavily upon Paul’s assurance that “your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
The Great Exhortation
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. (15:58)
If we really believe and if we are truly thankful that our resurrection is sure, that we will be transformed from the perishable, dishonorable, weak, natural, mortal, and earthy to the imperishable, glorious, powerful, spiritual, immortal, and heavenly—we should therefore prove our assurance and our thankfulness by being steadfast, immovable [negative] and always abounding [positive] in the work of the Lord.
Hedraios (steadfast) literally refers to being seated, and therefore to being settled and firmly situated. Ametakinētos (immovable) carries the same basic idea but with more intensity. It denotes being totally immobile and motionless. Obviously Paul is talking about our being moved away from God’s will, not to our being moved within it. Within His will we are to be always abounding in the work of the Lord. But we should not move a hairbreadth away from His will, continually being careful not to be “tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14).
Gordon Clark gives a helpful paraphrase of this verse: “Therefore we should mortify emotion, be steadfast, unchangeable, not erratic and scatterbrained, easily discouraged, and should multiply our good works in the knowledge that the Lord will make them profitable.”
If our confident hope in the resurrection wavers, we are sure to abandon ourselves to the ways and standards of the world. If there are no eternal ramifications or consequences of what we do in this life, the motivation for self-less service and holy living is gone.
On the other hand, when our hope in the resurrection is clear and certain we will have great motivation to be abounding in the work of the Lord. Perisseuō (abounding) carries the idea of exceeding the requirements, of overflowing or overdoing. In Ephesians 1:7–8 the word is used of God’s lavishing on us “the riches of His grace.” Because God has so abundantly overdone Himself for us who deserve nothing from Him, we should determine to overdo ourselves (if that were possible) in service to Him, to whom we owe everything.
What a word Paul gives to the countless Christians who work and pray and give and suffer as little as they can! How can we be satisfied with the trivial, insignificant, short–lived things of the world? How can we “take it easy” when so many around us are dead spiritually and so many fellow believers are in need of edification, encouragement, and help of every sort? When can a Christian say, “I’ve served my time, I’ve done my part; let others do the work now”?
Reasonable rest is important and necessary. But if we err, Paul is saying, it should be on the side of doing more work for the Lord, not less. Leisure and relaxation are two great modern idols, to which many Christians seem quite willing to bow down. In proper proportion recreation and diversions can help restore our energy and increase our effectiveness. But they also can easily become ends in themselves, demanding more and more of our attention, concern, time, and energy. More than one believer has relaxed and hobbled himself completely out of the work of the Lord.
Some of God’s most faithful and fruitful saints have lived to old age and been active and productive in His service to the end. Many others, however, have seen their lives shortened for the very reason that they were abounding, overflowing and untiring, in service to Christ. Henry Martyn, the British missionary to India and Persia, determined “to burn out for God,” which he did before he was thirty–five. David Brainerd, one of the earliest missionaries to American Indians, died before he was thirty. We know very little of Epaphroditus, except that he was a “brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier” of Paul’s who “came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life” (Phil. 2:25, 30). He became so lost in godly service that he literally became sick unto death because of it.
Until the Lord returns there are souls to reach and ministries of every sort to be accomplished. Every Christian should work uncompromisingly as the Lord has gifted and leads. Our money, time, energy, talents, gifts, bodies, minds, and spirits should be invested in nothing that does not in some way contribute to the work of the Lord. Our praise and thanksgiving must be given hands and feet. James tells us, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).
Our work for the Lord, if it is truly for Him and done in His power, cannot fail to accomplish what He wants accomplished. Every good work believers do in this life has eternal benefits that the Lord Himself guarantees. “Behold, I am coming quickly,” Jesus says, “and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12). We have God’s own promise that our toil [labor to the point of exhaustion] is not in vain in the Lord.
Concluding Appeal in Light of the Resurrection (15:58)
In view, then, of the certainty of the resurrection and the fact that faith in Christ is not in vain, the Apostle Paul exhorts his beloved brethren to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that their labor is not in vain in the Lord. The truth of resurrection changes everything. It provides hope and steadfastness, and enables us to go on in the face of overwhelming and difficult circumstances.
58 Paul concludes this triumphant chapter with a moral message—one that all of us ought to apply to our lives daily. Earlier he had shown how lack of belief in the doctrine of the resurrection led to the Epicurean lifestyle of finding pleasure in eating and drinking and in immoral behavior (see comments at vv. 33–34). The converse is that belief in the resurrection leads to a “purpose-driven life” of service for the Lord. We know that our service for him will not be in vain because we are on the winning side in the battle of life. Though we all struggle at times, the battle against sin and Satan is worthwhile because in the end, they will be defeated.
Paul’s use of “in vain” (kenos, GK 3031) picks up his use of that adjective in v. 14, where he indicated that if Christ has not been raised, then Paul’s preaching is in vain and our faith is in vain. But because of the resurrection of Christ and the assurance of our future final victory over death, life even with all its difficulties is never in vain.
It is no wonder, then, that Paul encourages believers to “stand firm” and “let nothing move [them].” He began this section on the resurrection by reminding the Corinthians that they had stood firm in the apostolic doctrine preached to them about the death and resurrection of Christ; now he closes with an exhortation to remain firm in that knowledge and to let it shape their everyday lives. May it do so for us as well!
- So then, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
The exhortation has little to do with the immediately preceding verses on the victory the believers share with Jesus Christ. It is an entreaty that arises from the entire chapter if not the whole epistle. The last instructions and final greetings aside, Paul has come to the end of his epistle and now admonishes his readers to do the work of the Lord.
- “So then, my dear brothers.” The first two words introduce a concluding statement. Paul frequently uses this expression in his epistles. For the last time in this letter he addresses the recipients in a personal manner by calling them “dear brothers [and sisters].” At two other places, Paul addresses the readers as “my dear children” (4:14) and “my dear friends” (10:14). Each time he speaks to the Corinthians as a father to his children. He remains the spiritual father of the Corinthians, who through the preaching of the gospel are his offspring (4:15). Paul is their pastor who loves them despite the numerous difficulties in the church.
- “Be steadfast, immovable.” Paul commends the believers for their steadfastness and exhorts them to continue their dedication to the Lord (compare Col. 1:23). Amid the onslaught of diverse teaching in a pagan culture, he urges them to remain firm in the Lord and not to waver. Paul tells the Corinthians to be immovable. This last word is a compound that signifies an inability to move from their spiritual moorings. Paul is not talking about retaining the status quo in the church. He wants the people to grow in their love for the Lord and to communicate this in their deeds.
- “Always abounding in the work of the Lord.” After telling his readers not to be moved in any way, Paul encourages them to excel in the Lord’s work. To express constancy and emphasis he adds the word always which, in the original, he places last in the clause for emphasis. What is the work of the Lord? The work entails preaching and teaching Christ’s gospel, applying the contents of Scripture to our lives, edifying one another, and loving our neighbor as ourselves (compare 16:10). It consists of an earnest desire to keep God’s commandments and to do so out of gratitude for our salvation provided through his Son. As his love extends to us without measure, so our selfless deeds are done for him without measure.
- “Knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” The faithful Corinthians have a sure knowledge that the deeds done out of love and thankfulness to God will not be forgotten (see Heb. 6:10). The word labor is often used by Paul in a missionary setting and means working with his own hands for his own support (4:12) “and for activity in the Christian community as a whole.” Such labor given freely in service to the Lord is never in vain because the Lord himself blesses his servants (Matt. 19:29).
15:58 Concluding instructions
The consequence of all this discussion is the command to stand firm and not to move away from the rock of the bodily resurrection of God’s people. What they must not do now in that body, which is to be resurrected, is to be led away into sin (33–34a). Rather, they are always to be given fully to the work of the Lord, which in part means helping those who are ignorant of God (34b). This is the lifetime call to the ordinary Christian. That work will not be worthless and will mean that they will receive the Lord’s reward for the good done in the body at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). Those who die in the Lord are pronounced blessed indeed, for they cease from their work in the Lord and their good works follow on behind them (Rev. 14:13). In contemporary Christianity there is a danger of investing the term ‘eternal life’ with the Greek pagan notion of the immortality of the soul, and of regarding the present moments of the Christian life as providing opportunities for personal advancement and aggrandizement.
15:58 The Corinthians were to continue steadfast in the work of Christ, specifically because of the Resurrection. your labor is not in vain: All the work that we do for Christ will be rewarded (2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12).
15:58. Paul’s doctrinal declarations led to practical directives and this chapter’s conclusion was no exception. The Corinthians were urged to stand firm in the apostles’ teaching (v. 2), unmoved by the denials of false teachers (cf. Eph. 4:14). This certainty, especially concerning the Resurrection, provided an impetus to faithful service (cf. 1 Cor. 3:8; Gal. 6:9) since labor in the resurrected Lord is not futile (kenos, “empty”; cf. 1 Cor. 15:10, 14, 17, 30–32).
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