I’ve tried to figure out the logic of Paul’s concluding sentence in 1 Corinthians 15 for years.
“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.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
It’s a fine and encouraging ending to the chapter, but I struggled to see exactly how Paul got there. I understood it, but I felt like I was missing something in the development of Paul’s thought.
But I think I get it a little better now. Paul’s making an important point: that Jesus’ resurrection and ours allows us to play the long game.
Tracing Paul’s Argument
In the chapter, Paul responds to those in Corinth who doubted the resurrection, but Christ’s and ours. The resurrection matters for the gospel, Paul argues (1 Corinthians 15:12-29). It matters for the resurrection of Christians (15:20-28). And it matters for how Christians live (15:29-58).
It’s the last argument that I hadn’t quite put together. I followed Paul’s argument.
- Because of the resurrection, we can suffer (15:30-32). Our sufferings aren’t the final word. The resurrection is.
- Because of the resurrection, how we live matters (15:32). We don’t embrace a fatalistic attitude and live for the moment. We live with a long view in mind.
But then Paul seems to shift his argument to other things, which is where I got lost. Paul begins to explain the nature of the resurrected body, which is where I got lost (15:35-49).
It helps to read Paul’s concluding statement in light of his earlier arguments. The resurrection makes our sufferings worth it (15:30-32). It makes our obedience worth it (15:32). It also makes our steadfastness and labors for God worth it too (15:58).
Take the Long View
If this life is all there is, our ministry would seem like a colossal waste of time. Most of what we do doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. Serving God costs us a lot, but doesn’t always seem to produce results.
The calculus changes because of the resurrection.
That offering you gave? You could have gone on vacation with that money. But you invested in the kingdom. That offering may contribute to the spread of the gospel past your lifetime. Think of the churches that wouldn’t exist today if it had not been for the sacrificial giving of saints who have long since died and been forgotten.
That sermon you preach? It may not be your best sermon. You may see no results. But the Spirit may use it to change the course of someone’s life, and you may not learn about it until one day in glory.
That conversation you had? You may forget it, but the effects of your words may linger for years.
We’re not looking for immediate returns. We’re playing the long game. We can make investments that don’t pay off right away because we have eternity in view.
All kinds of things start to make sense when you believe in the resurrection. Be prepared to suffer here. Live your life in ways that don’t make sense apart from the resurrection, knowing that your suffering and labor won’t pay off right away, but it just may pay off for eternity. It’s not in vain.