Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, first told the story which has been remembered for a hundred years. Once upon a time a flock of geese gathered in the corner of a barn yard every Sunday. Their most eloquent orator got up on the fence and spoke about the wonders goosedom. He recounted the exploits of their forefathers who dared to mount upon on wings and fly. He spoke of the mercy of the Creator who had given geese wings and the ability to soar through the sky. All the geese were deeply impressed and nodded their heads in solemn agreement. They returned week after week to hear further lectures on the history of flying and to sing (squawk is a better word) about the glories of the sky. All this they did. But one thing they did not do. They didn't fly. Instead they waddled off to the comfort and security of the barnyard.
Just a some geese have lost interest in flying, so some Christians have become domesticated. To them Paul speaks this challenging word: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58).
What flying is to a goose, the "work of the Lord" is to a Christian. It is anything anyone does anywhere and anytime that fulfills God's purposes.
Too many have made the mistake of dividing work into categories of sacred and secular. They turn the church into an institution staffed by paid professionals and funded by laity in secular jobs. They suppose that the work of God goes forth only on weekends when members of a great army of preachers and missionaries move out to "do their thing." But in truth the work of God goes forth when members of a vast army of working men and women strategically infiltrate all society by virtue of their jobs and become God's partners in bringing life abundant to a dying world.
Notice that Paul doesn't address his remarks to the apostles and prophets, but to the "beloved brethren." That's you!
Paul says there are three things that should characterize our work for the Lord: it should be steadfast, unmovable and always abounding.
Is your work for the Lord steadfast? There are three kinds of Laborers: shirkers, jerkers and workers. Shirkers are "lily Christians" they toil not neither do they spin (Mt. 6:28). Their favorite verse is "I pray thee, have me excused" (Luke 14:18). Instead of standing on the promises, they are sitting on the premises. They aim at nothing and hit it every time.
Our churches are full of willing workers. Some are willing to work and the rest are willing to let them. What we need are more standbys and fewer bystanders.
Jerkers are a slight improvement over the shirkers. But their problem is they are all jawbone and no backbone. They volunteer for leadership positions, but burn out before the job is finished. They run on an adrenalin high until they meet resistance. It usually comes in the form of criticism, or inertia--often from one of the shirkers. Then they quit. They leave to others the odious job of picking up the pieces of a broken dream. They go up like a rocket and come down like a rock.
You may feel that your abilities are severely limited, but there is one ability that everyone can have: dependability. Dependability is the most important ability of all the virtues. It is more useful than brilliance or creativity. Do you finish what you start? Are you dependable? Stopping at third base adds no more to the score than striking out. A diamond is a chunk of coal that stuck to its job.
Besides the shirkers and jerkers, every church has a few workers. They are the loyal laborers who are always on the job week after week, year after year. If at first they don't succeed, they try a little ardor. In trying times they keep on trying. They are the ones to whom Jesus will say someday, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things, enter now into the joy of your Lord" (Matthew 25: 21).
We need people who are growing in their commitment to the point where they are steadfast and unmovable. Notice that the word is not "unmoved." Church pillars can be like Stonehenge. They are old, they don't move, and no one is certain why they are positioned the way they are. With the world changing so fast, you have to run hard to stay up. Church workers need to be flexible and resilient.
The word Paul used refers to being loosed from one's moorings. With faith firmly anchored to the "Rock of Ages," you can face frustration with unshakable resolve. You may, indeed, move from one job to another, but you must never move from your central purpose in life.
Is your work for the Lord steadfast, unmovable, and always abounding? God wants you to soar like an eagle, not scratch like a sparrow.
The word Paul used for "abounding" is the same word Jesus used to describe exceeding others (Matthew 5:20), exceeding a minimum (Luke 15:17), or exceeding what has been done in the past (Mark 15:4). It means to go beyond the bare minimum. Those who do only what is required are slaves; those who do more than required are truly free. Are you abounding in your work for the Lord?
Paul says you should be "always abounding in your work for the Lord." The Christian life is the life of "always." The Bible tells you, "Let your speech be always with grace (Colossians 4:6)....Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say rejoice (Philippians 4:4)....As you have always obeyed, not in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation (Philippians 2:12)....Be ready always to give an answer to every one who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15)....Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 18:20).
After stating three great characteristics of our work for the Lord, Paul offers one great promise: "Your labor is not in vain, in the Lord."
Any labor not "in the Lord" is in vain indeed. It is equivalent to polishing the brass and arranging the deck chairs on the ship Titanic.
A good test of the vanity of all you do is to ask the question: what will it matter one hundred years from now? It won't matter unless in some way what you do touches the life of some eternal soul. In that case, it matters much and it matters forever.
1 Corinthians 15:58 comes at the end of the longest chapter in the Bible on the resurrection of Christ and his followers. For fifty-seven verses Paul argues that just as Christ arose, so you will rise with him on the last day. Then he says, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
You labor is not in vain in the Lord because you and those whose lives you touch are going to live forever. Compared to you, a diamond is not forever; long after it has disintegrated to dust, you'll still be going strong.
But if your work is not "in the Lord" it is wasted effort no matter what you think you may have accomplished. It's hard to be a star on a losing team.
But the game of life isn't over till it's over. The message of the Book of Revelation which many find so confusing is really quite simple: no matter how bad things seem at the moment, when it's all over, the scoreboard will show Christ wins and so do you. If you can remember that promise, it will help you to face frustration in the work of the Lord and still be steadfast, unmovable, and always abounding. Frankly, I'd rather lose in a winning cause than win in a loosing cause, wouldn't you?
The work of the Lord is ultimately the world's highest paid labor. Though our profit-sharing plan, we have become rich and, what's more, we can take it with us! (Matthew 6:19-21). Our reward is not just pie in the sky by and by when we die, but abundant living here and now (John 10:10). Christians discover that they are paid best for those things they do for nothing.
What on earth are you doing for heaven's sake? I mean it literally. What are you doing on earth for the sake of heaven? Too many people spell service, "serve us." What are you doing for heaven's sake?
To show his love Christ died for you. To show your love you must live for him. Grow in your commitment to Christ.