If you’ve been in ministry for any length of time, you have probably come to realize at least one thing: ministry can be hard!
Follow along here: 1 Corinthians 15:58
Now, I’m not just addressing those who have an official title, like “pastor” or “elder.” I’m talking to everyone who is active in the Lord’s work, including Sunday school teachers, music leaders, disciplers, evangelists, prayer warriors, parents who are trying to train up their children, and so many others who have been gifted by God to build up the church.
I’m talking to everyone who is actively trying to serve the Lord because, although I know you will face challenges, I want to encourage you to persevere! In ministry, you will encounter difficult situations, discouraging people, and even disappointment when things don’t go according to plan. And these challenges may, sometimes, tempt you to throw in the towel. But today, I want to encourage you: don’t quit!
When the Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the “church of God at Corinth”, he concluded chapter 15 with a powerful verse: In 1 Corinthians 15:58, he said, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
I want to take a deeper look at this verse and the surrounding context because I think we will see that these exhortations are relevant to us to today, as we consider our own ministry involvement for the coming days, weeks, months, and years. As we look at this section, I want to encourage you to be steadfast, immovable, and always excelling in the Lord’s work. Don’t give up! Rather, stay active in the work he has given you to do.
Let’s take a few minutes to examine this verse and see what the Lord might be saying to us today. There are 6 phrases in this verse that I would like to pay attention to. The first two help us understand the context and the audience, the next three contain exhortations to persevere, and the final phrase reminds us of why we do what we do in ministry.
The first phrase is actually just a word: therefore. You may recognize that this verse is the final verse in 1 Cor 15 and this word, “therefore” is a transitional word that leads from a beautiful argument to Paul;s big conclusion. So, we should ask “what is the context of this verse?” And “what argument did Paul make that led to this conclusion?”
When we consider the whole of chapter 15, we notice two major subjects. The first is “the gospel” and the second is “the resurrection.” Paul begins Chapter 15 by reminding the believers in Corinth of the Gospel, the good news on which they have taken their stand. He then summarized his message in verses 3-6, saying, “For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve” jumping to verse 8 we read, “Last of all… he also appeared to me.”
After reminding the believers of the gospel message that they had believed in, Paul addressed the subject of the resurrection of the dead. It seems as though some of the faithful believers in Corinth had passed away causing those who were left to grieve. Their passing may have also made those left behind to ask questions about what would happen after death. It seems that there were people who did not believe in a future resurrection. This led to the probing question, “if there is no resurrection, why should we continue laboring like this for the Lord?” For these reasons, Paul reminded the Corinthians of Jesus’ own resurrection and the promise of a future resurrection for those who were standing on the truth of the Gospel.
The “therefore,” then, transitions the audience from the reminder of the gospel and the argument for a future resurrection to the exhortations. But, before we consider the exhortations, let’s quickly look at how Paul addresses his audience.
In this verse, Paul calls his readers his, “dear brothers and sisters.” Paul could have chosen any identifying term or phrase, or he could have left it out all together, but, under the guidance of the Spirit, he calls them “dear brothers and sisters.” The word “dear” indicates that Paul had a deep love and affection for these believers who were facing the challenges of ministry. He then calls them “brothers and sisters.” Two implications can be seen here: The first implication is that Paul sees these believers as being in the same family as him- the family of God. And as such, he wants them to remember that they are serving the same Father and that this Father would take care of them the way he had taken care of his own Son. The second implication is that Paul was addressing a whole congregation. When he gets to his exhortations, we should keep in mind that he is not only speaking to the “pastor” or “the elders,” or “a brother,” or “a sister,” he is speaking to the whole group!
Now, let’s consider the three exhortations Paul gives to his “dear brothers and sisters” on the basis of the Gospel and future resurrection.
The first exhortation Paul gives is, “be steadfast.” According to one Bible lexicon, to be steadfast is to remain “Firmly or solidly in place.” This means that Paul wanted his audience to remember the gospel that they had heard- which Paul referred to as the “foundation he had laid for them” back in chapter 3- consider the reality of the resurrection, and stand firm on their faith. One commentator suggests that when Paul chose the word “steadfast” he intended to encourage the believers to not allow thoughts and feelings to move them away from the foundation of the gospel. There will always be external forces, like the world and the devil, trying to remove believers away from their foundation. But here we see that there are internal forces that are trying to accomplish the same result. These internal forces may be fleshly desires, in-fighting within the church, or any other issue that arose from within their body. So, Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to face these internal struggles head-on and make the decision to remain steadfast in their commitment to Christ.
The second exhortation Paul shares is, “be immovable.” The idea of being “immovable” is very similar to being “steadfast” but here Paul is helping the believers resist outside forces that were trying to move them off their firm foundation. The world and the devil are constantly trying to discourage and distract believers from serving the Lord wholeheartedly. These tempt believers to doubt what they have believed- especially in times of hardship, to decide to prioritize their own pleasure- over the collective good, and to dream about how easy life could be if they didn’t have to invest their resources in endeavors with seemingly little immediate return. And yet, Paul says, “be immovable.” Don’t let these external forces move you away from your commitment- both individual and corporate- to believing in and serving the Lord.
The third and final exhortation Paul gives is, be “always excelling in the Lord’s work.” When challenges arise, it is natural to run away, freeze in fear, or fight back. Paul encourages a fourth, supernatural, option: keep going. He wants his beloved brothers and sisters to hold firm to what they had been taught- and keep busy in the Lord’s work. Actually, he doesn’t say “keep busy” he says be “always excelling.” This isn’t just a call to sustain the current level of work, it’s a call to increase the amount of activity.
Brothers and sisters, this is not the time to give up! This is not the time to back down. This is not the time to quit. When things get more difficult and you feel like the church is losing the battle, Paul’s words ring out: be “always excelling in the Lord’s work!” If you feel like you have been on the sidelines for a while, get on your knees and ask the good Lord to put you back in the game! If your church is struggling with internal issues, stand firm and look for new ways to serve. If the world and devil are shooting fiery darts against your church, don’t give any ground; rather, redouble your evangelistic and prayer efforts!
Why should you do this? Because “you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
Paul gave three exhortations to his beloved brothers and sisters in Corinth. He told them to “be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work.” He did this based on the gospel message and the promise of the resurrection. But he also reminded them of one final thing to help motivate them to keep going: he told them, “you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Your labor may feel painful and burdensome at times, but please know that it is not worthless. God highly values it.
Brothers and sisters, if the gospel is true: that Jesus died to save you from your sins; and if the resurrection is coming for those who die before Jesus returns, then what do you have to lose? You have a reward waiting for you in heaven for the things you do for the Lord while you are alive! So let the challenges come. Let the doubters doubt. Let the world offer it’s fools gold. Let the devil distract. But you: be steadfast. Be immovable. Always excel in the Lord’s work. Because you know that your labor is not in vain.
This is a devotional message I was asked to record for broadcast on a radio station.