“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58).
What wonderful words of assurance! Who among us has not felt, at some time or another, that our labor for the Lord is in vain? At such times, what a comfort it is to rest in this unconditional, unqualified, God-given guarantee that our labors for Him are not in vain!
But how could Paul say such a thing, in light of his words to the Galatians, where he said,
“I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Gal. 4:11).
Here the apostle seems to fear that his labors to establish the Galatians in the doctrines of grace would be in vain if they continued to hanker after the Law.
And what about Philippians 2:16, where Paul exhorts the Philippians to be:
“Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.“
Here it sounds as if Paul’s labor would be in vain if the Philippians failed to hold forth the word of life, and follow his other instructions in this passage.
In view of statements like these, how could Paul state so categorically that the labor of the Corinthians was not in vain? Did they do better work than he did? Surely not! We feel the answer lies in the assurance Paul gave them that their labor was not in vain “in the Lord.” While it was possible that the labor of even the great apostle Paul might be in vain in the Galatians and in the Philippians, it is not possible that any of our labors are in vain in the Lord.
Why is that? Well, remember that Paul says of the Judgment Seat of Christ that “every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour” (I Cor. 3:8). Notice that we are going to be rewarded according to our labor, not according to the fruit of our labor. That is, God intends to reward us based upon our faithfulness, not on the faithfulness of those upon whom we bestow our labor. If this were not so, even Paul’s rewards would be few, for after all of the labor he extended in Asia, all in Asia turned away from him (II Tim. 1:15).
And so if the unfaithfulness of the ones upon whom you bestow your spiritual labor has you thinking that all of your efforts have gone for nought, remember that your labor might be in vain in them, but your labor is not in vain in the Lord. You have God’s Word on it! source