“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.
Then to top it off, there is also I Thessalonians 3:5 to consider, where Paul told the Thessalonians,
“…I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.”
Here again, Paul appears apprehensive that all of the labor he had bestowed upon God’s people might be in vain if the temptations of the tempter succeeded in luring the Thessalonians away from the faith.
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, in the Philippians, and in the Thessalonians, 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!
Of course, if there isn’t going to be a Judgment Seat of Christ, then your labor for the Lord is in vain. If the reader is wondering why we might say something like that, remember that some among the Corinthians were insisting that there is no such thing as the resurrection of the dead (I Cor. 15:12). And if there is no resurrection, there will be no Judgment Seat to follow, and if there isn’t going to be a Judgment Seat, then our labor is in vain! This progressive faulty reasoning was threatening to bring all labor for the Lord in Corinth to a screeching halt! No wonder the apostle begins this resurrection chapter by first assuring the Corinthians that their faith was not “in vain” (15:2,14,17), then moved on to assure them that their labor was not in vain.
While some spiritual leaders avoid teaching doctrine because doctrine is, in their minds, not very practical, the apostle Paul was of another mind. Disbelief in the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead was threatening to put a stranglehold on the faith and labor of the saints at Corinth, but the airtight case Paul made for the resurrection in this blessed chapter explains why he could say we “therefore” have all the incentive we need to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord.”
And so if sometimes it feels like you are just spinning your wheels and getting nowhere with people as you labor for the Lord, we close with yet another unconditional promise from the apostle of grace:
“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9). source