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[Note from Daniel: this is an encouraging article, grounding us in the reality of Jesus' resurrection as we start a new week. Keep on keeping on!]

First Corinthians 15 stands as one of the great chapters of Scripture. Paul begins the chapter by talking of the resurrection of Christ as being “of first importance” to the Christian faith.

He moves from that to the theme of general resurrection that the followers of Jesus will experience. Paul argues that these two events—the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of Christ’s followers—are inextricably linked. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then neither will His followers be, and they are of all people to be most pitied. But if Jesus was raised, then He is the firstfruits of resurrection, and His followers will be raised as well.

From there, He progresses to discuss the nature of the resurrection body that believers will enjoy. This is no immaterial existence, but rather, a bodily resurrection. The body that was sown (buried) was perishable, but is raised imperishable; sown in dishonor, but raised in glory; sown in weakness, but raised in power; sown a natural body, but raised a spiritual body.

And then, at the end of the chapter, there is this rousing statement. Because resurrection is the Christian hope, and because it signifies victory over death and the removal of its sting:

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)

Though often overlooked, I think this is one of the great promises of Scripture: In the Lord, your labor is not in vain. Ever since I heard a sermon on this text at a Harding Lectureship, it has been a stirring passage for me, but it was more recently as I studied for our youth retreat on resurrection that I discovered an additional meaningful connection.

Earlier in the chapter, Paul had stated that “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15.14). The word translated as “vain” is the Greek word κενος, which means “empty, foolish, worthless.” If Christ is still in the tomb, faith in Him is foolish and worthless.

Paul subtly reverses this idea in the final verse of the chapter with his great promise. This promise does not occur in a vacuum; it is directly tied to what has come before. Therefore—because of the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection that Christians anticipate as well, we can be steadfast in our work for the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, our labor is not in…vain. Again, we have the Greek word κενος—because we live and work in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our labor is not foolish or worthless.

These are profound, empowering, and encouraging words, and I confess: at times, they are hard for me to believe. So often, it can seem that our labor in the Lord isn’t worth much. Here are some of my experiences; see if you can relate:

  • I spend years investing in teenagers and teaching them about Jesus, only to see some of them turn away from Him as they grow older.
  • I see marriages of couples that I have loved and worked with disintegrate in bitterness and unfaithfulness.
  • I invest countless hours in creating a church ministry or set of procedures only to see them carelessly ignored or laid aside.
  • I witness people I regarded as dear friends in Christ choose a different path in life and then want nothing to do with me anymore.
  • I labor to build unity in the church or greater knowledge in people I teach but seem to make no progress.

Honestly, all of these efforts can feel…worthless. And if Christ was not raised, then all my labor would be worthless. But Christ has been raised. And I will be raised too.

And somehow, empowered by the same Spirit that brought new life to Christ’s broken body, my labor for the Lord is not in vain! Instead, in a way that I don’t fully understand and seems quite mysterious to me, my efforts for the Lord—which seem paltry and unsuccessful from my perspective—are enveloped in the trajectory of new creation and used by King Jesus in the building and expansion of His kingdom.

What a promise! Praise God for His glorious assurance that, in light of the resurrection of His Son by the power of His Spirit, our labor is not in vain!

Do not grow weary in your labor for the Lord. Because resurrection has changed the universe, it always matters.

[By Luke Dockery, find it online here.]