From Dispensational Publishing House; used by permission.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58).
Whenever I think of this verse, my mind goes back to a Friday in October of 1996. I was pastoring in Iowa at the time, and my wife and I took a day off to attend a banquet held by the Kansas City Youth For Christ.
That day is memorable to me for several reasons. For one, that was in the age before GPS, and we got lost both going to the meeting and coming back home. Secondly, I remember that, as we were eating our meal at the banquet, we suddenly heard the strains of the theme from “Mission Impossible” and saw some young men going over our heads toward the platform on zip lines. But the third reason that day is memorable—the most important one and the reason that we went to Kansas City on that beautiful autumn day—was that the speaker was one of my spiritual heroes, Dr. Dave Breese.
Dr. Breese had made a great impact upon my life from a distance through his broadcasts and books, and that day—the only time I ever met him in person—I got to shake his hand and have him sign a book, and I told him God had used him to help change the trajectory of my life.
He preached on 1 Corinthians 15:58 that day, giving “Reasons to Be Steadfast.” For as long as I live, this verse—one of the most powerful in all of Holy Scripture—will be linked to that event in my mind.
This great verse follows the theme that the Apostle Paul introduced in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, where he compares the Christian life to an athletic contest, a race that can be run and must be won. The New Testament uses this metaphor several times. Another great passage that includes it is Hebrews 12:1-3. Paul uses it in passing in Galatians 2:2 and Philippians 2:16, then completes the analogy with his powerful testimony recorded in 2 Timothy 4:7, shortly before his martyrdom.
Before we get to the heart of 1 Corinthians 15:58 however, we must pause and consider the first word of the verse, therefore. The flow of the entire book of 1 Corinthians hinges on this word. It forms the division in this book between doctrine (or teaching) and practice (or application). Unlike some of Paul’s other letters, the application section of 1 Corinthians amounts to only this verse and the final chapter of the book. Thus the context for this verse—the reasoning for us to therefore obey the commands that it gives us—is all that has come before throughout the entire book.
I do not know what you think of when you consider the book of 1 Corinthians, but for me that question is simple. I’m reminded of work in 2013 on revising a Bible study guide on 1 Corinthians for Regular Baptist Press.1 By the time I was done with that experience, I felt as if I had moved into Corinth with the Apostle Paul for his 18-month visit there (cf. Acts 18:11)!
There are too many topics included in this book for us to consider all of them here, even in survey fashion. The immediate context of the word therefore, however, is all that has come before in chapter 15. We are to do the things commanded in this verse in light of the significance of the following concepts that preceded it:
- The Trust of the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-11)
- The Testimony of the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12-23)
- The Triumph of the Future Kingdom (1 Cor. 15:24-28)
- The Trouble We Are Sure to Endure (1 Cor. 15:29-34)
- The Transformation Our Bodies Will Experience (1 Cor. 15:35-49)
- The Translation that Will Take Us to Heaven (1 Cor. 15:50-56)
- The Thanks that We Owe to God (1 Cor. 15:57)
In view of these realities, therefore, we are to be, first of all, steadfast.
John MacArthur notes:
Hedraios (steadfast) literally refers to being seated, and therefore to being settled and firmly situated.2
In our postmodern world, this command surely conveys the idea that we as believers must be certain, focused and clear, full of conviction and placing our faith in the all-sufficient, self-authenticating Word of God.
The next thing that the Christian must be is immovable.
MacArthur’s commentary states:
Ametakinētos (immovable) carries the same basic idea but with more intensity. It denotes being totally immobile and motionless.3
Thinking along the lines of an athletic analogy, perhaps the clearest example of the concept expressed here is that of an offensive lineman who is protecting his quarterback from a blitzing linebacker. At this point we witness the classic line that sums up the game of football: Irresistible force meets immovable object. For the sake of his teammate, the offensive lineman has no choice in that instant but to become immovable.
This is what we as Christians must be—immovable against “every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14) as well as the forces of doubt, distress, disturbances, distractions and discouragement (the very concept that is antithetical to the spirit of this great verse).
Going on further, we are to be always abounding in the word of the Lord.
MacArthur writes again:
Perisseuō (abounding) carries the idea of exceeding the requirements, of overflowing or overdoing. In Ephesians 1:7-8 the word is used of God’s lavishing on us “the riches of His grace.” Because God has so abundantly overdone Himself for us who deserve nothing from Him, we should determine to overdo ourselves (if that were possible) in service to Him, to whom we owe everything.4
The word abounding is also similar to the word translated exceedingly abundantly in Ephesians 3:20. We are to be engaged in the work (from which we draw our word energy) of the Lord.
We do so knowing (trusting God by faith to accept that which we cannot ascertain by reason or sight) that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. Dr. Steve Lawson has defined labor (“toil,” NASB) here as “to labor to the point of exhaustion … until you have nothing left to give.”5 In terms of athletics, it is to leave it all on the field—to have to be carried off the field on the verge of collapse.
Are you giving everything that you have to the work of the Lord? If not, what is it that is hindering you from doing so? Are you living by conviction—or for convenience?
Perhaps there was a time when you were running the race of faith toward the goal line, but then you fumbled the ball. If we fall down while running this great Christian race, we must quickly get back up on our feet and keep going (cf. Prov. 24:16; Mic. 7:8). And we must be on guard against becoming weary and dropping out of this race (cf. Gal. 6:9; Heb. 12:3).
Is your focus clearly on this race? Are your priorities certain? Are you fully devoted to your goal, your team, your cause, your Lord?
Here is why it matters: Your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Paul used this word for vain previously in vv. 10 and 14 (two times).
And here is the point: If you live your life outside of God, it will ultimately be empty and vain—even if you have great outward results in this life (cf. Ps. 127:1). But if you live your life in Christ—by the Word of God, for the work of God, in the will of God—then no effort that you make will ever be in vain, even if you do not see the results in this life.
The MacArthur Study Bible shares this encouragement:
The hope of resurrection makes all the efforts and sacrifices in the Lord’s work worth it. No work done in his name is wasted in light of eternal glory and reward.6
The Jeremiah Study Bible likewise states:
With the Resurrection as their confidence, Christians can conduct their service for the Lord with strength. Resurrection hope should inspire work and ministry rather than passivity. The redeemed are truly a people with something to live for (Luke 10:1-3).7
What more can we add to this, except this great benediction from Paul?
If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha (1 Cor. 16:22, NASB).
(For more on this topic, a message by the author is available here.)
1 Paul Scharf, Working Together in the Body of Christ: 1 Corinthians (Schaumburg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 2013).
2 John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1984), p. 447.
5 Dr. Steven J. Lawson, “Be Steadfast and Immovable,” <http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=103151157351>; Internet; accessed 18 June 2016.
6 John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible ESV (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), p. 1,711.
7 David Jeremiah, The Jeremiah Study Bible (Franklin, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2013), p. 1,594.