War, Not Busy Work
In high school and college, instructors often gave us what was obviously busy work. This work served no other purpose than to keep us busy until the class was over, or it was assigned so we wouldn’t have a night free from homework. Ministry is not busy work. Ministry is frontline, full assault mode spiritual warfare.
Ministry is war and, because of this, good men—great men—can grow weary. War takes a toll on a man. “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers,” says José Narosky. General William Tecumseh Sherman once said, “War is hell.” But ministry is war against hell, not as if to win the war, but to squash rebel skirmishes of the already-defeated foe.
Paul reminds us of this in 1 Corinthians 15. Towards the end of this consummate conspectus of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, we are told that death has been “swallowed up in victory,” and Paul asks, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Death is defeated. Sin has no sting. Hell has no power. Satan and his hosts are once and forever rendered defeated because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Then in v. 57 Paul writes, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The costly victory achieved was a matter of life and death, the definitive act of the saving aggression of God forever winning the war.
This makes it all the more staggering that God gives us the victory. It wasn’t a cheap victory because it was won through the death of God’s only Son. And, yet, God just gives it away. God gives us the victory. It’s worth noting that the word “give” in the Greek is in the present tense. God (continually) gives us the victory! Whenever you need victory in your ministry, God gives it.
Resurrection Application for Pastors
The Apostle Paul, never one to let the indicative truths of the gospel go without some imperatives, tells us what we are to do with this victory. What are we to do in response to the victory God gives to us? “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 Cor 15:58). Notice Paul begins this verse with “therefore,” indicating Paul’s conclusion to his preceding thoughts. The indicative of God’s victory through Christ’s resurrection has real ministry application.
Be Steadfast, Immovable
Paul exhorts his beloved brothers to stand firm, being immovable, like the blacksmith’s anvil. Think of what an anvil endures—fluorescent metal, rhythmic hammers, and creative violence—and the anvil stands firm. It takes the beating, endures the pressure, and survives the heat. It gladly accepts each stroke. The blacksmith molds the other metals, but the anvil remains unchanged, steadfast and immovable.
We have enough pastors and ministers who are like the metal the blacksmith fashions. A little heat and a little pressure and they change, becoming something more suitable to the whims of another. We don’t need more soda can pastors. We need anvil men. Anvil men do not bow to whims or winds. They do not fold under a beating.
It’s not that anvil men are stubborn or refuse to admit they are wrong. It’s that they endure. They are steadfast and immovable because of what Christ has done through this death, life and resurrection. Would you commit to be an anvil man, not swerving from God’s truth and the gospel? Will you endure? I pray you do.
What are we to do, then, if we’ve committed to being steadfast and immovable? Paul gives us two tasks to do as we remain steadfast and immovable, indicated by the two participial phrases at the end of v. 58.
First, he says to be “abounding in the work of the Lord.” This abounding actually refers more to the quality of work than quantity. The idea of abounding is that of excelling or achieving a high standard. Paul removes any ambiguity about quantity, or timing, by saying that we should be doing the work of the Lord “always” or “at all times.” In ministry it is not only about enduring but doing well and being faithful to the end. The resurrection doesn’t mean we passively endure but that we actively live out the implications of the gospel and live them well.
Secondly, Paul says we should constantly remember that our labor is not in vain. Hear Paul’s words: your labor is not in vain. Let this be an encouraging balm for your heart. The word “vain” is the same word used throughout 1 Corinthians 15. Paul means that our labors are not empty. They are not pointless and devoid of effect. Because of the resurrection, you can endure and know that your work matters, the furthest thing from busy work. The spiritual sweat has a purpose. Hear me again. No, hear the Apostle Paul again. No, hear the voice of God in inspired Scripture. Your labor is not in vain.
More than anything this encourages me and I pray it encourages you. Paul says your work is not in vain “in the Lord.” The Lord resurrects our efforts and makes them fruitful. You may labor in obscurity in the eyes of man, but the Lord sees and knows. Your labors are not in vain. The victory is yours; he gives it to you. Let the resurrection of Jesus be the foundation of your confidence. Be steadfast, immovable, excelling in the work of the Lord. You may toil in difficult circumstances, but it’s not in vain. Ministry is war and the victory is ours, therefore let us labor all the more.
Let your hearts be encouraged! Your labor is not in vain!