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)I don't think it takes a trained Bible scholar to understand that Paul expects his readers to "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord." I don't think I'll face much controversy here. Paul even gives a reason to do this: "knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." Pretty straightforward.
What is interesting here is the "therefore" at the beginning. You see, the reason Paul gives -- "knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" -- is predicated on that "therefore". That is, "Because of what I just told you, you can do these things because you can be sure that your work is not in vain." What did Paul just tell them that would provide such assurance? More to the point, what do we need to know to provide us the certainty that our work in the Lord will not be in vain?
The 15th chapter starts with the gospel.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve ... (1 Cor 15:3-8)So we have this simple rendition that the gospel (1 Cor 15:1) is based on the death and certain resurrection of Christ. Paul goes on to chide some of the Corinthians who argue that there is no such thing as resurrection. "Are you sure about that?" Paul seems to say. "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied." (1 Cor 15:17-19)
Paul goes on to wax poetic on the glories of the Resurrected Christ. As the Second Adam, He is the first of the resurrected (1 Cor 15:20). As the Resurrected Christ, He is the end of death (1 Cor 15:26). And this Resurrected Christ is our reason for serving through suffering (1 Cor 15:30-32). This is the famous passage often quoted at funerals about the new body to come, the perishable replaced with the imperishable, "sown in dishonor and raised in glory" (1 Cor 15:42-50). And then the ultimate.
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:51-57)And there, dear readers, you have the "therefore". On the basis of the absolute certainty of the Resurrection, we can have absolute certainty of our own resurrection, our own victory over death. We can be sure that, made in the image of God, we will rise in a glorified image of God (1 Cor 15:49). Given the complete victory of Christ, you can be absolutely certain that "in the Lord your labor is not in vain."
In tough times when things look less than optimistic and less than pleasant, we have this assurance: He is alive! Because He is alive, we can be absolutely positive that we too will live, that we too will share in His victory, and that we too will be like Him. When the Accuser whispers fear and desperation in your ear, show him this:
Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:57)