In the Lord, Paul wrote, our labor is not in vain. Sometimes, it can seem like our work is in vain – like it is of no value, that it is useless or meaningless. We make investments of our time and money, hoping to get a return on those investments. We hope at least to get back the value of however much we put into the effort. But really, we hope to get back more.
To get nothing in return – that labor is in vain.
To ensure our labor is not in vain, Paul wrote, it must be “in the Lord.” That is, it must be for him or, perhaps, on his behalf. Work done “in the Lord” is work that the Lord himself would want us to do. It falls under the umbrella of his purposes.
It is this work that is guaranteed not to be in vain.
I wonder if our work takes on a new kind of life after the return of Jesus. Our bodies will take on a new kind of life in that moment, after the dead are raised. As Christians, we believe in the resurrection – our earthly bodies of dust will rise to new, transformed, imperishable life.
I wonder if our work will rise, too. I wonder whether the fruit of our work, which may appear weak and sickly here and now, will take on a different look after the return of Jesus.
“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.”
The resurrection changes things. The resurrection of the dead means there always is hope. The resurrection of Jesus Christ means our faith is not “futile.” Here again is something that is not in vain. The resurrection ensures our faith is not in vain. We do not have hope in this life only. We have hope for eternity.
The Corinthian church must have had some strange ideas about resurrection. Some seemed to think there would be no resurrection of the dead. Perhaps they thought they had everything they needed already, that they were complete (1 Corinthians 4:8). Some people believe this today. They inadvertently discount the resurrection by claiming everything is finished already – that they will have perfect health and wealth now that they’ve found Christ.
It’s not true. We live in a kind of “meantime,” between the first and second comings of Christ, in an “already-not yet” sort of existence. We still are people of dust, and so we still must deal with issues of the dust – like sickness and decay. But we do have the Holy Spirit. And so even in this life of dust, we can have joy. And Paul reminds us here that we have hope. We always have hope.
“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” That day is coming. It is not here yet. It is coming.
And so we are steadfast and immovable in our hope. We abound, we overflow, in the work of Jesus Christ. And our work is not in vain.