Resurrection: God's Silver Star
Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:58
It seems like a cruel joke.
How many times have you heard someone quote 1 Corinthians 15:58? The New International Version states it this way: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
More often than not it is the last statement that we hear the most frequently. We take comfort in it and claim it as a promise for success in ministry. Eventually, we believe, we will see souls saved, believers growing in their faith, the church impacting the community and the world, if we just “keep on keeping on.”
Small problem. Success in ministry is not what Paul is talking about. That wonderful little word “therefore” is the clue.
Apparently there was some discussion in the Corinthian church about whether or not resurrection after death was really true. All of chapter 15 gives us Paul’s argument on the subject. Some were insisting that since that there was nothing after death that they might as well just do whatever they wanted while they were alive. This discussion contains that famous verse from which the saying: “Eat, drink, and we merry for tomorrow we die” comes from (1 Corinthians 15:32). And some of the Corinthians were practicing that saying so wholeheartedly that Paul had to urge them to repent (15:34).
What did it matter then if they tried to introduce people to Jesus and encourage their faith journeys if there was no heaven or no hell? What difference did it make if believers grew in faith and matured if there was no “well done” waiting for them at the foot of the throne of God? Why put out all the effort and expense to impact the community and the world with the message of grace when cold, hard ground was the last stop whether people believed or not? Who cared if they indulged in all the excesses offered by the world of their day? There were no consequences, right?
Paul ends his defense of the truth of the resurrection by telling the Corinthian believers that death wasn’t the end. God wasn't playing a cruel joke on them by asking them to live in expectation of something that wasn't going to happen. There was a resurrection. There was a life beyond the grave. There was a heaven to be entered and a hell to be avoided. There was a “well done” to be sought. There are eternal consequences to the temporal choices we make.
“Success” in ministry through faithful service is not the point of this passage (there are plenty of Biblical examples where faithful service did NOT result in “success” as we might define it). Paul was making a theological point here–what we believe about the next life influences how we act in this one.