“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Cor. 15:58, A.R.V.)
Paul wants the Corinthian Christians to be witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This was, however, a very difficult matter, especially in Corinth. The Corinthians were Greeks and lived among Greeks. Would they not be laughed to scorn if they spoke of such a thing as the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead?
Paul himself had feared to face the Greeks with this witness. But a heavenly vision had been received by him, in which he had heard the heartening words: “Be not afraid, but speak and hold not thy peace…for I have much people in this city.” In obedience to this Word of God Paul would instill into his fellow believers the same courage that this vision had instilled into him.
I. “My Beloved Brethren”
In connection with this first part of the text allow us to make a series of brief observations:
(a) The expression: “beloved brethren” with which he addresses his fellow believers is not first of all a term of personal endearment. It is above all a recognition of the fact that they are fellow witness-bearers. With Paul they are anointed unto the task of bearing witness to the Christ and his resurrection from the dead.
(b) My beloved brethren, Paul means to say, I want to encourage you, to admonish you, to command you to be zealous in the work of the Lord. To so encourage you I offer the assurance that you will have success upon your labor. I do not so speak to you merely as an expert. I am not one who merely observes tendencies in history. I speak in the Name of the Lord of history. “Am I not free? am I not an apostle? have I not seen Jesus our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?” I speak for the glorified Christ, whom I have seen; I speak by his commission. I speak with Christ’s authority to encourage you.
(c) My beloved brethren, ye are my work in the Lord. Hard pressed was I in the spirit when first I came to Corinth. How bitterly the Jews, who require a sign, opposed me! How many of your fellow Greeks, who seek after wisdom, ridiculed me when I spoke of the resurrection of the dead! But you believed. You are the result of my work; you are work in the Lord.
(d) When first I came it was to tell a simple story. It is the story of God who made the world amI placed man to rule over it. It is the story of God’s gracious covenant with man offering him eternal life on the condition of unreserved faith in his Word. Jt is the story of how man broke this covenant that God had made with him, thus worshipping himself, the creature, more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. So I explained to you—not on my own authority, but Christ’s—both the origin of the world and the evil that is in it. And therewith I told you how much worse the situation is with respect to man and his world than any of your wise men had ever dreamed.
(e) But then I also told you how much better the situation is than any of your wise men had ever imagined. Did they speak vaguely of an underworld and of a probable immortality of the soul? Did they build ideal, imaginary commonwealths and dream of future, wonderful utopias? They had no ground for giving you any hope that any such things would ever come to pass. You have seen the effects of unrighteousness. You have seen despair written on the faces of those compelled to lay aside loved ones in a tomb. What remedy do your wise men offer for this? Actually your wise men cannot even draw a picture of the perfect man, the man who is entitled to live on the isles of the blest. How then could they make provision for the realization of a perfect world in which a perfect man should dwell?
(f) But I challenged the wisdom of this world, both with respect to the future and with respect to the past. I gave you a totally new and different philosophy of history. I preached Christ to you, not only as wisdom but also as righteousness and sanctification and redemption. I commanded all men everywhere to repent because God has “appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”
All this, my beloved brethren, you believed. You believed it by the power of the Spirit. And in believing it you rejected the whole scheme of the wisdom of this world. You are therefore the result of my work in the Lord; you are my work in the Lord.
(g) Since you are now my work in the Lord you are also committed to the same work to which the Lord first committed me. You are my “brethren” by virtue of a common commitment to a common task. You are my fellow soldiers. We receive orders from the same commander-in-chief.
We are now engaged in a common task. It is the cultural task of keeping the covenant which God first made with man. That task is all-comprehensive. It means that in Christ’s lame we must subdue the earth.
But there are enemies—There are those who have refused to listen as you by God’s Spirit have listened. They seek to oppose the work that we are in Christ’s Name called to do. They are still, even as we were, inspired by Christ’s chief enemy. Satan, their commander-in-chief, knows that his time is short and that his defeat is certain. Therefore he now fights with increasing desperation.
I rejoice to pin on you the badge of brotherhood, you who wear the uniform of the soldiers of the risen Savior. With me you would worship and serve the Creator more than the creature. You would uphold the constitution of the universe and seek its development according to the divine plan. You are the instruments that God will use for the fulfillment of his plan in which righteousness shall triumph in all the world!
II. “Be Ye Stedfast…”
What is the content of the command that the apostle gives to his beloved brethren? Very simply, it is that they shall do what he has done.
(a) They must witness to Jesus and his resurrection. They must do so in the same way that he has witnessed. They must do it by challenging the wisdom of this world. So they are to set the resurrection in the same broad Framework in which he has set it. They must tell men that they are creatures made in the image of God. They must add that men are now sinners subject to the wrath of God. Men are not just unfortunates cast in a world of chance. They are guilty before their Maker—and in the depths of their hearts they know that this is the case!
(b) Then they must go on to tell men of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man. They must proclaim his Name, telling men that through this blessed Name—if they onIy believe—they may be saved From the wrath to come. They must plead with men to repent as Jesus himself pleaded with the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Through the foolishness of preaching they must present the wisdom of God. They must preach the remission of sins and the joy of being righteous in Christ through his death and resurrection. Thus they, like Paul, must tell the story, the story of man and his sin, the story of Christ, the Savior of men. They must speak of the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness will dwell, urging men to believe lest they be cast into outer darkness, losing themselves and their labors as well.
(c) In this work of telling the story of Christ and his resurrection set in the framework given by the prophets and apostles they must be stedfast and unmovable. To be stedfast and unmovable does not mean inactivity, stone-like immobility. They are workers, are they not?They, are what they must do for the Lord. How then could they be anything but active in the Lord’s service? It would be a contradiction in terms to think of themselves as doing nothing or very little for the Lord. They are not indifferent spectators of the drama that is the history of the human race. They are not in the balcony; they are on the road with its dust and dirt. They are in the arena fighting, the good fight of faith.
(d) They must assign themselves to a definite course of action. From this course of action they must not deviate, looking neither to the right nor to the left. To illustrate: look at that great locomotive all set to make its run from Chicago to New York city. It is as it were most anxious to get on its way. Its railed route is often rugged. It leads through the wilderness. It passes through the Slough of Despond. It goes through the valley of the shadow of death. It leads past Doubting Castle and Giant Despair. Yet onward the locomotive presses and forward, without deviation, till it reaches its final destination.
(e) Thus stedfastness of purpose must characterize the beloved brethren. They must keep their principal goal clearly in mind. Their glorified Lord with whom they will reign forever is also the Way. He, too, is the work the Father gave him to do. The vision of meeting him at. the end of the road will keep the brethren from going aside. Looking up to him, they will persevere.
(f) But they are not only to be stedfast and unmovable. They must also abound in the work of the Lord. They must be stedfast and unmovable in order thus to abound in the work of the Lord. Look at that locomotive once again. If the engineer will only but give it opportunity, it will go forward eagerly and swiftly. It has confidence and strength. It does not worry for fear that it will not be able to reach New York’s Grand Central Station. Actually it must be restrained by its engineer. Now, the entire locomotive is what it is as the instrument of the engineer whose desire it is to take it to its destined going. So the “beloved brethren” are, they are exclusively what they are, as the work of the Lord. Their entire out-put of energy must be spent in bis work. T hey must abound in the work of the Lord.
III. “Forasmuch As Ye Know…”
What is the reward of such service?
(a) Since it is their very nature to work for the Lord these “beloved brethren,” do not first of all ask [or a reward. But a reward there will be. They have their reward in the fact that their work gives them joy. But yet another reward, a great reward awaits them at the end of the journey. They have worked for the joy of working, for the love of the Lord. Now a crown of righteousness awaits them.
(b) The reward that awaits them is the result of their labors. They will be tempted to fear. They will be scorned for their faith. After all, even Socrates couldn’t speak with certainty of an immortality of the soul. And as for the resurrection of the body, didn’t all the facts of nature show that such an idea is absurd? Will they then continue to believe in the resurrection of Christ and in their own fin al resurrection to meet him in spite of the wisdom of the world? Surely all their labors and struggles will be for naught!
(c) But you know, writes Paul, that God has made foolish the wisdom of the world. The whole outlook of the world’s wisdom has been exposed to be confusion and worse than can fusion. If the world were what the wise men have said it is, then there would be no reward for any man’s labor. Then all labor, all culture, would be lost. But Paul has shown that the world is created and controlled by God. God through Christ and his resurrection has redeemed the world. God through Christ will therefore take his redeemed people to himself. He will certainly raise them up at the last day. No power on earth can stop him from doing so. Are not all the powers of nature servants of his will? Christ, resurrection’s first fruit, will take to himself those who witness to his resurrection. Of this there can be no doubt. Those who are truly absorbed in the work of the Lord have a full assurance that they will be raised into the presence of their Lord.
(d) Don’t, counsels Paul, look any longer to the wisdom of the world. Don’t look in part at the wisdom of God and in part at the wisdom of the world. Look always and only to the wisdom of God. For doubt is sin. God’s existence is not favorable . His promises are not probably true. The question is not whether there will be immortality. In his conscience every man knows that he has been made by God and that one day he will be called to give an account of: his life to God. The issue is therefore this: Will you be resurrected unto life or unto death? Those who are witness-bearers to the resurrection of Christ are righteous before Gael. Only such believing witnesses shall receive the crown of righteousness. But they shall surely receive it. Don’t waste your energy doubting. My beloved brethren, you are what you are as those that know whom they have believed and are fully persuaded that he is able to keep that which they have committed unto him against that day.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not vain in the Lord.”