Abounding In The Work Of The Lord

 

                Almost always, when an inspired writer commands men to obey the Lord, he provides a rationale for their obedience.  There are dozens of examples--both in the Old Testament and in the New--but I shall mention just one of them.  First Corinthians 14 goes into great detail about our Lord's resurrection and ours.  Paul begins this great chapter by outlining some of the great facts of the gospel: Christ's death, his burial, his resurrection, and the witness to his resurrection.  He insists that Christianity actually makes no sense if Jesus Christ were not raised from the dead.  If Christ were not raised, then nobody will be raised.  If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is vain and our faith is vain.  We would still be in our sins and our loved ones who have died have perished.  "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Cor. 15:12-19).

 

            He concludes his great chapter on the resurrection by writing: "O death, where is thy sting: O grave, where is your victory?  The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:55-57).  After Paul's long and involved argument about Christ's resurrection and ours, he then commands all Christians, "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58).  Our lesson today will center on the theme: "Abounding in the Work of the Lord."

 

            The Holy Spirit guided Paul into beginning this verse with the word "therefore."  That word always helps us to understand that some information has been given from which the inspired writer is drawing a conclusion.  I have already provided you with some insight into why Paul used the word "therefore."  His argument is very simple though profound: Because Jesus Christ has been raised, then all men will be raised in their own order.  "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them who slept…But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming" (1 Cor. 15:20-21).

 

            Because Jesus was raised, then we are going to be raised.  Because we are going to be raised, then we must always abound in the work of the Lord.  Does Paul imply that all kinds of work would be futile if we are not going to be raised from the dead?  He not only implies it, he actually says it: "If after the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me, if the dead rise not?"  Now please listen carefully.  "Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die" (1 Cor. 15:32).  If the dead are not going to be raised, what would be the motivation for taking care of one's family, being good citizens of our nations and being morally upright people?  If we are nothing more than animals, then we could not be criticized for acting like animals.

 

            But because we are going to be raised and stand before God to give an account of our stewardship, then we must live according to God's revealed will.  That means, according to Paul, being stedfast.  The expression, "be stedfast" would be better rendered "keep on becoming stedfast or unshaken."  Charles Williams translates the Greek: "Continue to be firm."  Dr. R. C. H. Lenski thinks the expression ought to be translated: "From now until death be and remain stedfast" (p. 752).

 

            The word rendered "stedfast" (hedraios in the Greek) appears two other times in the New Testament.  In 1 Corinthians 7:37 the adjective is also translated "stedfast."  The same word is rendered "settled" in Colossians 1:23.  The King James Version translated a related noun by "ground" in the following verse: "But if I tarry long, that you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).  Several other passages in Paul's letters encourage Christians to be stedfast, although the ones I shall read do not use the word.  "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil…Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that you may withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand.  Stand therefore" (Eph. 6:10-11, 13-14).

 

            Paul commanded the Corinthians to be "unmovable."  Our English words "stedfast" and "unmovable" are closely related in meaning, but the Greek words are somewhat different.  The Greek word translated "unmovable" appears only this one time in the New Testament.  Although the word "moved" does not appear in the following passage from Psalm 1, there is no doubt about the Psalmist's meaning.  The righteous man delights in "the law of the Lord; and in his law does he meditate day and night.  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf shall not wither.  The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away" (Psa. 1:2-4).  The Psalmist also vows: "I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psa. 16:8).

 

            There are many examples in the Bible of those who could not be moved because of their total devotion to their Lord.  I have time to mention just one: John the Baptist.  Jesus asked some disciples who had been out in the wilderness to hear John the Baptist: What went you out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind" (Mt. 11:8).  Jesus knew and wanted his disciples to know that few men in the history of God's dealings with his people were more faithful, stedfast and unmovable than John.  John's stedfastness brought about his death, but he could not be swayed from his commitment to the Lord.

 

            Tragically, there are millions of men and women who call themselves Christians who can be moved--if the price is right.  They are available to the highest bidder.  I honestly wish I could tell you that there are no preachers or theologians who cannot be bought, but I would not be telling you the truth if I said that.  There are today and there always have been preachers like Balaam "who loved the wages of unrighteousness" (2 Pet. 2:15).  I plead with all of us that we shall be strong regardless of the worldly pressures which are directed at us.  Jesus promised: "Be faithful unto death; and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev. 2:10).

 

            But being stedfast and unmovable are not adequate; we must always abound in the work of the Lord.  The word "always" suggests that we must not ever be slack in our devotion to the cause of Christ.  There is never a time in the Christian's life when he can say, "I have done enough.  Let someone else take up the slack."  That was Peter's reason for writing: "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if you do these things, you shall never fall" (2 Pet. 1:10).  The work of the Lord is so very vital to our salvation and to the welfare of humanity that we cannot become slack in doing his work.

 

            Paul used the word "abounding" in reference to the work of the Lord.  The word means to exceed, something above the ordinary, to go over and beyond the one's duty.  Some form of the word appears ninety times in the New Testament, which shows that it is a word of considerable significance.  Paul wrote of the great generosity of the Macedonian Christians as follows: "Moreover, brethren, we want you to know of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.  For to their power, I bear them record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves…Therefore, as you abound in everything, in faith, in utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that you abound in this grace also" (2 Cor. 8:1-3, 7).  Later in the same epistle, Paul wrote: "And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that you, always having all sufficiency in all things may abound to every good work…For the administration of this service not only supplies the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God" (2 Cor. 9:8, 12).

 

            Many church members seem to do just as little as they can to get by.  To many people that means going to one service a week, giving as little as they can to prevent their consciences from bothering them and in general not spending much time or effort in serving God.  Regardless of how much we do, we cannot earn salvation, but God demands that we use our time and talent in serving him and our fellowmen.  These words from the very mouth of Jesus ought to stimulate us to serve him more diligently.  "So likewise you, when you shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do" (Lk. 17:10).  Salvation by grace requires us to do the work of the Lord.  "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).

 

            If we must always abound in the work of the Lord, we must know what that work is.  In the time remaining, I shall discuss the work of the Lord under three headings: Edifying the church, caring for the needy, and evangelizing the world.  All serious Bible students recognize each of these headings as being biblically-based.  They are not my inventions, but the plain teachings of scripture.  Will you please give prayerful attention to each of these concepts?

 

            Elders of the church must provide for the edification and growth of all members of the body of Christ.  They can accomplish this goal by strong preaching and an excellent Bible school program.  Paul prayed for the Christians at Ephesus: "That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man: that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passes all knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:16-19).

 

            The kind of preaching one hears on television seems to be designed to entertain and to raise money.  Tragically, many of those who claim to preach seldom base their messages on the scriptures.  In fact, I have listened to radio and television sermons which almost never mention any passages from the Bible.  How do we think we can edify and strengthen members when we do not feed them spiritual food, the word of God almighty?  Paul commanded Timothy: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2).  Why was it necessary for Timothy to preach the word?  The word points us to the saving power of Jesus Christ.  Besides, it will prevent our turning away from the truth of the gospel.  James urged his readers to "receive with meekness the engrafted (or implanted) word, which is able to save your souls" (Jas. 1:22).  As Christians, we are to "desire the sincere (or logical) milk of the word that we may grow thereby" (1 Pet. 2:2).  The same apostle demanded: "But grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18).

 

            Faithful preaching does not guarantee that members of the church will always be devoted to the cause of Christ.  If it did, none of the early Christians would have departed from the faith, but they did depart.  Paul predicted that "some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Tim. 4:1).  While strong preaching does not provide any guarantees, it will go a long way in stabilizing and strengthening members of the body of Christ.  There really is no excuse for not preaching the word.

 

            While many in the religious world--especially liberals--might deny the necessity of strong, sound, scriptural preaching, few would deny the church's responsibility for feeding the hungry, comforting the downtrodden, and encouraging the weak.  Paul very succinctly says, "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them who are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men" (1 Thess. 5:14).  The word "feebleminded" does not mean those who are mentally deficient.  The word should be translated "fainthearted."  Paul told the Galatians: "As we therefore have opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of the faith" (Gal. 6:10).

 

            These and hundreds of other biblical passages demand that God's children be compassionate.  That means more than feeding the hungry.  It may mean--and in many cases does--sitting at the bedside of a terminally ill patient, meeting to pray with those who are discouraged, counseling those who are in trouble, and in general, doing all we can to show our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ and for others who need our support and concern.  We shall be judged in the last day for how we have helped others (Mt. 25:31-46).

 

            There have been people in all religious groups--including some churches of Christ--who have decided that evangelism is the fruit of the Spirit.  How they arrived at that position is difficult to understand.  Evangelism is certainly fundamental to our lives as Christians, but it is only one phase of the work of the Lord.  Its importance can be seen in our Lord's commission to his immediate disciples.  "Go therefore, and teach all nations (or make disciples of all nations), baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you all the way, even unto the end of the age" (Mt. 28:19-20).

 

            If Christians are convinced that salvation can be found in Jesus Christ alone, how can they refrain from telling the lost about the Savior?  The good news Christians have at their disposal can literally turn the world upside down.  We must have the attitude of the apostle Paul.  "I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise and the unwise.  So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also" (Rom. 1:14-15).  Paul knew and preached that the gospel of Christ is God's power unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).

 

            Sometimes in this life, we all engage in work which is worthless and even worse than worthless.  But that is not true of our work in the Lord's vineyard.  Paul informed the Corinthians: "For you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."  Incidentally, the word "labor" is a stronger word than work.  It involves working to the point of exhaustion.  The word indicates that Christians must expend maximum effort in serving God--not only in evangelizing the lost, but in all phases of the Lord's work.  Our labor is not in vain in the Lord, that is, so long as we are doing the work in his church or kingdom.

 

            I hope this lesson today is a wake-up call for church members who are attempting to slide by in their religious life.  God is not pleased when we are lukewarm in our work for him.  In fact, he will vomit out all the lukewarm members of the church.  We are to be on fire for the Lord (Rev. 3:15-16).  I close today with these words from Jesus Christ: "I must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day: the night comes when no man can work" (John 9:4).

 

Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334