Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Getting on with the job

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58

Do you ever wonder if the things you do as a Christian, perhaps as a member of your local church, are actually a bit of a waste of time?

You spend an evening at a pretty routine business meeting where nothing much of any great importance seems to be decided. Or you help out on a Sunday morning with a group of wriggly and not very responsive children. You join the group heading out to put leaflets through letter boxes in the build-up to Easter, knowing that most of them will go straight in the bin.

And the thought - be honest! - darts into your head: is this really worth doing? Could I be using my time in better ways?

Yes? Then I encourage you to stop - and to listen to the apostle Paul: “your labour in the Lord is not in vain.”

Paul is writing to his fellow-Christians in the church in Corinth. And presumably the reason he gives them this encouragement is precisely because the temptation is always there, to doubt if what we are doing is really worth-while. It was there in first century Corinth; and it’s there in twenty-first century Wherever-You-Are.

One of the challenges of Christian service is that most of the time it doesn’t yield immediate, noticeable or measurable results.

I have a friend who tells me that he certainly values people like me, because he recognises that churches need those who are called to get on with the task of quietly building the community of God’s people - by preaching and prayer, by pastoral work and efficient administration, by a thousand and one different means.

But he himself is an engineer, and he told me once that he was pleased that God had called him to work in an area where he could actually see the fruits of his labour, little by little, day by day: a new road or bridge, perhaps. And then, at the end, to be able to stand back and take pleasure in the finished product: “I helped to bring that into being!” Job done.

The thing about Christian service is that it will never reach an end - not, that is, until Jesus returns; there is never that “job done” moment.

And this is why Paul tells the Christians of Corinth to “always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord”. To “stand firm”, solid and strong. To “let nothing move you”, in other words not be easily discouraged or wobbled in their commitment. (Did Jesus ever say it would be easy?)

There is a possible misunderstanding here that we need to avoid. Paul is not saying that there aren’t times when it’s right to discontinue some form of service. Gritting your teeth and just ploughing on with an activity that is patently no longer bearing any kind of fruit is not faith but stubbornness.

What he is talking about, I think, is not only organised church activities  but also those acts of Christian witness and ministry we carry out every day - chatting to a neighbour from down the street who has had bad news; praying your way daily through that prayer-diary for mission partners; making contact with someone we have heard is sick.

Who can measure the value of such actions? Answer: God; and God alone. So we are called very simply to roll up our sleeves and get on with it.

You might say that 1 Corinthians 15:58 is a very ordinary verse; and you would be right. It’s simple, practical and thoroughly down to earth.

And yet there is one extraordinary thing about it: its place in the Bible.

1 Corinthians 15 is a long, meaty and, in places, quite difficult chapter. It’s all about the resurrection: the resurrection first of Jesus, and then the final resurrection of all who, by faith, are “in him”. Could you imagine a more wonderful, inspiring, exhilarating theme? The resurrection of the dead is the one of the greatest glories of the Christian gospel: it is the event which brought the church into being in the first place.

So, surely, a chapter of no less than fifty-eight verses (that’s a whole lot of verses!) on this great theme should end with a loud cry of praise and worship?

But no.

No! It ends with this little verse. And the implied message is clear: Given that Jesus is risen from the dead, and given that we too will be raised from the dead, let’s... roll our sleeves up and get on with the glorious but bread-and-butter work of serving the Lord in any way we can find.

At the last day, when all things are revealed, we won’t regret a moment of it.

Father, I confess that there are times when serving you seems back-breaking, discouraging and wearisome. Please help me to know that my labour is indeed not in vain, and so to be busy about it every day in a positive and cheerful spirit. Amen.

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