In this remarkable chapter of I Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul defends the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord, over against all unbelief and skeptical reasoning. He defends the premise that if there is no resurrection of the dead then is Christ not risen. And, to be sure, if Christ is not risen then we are still in our sins, our faith is vain and all preachers of the resurrection facts are found to be false witnesses.
But Christ is risen!
He arose the third day according to the Scriptures and thus became the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
And since Christ is thus risen and His resurrection is the promise and pledge of our final resurrection we can go on hopefully and victoriously through life; thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
That final and complete victory shall be ours in that day when this mortal body shall have put on immortality, and when this corruptible body shall have put on incorruption. Then shall be brought to pass the saying of: “Death is swallowed up to victory!” That will be the destruction of our last enemy. Then there shall be great feasting on Zion’s mount and the children of God shall rejoice forevermore, saying, This is our God, for Whom we have waited.
In the light of this context the passage incomes to stand before our mind’s eye of faith in bold relief. We read there the following: “Go then, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know, that your labor is not vain in the Lord.”
It can do no harm to remind ourselves that in this remarkable passage, Paul is not speaking of “steadfastness” and “unmoveableness” in the abstract, but that he is speaking of this steadfastness in the Lord.
The apostle is here speaking of spiritual steadfastness as such is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Keeping this observation in mind, we should notice first of all the idea of steadfastness and of unmoveableness.
The term steadfastness in the Greek comes from the verb, which means: to sit, to be sitting. And, then it comes to mean: steadfastness in mind and purpose. It reminds us of a man who had taken a certain position over against God and Christ and who does not move, does not deviate from it either to the right or to the left. This idea of steadfastness must not be confused with stubbornness. Stubbornness is contrariness. A man who is stubborn is in the wrong, he is walking contrary to the faith in Christ and to God’s commandments in Him, but he will not confess his faults. Stubbornness is sin. It is the very opposite of steadfastness. For the latter is not sin, but it is righteousness. It is a holy resolution to walk in all good works. It is in the Lord. That such is the Scriptural idea of steadfastness is clear from a passage as, where we read: “If ye remain by faith ever founded and steadfast, unmoved from the hope of the Gospel.”
Hence, steadfastness reminds us not of the horse and the mule that must be led by bit and bridle, but of the mountains about Zion which cannot be moved. It is the rock that stands planted in the midst of the raging sea. This rock is steadfast.
Closely allied with the idea of steadfastness is that of unmoveableness. This word in the Greek is derived from the verb meaning: to move, to stir up, to agitate. And when this is applied to the believer it means, that nothing can stir him up, nothing can agitate him in his mind. He cannot be moved by temptation to doubt and despair. Such a man is like a great oak which lifts its great crown for the birds to nest in its branches. Deep the roots of this tree are bedded in the earth. Many winds and storms have passed over it. But it stands. It stands unmoved. Such is the man that is unmovable in the Lord.
When we thus compare the sense of these two terms, namely, steadfastness and unmoveableness, we notice that the two terms complement each other in meaning. The two belong with each other. The former is positive, the latter accents a certain quality of the former. The unmoveableness suggests the tried and approved character of the steadfastness. The steadfastness shows its genuineness in its unmoveableness. The wind may cause the great oak to sway, to bend, to lean and groan, but it does not move the tree. So too the winds and storms of our temptations in life may cause us to be swayed, may affect our life, causing us pain and temptation, it may cause us much labor, but the anchor holds, it holds sure and steadfast within the holy place behind the veil!
Such the apostle says we ought to be!
In fact, the more exact rendering of the Greek ought to be as follows: Keep on becoming steadfast and unmovable. We must never think that we have already attained. Ever anew and in ever greater degree we should be more steadfast and unmovable over against all the howling and raging of unbelieving skeptics. We must become this ever more also over against all of our sins and unbelief with which we have daily to struggle.
Such we must keep on becoming!
We must, according to the word of Paul here, become this evermore in regard to the work in Christ, the resurrection from the dead, the hope of final glory. We must see, ever anew and with greater intensity of joy, that Christ has arisen and become for us the first fruits of the full harvest. That must be for us ever more the all-controlling motive of our life. And in the same measure that this is true and ever more becomes true through the preaching of the gospel and the sacraments, our life will be one of steadfastness and purpose true.
When an unbelieving skeptic asks: but how shall the dead arise, and with what kind of body shall they rise, then the answer must be forthcoming with full certainty. We must say: All the effects of sin and the curse will be no more seen. Indeed our body is sown in corruption, and it is raised in incorruption, it is sown in dishonor it is raised in glory, it is sown in weakness it is raised in power. That we must say and confess first of all. Then, too, we must say that all that looked like the first man of the earth earthy will be no more. It will be wholly conformed unto the glorious body of the Lord from heaven. It is, indeed, sown a natural body, but it is raised a spiritual body, it will be perfectly the bearing of the image of the heavenly.
That we must say. We must confess that God raised Jesus from the dead. We must believe this from the heart and confess it with our mouth and thus we are saved completely. In this we must evermore become steadfast, loving the appearance of Jesus our Lord upon the clouds of heaven.
For Him we must look!
Him we must expect. That does not mean that we must not be busy in life’s calling, that in the literal sense we must stand and gaze into heaven. We have work, much work to perform. And this is also clearly underscored in the text. Says Paul: Always abounding in the work of the Lord.
About this “work in the Lord” we must say just a few words too.
The work of the Lord is not in the first place the work that the Lord requires of us. It is true, that as believers in the Lord, we are placed under the new obligations of faith, under the new obedience of love. But that is not what the apostle has in mind here first of all. When he here speaks of “the work of the Lord”, he evidently has in mind the work performed for us by the Lord in His death and resurrection and glorious ascension. It is the work that He is now working in heaven for us, the work in which we may be coworkers with Him by His grace and Spirit. It is the work that He will bring to its final, ultimate and glorious consummation in the day of His return when the word shall come to pass: Death is swallowed up of life! Then shall all tears be wiped away from our eyes and we be led besides streams of living water.
That this is the work referred to by the apostle is evident from the following facts. In the first place this is clear from the fact that the whole context speaks of this work. It speaks of the work of Jesus Christ as He suffered and died according to the Scriptures and as He arose again from the dead on the third day according to the same Scriptures. That the entire chapter speaks of this great work as given in verse 1 is conclusive to indicate that Paul is speaking here of the work performed by Christ for us, and not first of all for the work that Christ demands of us in the new obedience.
In the light of this observation, we would also notice that in the Greek this work is prefaced with the article. It is the work. And then the singular “work” is spoken of. From this we learn that it is the one work spoken of in the context and it is thought of as constituting a unity. It is the one all-controlling work of Christ the Lord. The text also emphasizes that Jesus is the Lord. He is the Lord of glory who in the way of His suffering was made both Lord and Christ. And He must reign till He hath made His enemies His footstool. He is the Lord. And in the work of this Lord we are to be busy reaching out till He comes.
Yes, in this one, central and all-controlling work we are to always abound. We are to be busy in it in such a way that in this work of Christ we become living fountains of spiritual activity, become some first fruits of His creation in Him the first fruits, the firstborn out of the dead!
The only way to be steadfast is to be ever abounding in love, faith and all the works of faith in our whole life. We are to live in the hope of His return and thus cleanse and sanctify ourselves as He is pure. Thus ever abounding in the work of the Lord we evermore will be becoming steadfast and unmovable in the Lord!
This will entail labor. The word labor suggests toil, wearisome toil and opposition. It reminds us of Jesus’ word who said: In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
This toil and labor is not vain. It is in the Lord. It is the toil of the work in the Lord. The victory is sure, the crown is certain. Life in this work, even in the toil, is not vain. We rejoice even because of the tribulation. For suffering with Christ we shall also be glorified together.
Presently all the brethren will then have the rest of Jubilee. It will be, to be forever with the Lord, to reign with Him over all the work of His hands.