This is the abbreviated text of the pre-synodical sermon that Rev. Slopsema, as President of Synod 2011, preached on June 11, 2012 in the Crete (IL) Protestant Reformed Church.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
Thanks be to God!
In the previous verse the apostle Paul gives thanks to God for the victory we have in our Lord Jesus Christ. This victory is the victory over death by the resurrection of the body. This victory over death is part of a larger victory for the kingdom of Christ over all the powers of darkness, including sin itself. Because we are citizens of the kingdom of Christ, this victory is our victory.
Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our text draws a conclusion from all this. Having such great victory, be steadfast and unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. And know this, your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
It is appropriate to consider this passage as synod takes up its work. The work of synod is truly the work of the Lord. In that work synod must abound, laboring with the assurance that its work is not in vain in the Lord.
The work of the Lord!
This is the work that Jesus does as Lord.
On the basis of Christ’s perfect work of atonement on the cross, God has exalted Him to the right hand of power to be Lord over all. As Lord, Jesus establishes His kingdom, commonly known as the kingdom of heaven. This kingdom is really the church, over which Christ rules. Scripture views the church universal as a great spiritual nation (). Over this great nation of the church Christ rules as Lord and King. This makes the church His kingdom.
The power of this kingdom is the Word of God, which is the gospel of Christ crucified. By the power of this Word Christ brings the elect church to a new life, so that they are translated into His kingdom as citizens. By the power of the Word He also rules them, so that they willingly submit to Him and serve Him as their king. By the power of the Word the citizens enjoy all the blessings of the cross.
The work of the Lord is this work of Jesus to establish His kingdom by the power of the Word.
Earlier in this chapter mention is made of the work of the Lord one day to deliver up the kingdom to God the Father (vv. 24-26). Although the kingdom was established by Christ at His exaltation, it is not yet complete. The redeemed of Christ have not all been gathered into the kingdom by the power of the Word. The powers of darkness that oppose the kingdom still operate and threaten the kingdom. The last enemy of the kingdom, which is death, has not yet been overcome. But there is coming a day when the work of our Lord will result in the completion of the kingdom. All the redeemed will be brought into the kingdom by the power of the Word. Christ will put down all the enemies of the kingdom. And the last enemy, death, will be overcome by the resurrection of the body. This will bring an end to this present age, and the Lord Jesus Christ will deliver up the kingdom to the Father.
Amazingly, this great work of the Lord is also our work. It is our work in that the Lord will use us to accomplish His great work.
Christ has called the church to proclaim His word as it is fully revealed in Scripture. The church must proclaim the Word to her members as well as to the entire world (Mark 16:15). The church fulfills this calling primarily through the preaching of the gospel by the ministers of the Word that Christ gives her. But there is a calling that comes to each member of the church. Each member is called to know the Word of God and then bring that Word to others—parents to children, saints to each other in the fellowship of the church, and all of us as we have opportunity to witness to those outside the household of faith. And Christ calls us to many other works that support the gospel, for example, providing financial support for the gospel ministry, serving in a special office of the church, providing the poor with alms . . . .
As we busy ourselves in these works, we are doing the work of the Lord. It is the work of the Lord in that the Lord calls us to these works. It is the Lord’s work also in that the Lord will use this work to accomplish His work of perfecting His kingdom.
In keeping with this, the work of synod deals primarily with the preaching of the Word. The agenda is dominated by missions and the theological school, all of which directly involve the preaching of the Word. But it also includes items of catechetical instruction, and contact with other churches in order to help one another preach the Word. As synod busies itself with these matters, it is busy in the work of the Lord.
We are called to abound in this work of the Lord.
This means that we are to excel above and beyond what is ordinarily expected. In verse 10 Paul, using the same word, indicated that by the grace of God he labored in the gospel more abundantly. In preaching, in self-denial, in facing perils for the gospel’s sake, he abounded more than all the other apostles.
As churches we are to abound in the work of the Lord in the same way, so that we exert ourselves above measure to preach and bring the Word. Our ministers must exert themselves to labor above and beyond what is ordinarily expected of a laborer. As churches we must also exert ourselves above measure to bring the Word on the mission field, maintain an orthodox seminary for the training of ministers, and support the gospel ministry financially and in prayer.
And this abounding in the work of the Lord must also reflect itself in our work as synod, so that all our decisions are designed to promote the preaching of the Word of God.
Steadfast and unmovable!
To abound in the work of the Lord requires that we remain steadfast and unmovable.
Steadfast carries the idea of standing firm upon a certain and definite place, on a firm foundation. Unmovable adds to that idea. It suggests certain forces that would move you away from the place or foundation on which you stand. It speaks of one withstanding these forces so that one remains standing firm on the place or foundation he has chosen.
The Word of God here calls us to be steadfast and unmovable with respect to the truth of God’s Word.
The saints of Corinth had taken their stand on the Word of God. By the power of the Word they had been brought to faith in Jesus Christ. In that faith they had laid hold on the truth of God’s Word. They had taken their stand on the Word of God. It was the foundation of their lives and of the church. But there were forces that were seeking to move them away from the foundation of the truth. There were some in Corinth who said that there is no resurrection of the dead (v. 12). In response, Paul demonstrates that the resurrection of the dead is central to the whole truth of the gospel, so that if the resurrection is denied, one loses the whole truth of God, including his salvation. If Christ be not risen, then our faith is vain and we are yet in our sins. The exhortation to be steadfast and unmovable was to be steadfast and unmovable concerning the truth of the resurrection.
This same exhortation comes to us today.
By the grace of God our churches have taken our stand on the truth of God’s Word as set forth in our Reformed creeds. This is our great heritage as churches. However, there are many evil forces that would move us away from that foundation into error. That is what happened in 1924, when it was demanded of the fathers of our denomination that they to subscribe to the error of common grace. That is what happened in 1953, when the error of a conditional covenant sought to make its way into our churches. Error of every kind abounds in the church world. Satan has made inroads into many denominations with these errors, and in many cases he has come to dominate them with heretical teachings. He is working to do the same in our own churches. The call to remain steadfast and unmovable is therefore very timely. In the face of all these errors and the attempts of Satan to destroy Christ’s church and kingdom, we as churches must remain steadfast and unmovable, never departing from the truth of Scripture. And that means that the synod must never compromise the truth to gain the rewards of compromise.
How important this is!
Should we be moved from the foundation of the truth, we will not be doing the Lord’s work but the devil’s work. The Lord’s work is to establish and perfect the kingdom by the power of the Word. But it is the Word of truth and not of error that He uses. It is the Word of truth that the Lord uses to bring the elect of God, redeemed by His blood, into the kingdom. The Lord rules the elect as citizens of the kingdom so that they serve Him as King by the truth alone. And by that same truth He preserves them from all danger.
On the other side of the coin, the devil seeks to destroy the kingdom and its citizens with the lies of false doctrine. Satan has assailed every truth of Scripture, presenting the lie of hell in its place. By this deception he sought not only to destroy the kingdom of God but also to establish an imitation kingdom of Christ, which is really antichristian.
And so those that are moved away from the foundation of the truth of the gospel of the kingdom are not doing the Lord’s work but the devil’s work.
Only those who are steadfast and unmovable with respect to the truth are doing the Lord’s work.
And know this: your labor is not in vain in the Lord!
How important to know this!
The work of the Lord is often labor, that is to say, a wearisome toil. It is work that brings fatigue and often discouragement.
This is because the work of the Lord is always opposed. It is opposed by the enemies of the gospel, who are often found in the church. It is opposed by our own flesh and the flesh of the saints.
So every minister, every officebearer, and every member of the church must be careful not to weary of the work of the Lord.
Know this, then: your labor is not in vain in the Lord!
Oh, the work we do in the service of the Lord often appears to be in vain. Many are indifferent to the Word; others are violently opposed to it. Throughout history the church of Christ has been no more than a cottage in a vineyard, a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, a besieged city.
Nevertheless, our labor is not in vain in the Lord.
It is, after all, the Lord’s work!
And the Lord’s manifold blessing rests upon such work. He will use it to perfect His kingdom and one day to deliver it up to the Father.