|Christian Life and Doctrine||September 1976|
Unmovable and Abounding
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” —I Corinthians 15:58
STEADFASTNESS is a paramount requisite to Christian faithfulness. One who is unmovable from his position of loyalty to God and to the truth will also abound in the work of the Lord, for the truth calls upon a Christian to sacrifice all that he has in its service. It is evident, therefore, that to be “steadfast and unmovable” does not mean to stand still or to be idle.
A similar thought to the one expressed in our text is set forth in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where he admonishes us to “put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil,” “and having done all, to stand.” (Eph. 6:11,13) We are to make every possible use of the truth as a defensive armor against the fiery darts of doubt and unbelief, and against all the subtle attacks of Satan, that we may be able to stand our ground in the Christian warfare. It is those who are thus steadfast and unmovable in the truth who are the best fitted for “abounding in the work of the Lord.”
We are admonished in the Scriptures to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (II Pet. 3:18) We are also informed that the “path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” (Prov. 4:18) There are many scriptures which indicate that the Lord desires our knowledge of the truth to increase with the passing years. He wants our understanding of his plan to become ever clearer and more comprehensive. We should be guided by these admonitions and search the Scriptures daily that our knowledge of the truth might, by God’s grace, be increased.
However, it is also well to note that there is a great danger of not holding fast to what we have learned. The history of the church indicates that many have fallen from their steadfastness in the truth through becoming overly concerned with the desire to make progress. Scriptures which enjoin upon every Christian the importance of growing in knowledge have been misused as an excuse for seeking and developing “new light.” Oftentimes the new light which has been discovered in the name of making progress has turned out to be not new light but old error, that is, some doctrine or theory long held by one or more branches of the nominal church.
The truth IS progressive, and “the path of the just” does shine “more and more unto the perfect day.” All who have been enlightened by the truth can testify to its increasing clarity as each day they see in it depths and beauty which they had never before noticed. We all rejoice in this proper growth in knowledge; but when we find it necessary to discard this or that doctrine of the truth in order to accept some fanciful new theory, we should realize that this is not true progress in grace and knowledge, but a letting slip of truths once learned and proved.
So the apostle urges us to take “more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” (Heb. 2:1) He also admonishes us to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.” (Heb. 10:23) There is a great need for all of us to watch ourselves well along this line. One of the weaknesses of the fallen flesh is that of soon becoming weary of anything that is undertaken. Steadfastness is a virtue sadly lacking in nearly all members of the fallen race; but Christians should seek to develop it, and as they grow stronger along this line, to employ their growing strength to a more resolute and enthusiastic stand for the truths which they have learned and which they have proved by a “thus saith the Lord.”
Probably there has never been a time in the whole history of the church when Christian steadfastness in doctrine and practice was more essential than it is now. A looseness of thought is permeating the minds of the people everywhere. One of the insecure foundations of modern education is the theory of “open-mindedness,” which really means the art of having one’s mind filled with many ideas but not actually believing any of them. This ultramodern viewpoint of faithlessness and instability, like all other worldly viewpoints, keeps knocking at the door of the Christian heart, and it is important that through prayer and a constant and earnest study of the Word of truth we be fortified against it.
The great majority of the teachers in the nominal churches hold to this modern philosophy of being established in nothing. In their own hearts they have discarded the creeds of the churches in which they preach; but only occasionally, and then very vaguely, do they indicate this to their congregations. By failing to say anything about the doctrines of their respective churches they are allowing them gradually to be forgotten by the people, while they preach from Sunday to Sunday on moral philosophy, social hygiene, politics, and other nonreligious topics of the day, admonishing the people that even in these matters they should keep an “open mind.”
Not Our Pattern
We should not expect anything else from the nominal church. After all, this great worldly system of organized religion is what the Revelator describes by the symbolic term “Babylon”—confusion. And truly the confusion of the nominal systems is great, and on the increase. The growing lack of faith in the inspiration and authority of the Bible has been prophesied in the Scriptures, so we are not surprised.
We also know that we are living in the time when “Babylon is fallen,” and when the truly consecrated people of God are called to “come out of her.” (Rev. 18:2,4) Certainly, therefore, those who are enlightened by the truth should not seek to copy Babylon’s example of being “broad-minded,” and “open-minded,” once they realize that these terms are usually merely subtle descriptions of unbelief.
But we are concerned with the viewpoints of nominal churchianity when we see a tendency among ourselves to succumb to their influence; and occasionally such a tendency can be noted. Sometimes we hear the expression among the brethren, “We should be open-minded, you know!” And this remark is usually made in such a manner as almost to cause some to feel that they have committed a sin in definitely believing any item of the truth.
And, from the standpoint of the modern unbeliever, who poses as an outstanding example of one who exercises a noble Christian spirit, it IS wrong dogmatically to believe anything. According to this modern theory of being “broad-minded” a Christian should stand willing to change his mind on any feature of the truth, or at least be ready to question it whenever a suggestion of doubt may be cast upon it. And he should thus be ready to discard his faith, regardless of the fact that over and over again he has proved every item of his “profession of faith” by the inspired Word of God. Brethren, let us not be ensnared by any such alluring “wiles of the Devil.”—Eph. 6:11
The admonition of our text to be steadfast and unmovable is prefaced by that very meaningful word “therefore.” This indicates that the thoughts which follow are related to what has preceded and are in reality the object of the lesson—the final conclusion, as it were, of the facts previously stated. And what is the main discussion of this chapter? It is the resurrection of the dead, beginning with the resurrection of Jesus; then the resurrection of his body members; and finally the resurrection of all mankind, when tears will be wiped away and the sting of death removed.
The chapter reveals that in the church at Corinth there were some who were not steadfast in their belief of this basic truth of the Gospel. “How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” he asks. Ah, that was it! False doctrine had come into the church; or we might better say, a lack of belief in all the true doctrines; and Paul, with all the logic and persuasion he could command, struck out to protect the people of God against this fiery dart of the Adversary.
Paul was not one to take the viewpoint, “What difference does it make what one believes as long as he professes to be consecrated and tries to be Christlike?” Rather, he knew that every part of the divine plan bears a vital relationship to every other part, hence that one cannot accept what he wishes of the Gospel and doubt or reject the rest, yet be truly pleasing to God. Paul knew that it is the truth which sanctifies us for the service of God; hence if any part of the truth is lacking in our faith structure, we cannot be qualified to serve God acceptably.
The particular question at issue in the church at Corinth was belief in the resurrection. In this chapter of the epistle he reminds us of how futile the whole Christian life would be if there were to be no resurrection of the dead. We are suffering and dying with Christ—“baptized for the dead”—so that we may have the blessed privilege of reigning with him for the blessing of the dead world, by raising them from the sleep of death. But all of this would be in vain, Paul shows, if there is to be no resurrection of the dead.
“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” wrote Paul in his dramatic approach to this serious error which had crept into the Corinthian church. “Why stand we in jeopardy every hour” if death is to end everything? Why should any of us put ourselves in the position where we are persecuted; or why should we use time and strength and means in the service of the Lord and the brethren, if there be no resurrection of the dead?
All the efforts of the Christian who endeavors to let his light shine in this dark world cost weariness, misunderstanding, and persecution, because the darkness hateth the light. But it is all worthwhile, Paul argues, because there is to be a resurrection of the dead. All the promises of God for both the church and the world are to be fulfilled. The church will be raised to celestial glory with Jesus, and the world will be restored to the terrestrial glory originally possessed by “the first man.” Because this is true, and because there is a real objective in Christian sacrifice, our “labor is not in vain in the Lord.” And because our labor is not in vain, we should “abound in the work of the Lord.”
When Paul argued the point of the resurrection, he had to resort to available evidence and to the promises of God in order to support his position. He could not say to the church at Corinth that he would bring Jesus to visit them and then they would know that he had been raised from the dead. For those who wanted to doubt, there was no absolute proof. The best that could be said was that men of integrity had seen Jesus when he manifested himself to them. And to this Paul could add that he had seen Jesus as “one born out of [or, before] due time.”—I Cor. 15:8
Those upon whom the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost rejoiced in that wonderful experience as further evidence that Jesus had been raised from the dead and, having returned to the heavenly courts, had fulfilled the promise he had made to send the Comforter to them. But here again it was a living faith which turned things unseen into a “substance” upon which they could lay hold and, firmly grasping thereto, could stand up against every “wind” of false doctrine which sought to take away from them their cherished belief and the source of their inspiration and joy.
That which satisfied the hearts and minds of the apostles concerning the resurrection of Jesus satisfies us today. We too believe that he was raised from the dead, not because we can see him or touch him, but because we believe the testimony of the inspired apostles. And they believed and bore witness to their belief because they were satisfied with the evidence at hand.
And it is exactly the same today with respect to our belief in the second presence of Christ. We believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. We believe that he returned to heaven and “shed forth” the Holy Spirit upon the church at Pentecost. We believe that he has returned and is now present, because on every hand we see the things occurring which the Scriptures tell us to expect at the time of Christ’s return. We are satisfied with the evidence and without hesitancy exclaim, “Behold the Bridegroom!”
Is It Important?
Properly, we think of the ransom as the great fundamental of God’s plan of salvation. But it is well to remember that in order for the human race to be ransomed and later restored to at-one-ment with God, the divine plan called for a visit to earth of the Logos, first to die for the people and later to establish a kingdom for their blessing. In a sense it is but one visit, separated by the Gospel Age during which Christ’s body members have been selected to share with him in the work of his kingdom.
Most of the prophets promised this visit to earth by a royal representative of heaven. When He came at his first advent, John the Baptist announced to Israel, “There standeth one among you, whom ye know not.” (John 1:26) Not many of that day believed in the first presence of Christ. Later in life even John the Baptist began to wonder about it and sought confirmation from Jesus. The nation of Israel did not believe that their Messiah had come and to this day still refuses to believe. But shall we say that belief in a development of God’s plan so vital to its accomplishment was unimportant, simply to excuse the unbelief of some? Certainly not!
And we should remember, too, that faith in the presence of the Messiah at that time was based upon the evidence contained in the various “signs” which accompanied the Master’s ministry. There was nothing in the Scriptures to identify the Messiah except the signs, that is, the things which would occur when he came. True, he was there as a man, who could be seen and touched; but so far as his being the Messiah was concerned, this proved nothing.
Suppose someone had come to Jesus while he was here in the flesh and had said to him, “I like your way of speaking; you are kind and sympathetic; and I know that through your miracles you are doing the people much good. I like your philosophy of life, too. It is certainly better to love our enemies than to hate them. But I am not sure that you are the Messiah. My thoughts incline in that direction, but if I were asked about it l would have to say that I couldn’t prove it. Nevertheless, I want to be your disciple.” Can we think that Jesus would say to such a one that it really didn’t make much difference whether or not he believed him to be the Messiah?
It was not merely the fact that Jesus was the Messiah which was important. That was indeed a vital truth. But the fact that the Messiah had come meant a change of dispensation. An age in the divine plan was coming to an end, and a new age was about to begin. It was necessary to recognize the presence of Christ in order to know of this change in the divine plan and thus be able to cooperate with the Lord intelligently and acceptably in the work of the new age.
And now the second phase of the Messiah’s “visit” to earth has become a fact. Again it foretells a change of dispensation. At this time it means not merely the ending of an age, but also the ending of a world, for “the heavens and the earth” which began at the Flood are now passing away, and “the new heavens and the new earth” are soon to be established. The second presence of Christ is the signal for these changes. How unwise it would be, therefore, to say that belief in his presence is unimportant!
The Scriptures are so explicit in associating the second presence of the Master with the events of the “last days” that there is no satisfactory explanation of present-day events except the fact that the Master has returned. Everywhere we look the “signs” are visible. It is of course as true now as at the first advent that the One who is present and responsible for the downfall of a world is not known or recognized by the people in general. Furthermore, it is true now, as then, that even the professed people of God, with few exceptions, fail to recognize the true significance of the world-disturbing events of our days. But the brethren “are not in darkness, that that day should overtake … [them] as a thief.”—I Thess. 5:2,4
If, then, “The sure word of prophecy” has revealed the presence of Christ to us, let us cherish this blessed vision of truth and rejoice in the opportunities it opens up. Let us not be influenced by the arguments of the modernists, who say concerning nearly everything in the Bible, “You can’t prove it!” We can’t prove to some that the “wages of sin is death,” but this is no excuse for us to be uncertain about it. There are millions who do not agree with anything we believe. But we believe, nevertheless; so let us hold fast the profession of our faith. Let us be unmovable.
Steadfastness in the truth is essential if we are to experience in large measure the joys of the truth, for we can get no true satisfaction out of that which we only half believe. Steadfastness in the truth is also essential if we are to be acceptable servants of the Lord; for the truth is God’s plan, and when he reveals his plan, it means that he wants us to become colaborers with him in the outworking of that plan. And how can we work for him acceptably if we are not sure of what he wants us to do and are uncertain as to where we stand in connection with his plan?
But what inspiration there is in knowing and steadfastly adhering to our belief—especially our belief at this time in the great dispensational truths of the divine plan! We are standing at the turning point of the ages, at the very threshold of the new kingdom. Already the King is here! He has come as the Bridegroom to gather his bride. He has served “meat in due season” to the household of faith; and in the strength of this rich spiritual nourishment, let us steadfastly hold to the truths of which we have been assured. Holding fast to these doctrines, let us go forward zealously in the work of the Lord, abounding therein with thanksgiving and praise.
It is a wonderful time in which to be living! At every turn of the road, and as each new vista of world drama appears before us, we discover fresh and unquestionable evidence that our Lord is present. Because the Lord has honored us with the truth, we are not in darkness. To us the Master has not come as a thief, but as earth’s new King, and we see the evidence of his presence in “the crumbling thrones of earth,” as well as in all the other events which are baffling a distressed world.
Knowing the true significance of the times in which we live and the great privileges which have come to us through this knowledge, nothing should be permitted to lure us away from our steadfastness nor hold us back from “abounding in the work of the Lord.” At the beginning of the age the Apostle Peter, writing about the melting elements of a world order following Christ’s return, said, “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?” (II Pet. 3:11) This admonition is even more timely today, for now we can say, “Seeing that all these things ARE being dissolved, what manner of persons ought we to be?”
We should be on the alert, hence quick to detect the encroachment of every worldly viewpoint and philosophy which would rob us of our steadfastness in the truth. One of the evidences of the time in which we live is the increasing love for ease and pleasure; but we are to be lovers of God, not of pleasure. There is a widespread and increasing lack of stability and responsibility, but we should endeavor to become more and more unmovable.
The pledged word has lost much of its former meaning; but we should, more faithfully than ever, “pay our vows unto the Most High.” Hypocrisy is everywhere rife; but we should seek to be simple and sincere toward all and, especially, sincere before God. And to be sincere it is essential to believe and to act upon that which we profess to believe.
And think what drastic action is called for on the part of those who truly believe that we are at the end of the age and who are convinced that Satan’s world is crumbling! Surely to such there can be nothing else of consequence except “holy conversation and godliness.” If we think of “conversation” from the standpoint of what we talk about, it means that we will endeavor to speak only those things which will be unctuous and blessed to all. If we think of “holy conversation” as including our conduct in life—which it properly does—then we should realize the importance of having our every thought, word, and act such as will be in keeping with our belief.
Yes, the great consummation of past ages is upon us! Let us, then, not sleep as do others, but let us watch and pray, and be sober. Let us put on the breastplate of truth and righteousness. Let us, in fact, put on “the whole armor of God.” And with the armor of truth to help us be steadfast and unmovable, let us abound in the Lord’s work, knowing that our labor will not be in vain.