|Christian Life and Doctrine||April 1985|
Always Abounding in the Work of the LORD
“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
WITH these words of encouragement, the Apostle Paul concludes his treatise on the resurrection of the dead, recorded in his first epistle to the church at Corinth. At first thought, this admonition might appear somewhat unrelated and superfluous to his subject, especially in the light of the preceding verses, which form such a fitting climax to this chapter: “O death where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (vss. 55,57) These glorious words seem to present a climactic, final thought, needing nothing more to be added. But not so in the apostle’s thinking! It is obvious that he considered an understanding of the great truth of the resurrection as it pertained to Christ and also the Christian’s invitation to share in Jesus’ resurrection, and, finally, the world’s resurrection hope, as fundamental to serving God in any meaningful way. It forms a solid foundation for assurance that God’s plans are not fantasy, but real, and that those who work for the Lord in his program of salvation, do not work in vain. Paul had earlier said, “If there be no resurrection of the dead … then is our preaching vain and your faith is also vain.” (vs. 14) But he hastened to add, “Now is Christ risen from the dead” (vs. 20); and based on the valid evidences and proofs of this vital fact, those who serve God have cause to be steadfast and unmovable in their faith, and abounding in his work.
Belief in the doctrine of the resurrection was just as lacking in the apostle’s day as it is in our day. Even many Israelites, to whom the Word of God had been entrusted, and who had been taught by those oracles concerning the promise of a resurrection, had little faith in life after death. Heated controversies continually flared between the sect known as the Pharisees, who believed in the doctrine of the resurrection, and the Sadducees, who did not. On one occasion while in Jerusalem, the Apostle Paul was brought before the high priest and the Sanhedrin for a hearing. During his interrogation he purposely alluded to the matter of the resurrection. The fanatical differences of viewpoint on this subject immediately caused dissension and strife between the Sadducees and Pharisees, who were co-accusers of the apostle. (Acts 23:6-10) The argument became so animated that “the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.” (vs. 10) The depth of the Sadducees’ fury illustrates the violently negative reaction they, as well as the large segment of Israel they influenced, had to this doctrine, and gives evidence that it was indeed a difficult concept to accept even by those who should have been aware of the Scriptural authority for its verity.
And to the Gentiles of Paul’s time, this was an entirely new precept, quite contradictory to the popular philosophies which they held of the immortality of the soul, or of reincarnation. Years earlier, when Paul had been in Athens, he had been asked by the Greeks to defend his preaching concerning Jesus, and his resurrection through the power of God. On that occasion Paul very wisely explained to them that his was a God whom they themselves had worshiped in ignorance by erecting an altar with the inscription, “To the Unknown God.” His address took place on Mars’ Hill, before the Athenian supreme court and a large number of attending Greek philosophers. They listened quietly and attentively to his words until Paul mentioned the resurrection. This they would not tolerate, and the hearing terminated abruptly. Some mocked him, and others said, “We will hear thee again of this matter.” (Acts 17:18-32) This experience points up the fact that Gentiles were not any more prepared to accept the idea of the resurrection than were many of the Jews, and, in fact, were quite intolerant of its promulgation.
Because the city of Corinth was only a distance of about forty-five miles from Athens, the Lord’s people there also came under the influence of the Athenian philosophers who scoffed at a belief in the resurrection. So it is not surprising that the apostle expounded on this subject in his first letter to the Corinthians in order to firmly establish the doctrine.—I Cor., Chapter 15
However, some in the church at Corinth were also confused on other matters, which additionally affected their constancy and fervency in abounding in the work of the Lord. One misunderstanding concerned the reign of Christ. Evidently, it was believed and taught by some that Christ’s reign had begun, and that the church was reigning with him. This erroneous viewpoint meant that the sufferings of the Christ were over, the need for his followers to sacrifice had come to an end, and their preaching the Word to seek out the called ones of God was no longer necessary. They concluded that the time to rest, relax, and just enjoy the peace and contentment of God’s favor had begun.—I Cor. 4:8
Paul pointed out the inconsistency of their claim that they were full, and rich, and reigned as kings. He reminded them that he and the other chosen apostles were still suffering disgrace, hunger, thirst, want, and were enduring pain and suffering for their faithfulness in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. Indeed, if Christ were reigning, his church would be complete. The work of witnessing unto Jesus to the uttermost parts of the earth under difficult and hazardous conditions would be ended, and the church would have received her reward. Certainly the apostles of God would not be receiving persecution, some to the point of death.—Rev. 2:10,26; Acts 1:8
Obviously, the time had not yet arrived for the Gospel work to cease. The followers of Jesus must, then and even today, continue abounding in the work of the Lord—there was and is still much needed to be done in the task of searching for those willing to follow in Jesus’ footsteps—much still to suffer, much still to endure. And the receiving of the marvelous reward still depended upon their continued faithful labor for him, until the Master says, “Well done!”—Matt. 25:21
In I Corinthians 9:16, Paul speaks of the essential need for him to preach the Gospel as a laborer for God, saying, “Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel!” Another translation reads: “It would be misery for me not to preach!” (vs. 16, NEB) His appreciation for the benefits he had received from God and from his Lord Jesus—a knowledge of God’s wonderful character and plan, including the future resurrection and blessing of all—inspired him to work most diligently in the ministry, sharing this knowledge with those who had ears to hear it.
Paul was physically capable of hard work. So, as he went from place to place he provided for all of his missionary expenses with his own two hands. In his letter to the Corinthians he draws their attention to the fact that God had made provisions for his servants to be taken care of by those they served. “But,” writes the apostle, “I have used none of these: neither have I written these things, that it should so be done to me.” Again, to the Thessalonian brethren, he said: “Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you.” (I Thess. 3:8) Paul hoped that his good example of industriously taking care of his material requirements above and beyond his activities In witnessing concerning Christ’s kingdom, would cause the brethren to imitate him, and that with quietness they too would work, and eat their own bread. “But ye, brethren,” he continues, “be not weary in well doing,” always abounding in the work of the Lord!
Likewise, in order to demonstrate our appreciation for God’s love, mercy, kindness, and goodness in providing a means of reconciliation for us, and continually showering upon us his grace, strength, and favor, despite the need for a vocation to take care of our material needs, we will daily search out means of performing acceptable service for our God. Like the apostle, our hearts will be eager for our hands to be occupied in the Lord’s work, never lacking for opportunities to serve him and his people.
What is the work of the Lord about which we are admonished to be busy and abounding? It is the same work which occupied Jesus’ entire life as a man, engulfing his time and energy and resources. His activities could be outlined by these four important elements:
- Sacrificially laying down his life
- Preaching the Gospel
- Doing good to all men
- Learning obedience to God’s will
Although these component ingredients of service intertwine and complement one another, a division into the segments listed is helpful to the understanding of the nature of his work while on earth, and hence of our work as his followers. Apparently many of these thoughts were in the mind of the Apostle Paul as he wrote to the church at Corinth, as we will note.
The Scriptures tell us plainly, “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28) Again, John says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13,14) We discover that the Apostle Paul had this in mind when he wrote to the Corinthian brethren, and confirms it with these words: “I delivered unto you first of all that [message] which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” (I Cor. 15:3) Jesus, indeed, did demonstrate his great love by becoming a willing sin-offering for the whole world of mankind. Therefore, Paul tells us, our first task as his footstep followers should be to imitate our Master, presenting our bodies “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is … [our] reasonable service.”—Rom. 12:1
“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he [Jesus] laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (I John 3:16) What a truly wonderful example we have in our Lord Jesus, whose willing submission to God’s ways is evidenced in the words of the psalmist concerning him: “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God!” (Ps. 40:8) “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work,” were his words as recorded in John 4:34.
It is evident as we examine the life of Jesus that he was indeed the “faithful witness” (Rev. 3:14,15; 1:5) that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17) As our Lord began his ministry, he went to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth on the Sabbath day and read to the congregation from Isaiah 61:1,2, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because he hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord!”
When he had finished reading this quotation from Isaiah, Jesus laid down the book and said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” And his was a work performed unceasingly for three and one-half years, from one corner of Israel to the other, in small towns and large cities, in the synagogues and the Temple, by the river and the sea, or in the mountains.
As we have noticed before, Paul alludes to his share in the work of witnessing in I Corinthians 15:1, saying, “Brethren, I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand.” The Corinthian church was only one of many that were blessed by the Apostle Paul’s abundant labors in preaching the Gospel, building up their faith and courage in the Lord. He too, like his Master, traveled far and wide, encountering many adversities (II Cor. 11:24-28) to reach all whom God was drawing to be members of the church class, the little flock, the bride of Christ.
With his faithful example before us, we are delighted to listen to his words, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” (I Cor. 11:11) And so we are, likewise, privileged to preach the glad and comforting message of the kingdom to all we come in contact with, wherever we go.
A great variety of methods of preaching the glad tidings never before available are open to us today. The task of reaching all men with the true Gospel is enormous, since there are billions more people upon the earth today than in the days of our Lord and the apostles. The witness effort is surely Herculean in scope, for “the field is the world!” (Matt. 13:38) But the Lord has made it possible for us to be witnesses of Jesus “unto the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8) by providing us with today’s modern technological means, such as radio and television, in order that the Gospel can reach those whom he is seeking. These communication mediums supplement our efforts through personal contact, which was the only means available to our Lord and his apostles. Additionally, we can hold public lectures or have film showings, advertise in newspapers or magazines, distribute tracts, colporteur from door-to-door, or make use of fair booths.
Amazingly, such witness methods have been fruitful and the Lord’s people have been found in all of these ways, by the “foolishness of preaching!” (I Cor. 1:21) And although they are few in number, none would have been found if the Lord’s people today did not use the accessible media. Nor should we become discouraged if there seems to be little or no response to our untiring and constant efforts. Sometimes we may think that the Gospel message is so marvelous it is difficult to understand why all who hear it are not overjoyed to accept it! But Jesus plainly told us not to expect this, saying, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44), and also, “Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” (Luke 10:21) Our Lord told us that “blessed are your eyes for they see: and your ears, for they hear!” So let us not allow the small degree of response interfere with our zeal for witnessing; but rather let us continue to abound in the work of the Lord, recognizing the fact that the more rare the Lord’s jewels, the more precious they are in his sight!—Mal. 3:17
Doing Good to All Men
A beautiful testimony was given concerning Jesus by the Apostle Peter, in Acts 10:38: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.”
The four Gospels are filled with the record of hundreds, even thousands, of specific acts of kindness, as Jesus fed, healed and comforted the sick, the poor, the afflicted of Israel. He gave of himself freely in performing this labor of love, showing how much he cared for the humble throngs of suffering humanity.
Once again we take note of how the Apostle Paul followed in the footsteps of his Lord and Master. In the very next verse following his exhortation to abound in the work of the Lord, Saint Paul records the work he encouraged the churches of Galatia to engage in—caring for the needy in Jerusalem by collecting food, clothing, and money to aid their beloved brethren there. (I Cor. 16:1) On this occasion, Paul and Barnabas were used as envoys to deliver the donations to the brethren in Jerusalem who were in dire need because of a famine in the land.—Acts 11:29; Gal. 2:10
His advice is applicable, not only to the Galatians of his day, but also to us at this end of the age: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:10) The Apostle James is even more direct in his counsel concerning our care for the impoverished members of our spiritual family: “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?”—Jas. 2:15,16
With such explicit reminders of our duty, and wonderful examples of our Lord and his apostles to inspire us, we too will wish to expend a superabundance of energy, zeal, and effort in this service on behalf of the Lord’s poor at every opportunity. In fact, we are to go out of our way to look for openings to do good unto all men, and especially the household of faith. By emulating our Master, we will be always abounding in the work of the Lord in this way also, “for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”—Eph. 2:10
Last, but not least, of the ways in which we are privileged to labor for the Lord is by learning obedience to his principles, submission to his will in our lives, and even to suffer in carrying out his will. This is a very personal matter, and takes a lifetime of constant effort to accomplish. Jesus, our great exemplar, was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners, a perfect human being. He did not have the handicaps of fleshly weaknesses we have, but could demonstrate complete obedience to his Heavenly Father. Yet the Scriptures teach us that “though he were a [perfect] Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” (Heb. 5:8) As a consequence of his earthly experiences, he is compassionate and stands ready to help us as we struggle to learn to trust and obey him. “Being made perfect [in obedience] he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”—Heb. 5:9
Jesus suffered weariness, humiliation, and finally death, for righteousness’ sake, leaving us a model of absolute submission to Jehovah’s wisdom and purpose. The Apostle Peter alludes to this, saying, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.”—I Pet. 2:21-23
Through the words of Jesus himself, we are encouraged to willingly suffer for righteousness’ sake and thereby learn obedience: “Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.”—Luke 6:22,23
Our suffering may take a more sophisticated form in these modern days, when laws in the majority of countries protect us from physical suffering and death. But the subtle forms of persecution mentioned by our Lord, such as separation from their company, and lack of respect for our beliefs, etc., certainly still exist. Here is another avenue of service open to the serious Christian, in which we can always abound in the work of the Lord! And the Apostle Peter assures us, “If ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye!”—I Pet. 3:13
And so we will certainly accomplish this task of always abounding in the variety of work the Lord has given us to do in his strength, if we are properly stimulated as Jesus was by his love for God, for his church, and for all mankind. The need for love as our impetus, whether it be in laying down our lives, in preaching the glad tidings, in doing good to all men, or in learning submission to God’s will, is stressed by the Apostle Paul in these moving words: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity [love, while witnessing to the Gospel message], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor [doing good], and though I give my body to be burned [sacrificing the flesh and its interests], and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.” (I Cor. 13:1,3) This powerful discourse on love emphasizes that all our labors will be pleasing and acceptable to Jehovah only when motivated by pure and unfeigned love.
In the final analysis, learning obedience to God’s will and ways is the most difficult of these tasks to which we have been committed. Great diligence and effort is required in this labor to be successfully “conformed to the image of his Son.” (Rom. 8:29) But the Apostle Peter assures us that “by the power of God” (I Pet. 1:5), “according to his divine power” (II Pet. 1:3), if the fruits, graces, and work of the Lord “be in you, and abound,” (vs. 8), “an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”—vs. 11
With such a hope before us, how can we refrain from giving all diligence to perform every phase of the Lord’s work to the fullest extent of our ability? We will say with Jesus, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” (John 9:4) Not until impeded by the attending ills of death, or restrained by its final onslaught, will we cease from our abounding labors here, and receive our promised reward from God. “We shall rest from our labors, but our works will follow us!” (Rev. 14:13) “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”—Rev. 20:6