In 1992, Mark Burnett promoted an endurance race that he called the “eco-challenge,” the first of which would take place through 300 miles of the state of Utah. It involved wilderness trekking, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, sea kayaking,scuba diving, camel-back riding, and mountain biking, 24 hours a day, you are racing. The race became an instant reality TV sensation, because it dramaticized the durability of people put under extreme stress. Some people get horribly injured. Dehydrated. Quite a few just pass out from overexertion and lack of sleep. Even still, some people would keep going, but most of them didn’t finish. And the biggest reason people quit was because they just didn’t want to put up with it anymore, deciding the burden isn’t worth the reward (some cheap medal and some kind of tshirt). Well, why in the world would I keep going if at the end of this thing, all I’m going to get is a plastic medal and a cheap tshirt? The goal, the prize, at the end of this thing is not worth the pain.
If you’re like me, you would like to give up in all kinds of things sometimes.
Parenting: there are some days when I just want to throw some food in their room, shut the door, and hope they can figure it out on their own. I want to give up!
Even persisting in Work for the Lord, I want to give up. I’ve tried. I’ve called. I’ve written. I’ve knocked on the doors. I’ve shared. What else am I supposed to do? Its easier to just back off and think “It doesn’t make any difference anyway.” Spiritual growth: I’ve tried to change. I’ve tried to be different. But my sin just keeps whipping me. What’s the point? Is continuing in the work really worth it? That’s exactly the question Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 15.
The Call to Endurance: What do we do?
Be Steadfast. “Firmly settled.” Like a foundation. Used in Colossians 1 to describe how the church ought to believe the gospel. Fundamental. Don’t you quit. You be a bulwark. Don’t let the circumstances break you.
Immovable. The word in the original language might be put: “stubborn as a sleeping mule on Sunday.” Just can’t be budged with a whip or a carrot. Steadfast and immovable. Paul stoned (Acts 14). Got up and went right back into the city. Like granite. Take my health, take my family, take my wealth, and that’s alright. I know whom I have believed, and I shall not be moved.
Abounding in the work of the Lord. “to be or exist in abundance, with the implication of being considerably more than what would be expected.” Excessive overflow. Mark 4, Parable of the sower, some 100 fold. That’s astonishing. We aren’t just called to “get by.” We are urged to be flourishing in fruitfulness.
William Wilberforce. English parliament. Decided that he would devote his political career to abolish the slave trade in the 19th century. It was a difficult, dangerous pursuit. He was humiliated, threatened, and it cost him his career. But he was immovable, steadfast, and wanted to abound in the Lord’s work. He said, “My work [will be] must be affected by constant and regular exertions rather than by sudden, sporadic, and violent ones.” Marathon enduring, immovable, stubborn, steadfast zeal. W. adversaries commented that he seemed to learn the secret of being strengthened, even amazingly, by opposition. One of his opponents said, “He is blessed with a very sufficient quantity of that Enthusiastic spirit, which is so far from yielding that it grows more vigorous from blows.” Opposition doesn’t make me quit; it emboldens me to work harder. That’s what we need, Christians. Isn’t that what you want to be? Church that cannot be moved or slowed in its progress for the kingdom.
Why Should We do It? 15:58? “For we know our labor in the Lord is not in vain.” OK, but how do we know it? 4 reasons we know that our labor is not in vain from chapter 15. We know that…
- Christ was raised. (15.17-20). Fundaments. If Jesus’s body
disintegrated in Israel, then all your prayers, all your teaching, all your giving, all your evangelizing, all your churching is vain. You’re laboring in vain, we might as well sit at home and watch Nascar. 15:32. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” But if Christ cast off death, then you are doing work for your living King. He sees you working.
- We know that We will be raised (15.47-49). It’s not just that He’s
watching you work. It’s knowing that He won’t leave us behind. The knowledge that that my Lord won’t abandon me when I die keeps me in the fray. What kind of a God would that be? While he sits on his throne, we rot in a grave? If we will, then I’m not working for him. But if I know he’s coming to collect me, then I can work in the Master’s field a little longer. My garden has helped me learn this truth. I really don’t like hoeing, or fire ants, spending extra money. But there’s not much better than a garden fresh tomato. Can I get a witness? I’ll work, because that little yellow flower on that tomato plant prophecies to me, a red Heirloom is on its way. The best part, farmer Christian, is yet to come. So you keep plowing, because you will be raised.
- We know that our labor isn’t in vain, because He reigns.
(15.24-27) It’s not just that he’s alive, and it’s not just that we will be
alive. We know our work isn’t in vain because He will reign. This is not an important point if Jesus is an angel. An angel is a messenger; a servant. Powerful, but angels can fall to sin. I don’t need somebody who can’t rule over sin. Sin’s what got the world in this mess in the first place. Why would I work for somebody if the future they promise could be just like the present? I won’t. I’ve had enough of the present. I need somebody who can rule.
Ants. We got an ant farm for the girls to look at. These little critters don’t stop. Life-span? 2-3 weeks. And little people shaking em and dropping em. All that, and they don’t stop. Somebody blows up their ant hill. They make another one. Poison em. Keep going. Living illustration of what we’re supposed to be doing, even though they lack our advantage. We have a King who saying to us: “One day, all the enemies that harmed you, threatened you, discouraged you, kicked down the Kingdom ant hill that you were building for me in Jackson, Nicaragua, OCC, VBS, Gritney, Worship Services, I’m going to do away with them. And then, for every grain of Kingdom dirt you burrowed, and little scrap of sugar you brought back to the Kingdom mound, I’m going to give you an eternal Kingdom reward.” Every word of kindness, every note, every cent, every tear, every second in prayer, every lunch meeting…will be remembered on the day He reigns. Our labor isn’t in vain because we have a King who reigns perfectly.
- What we will receive is better than what we leave (15:40, 50-53).
We live in a body that is weak. What we will receive is a body that is changed (15:51). I’ve no interest a resuscitation. Lazarus was resuscitated. And he died again. I have no interest in that. If that’s what I’m working for, then I’m honestly, not going to work. But the body we will receive is meant to go on into ad infinitum. Not like this one, built in a world of sin. I will be remade 2.0 in a world in which my Jesus fully and finally reigns.
If Jesus is standing at the right hand of the father with a cheap tshirt and a plastic medal, I might be thankful to be there, but the motive to labor in this life through disappointment, hard-heartedness, loss, sickness, rejection, and persecution is going to be a lot less powerful.
But if he welcomes me alive and well, never to die again, reigning forevermore over every enemy of my soul, I believe I can carry one a bit more. And like Wilberforce, like Paul, like Jesus, bear up under a cross of shame and adversity and frustration, to work until Jesus comes.