Work can often be frustrating, whether it is the work of raising children, providing for our families, or serving the church. Thorns and thistles entangle everything we do. In the midst of this frustration, Paul encourages us in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Your labor is not in vain.” This is a potent and refreshing reminder that no matter how difficult or seemingly meaningless our work appears, it is meaningful to God because it brings Him glory, and for that reason, it is not in vain.
This statement comes at the end of the “resurrection chapter,” Paul’s most elegant and extensive commentary on the vital importance of the resurrection. Without the resurrection, there is no gospel, no hope, no meaning in life. All would be vanity, and the pagan poets proven true: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (v. 32). Without the resurrection, Christians are the most pitiable fools in the world (v. 19), but because of the resurrection, neither our faith nor our work is in vain. Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our own resurrection. Yet it is more than that. It is also that which gives meaning to our lives in this world.
If we think backwards biblically, this makes sense. God created Adam to enjoy fellowship with God in the context of Adam’s work and rest. Everything, including work, was good before the fall, before sin scarred it all. That is why there are no perfect jobs or perfect families this side of heaven. They all bear the mark of Adam’s fall and need to be redeemed by the grace of God. Ecclesiastes captures this very well. We might climb the highest ladders, surround ourselves with the trophies of success, and yet we will still feel the thorns of the curse upon the rose of our achievements. And in the end, our achievements blow away like dust in the wind.
That picture would remain bleak and depressing were it not for the grace of God that not only triumphs over the curse but reverses it, in order that we might find a blessed joy and satisfaction in our work—whether it appears to be immediately fruitful or not.
This is accomplished in the resurrection. The resurrection is Christ’s vindication of not only His person but also His work. It sheds new light on all that Christ did, and new light on all that we do as well.
In 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul is not just speaking to pastors or missionaries. It is to the whole church that he says that our work is “in the Lord” and thus not in vain. Perhaps if we would view our work by faith and not by sight, not as the world sees but as God sees, we would find joy in it, because we know we were created and redeemed to glorify and enjoy God in our work. When we look at our work through the lens of faith, we find joy and meaning as we realize that, through our union with the resurrected Christ, our labor is not in vain.