Don't Give Up!
A Brief Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:58

Audio (9:14)

"Like a tree, planted by the water, I shall not be moved." Stained glass window of the Garden of Eden, Congregation Beth Ahabah synagogue, Richmond, Virginia.

Last Sunday, our pastor asked the congregation to think of their favorite verse. Immediately, mine came to mind.

"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV)

It reminds me of the solidity of Christ and His work, and of my hope in Him. Each time I read it, a smile comes to my face.

Let's look at it word by word, phrase by phrase.

Therefore. Paul has been talking about the resurrection. He seeks to inspire his Corinthian readers by resurrection's guarantee of eternal life, of reward beyond this life. "Therefore" means: Because of the resurrection, these things are true.1

My beloved brothers. The Apostle Paul addresses us as his dear family. The plural of adelphos ("brother") here means not only "brothers" but "brothers and sisters." This is not just a nod to inclusive speech, but actual Greek usage.2 We Christians are part of a family that cares deeply for one another. The church is to be the visible expression of that caring love. And though we may sometimes feel alone, we belong to the great family of God -- God our Father, Christ our Brother, the saints who have gone before us, our church family, and you and I.

Be steadfast uses an adjective: "firmly or solidly in place, firm, steadfast." It derives from a verb that means "to sit" -- sitting rather than constantly shifting.3 Our confidence in Christ's resurrection gives us a firm hope that calms and settles us.

Immovable means "not to be moved from place to place,"4 metaphorically, "firmly persistent."5 Some believers are stubbornly stuck in the past and in their opinions. That's unfortunate. But it is good to be stubbornly, doggedly devoted to God so that circumstances and people don't distract you from Him. Call it persistent. Call it focused. Call it faithful. There is an African-American spiritual that says it for me, drawing on the imagery of Psalm 1:3 --

"I shall not be, I shall not be moved;
I shall not be, I shall not be moved.
Just like a tree, planted by the water,
Lord, I shall not be moved."

Always abounding. The word translated "abounding" means "exceeding a fixed number or measure," "over-and-above."6 Some people live by the philosophy, "Good enough for government work." They are loafers. They do only the minimum -- and only that if the boss or parent or pastor is looking. Others, out of love, go far beyond. Their lives pour out, refill, and overflow once more. Not just occasionally. Not just when called on, but "always."7

The work of the Lord. The Lord, of course, refers to Jesus Christ our Master. Paul exhorts each of his Corinthian readers to abound in doing the Lord's work. What is "the work8 of the Lord"? Here are just a few of the ways we do His work, ways we build His kingdom here on earth. You'll be able to think of many more.

  1. Teaching children about Jesus both at home and at church.
  2. Being patient and positive with your spouse, even if it isn't reciprocated.
  3. Serving as an usher or on the worship team.
  4. Encouraging neighbors and fellow workers who are depressed and going through a tough time.
  5. Making a meal for a family when there is sickness or tragedy.
  6. Showing love to a non-believer at work, in your neighborhood, or in a group you belong to.
  7. Witnessing to what Jesus has done in your life.
  8. Exercising your spiritual gifts. These could be teaching, encouraging, administration, preaching, serving, music, art, or whatever unique gift God has given you to build up His body and to make a tiny difference in His world.
  9. Living each day in love and obedience before God as a "living sacrifice."9

A church is designed to be a caring body. But when loafers don't pull their share of the load, the load falls on others to do -- or it just doesn't get done at all. Others may shirk, but you remain faithful.

My sister, my brother, this is a word for you: "Always abound in the work of the Lord." Always. Over-and-above.

Knowing that in the Lord your labor9 is not in vain.10 Some people hate washing dishes because more dirty dishes magically appear overnight. Sweeping and vacuuming are the same way. Things never stay clean. And in the people department, too, people seem to have continuing problems for us to minister to. There is no end. We can become discouraged.

But God keeps track of our faithfulness to His work. He sees us serving Him when no one else is looking. And when He sees us serving faithfully, it brings joy to His heart. Our Christian service is not in vain. Rather, it makes a difference -- even if you can't see it right now.

  1. In Kingdom-building. Christ's kingdom is built upon your service, stone upon stone, act of kindness upon act of service. One after another. Day by day.
  2. In Joy. Do you want to bring a smile to God's face? Be a servant.
  3. In Reward. This isn't about salvation. Nevertheless, God will reward you for your faithfulness. His ledger book gets fresh notations every time you serve Him. In a word, your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
C.T. Studd (1860-1931), missionary
C.T. Studd (1860-1931)

C.T. Studd (1860-1931) was a British missionary, one of the "Cambridge Seven" who went to evangelize China with Hudson Taylor. Later, he served in India and the Congo. But perhaps he is best known today for a poem with this memorable refrain:

"Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last."11

C.T. Studd deliberately invested his life in God's Kingdom.

Yes, sometimes I get discouraged and so do you. But God keeps bringing us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 to lift us up and help us to see the importance of keeping on. Don't give up on the church. Don't give up on Jesus. Don't give up, my friend!

"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (1 Corinthians 15:58)


References and Abbreviations

[1] "Therefore" is hōste, "for this reason, therefore, so" (BDAG 1107, 1b).

[2] "Brothers/brethren" is the plural of adelphos, where it applies to both genders -- "brothers and sisters" (BDAG 18, 1).

[3] "Stand firm" (NIV), "be steadfast" (ESV, NRSV, KJV), "keep firm" (NJB) uses verb "to be" with the adjective hedraios, "pertaining to being firmly or solidly in place, firm, steadfast" (BDAG 276). "Steady, steadfast" (Liddell Scott 478, II, 1); "firm, immovable, steadfast" (Thayer 168). Related to hedrazō, "cause to sit," and hedra, "sitting place, seat, chair."

[4] Ametakinētos, Liddell-Scott 81; "immovable" (BDAG 53) from a-, negative particle + metakineō, "shift, change."

[5] Ametakinētos, Thayer 32.

[6] "Give yourselves fully" (NIV), "excelling" (NRSV), "abounding" (KJV) is perisseuō, "to be in abundance, abound," here, "be outstanding, be prominent, excel" (BDAG 805, 1bβ).

[7] Pantote, "always, at all times" (BDAG 755).

[8] "Work" is ergon, "deed, action," then, "that which one does as regular activity, work, occupation, task" (BDAG 392, 2).

[9]Romans 12:1-2.

[10] "Labor" is kopos, "trouble, difficulty," here, "to engage in activity that is burdensome, work, labor, toil" (BDAG 559, 2).

[11] "In vain" is the adjective kenos, "empty," here, "pertaining to being without purpose or result, in vain" (BDAG 539, 3).

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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