Gospel News · Sep-Dec 2013
alludes here - with the implication that we have each been given a specific work to do. In another parable, we are each given coins with which we are to trade and make some profit for the Lord; and those who do nothing with them shall not be in God's Kingdom (Mt. 25:25). The man didn't spend the money on himself; he carefully preserved / hid the coin (the same word is used later in the New Testament for holding / preserving the one Faith) and returned it to his Lord. And for this he was rejected. We were "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). Our "walk", our way of life, our `occupation' (the original Greek is elsewhere translated like that) is to be doing the works which God set us up to do. So here is good news for the unemployed- and for those who feel they have no meaningful occupation.
"Not in vain"
Our focus upon Paul's teaching about grace and faith can lead us to overlook the fact he also wrote much about the significance of work. God is in need of man - in a sense. He need not be, but He chooses to work through humans as the mechanism through which He operates. On one pole we have Divine sovereignty, His sovereign ability to be and do as He wishes in this world; on the other, we have human responsibility, the fact that if we don't pray for some things then they will not happen, if we don't do some things then they will not be done. We can play a part in others' salvation - when the Lord saw the faith of the friends, He forgave the sick man. And we can cause others to stumble and shut up the Kingdom to others by our legalism. We balk at this- because we struggle to grasp our own significance in God's ultimate purpose. Surely He can get someone else to do it? Who am I? Can I as one in seven billion people have any hand in the destiny of others on this planet? And shaken by the possibilities, the potential prospect before us, we stick our heads down and get on with our secular education, work and living- kidding ourselves that that is serving God, and we can do nothing else. But such an attitude to secular
work is actually glorifying the curse given in Eden. It is all in vain, as Ecclesiastes laments, and ends in the dust of death. But the good news is in 1 Cor. 15:58: Our labour, our toil, our weariness (so the Greek also means) is not in vain in the Lord. Only in Him does life and its labour become meaningful. Here ends man's search for meaning, and all the depression and dysfunction that goes with sensing the insignificance of our lives and the inability to attach ultimate meaning to the stream of events that comprise human history. As believers, our decisions are meaningful and affect the course of history for others. God in that sense is open to many possible futures, even though they shall all come to term in the establishment of His Kingdom on earth. As members of His people, doing His will, the labour of our lives is not in vain, seeing it is done "in the Lord". Paul seems to be alluding to the spirit of Ecclesiastes, which laments that all achievement and labour "under the sun", not "in the Lord", is so tragically vain; there is no sense of final achievement, and this nagging fear about the ultimate validity of life's work must plague all who live outside the sphere of God (Ecc. 1:9-11; 2:18-23).
Paul speaks of being fellow-labourers with God and Jesus (Phil. 2:12), of labouring to bring forth fruit, of how he has worked more abundantly than any in response to his receipt of God's grace (1 Cor. 15:10). He felt his whole life was working to an end, and therefore he rarely expresses regret for anything after his baptism. That's a wonderful way to live life. Only true Christianity enables it. Life outside of Christ is `unfruitful' (Rom. 6:21; Eph. 5:11), and Paul's concern is with being fruitful for God. He shares his concern that he will not labour "in vain" (Gal. 2:2; 4:11; 1 Thess. 3:5), that those who leave the faith will have laboured "in vain" (1 Cor. 15:2; 2 Cor. 6:1; Gal. 3:4), asks for prayers for the success of his work (Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:3; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1), and sounds relieved to write that his visit to Thessalonica was "no failure" (1 Thess. 2:1 Moffatt). His aim was to be able to say at the day of judgment that he had not laboured in vain (Phil. 2:16). All these