Friday, July 10, 2015

1 Corinthians 15:58 - the Implications of the Resurrection

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.

On the afternoon of August 2, 1997, James Acliff, a 39 year-old unemployed construction worker, woke up in a precarious position. He was lying face down between the rails of a railroad track.

Acliff told police he “SLIPPED” on a rock while walking his dog and was KNOCKED out.

When he finally came too, he soon realized he was NOT ALONE – for passing over him was a 109-car freight train.

“I got one terrible headache, let me tell ya,” he later said from his Florida hospital bed. “About every 3 or 4 seconds an axle would come along and crack me upside the head. It’s a good thing I wasn’t on my back or that train would have ripped my face off!”

The Moral of the Story?  There are CERTAIN places where a body can’t afford to fall asleep! Amen???

THIS is one of those places! The Church is one of those places.

Years ago, someone called the church – “a sleeping giant.” But it is my observation that we aren’t just drowsy – we are comatose! The church is incredibly complacent. Comfort and entertainment have become our chief concerns. We have no appetite for the things of God – no burning passion to do His Will – no willingness to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others! Satisfied with the “appearance of godliness” – callously standing by - as the world burns.

A. W. Tozer once said, “One of the greatest foes of the Church – is religious complacency. We have fallen to our present state of carnality from a lack of spiritual desire. Among the many who PROFESS faith in the Lord, scarcely one in a thousand possesses any real passion for God!”

You may find this ‘unfair.’ You might think I’m ‘too cynical’ for your taste. But show me where I am wrong. SHOW ME! Faith has been supplanted by the amount of money we have in the bank. Vision for the work of God is forfeited out of fear of personal sacrifice. Holy boldness has fallen victim to political correctness and the fear of being labeled ‘intolerant.’

We - ARE - asleep!

We have mistakenly assumed that our lack of numeric growth has been caused by being too conservative. We FEAR that taking a stand on holiness and truth will cost us our INFLUENCE. So, “the way back into the good graces of the world is to water-down doctrine – and present a vanilla Christianity that is less offensive and more entertaining and inclusive.”

But through our efforts to be less offensive to man, are WE becoming offensive to God? Modern Christianity stands on the precipice of irrelevance because we have moved away from the only message that can save a lost and dying world.

What will it take to jar us out of this slumber – this complacency? What will it take to reach our world for Christ? Paul’s answer??? The RESURRECTION. Everything we believe - everything we could ever HOPE to accomplish - is through that power that raised Christ from the dead.

Though the Corinthians were self-centered and worldly… the CURE for what ailed them was found in the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Though afraid of being labeled ‘radical,’ they forgot the resurrection IS radical. So in verse 58, Paul says, “Therefore (or, in light of this great doctrine of the resurrection) be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

In that brief statement, Paul shows us how the resurrection should shape our lives:

1. First, we see the Results of Resurrection Living in the first part of the verse when he says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord…”

IF we are convinced that the resurrection of Jesus is true… THEN it WILL produce three results in our lives according to Paul:

First, faith in the resurrection gives us a Settled Mind – that is what is implied by the word “steadfast.” It is the Greek word “He-drai-os” which literally means “being seated, settled, or firmly situated.” The fact that Jesus has defeated death ought to SETTLE some things for us. We don’t have to look for ways to “improve” the gospel or make Christianity more attractive. The Gospel wouldn't be the gospel without the resurrection. Jesus IS who He said He was… He MEANT what He said… His truth is for all people in every place – there ARE NO alternative routes to heaven.

It’s time we settle these things once and for all. Amen?

Have you made up YOUR mind yet? Over the years, lack of certainty about Christ and His Word has paralyzed the Church. Too often, Christians shrink away from the core truths of the Word of God when challenged by the world. It’s time we settle the issue once and for all. IF Jesus rose from the dead --- His Word is TRUE - - - GET OFF THE FENCE! You are never going to grow, until you settle the issue once and for all in your mind – Christ is Risen! Settle it!!!

Second, the resurrection not only settles the mind, it Strengthens the Will… Paul uses the word “immovable.” The next logical step after settling your mind – is to become absolutely immovable in your faith. Once you’ve settled in your heart that Jesus is who He claimed to be, you must refuse to negotiate away or dumb down that conviction. Who CARES about this world’s clever attempts to marginalize the church or to make us look stupid? BE immovable!

A skeptic and a preacher were involved in a hot debate about the Bible. In the course of their discussion, the skeptic told the preacher “You don’t really believe in the bible, because IF you DID, you wouldn’t be able to sleep at night until everyone you knew believed in Jesus!”

It seems pretty clear when you look at it like THAT, doesn’t it??? We claim to believe in heaven and hell. We say “Jesus is the ONLY answer for sin and the only WAY to be right with God.” We say all the right WORDS we we are together - we talk a pretty good talk. But why is it that we all have so many friends and family who are lost and we don’t say one thing to them about it?

We try our best to get the heat off – by deflecting… by excusing ourselves… by hoping someone else will do the job God put US here to do. But Paul says, “BE IMMOVABLE!!!” Don’t allow the fear of rejection or ridicule prevent you from doing what you are called to do – IF Jesus is alive, that reality should strengthen your will.

Third, this belief will cause us to STRIVE in the Work. Paul says “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” The word “abounding” carries the idea of “exceeding the requirements…” “of going above and beyond the minimum.” Think about it like this: SINCE God has been soooo good to us, has saved us, blessed us, and forgiven us, He deserves a people who do MORE than the minimum.

How dare we go about serving Him without excellence? How dare we complain and put forth such little effort!?! We think we should be commended because we go to church once a month! We have convinced ourselves that good intentions ought to count as much as actions - that our PAST faithfulness should offset today’s UNfaithfulness. Paul says “exceed the requirements!” “Do more than the minimum!” “Be faithful and look for ways to serve the Lord better today than you did yesterday!” ABOUNDING in the work of the Lord!

If the resurrection means anything to us, it will settle our mind, strengthen our will, and cause us to STRIVE in the work.

Does THIS describe you??? OR are you hoping to get to heaven by the ‘skin of your teeth???’

2. But after showing us the Results of Resurrection Living, Paul then describes the Rewards of Resurrection Living in that last phrase of verse 58, “knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

Until Jesus comes back, there is work to do - souls to reach - ministries to perform. Our money, time, energy, our bodies, our minds, everything that we ARE should be invested in those things that further the work of the Lord.

And all that we do will be rewarded.

In that portion of Revelation where Jesus sends personal messages to the 7 churches of Asia Minor, one of the things He said to each one was, “I know your works.” He didn’t say, “I know your intentions.” No. He said “I know your works.” And THEN He added in Revelation 22, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my (reward) with me.”

What motivates us to work for Jesus? Paul shows us that giving yourself to God’s work MATTERS. And HE won’t forget it.

So, the natural question is, “What ARE the rewards we receive for serving Him?”

The first reward I receive is meaning, purpose, and joy – I am blessed to be a part of something larger than myself – I feel a sense of purpose and belonging in the family of God when I serve. So many people today attend church for “what they can get out of it,” not realizing that true blessing is found as you give of yourself.

THEN, there is the difference my service makes in the lives of others. What you do - MATTERS. Every time someone is saved, every time a troubled marriage is mended, every time someone makes a fresh commitment to serve the Lord, we begin to see that our labor means something.

The hours of study are worth it as I see people grow in their relationship with God.

The time spent visiting, counseling, the effort in working and planning and building relationships, MEANS something when I see the difference it makes in other people’s lives. Serving the Lord MATTERS!

And third, I will receive ETERNAL reward! Most of the things I enjoy in life are temporary. But what I do for Jesus will last forever.

I don’t know what those first days in heaven will be like. But I have a pretty good idea that it will be better than anything we’ve ever known in THIS life. There will be NO needs or wants - sickness or pain in heaven. It will be wonderful. But what surpasses even THOSE great things is when someone walks up to you and says “I just want you to know, I’m here because you taught me about Jesus!”

And BEYOND THAT - to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” THAT is reward enough for me.

What about you? When you stand before the Lord and give an account of your life to Him, will He find anything to reward? Listen, you don’t have to stand before Him empty handed. There is reward in serving Him!

3. And then finally, after speaking of the Results and the Rewards of resurrection living, Paul then shares the Realities of Resurrection living down in chapter 16 and verse 9 - "For a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.”

I love the writings of Paul. He doesn’t sugar-coat things to make it sound better than it is. He paints a realistic picture. And HERE he says that as we go about serving the Lord, we there are two realities we can expect:

First – there will be great opportunities for us. He describes his own opportunities as an “OPEN DOOR.”

We will be blessed with great opportunities as we serve Jesus... things will be accomplished that we never could have anticipated, God will open great doors of opportunity for us IF we are faithful. If it wasn’t for the Lord, we would not be able to do the things we are doing. If it wasn’t for the power of Christ, no one would be saved, no one would be strengthened, and all that we do would be a waste of time.

BUT there are great opportunities for those who are faithful! And that’s what keeps me going. We might go through a prolonged period where nothing seems to be happening. But I keep hitting that rock because one day I know I will have a break-through.

BUT there aren’t just opportunities - there are also Obstacles. There will be Obstacles from Without – worldly people will oppose us, disagree with us, will try to hinder what we are doing for the Lord. Listen, any time you serve the Lord you will have opposition, for Satan himself will use people to hinder what God wants to do. EXPECT trouble from without as we do ministry for the Lord.

But don’t be surprised by those Obstacles from WITHIN too. We expect difficulty from OUTSIDE the church…but the troubling reality is that there will often be opposition from those we worship with.

It’s a guarantee – opposition will come, and if it doesn’t, then we aren’t doing it right. As the late G. Campbell Morgan once said, “If you have no opposition in the place you serve – you are serving in the wrong place.”

Instead of letting that sidetrack you, see your obstacles as part of being in a position of opportunity. Ask yourself, “Am I going to focus on what I CAN do with the help of Jesus, or what I think I can’t do?” The resurrection reminds me that there is “nothing too hard for God!”

Today I ask you a personal question: Have YOU grown complacent??? Have you settled for less than God’s best?

Are you satisfied with former accomplishments, spending all your time looking back at what USED to be instead of what you are doing NOW?

What will it take to wake us up??? THE RESURRECTION! The same power that raised Jesus from the dead, is also available and at work in you.

Maybe you are one of those who has grown tired of living with less than God’s best. You long for God to do something great in your life and in our church. If that’s you, why not come to the Lord and pray about it this morning?

Maybe you have been discouraged, and you feel God is speaking to you about recommitting yourself to His work. Will you do that right now???