By Dr. Vic Reasoner
Sermon Preached July 25, 2010
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:58
Recently Bev (my wife) and I walked into a restaurant and I saw a man I recognized. We were out of town and I did not actually know the man’s name, but I knew I should know him so I walked over to his table. He immediately told me he had left his church because he did not see any future there. I got a full analysis of everything which was wrong with the church, although I really just wanted breakfast.
This week a (Wesleyan) Bible college closed it doors. It was $2.7 million in debt and there was a downturn in donations. I remember hearing glowing reports about the school a few years back and making some effort to see if I could teach for them.
This week at conference we were told that enough Southern Methodists had died over the last year to have populated two averaged sized congregations. Recently I asked the General Superintendent of another denomination what he saw ahead. He said he feared his group would continue to flounder around for another ten or twenty years, with a few committed men and churches and a lot of hangers-on. Then when all the mid-life guys die off, the group would be abandoned or absorbed by another group.
The older we get the more we begin to ask what the future holds. Those in leadership must ask these hard questions and sometimes when we look at the spreadsheet it is easy to grow discouraged. And when we do not see any future, we cut back on our commitment and our giving. In our own lives we can become fearful and even despondent. But when we are faced with discouragement and even fear, we must reprogram our thinking. We need a truth encounter. We need to conform our thinking to the truth of God’s Word.
This verse gives us the promise of success, the basis of success, and the requirement for success.
1. The promise of success
Paul declared that our labor in the Lord is not in vain. Therefore, we are to be steadfast, unmovable, abounding in the Lord’s work. We are not to let anything stop us. According to Isaiah 55:11, “The word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” And that is the Word which we proclaim and teach.
If I could guarantee a return on your investment, would you invest? Long ago I learned to ask one question when presented with get-rich-quick schemes: If this investment scheme is as certain as it sounds, why is it being offered to me? Nothing is sure in the financial world, but this verse does give us a guarantee of success. Whatever we do for the Lord is not vain or empty.
But we get so discouraged. Someone has suggested that Satan could have a yard sale and get rid of all his tools except discouragement. That tool of discouragement is the tool that works best on Christians.
In the physical realm there is the law of the conservation of matter. Nothing material is ever lost. In the spiritual realm, no prayer is ever lost. They are bottled up in heaven and poured out on God’s timetable. In the financial realm there is the law of compound interest. If we keep sowing, we will also reap. Every cup of cold water given in Jesus name will be rewarded. We are doing more good than we realize.
In history there is the principle of influence. Even after we rest from our labors, our works continue to follow up. Throw a pebble into a pond. The pebble soon drops out of sight, but the ripples keep on widening out. Someday we, too, will drop out of sight, but our influence will continue to live on.
Therefore, we must talk to ourselves. We must reprogram our thinking. If you do not discipline your mind, you will soon gravitate into negative, pessimistic thinking. But Gal 6:9 tells us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Again, that verse is a guarantee of harvest.
Sometimes I feel discouraged,
and think my work’s in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.
2. The basis of success
This verse begins with a linking word. “Therefore” is a conclusion draw from what has been previously stated. Why is it that nothing I do for the Kingdom of Christ is ever wasted? Why is it that every spiritual investment we make pays eternal dividends?
This is the closing verse of a long chapter and the rest of the chapter says nothing about our labor for Christ. In fact this is a doctrinal chapter dealing with the resurrection of Christ. Do you believe that the third day Christ rose again from the dead?
Yes we believe that Christ was victorious, but we often struggle with feelings that we are defeated. Pastor, I don’t believe for one minute that Christ failed, but I feel like a failure.
But here Paul connects these two concepts: Christ’s victory and our victory. This is why doctrine is important. It is objective truth. Paul opens this chapter telling us that the resurrection of Christ is first in importance.
$ Paul appeals to over 500 witnesses to the resurrection, most of whom were still alive when he wrote about 25 years after the resurrection.
$ Paul testified that he personally had also seen the living Christ.
$ Paul said the resurrection of Christ proves the Scriptures are true because his death and resurrection was predicted by the Scriptures
$ Therefore the preaching of the Gospel is not empty or vain. We have no reason to be ashamed of the Gospel. We are not false witnesses.
$ Since Christ has been raised, our faith is not empty. We have a valid basis for hope.
$ Christ has not only risen from the dead, but he reigns and will continue to reign until every enemy is defeated.
$ Death is the last enemy to be defeated. If Christ rose from the grave, that same power that raised him will also raise us. Those who have died in faith will be raised to eternal life. On the last day a trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised, and we shall all be changed into bodies that can never die.
Therefore, we are victorious and we should proceed to build his church and advance his kingdom fully confident that we will not fail. But at this point there is often a disconnect between the doctrine of Christ’s victory and our victory.
Paul said, “Let nothing move you.” But we are moved by our weakness and our fears. We feel so defeated. And yet if Christ is victorious and I am “in Christ” then I share his victory. And nothing we do for Christ is empty or vain.
If death is our last and final enemy and it has already been defeated, then no lesser problem can defeat his Church. We are either controlled by fear or faith. For a fear to be legitimate it must be perceived as a present danger and a powerful danger. Many of our phobias can be traced to our fear of death. While the possibility of death is always present, the Gospel message is that the power of death has been broken. “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” Death has lost its sting and the grave has lost its victory (1 Cor 15:54-55). Therefore, we must reprogram our thinking and conform to God’s Word. We must live on the basis of what God’s Word teaches and not how we feel. Our success is guaranteed and that guarantee is based upon the historic victory of the cross which cannot be reversed.
3. The requirement for success
This third point may spoil the sermon, but I want to highlight one word — “labor” (kopos). It means hard work, which sometimes brings grief. When we try and do not see that we are succeeding, we back off. But Paul says, “Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord because we know we cannot fail.”
If we are not winning any battle, it may be that we are not attempting anything or doing anything. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. God spoke through the prophet Amos, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion.” Amos proceeded to describe people who were living in prosperity and luxury, but were idle. Today the church is a sleeping giant. We have been entrusted with the Gospel which is so powerful it can change the whole world, but we lack excitement and commitment.
In my introduction I quoted a church leader who expressed privately to me his fears. But he also expressed his hope. “I suppose you could say that what I see ahead is a contemporaneous version of the original Wesleyan-Methodist Revival movement which led to spiritual and cultural revival in Britain and the Great Awakening in the US – resulting in the transformation of our culture through the spread of the Gospel, the world as our parish, and the second coming of Christ as our impetus.”
At Annual Conference, Jim Jones and I began to discuss “hope.” I like to define it as “faith for the future.” Jim got up to give his report and told the conference that he had hope. His Wesley Institute, which is an extension of the college, already has 150 laymen enrolled. Jim then presented the denominational plan to double our denomination in the next decade – The DDD endeavor.
This week we will launch our new masters program and my class is growing almost every day. In my introduction when I told you about the college which was closing? Well, it had about seven times as many students as we have. Of course we do not have that kind of debt, but the real issue is how badly do you want to live? The requirement for success means hard work.
After Jim’s conference report, Dan Plunkett reported. One of our graduates at SMC feels directed to start a new SMC in the Jacksonville, FL area. He has contacts in the area and he is willing to take the risk. He even told Dan that he had $500 to start with.
Well, it is that same spirit of risk and confidence that inspired the early Methodist circuit riders. I guess that I am excited for Bryant because in 1977, when Bev and I graduated from college we had seven calls. We took the biggest challenge and started a new church in western Kansas. I never worked harder or saw fewer results. But Peter Marshall said, “I would rather fail at a cause that will ultimately succeed, than to succeed at a cause that will ultimately fail.”
Now thirty-three years later, I have had a few hard knocks but I don’t want to lose the excitement or the hope of ministry. Many men and women with more ability than I have, have been distracted on the journey. I am glad to be preaching.
This week I checked on three men who were all around eighty years old. All have had a special influence in my life. One man has poor health but still cannot turn down an invitation to preach. He went to Asbury College during their revival days and something still burns in his soul. The second man has had two stokes this year and is trying to learn to read all over again. But he never had one negative thing to report. He told me he felt better than ever. Then I called the third man. He enjoys the best health of the three, but he never had one positive thing to say. No matter what subject I brought up, he was negative and after I hung up I wished I had not even bothered to call.
This week I started reading the biography of John MacMillan. He stated, “Discouragement and depression are of the devil. Good cheer and victory are the right of those in Christ.” I marked those words and I believe them.
Let’s pray that God will restore our hope. The father of modern missions, William Cary, preached that we should expect great things from God and attempt great things for God. No matter how black things look to you, I dare you to trust God.
This sermon may be heard online at <leesvillesmc.org>