September 5, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NRSV)
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Sometimes it can feel is our work really doesn’t matter. This can be true for people in all kinds of jobs. But the Bible offers a different perspective. It says that “in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” When you work because God made you to be a worker, when you work for God’s glory, when you offer your work to God as worship, then it can truly be “not in vain.”
Today is Labor Day in the United States. This national holiday, according to the United States Department of Labor, “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
Ironically, for most Americans, Labor Day is actually a break from labor. Often seen as the end of summer, Labor Day is a holiday in which millions of people flock to beaches, mountains, parks, and other places for rest and recreation. Labor Day, for many of us, is a pleasant “un-labor” day.
In this Life for Leaders devotion, I want to focus on labor, that is, on the work we do. As I was thinking about what to write for today, I want to share a verse from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. This verse means a lot to me personally, and also in my work at the De Pree Center. 1 Corinthians 15:58 reads, “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
That last line strikes my heart: “You know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Why does this line move me? Because I have known the fearful feeling that my labor has been in vain. I think of times when my work did not bring the results I had expected, or when those entrusted to my care did not respond to my leadership as I had hoped. I remember when efforts to shape the organization in which I worked seemed fruitless. And, when I’m exhausted by overwork, I can worry that I am simply not making a worthwhile difference through my labor.
Perhaps you can relate. Most workers can, in my experience. Even those who mostly love their work can go through seasons of doubt. Yet for all of us there is a promise we can rely on. According to Scripture, we can know that “in the Lord [our] labor is not in vain.” It might feel in vain. But it is not, in the Lord.
By the way, labor “in the Lord” isn’t just the work of pastors, missionaries, and others who work for religious organizations. Remember that God created us to work in the world. When we do work that is good, and when we do it for God’s glory, then we are working “in the Lord,” whether our work is so-called “sacred” or so-called “secular.”
Why is our labor not in vain? In part, our labor is not in vain because the work we do contributes in some small way to the goodness of the world. (This assumes, of course, that your work isn’t robbery or trafficking or something that is evil.) I was thinking about this the other evening when my wife and I went to one of our favorite restaurants, one we had not visited in sixteen months because of the pandemic. Our waiter that evening was Fernando, someone who has often served us before. We were so glad to see him. It was a sweet reunion. Why? Because his service is wonderful. He serves not just food but friendship. Now, I imagine that Fernando’s work sometimes feels repetitive, boring, and just plain hard. Waiting on tables is not easy, that’s for sure. But what he does with his hands and his smile really does make a difference. And so it is with all kinds of work. When you do good for the Lord, then your labor is in vain in him.
Tomorrow, most of us will return to work. Labor Day will be over, and our ordinary labor will resume. You may have various feelings about this. You might be glad to get back to work. Or sad that summer is over. Or worried that what you do doesn’t seem to have much meaning. But if you work “in the Lord,” that is, in service to him, by his grace, and for his glory, then your labor will not be in vain.
When you read “your labor in the Lord is not in vain,” how do you respond? What thoughts come to mind? What feelings?
Do you ever worry that your labor is in vain? If so, when? Why?
What would you like the Lord to teach you about your work through 1 Corinthians 15:58?
Tomorrow, when you get back to your “ordinary” work, offer yourself and the work you do to the Lord. Let your work be an act of worship to God, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Gracious God, thank you for your Word, for speaking to us in ways that expand our minds and touch our hearts. Thank you for the promise of 1 Corinthians 15:58, that our labor in you is not in vain.
Help us, Lord, to discover what this means. If we are feeling that our work is in vain, teach us to see things differently, or help us to consider changes we need to make in our lives. May we learn how to labor “in you” in all that we do. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Permissibility of Eating Particular Animals (Leviticus 11)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.