Our spiritual labour is our service to God as followers of Christ. Our work is part of the kingdom work, and we must stand in faith against all resistance.
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)
To labour in the Lord is both a delight and simple obedience. But it can also sometimes be incredibly difficult because we will encounter resistance. We can be absolutely certain that when we commit ourselves to the spiritual labour to which we are called, self, the world, and Satan will continually try to derail our efforts. The results of these hindrances can be depression, despondency, and sometimes, even despair. These creep in because working for God involves continually giving of ourselves. It’s easy, like Elijah, to slide into a place where it all seems worthless and our efforts like an epic fail. Paul, with all the ups and downs of his ministry, knew this better than anyone. Today’s verse is our reminder that our God is the power in all that we do for Him. We stand firm when we stand in Him.
We are all called to spiritual labour.
This is the first truth we need to take hold of. There is a perception that ‘ministry’ is something ‘significant’ and reserved for a select few. To minister means, essentially, to serve, which places it squarely in the job description of every single follower of God. When we commit to Christ, we commit to serving Him. Fancy words don’t change the simple reality that spiritual labour is the responsibility and privilege of every single believer. At a very basic level, our service is sacrificial – we crucify self so that Christ may be manifest in us. We surrender our will so that His will is revealed in and through us.
The outworking of this is, of course, our actual ‘work’ for the Lord. James explains in chapter 2 that faith without works is dead faith. If we truly believe in and love Jesus, we will obey Him and bear fruit. That’s ‘works.’ If our faith excludes a willing commitment to spiritual labour in His service, it’s dead faith. It’s worth nothing and is simply empty words. Not only that, but God has Himself created specific works for each of us. Ephesians 2:10 says, For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Our spiritual service is not a ‘hit and miss’ or ‘if and when I feel like it’ affair. It’s a divine command and calling which is why we will encounter resistance. We need to be absolutely sure of this to be able to stand firm.
We must abound in spiritual labour.
I love the word abound. It defines more than enough, overflowing, total exuberance and enthusiasm, and without ceasing. One of my favourite verses is 2 Corinthians 9:8: And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. This is often quoted as a promise for God’s provision, and that’s not incorrect. But somehow, that last line is just as often left out. The promise of provision is directly linked to our spiritual labour. God provides for our needs in excess so that we can abound in good works. We like that God is entirely enthusiastic in showering us with every blessing. But every blessing in the kingdom of God has spiritual purpose.
We are part of God’s will for mankind, a simple motif in a much bigger picture. To be able to abound in good works, we need to live in the certainty that this is a kingdom purpose. If we want the provision we must also want – abound in willing enthusiasm – the works that go with it. The blessings of God are never simply about us. God uses our blessings to empower the purpose of His kingdom. The things of God are intended to bless us and then pour out for others. We’re a vessel, shaped by the Potter’s hands. Retaining our focus and strength for spiritual labour means taking hold of this truth – it’s not our work, but God’s work through us. We abound in good works because He is a God of abundance.
Two sources of resistance against spiritual labour.
To stand firm, we must also recognise where the difficulties come from. The first place to start is always self. It’s true that God dictates balance in all things. To continue to abound, we must have time to regroup, recharge, and renew our relationship with Him. If Jesus had to constantly take time out with God, us much weaker mortals need it far more. But self is the little voice inside clamouring for ‘me time.’ It whines constantly about giving too much, having no time for ourselves, not having a life… It’s true that often, the spiritual labour comes our way when we feel least able to do it. The reality, though, is that remaining grafted into the vine makes bearing the fruit easy. Self will always try to disguise this truth to distract us and divert us.
The second source of resistance is others. This may be the world or the church, and it can often come in the form of loving, well-meaning guidance. The world, of course, simply doesn’t understand the impetus behind commitment to spiritual labour and never will. The church can be harder to cope with. Any believer labouring in the Lord needs spiritual covering. Our church leadership is there to support and encourage us. But sometimes, they can distract us from the purposes of God in our lives if they don’t clearly hear God. I believe absolutely that we need our leadership, but there may be times when God has spoken and conflict arises. Always, we must stand firm and trust that God will empower His work according to His purposes.
Spiritual labour and the enemy.
Satan, we can be sure, will always work to derail the purposes of God. Sometimes, this will come in the form of outright spiritual attack. More often than not, however, he will simply sit back and let self, the world, and the church do a lot of the work for Him. He’s a canny warmonger and won’t waste time taking on a believer strong in faith and protected by unity in the church. It’s far easier to wait for his ‘allies’ to weaken the worker and open doors. Then, when we’re battered and struggling with natural doubts and weariness, he’ll launch a more effective attack using our own emotions and conflicts. To remain steadfast in spiritual labour, we must remember that he is the Father of Lies. Knowing this, we recognise the lies when they come – those doubts and thoughts of failure and inadequacy.
The fact is, it doesn’t matter how weak or foolish we are. God does the work, not us. Where He guides, He provides, and His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Our greatest weapon in overcoming Satan’s attacks against our spiritual labour is agreement. We must simply agree with our enemy that we’re weak, weary, inadequate, and unable to do it. Then we remind him that ‘greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.’ If we try to force a defence, we will fail, pure and simple. But when we remind the devil that it’s God’s work and that He is doing it – that we’re simply frail human vessels of His choosing – he will retreat. He cannot stand against the truth and the authority of God. We are simply the tool, but God’s mighty hand wields it.
Spiritual labour can have no visible results.
This is a truth that is critical if we are to stand steadfast and immovable and abound in spiritual labour. We’re wired and conditioned to like results. There are few things in the world as satisfying as standing back to see all we’ve accomplished. It renews our sense of purpose. It give impetus and encouragement to continue. But our labour in the Lord often has no visible results. We cannot measure the good we do, or even necessarily see the impact it has in the lives of others. But our promise from God is that nothing is ever in vain. Whether large or little, our work has eternal purpose. A single loving word has more power than anything the world can offer. The single prayer spoken in obedience has the power to change the course of history in the hands of God.
This truth alone is a blessing beyond measure. We participate in His divine, eternal purposes. Nothing we do in Him can ever be destroyed or diminished, because He alone is the source and the power in our spiritual labour. When we work for God, we never work alone. However humble or futile our ministry may seem, it is part of the great I AM, the almighty God of the universe who orders all things by His will.
Thank You, Lord, for the awesome privilege to labour with You as vessels for Your eternal purposes. Thank You that You do the work and provide all we need in abundance to empower our service. Give us grace to stand steadfast and immovable, and strengthen us to go in faith and abound in the works that You have prepared for us.