One of the definitions of vanity is “the process of being worthless or futile.” When one looks at wheat, the grain is deemed useful while the husk is discarded as vain. When one smokes a cigarette, to some the tobacco is deemed useful, but to all the cigarette butt is discarded as vain. When Solomon reviewed his life, much of his accomplishments were deemed empty or meaningless. To many under the sun, his many accomplishments were valuable, but apart from the Son, all of his endeavors were vain.
So, here is the question of the day: When the Heavenly Father reviews our week, or when we review our week through the lens of the Heavenly Father, will we declare our time spent to be valuable or vain?
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul expressed this concern. In his own life, he determined not to be vain but valuable:
Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:8-11)
Paul understood the Gospel; it was all the work of God. Christ came to earth. Christ lived a perfect life. Christ died a sacrificial death. Christ rose victoriously. Christ appeared to his witnesses. Christ, through his witnesses, offered eternal life to all who would believe. Christ, through his Spirit, opened hearts and minds so men might believe his witnesses. According to Paul, the Gospel was all God’s work; there was no room for any boasting on the part of man.
Paul also understood the ramifications of the Gospel. The sovereign work of God was to result in serious work of men. God, who did it all, chose to do it all through the words and works of his redeemed children. Therefore, Paul, who was most impressed by the work-ethic of his fellow Apostles, found himself able to say with a clear conscience, “I worked harder than any of them.” Paul was determined, and he declared the grace of God shown to him would not result in vanity. History is a record of his commitment. With great zeal he spent himself and became incredibly valuable to Christ and Christ’s church. The Gospel was not given to Paul in vain.
Therefore, several verses later, Paul delivers his “therefore:”
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. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
The same Christ who called and commissioned Paul, was through Paul calling and commissioning Christians at Corinth. As a result of God’s hard work, they were to work hard. Paul’s readers were commanded to be steadfast, immovable, and persistent. Upon their review, they were not to be declared “vain” but “valuable.”
So friends, how did we do last week, and what will we do different this week? Will we work hard for the God who worked hard for us? Will we waste another week? Will we be declared vain or valuable? Can we point others to our own manner of living life as an example of the hardworking believer?
For those of us who wish to work harder than last week, here are some action points for us to consider:
- Write a handwritten letter to an unbelieving friend or loved one expressing the Gospel and your loving concern.
- Send an email with a link to an article or audio sermon which impacted you.
- Develop a prayer list where specific names are listed and prayed over.
- Look for ways to do public good and then use the acknowledgment or appreciation as an opportunity to glorify your Father in heaven.
- Engage in appropriate social gatherings to increase the number of lost friends to whom you might be of great eternal benefit.
- Work very hard to make a great deal of money so that you might give it away to ministers and missionaries on the front line.
- Be careful about your external testimony; great harm can be done to good words through bad actions.
- Invite someone to church and eat lunch with them following the worship service; what if everyone in your church brought a needy soul once a month?
Friends, we work hard to be excellent athletes. Musicians and artists expend much effort pursuing excellence. Dozens of hours are spent each week pursuing education or profit. We will wear ourselves out for clothes and toys; bigger barns are always an allurement for us. But what about Christ? What about the Gospel? What about his Church? Will you get to the end of another week and see “all is vanity.” Or will you get to the end of this next week and be able to say, “ … For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle … But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”