“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
The Bible tells us to ‘abound in the work of the Lord’ – to serve Him diligently and consistently. Many times when we serve the Lord we won’t see the outcome of that service (at least, not immediately – or maybe never in this life). Because of that, I think 1 Corinthians 15:58 is a great encouragement – “our toil is not in vain in the Lord”. Regardless of whatever outward results we see from our efforts to abound in His work, our labor is never in vain – as long as it is a labor ‘IN’ the Lord.
Just to clarify, notice that the verse does not say “your labor ‘FOR’ the Lord.” A labor ‘IN’ the Lord implies where the source of that work comes from – it is His labor, initiated by Him, and carried out by Him through us as we seek to do His will alone. We’re not talking about our own labor for the Lord – in other words – our own ideas of what we think will be great things for Him that we can carry out by our own power. The promise that the Lord gives us is that if we labor IN the Lord, it will never be in vain.
1 Peter 4:10-11 “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Matthew 11:16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, 17 and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
There were towns that totally rejected the Lord and His gospel. Does that mean it was useless for them to go there? Why did God lead Jesus and the disciples to go into places and meet so many people that told them to just go away? By today's standard Jesus’ ministry on earth would have been considered a failure! Yet we know that He had the greatest life and ministry of them all!
So we should never be discouraged by a lack of visible results when we obey something the Lord has told us to do for Him. Our satisfaction should come from the fact that the Lord led us to do something, and we did it for Him because we love Him. Whatever comes after that is His business!
The church I grew up in as a child had two faithful elders who labored for decades together. I remember how humble and joyful they were. As far as I know, they never took salaries either because they worked secular jobs. As a child I remember that church was thriving in number with dozens of people. But over the years the church dwindled to barely a handful… but those two brothers kept pressing on with joy. I remember there was one elderly woman who sat at the front alone for all those years, and one day she passed away. Not long after that one of the elders passed away and within a few years, so did the other elder, along with both of their wives. It’s so rare to find a faithful church, I’ve often wondered why God did not do more with that faithful little church. Was the labor of those elders in vain, to have built a church that dwindled to almost nothing only to have the elders pass away not long after?
In the world, labor that does not produce visible results is counted as useless. A business that is not making money on a product will quickly scrap the product. But it’s not like that in God’s kingdom. God calls us to persevere and encourages us that our toil is never in vain. If the Lord puts it on our heart to do something for Him and we follow His will with the right motive, it is never in vain.
I am confident that those godly elders laid up a storehouse of treasure in Heaven because of their diligent work for the Lord, and none of it was in vain. They may not have drawn in thousands, but they immensely blessed the few believers who were there (including myself), and they knew God intimately and lived to the end of their lives doing His will. Is that not worth more than only making superficial converts in vast congregations? I am so blessed to think back to the fact that God gave me the blessing and privilege of knowing these godly men from childhood as I grew up.
Jesus once saw a poor old widow who could only give a couple of cents to God, and Jesus said her giving was counted as more in God’s eyes than anyone else (Mark 12:42-44). God does not look on the outward appearance, but on the heart. “It’s not how much you give, but how much love is in the giving.” Her little sacrifice was not in vain, and it glorified the Lord.
Imagine all the godly saints that have gone on before us, living quiet lives (1 Thess 4:11) for Jesus with all their heart, but never having major ministries or major outward accomplishments. They will be shining forever in Heaven for the Lord! And we can live a wonderful life like that too.
Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 that our spiritual “service” (labor) of worship is to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice. What He then does with our lives is up to Him entirely; we do not have to worry about earthly measurements of success. So if we serve the Lord our whole lives whole-heartedly, even if we never see the visible earthly results (no major ministry to show, no major stories of how God used us to save many people, no huge growth (in numbers) in our church, etc.), we can be confident in God’s promise that our life wasn’t in vain.
Our goal is not to become popular missionaries whose lives transform thousands.
Our goal is to love the Lord with all our heart and to do His will.
We don’t seek to be grand ministers for the Lord in public. We seek to be grand worshipers of Him in every aspect of our lives.
Keep diligently living for the Lord and serving Him with all your heart, abounding in the work of the Lord. Don’t worry about the lack of outward results! Your labor is not in vain.