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A Faithful Life

Tom Pennington 1 Corinthians 15:58


This morning. I want to step away from our study of Romans for two reasons. First of all, because I want to honor Rocky's years of ministry here at Countryside as he and Pam prepared to leave for Colorado this next week. So, we're going to study a passage that is one of his two favorite New Testament passages and, frankly, it's a passage that really describes his 26 years of ministry here at Countryside.

But I also, at the same time, want to consider how we should respond as Christians in light of all that has unfolded over the last 10 weeks. So, this message doesn't focus so much on Rocky as it does on the rest of us. On all of us as we look at: how do we live in such times? How should we respond in light of the realities that have unfolded around us? We're going to look at a passage that challenges us to say, whatever we might be facing - whether we find ourselves in the midst of the joys and blessings of this life, whether it is personal tragedy, or whether it's a global pandemic - in the end, our response should always be the same and that is: we should be committed to a life of faithfulness.

Let me ask you this morning, and I want you to honestly answer this from your heart, is that the great commitment of your life? Is that what drives you - a life of faithfulness to your Lord? Well, it ought to be, and my hope and prayer is that by the time we're done this morning, you'll understand the importance of it and will come to embrace it as really the motto and mission of your life. I want us to turn to study this issue together to 1 Corinthians 15:58. I'll just read the one verse. I'll set it in context in a moment. But let's just read the one verse to begin 1 Corinthians 15:58: "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."

Now, you know that 1 Corinthians 15 is both the longest and the greatest New Testament exposition of the doctrine of the resurrection - both the resurrection of Jesus Christ and our own future resurrection. But it's interesting that a chapter, a long chapter, a detailed exposition of the resurrection ends as it does with a personal call to live a life of faithfulness. In just this one brief verse, Paul not only exhorts us to live a faithful life but he also lays out for us the defining characteristics of a faithful life so that we know what it looks like, so that we know how to pursue it. And so, let's look at this verse together.

We're going to look then at these defining characteristics of a faithful life. And as we do so my hope is that we will all set a course that follows what's laid out in this verse. So, first of all, let's consider the theological foundations of a faithful life.

You see, a faithful life doesn't just happen. You don't just say, "well, I'm going to live faithfully." No, it is founded on some bedrock theological truths. And if you don't have those theological truths as part of the rock of your character and your mindset, then you're not going to live a faithful life.

Notice how he begins verse 58. He begins by identifying those to whom he writes. He says, "my beloved brethren." Obviously, he's writing to the Corinthians but, specifically, this verse is addressed solely to his brothers and sisters in Christ - those whom he had truly come to love. The point is this: if you are a follower of Jesus Christ as you sit here this morning, if you would say, "I am committed to Jesus Christ, to following Him, to obeying Him," then this verse is addressed to you.

Now, notice how the exhortation actually begins. I skipped the very first word but look at it together because it's very important. "Therefore, my beloved brethren…." What that tells us is that this exhortation here in verse 58 is the natural consequence of the theological truths that he's been explaining throughout this 15th chapter. It is those truths that serve as the only foundation of a faithful life. If you want to live a life of faithfulness, it'll only happen if these truths are truly yours, if you own them, if you're committed to them, if you believe them and embrace them. You can only live a faithful life if you have believed these things.

First of all, the gospel. That's the first theological foundation. That's the first 11 verses of this chapter. In verses 1-11 of chapter 15. Paul describes the gospel that every true Christian has believed and he does so in four propositions - four propositions that that capture four key events in the life of Jesus Christ. You're familiar with these but let me just remind you of them. He begins in verse 1 by saying here's the gospel I preached to you, verse 2, the Gospel you believed, and then, beginning in verse 3, he lays out these four propositions.

Number one, the first proposition, verse 3, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." Jesus Christ, the Messiah who was promised, God's Eternal Son, became flesh, lived a life here of perfect obedience - and then died for our sins. Paul doesn't explain here the connection between the death of Christ and our sins. He does in other places and the New Testament is filled with it. The connection is this: He died as a substitute for us. He died in our place satisfying the justice that our sins deserve from God. He, "died for our sins according to the Scriptures."

The second proposition is found in verse 4, "He was buried." Now why is that important? Because it means He really died. It means He paid the penalty that sin demands - death. And, therefore, "was buried"

The third proposition, also in verse 4, is that, "He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." He was raised from the dead. This is so familiar to us. I'm afraid that we lose the real perspective of what happened. I want you to think, for a moment, about somebody you know over whose body you have stood - a lifeless body, a corpse. That person no longer there. That's merely the tent in which they lived and it is completely without life. That is the reality that was true of Jesus, our Lord. He died and His body entirely lacked all life. But, on the third day, God worked a miracle and God raised Him from the dead. In a moment's time, His physical heart began to beat, the blood began to flow through His veins. His lungs began to expand and that physical body came to life again and was inhabited again by His soul, His human soul. "He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures."

The fourth proposition that encompasses the Gospel is verses 5-10: He was seen by witnesses. This is an essential part of the gospel. God hand-picked witnesses of the resurrection, more than 500 of them who saw the resurrected Christ. That's the Gospel message. That's the essence of the Gospel. So, how do you have to respond to that message so that, notice verse 2, so that, by that message, "you are saved." You are rescued. You are delivered from your sins and the penalty of your sins.

What do you have to do in reference to that message to be saved? Well, it's here in this text.

First of all, you have to hear the true gospel. Notice verse 1. Paul refers to, "the gospel which I preached to you." Verse 2, "the word which I preached to you." As Paul put it in Romans chapter 10, "how shall they believe if they haven't heard?" You can't believe what you haven't heard. You have to hear the message of the gospel. So, that's the first thing that has to happen, but that's not enough.

Secondly, you must receive that message as true. Receive it as true. Notice verse 1, "the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received." What does that mean? I think Paul is alluding to what he says in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 when he says, "when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God." So, you have to hear the gospel, you have to believe that its message is true - that it comes to us from God. But even that's not enough.

You must also believe in Christ. That's the message of verse 11: you must believe in Christ. "Whether then it was I," (that is Paul himself) "or they" (the other apostles). This is the gospel we preach, he says to the Corinthians, and this is what you believed. You not only have to hear the message and believe the message to be true, you have to believe in Christ. What does that mean? It means that you abandon all hope of ever being right with God in any way but through the work, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and you put your complete and total confidence in Him.

Now this faith, believing in Christ, implies repentance of your sins. In fact, in Acts chapter 20:21 Paul says, this is our message, "repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." The two can't be separated. They go together. Where there is genuine faith in Christ, total reliance on Him, really believing in Him, there will be a turning from your rebellion and sin.

In addition, believing in Christ implies a willingness to follow Him as Lord. This is what we saw in Romans chapter 10: 9-10. "You must confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead…." The confession of Jesus as Lord, believing in your heart, they're one in the same. They go together. And they can't be separated.

So, the first foundation of a faithful life is trusting the gospel.

If you're going to live a faithful life, you have to hear this message, you have to believe the message is true - that is truly from God - and you have to then believe In Christ - turning from your sin and committing yourself to follow Him.

The second theological foundation of a faithful life is related. It's believing in our Lord's resurrection.

Beginning in verse 12 and running to the middle of verse 20, Paul explains the devastating consequences if Jesus was not raised from the dead. In fact, notice what he says in verse 12, "Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some of you (Corinthians) say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised." And then beginning in verse 14 he says, if Christ has not been raised, then let me tell you how bad it is. If there's no resurrection of Christ, He hasn't been raised, and he goes on to say: if Christ has not been raised, there's no legitimate Gospel. Verse 14, "our preaching is in vain." In other words, the message that we present to you is worthless. It's empty and there's no reasonable faith. If our preaching is empty, If the message we preach is empty, then your faith in that message is also empty worthless.

He goes on in verse 15 to say that there's no reliable revelation. He said, think of all of those who say there's a resurrection, they're liars. Now that's far-reaching because, think about it, the Old Testament spoke of the resurrection. Jesus spoke of the resurrection of His own body from the dead. The apostles speak of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If there's no resurrection, they're all liars, there's no reliable revelation. God's word, all of it is a lie.

Verses 16 and 17: there's no real forgiveness. There's no real forgiveness at all. We still live under the penalty of our sin and, verse 18., there's no eternal life. All believers who have died before us are irretrievably lost and we too at death will be forever separated from God.

On the other hand, if you believe that Jesus, our Lord, was raised from the dead, then you have a foundation for a faithful life because you know He defeated death. In fact, look at verse 57 it says that in His death and resurrection. He defeated both sin and death. So, if you believe in Jesus' resurrection, you have the foundation for a life of faithfulness.

There's a third theological foundation of a faithful life and that's believing in our own future resurrection. Beginning in the middle of verse 20 and running through the rest of chapter 15, that is the message. You see it's a truth that some in Corinth were denying as we just read a moment ago. And so, Paul links the two. Notice verse 20. He says, "Christ has been raised from the dead," He is, "the first fruits of those who are asleep". He's the promise of a greater harvest of resurrection. Verse 23, "each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that, those who are Christ's at His coming." And he goes on to describe the nature of our resurrection in the rest of this chapter. 2 Corinthians 4:14 says, "He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also."

So, believing the gospel, believing in our Lord's resurrection, and believing in our own resurrection are the theological foundations of faithful life. You say: how does believing in my own resurrection help me live a faithful life? If this life, as wonderful as it is, is all you believe you have, you will never live a faithful life. Or if you live like it's all that you believe you have, you'll never live a faithful life. Instead., you'll always be grasping and looking for ways to satisfy yourself and your pleasure.

On the other hand, if you understand that, as Spurgeon said, this life is the front porch to eternity, or to use a different metaphor, that this life is the prologue of the story of your life - the real story begins when you enter the Lord's presence. If you understand that, then whatever you face in this life, whatever hardships, whatever difficulties, then you can still live a life of faithfulness because you know this isn't all you've got. How do you live through a global pandemic? How do you live a life of faithfulness? You remember, this life isn't all you have. It doesn't matter. Be faithful. Be faithful.

Only if you are convinced of these great truths will you have the determination to live a faithful life. regardless of what comes, whether you find yourself in the highs and joys and blessings of this life, whether you find yourself in the midst of personal disaster, or whether you find yourself in a global pandemic, it doesn't matter. You just keep living a faithful life because this isn't the end. This isn't all that matters. Eternity is coming.

Secondly, having explained the theological foundation of such a life, Paul explains the principal expressions of a faithful life.

Notice verse 58, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord."

The main verb of the sentence in Greek is the verb "be" - not the normal verb of "being" like "is" in English, but a different Greek word here probably best translated "to become" or "to prove yourselves to be." It's an Imperative. It's a command.

So, what exactly are we to become or prove ourselves to be? He then goes on to list the three principal expressions of a faithful life.

First of all, if you're going to live a faithful life, hold fast to the word of God.

Notice the word steadfast. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast." The Greek word means "to be firmly or solidly in place." Go back to verse 1. It says, "the gospel, which I preached to you… in which also you stand." You stand firmly in this Gospel. Verse 2, "hold fast the word which I preached to you." You've got to hold fast. You've got to be steadfast in what you have learned from the scripture and what you've been taught. That's what he's saying.

Perhaps the best biblical explanation of what it means to remain steadfast is found over in Colossians 1:21. Paul writes, "although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet now He has now reconciled you in His body of flesh through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach." That's likely referring to our justification. But, notice verse 23. This will be true, "if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast."

Be steadfast. Be firmly established in the faith. In other words, hold on to the truth that you have learned from God's word - including the gospel. Hold on to it.

He's saying it to the Corinthians. Rather than listen to false teachers and be swayed by their teaching away from what you've been taught, defect from the truth of the Gospel, instead remain steadfast. Hold on to the truth of the faith.

Notice here in Colossians chapter 1, it's defined as continuing, "in the faith firmly established." In other words, it's remaining committed to the truth of the scripture that you have believed - including the Gospel. Just hold on to the word of God and don't be swayed from that, whatever comes.

Go over to Colossians chapter 2:5. Paul writes, "even though I am absent in body, I am nevertheless with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline," and, notice this, "and the stability of your faith in Christ. Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed."

You are being established. You're being given that stability in the faith. By the instruction you received from what? From the word of God.

Hold on to the scripture. Be Resolute be fixed.

In the book of Acts you see the apostles when they're serving the churches. They challenge people in this way in Acts 11:23, Barnabas comes to the city of Antioch where there's been a large number of people who've come to faith in Christ and it says, "he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord."

What did he mean? True to what they'd heard of the Gospel, true to the faith they'd received.

In Acts 14:22 Paul and Barnabas return to several cities: lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, "strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God.'" Just hold on. Hold fast to the truth of God's word that you've been instructed in, that you've been taught. That's one of the principal expressions of life of faithfulness. Don't abandon. Don't be swayed.

There's a second principal expression, it's: clingto the hope of the Gospel. Cling to the hope of the Gospel.

Verse 58, "therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable." This is a really interesting Greek word, the word "immovable." It was used in secular Greek to describe a ship that was carefully tied to its mooring so they would not drift. Be immovable like that ship. What's interesting is the same Greek word, the root of this word, occurs back in Colossians chapter 1. That's why I wanted you to see this text. Both of our words occur here. Colossians 1:23, "if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, there's the first one. And then, "and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard."

Not moved away. That's the same root word as the word "immovable" in our text. The word "not moved away" or, let's take it positively, The word "moved away" means to allow yourself to be moved away from or shifted away from something and here he says: don't be moved away. From what? The hope of the Gospel. What is that? What's the hope of the Gospel? In other words, the hope that the gospel produced in you. What was the hope that the gospel produced in you? It was the hope of eternal life and eternal glory. You believe the gospel because it had promise of eternal life.

Titus 3:7, "being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life."

Also, as we saw in Romans 5:2, we exult in, "hope of the glory of God." As we learn there, that means, in hope of seeing God's glory and sharing God's glory. We were saved in those hopes - in hope of eternal life, in hope of seeing and sharing God's glory. But here's the issue: the hope of eternal life and eternal glory is only possible because of what? Hope in the resurrection.

If the Lord doesn't return, we're all going to die. Our hope of eternal life, our hope of eternal glory, rest in the hope of the resurrection. That's why in Acts 23:6, Paul says, "I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!"

In Acts 24:15, He says I have, "a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked."

You see, you have to have, if you're going to live a faithful life, you have to live and cling to this hope of your future resurrection. Why? Because again, if you are only committed to this life, if this is all that matters to you, you're not going to live faithfully. But if you understand that you're living for the future, that you're living for eternity, that you're living for the time you're out of this world with the Lord in a new heaven and a new earth, then you can live faithfully here because, whatever you face here, is short-lived, it's temporary and it's light compared to the weight of eternal glory that we will one day experience.

So, a faithful life has this expression: hold fast to the truth of God's word. Secondly: cling to the hope of the Gospel that is the resurrection. Thirdly: abound in the work of the Lord

Again, notice what Paul writes, "always abounding in the work of the Lord." Always abounding in the work of the Lord.

There are several points of emphasis in that expression. First of all, we're to work hard. The Greek word translated "work" here is "work to the point of exhaustion." That's the word. And we're to "abound" in this work. The idea of that word "abound" is "to give yourself fully to the work of the Lord." As Paul puts it in Titus 2:14, you were redeemed so that you would be zealous for good works. Abound in them.

And notice, we're to "abound" in this hard work, "always." In Greek, this word is last in the phrase for emphasis. Just keep at it. Don't ever stop. Don't ever quit. Don't allow any circumstance to change this reality.

And notice we're to abound always "in the work of the Lord." What exactly is the Lord's work? Well, at times in the New Testament that expression is used of Gospel ministry. But many times, it's used for all of those spiritual activities that will benefit either our own souls or the church. I think that's the idea here, abounding in all of the spiritual activities that will benefit our own souls and the souls of others.

William Hendrickson, in defining what the Lord's work is says it includes this: preaching and teaching Christ's gospel, applying the content of Scripture to our lives, edifying one another, loving our neighbor as ourselves, earnestly desiring to keep God's commandments, and to do all of that out of gratitude for our salvation provided through the Son.

Give yourself to the hard work always, day after day, regardless of your circumstances - to serving the Lord in that way, doing those things that will benefit your own soul, and those things that will benefit all the people around you. Because, you know what? Work hard in this life because rest is coming.

Revelation 14:13 says the saints in heaven have entered into their rest. This is the time to work. Rest is coming.

Now, don't miss the point here. What this expression, "the work of the Lord," the focus is not on the kind of work or how much work or how hard or how long we work. Instead, the focus is this work is done for the Lord. It's the Lord's work. We are to labor to exhaustion because we're serving Him.

So, let me just ask you: does this define your life? Are you giving yourself fully, always, to those spiritual things, spiritual activities that benefit your own soul and the souls of others? Is that what your life's about? That's what a life of faithfulness looks like. Because, in the end, let me tell you something, when you leave this life, you're not going to have most of what you spend your time doing here. The only things around you that are eternal are your relationship with God, God's word, and the souls of people. That's it. The rest of it goes away. In fact, most of it will be burned up.

Are you living as if you believe that? Is that what your life is consumed with, "always abounding in the work of the Lord?"

Those are the three expressions of a faithful life.

Lastly, just briefly consider with me the Biblical confidence of a faithful life.

The biblical confidence of a faithful life. Verse 58 says, "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."

Because of the Gospel promises, because of Christ's resurrection, because of your own future resurrection, just keep on abounding in the work of the Lord because of what you know. You know that, in light of these great truths, that the work you do for Christ in this life is not in vain. The Greek word translated "vain" here refers to work that is either without purpose or without results. Now, I think maybe both are implied here but in ancient Greek, this word "vain" was used for work that was done and that was done so poorly that it wasn't paid. You did all the work and the person didn't pay you. Paul says it's not going to happen with Christ. Your work in Christ is not wasted. It's not worthless. It's not lost. You will be paid.

Often, when I jot a note to someone in our in church, a note of thanks, I'll put a reference at the bottom that makes this very point. Hebrews 6:10 says, "God is not unjust." Listen to that again, "God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, by having served and by still serving the saints." Listen, Christ isn't going to forget. He's not going to forget anything that you do on His behalf. It's not in vain.

Matthew 25:41, He says, "well done good and faithful servant." Mark 9:41, He says, "whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward." Listen, not only does He reward His servants, He's not missing anything. You give a cup of water to someone because you love Christ and you get a reward for that. Revelation 22:12 "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me." Do you believe that? You believe Christ is going to come and you believe that He's not going to miss anything that you do in his work here?

Then, let's live like it. That's the Biblical confidence of the faithful life.

Folks, this text is exhorting us to live a faithful life. You understand this command. You understand what is laid out before us and you have seen this. There are people in your life who have exemplified this text. In fact, I chose this text this morning because, if you've been around our church any time at all, you have seen this text modeled by Rocky, our dear brother. That's why it's one of his favorite passages and I'm sure nothing would give him greater joy than if you would embrace this exhortation as the motto of your own life even as he has.

If you want to live a faithful life, hold fast to the word of God, cling to the hope of the resurrection, and abound in the work of the Lord. Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for this magnificent passage, for all that it reminds us of. Lord thank You that whether we are in the midst of the greatest joys and blessings of life or whether we're in personal disaster and tragedy, or, as we have been, in a global pandemic, for us, nothing really changes. You just call us to live this kind of life - a faithful life in which we hold fast to Your word. We remember that this life isn't all there is and hold fast to the hope, cling to the hope of the resurrection, and we just keep on abounding in the work of the Lord. Lord, may this be true of us. Help us to live such a life. And Lord, I pray for those who may be here this morning, who have never embraced the Gospel where we started this morning. They've never, they've heard it, perhaps. Maybe, they've even believed that this message is true, but they've never truly believed savingly. They've never repented of their sins and put their faith entirely in Christ, committed themselves to follow Him. Lord, may this be the morning when you work that in their hearts. We pray that. For the glory of Jesus Christ and in His name. Amen.