What kind of work is “not in vain”?

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

I’ve said this multiple times throughout this series, but allow me to say it once more: The Great Commission to “make disciples” is indeed great! But it’s far from the only thing Christ has called us to do. And there are serious problems with treating it as such. We’ve seen three of those problems thus far in this series:

  1. Jesus never did
  2. It neglects the other aspects of God’s kingdom
  3. Ironically, it makes us less effective at the Great Commission

Here’s the fourth problem with treating the Great Commission as the only commission: It blocks you and me from seeing how our work matters for eternity—how, in the words of the Apostle Paul, our “labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

If the Great Commission is the only commission, then our work has value only when leveraged to the instrumental end of evangelism. And if our work has only instrumental value, then most of us are wasting most of our time. 

That’s terribly disheartening because God has “set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). To quote the inimitable Alexander Hamilton, we all “wanna build something that’s gonna outlive” us. We want this life to count for the next one. But if we can’t see how that’s possible, we lose purpose, hope, and a deep sense of connection with God as we go about our days. 

Leo Tolstoy, the writer of classics such as War and Peace, once said that it was this idea that “brought me to the point of suicide when I was fifty years old…It is the question without which life is impossible…It is this: what will come of what I do today or tomorrow?...Or expressed another way: is there any meaning in my life that will not be annihilated by the inevitability of death which awaits me?”

That is the question, isn’t it? What is the purpose of building a business, working a register, or planning an event if those actions don’t lead to an opportunity to share the gospel? Sure, they are means of loving our neighbors as ourselves in the present (see Matthew 22:39). But beyond the here and now, how do those actions matter for eternity?

So long as we see the Great Commission as our only commission, it will be impossible to answer that question. Which is why I wrote The Sacredness of Secular Work, to help you see how 100% of your time at work can matter for eternity and not just the 1% of time you spend “sharing the gospel.” The book releases January 30 but you can pre-order it today on Amazon or one of these other retailers!


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