1 Corinthians Chapters 15-16: Our Work is Not in Vain
Note: PRS.work is a plug-and-play video Bible Study. Everything you need to connect the Bible to your work is in the video above. Feel free to press play and just listen. Or follow along with the transcript below.
Welcome to PRS.work, a video series that helps us hear the Bible together at work. In this video you'll hear a brief introduction, a Psalm read as an opening prayer, a long passage from the Bible, and a commentary about what this means for work, workers, and the workplace. When the video ends you can discuss how this applies to your work.
Today’s Pubic Reading of Scripture comes from the first letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church.
Paul lived in Corinth for a year and a half, during which the Corinthian church was born. While some members were Jews, most were Gentiles. The church membership came mainly from the city’s dominant underclass. It met in two or three wealthier members’ homes.
After Paul left Corinth, he got reports that the church was in danger of coming apart. The church became divided as members sought status taking personal positions on loyalty, ethics, doctrine, and the resurrection of believers.
The Corinthians did not have an interest in an academic discussion but wanted to know how followers of Christ should act in daily life and work matters.
Before reading along to a dramatic recording of 1 Corinthians chapters 15 and 16, we will open with Psalm 18 in prayer.
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, who spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. And he said:
I will love You, O Lord, my strength.
2 The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;
So shall I be saved from my enemies.
4 The pangs of death surrounded me,
And the floods of ungodliness made me afraid.
5 The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me;
The snares of death confronted me.
6 In my distress I called upon the Lord,
And cried out to my God;
He heard my voice from His temple,
And my cry came before Him, even to His ears.
7 Then the earth shook and trembled;
The foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken,
Because He was angry.
8 Smoke went up from His nostrils,
And devouring fire from His mouth;
Coals were kindled by it.
9 He bowed the heavens also, and came down
With darkness under His feet.
10 And He rode upon a cherub, and flew;
He flew upon the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness His secret place;
His canopy around Him was dark waters
And thick clouds of the skies.
12 From the brightness before Him,
His thick clouds passed with hailstones and coals of fire.
13 The Lord thundered from heaven,
And the Most High uttered His voice,
Hailstones and coals of fire.
14 He sent out His arrows and scattered the foe,
Lightnings in abundance, and He vanquished them.
15 Then the channels of the sea were seen,
The foundations of the world were uncovered
At Your rebuke, O Lord,
At the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.
16 He sent from above, He took me;
He drew me out of many waters.
17 He delivered me from my strong enemy,
From those who hated me,
For they were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
But the Lord was my support.
19 He also brought me out into a broad place;
He delivered me because He delighted in me.
20 The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands
He has recompensed me.
21 For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
And have not wickedly departed from my God.
22 For all His judgments were before me,
And I did not put away His statutes from me.
23 I was also blameless before Him,
And I kept myself from my iniquity.
24 Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
According to the cleanness of my hands in His sight.
25 With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful;
With a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless;
26 With the pure You will show Yourself pure;
And with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd.
27 For You will save the humble people,
But will bring down haughty looks.
28 For You will light my lamp;
The Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.
29 For by You I can run against a troop,
By my God I can leap over a wall.
30 As for God, His way is perfect;
The word of the Lord is proven;
He is a shield to all who trust in Him.
31 For who is God, except the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?
32 It is God who arms me with strength,
And makes my way perfect.
33 He makes my feet like the feet of deer,
And sets me on my high places.
34 He teaches my hands to make war,
So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
35 You have also given me the shield of Your salvation;
Your right hand has held me up,
Your gentleness has made me great.
36 You enlarged my path under me,
So my feet did not slip.
37 I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them;
Neither did I turn back again till they were destroyed.
38 I have wounded them,
So that they could not rise;
They have fallen under my feet.
39 For You have armed me with strength for the battle;
You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.
40 You have also given me the necks of my enemies,
So that I destroyed those who hated me.
41 They cried out, but there was none to save;
Even to the Lord, but He did not answer them.
42 Then I beat them as fine as the dust before the wind;
I cast them out like dirt in the streets.
43 You have delivered me from the strivings of the people;
You have made me the head of the nations;
A people I have not known shall serve me.
44 As soon as they hear of me they obey me;
The foreigners submit to me.
45 The foreigners fade away,
And come frightened from their hideouts.
46 The Lord lives!
Blessed be my Rock!
Let the God of my salvation be exalted.
47 It is God who avenges me,
And subdues the peoples under me;
48 He delivers me from my enemies.
You also lift me up above those who rise against me;
You have delivered me from the violent man.
49 Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the Gentiles,
And sing praises to Your name.
50 Great deliverance He gives to His king,
And shows mercy to His anointed,
To David and his descendants forevermore.
1 Corinthians 15
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.
29 Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead? 30 And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? 31 I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32 If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”
33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.
35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds.
40 There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 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 16
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: 2 On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. 3 And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. 4 But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me.
5 Now I will come to you when I pass through Macedonia (for I am passing through Macedonia). 6 And it may be that I will remain, or even spend the winter with you, that you may send me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 For I do not wish to see you now on the way; but I hope to stay a while with you, if the Lord permits.
8 But I will tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost. 9 For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
10 And if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do. 11 Therefore let no one despise him. But send him on his journey in peace, that he may come to me; for I am waiting for him with the brethren.
12 Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to come to you with the brethren, but he was quite unwilling to come at this time; however, he will come when he has a convenient time.
13 Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done with love.
15 I urge you, brethren—you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints— 16 that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labors with us.
17 I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. 18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.
19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. 20 All the brethren greet you.
Greet one another with a holy kiss.
21 The salutation with my own hand—Paul’s.
22 If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come!
23 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. 24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Our Work Is Not in Vain
From the Theology of Work Bible Commentary on 1 Corinthians
In chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, Paul conducts a lengthy discussion of the resurrection, and he applies his conclusions directly to our work. “[Excel] in the work in the Lord because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). How does a correct understanding of the resurrection— that believers will be raised bodily—ground the conclusion that our labor for the Lord is of lasting significance (i.e. “not in vain”)?
First of all, we must recognize that if life in the fallen world around us were all there were to life, our labor would be in vain. Paul’s use of the word vain brings to mind Ecclesiastes’ extended meditation on the vanity of work under the conditions of the Fall. Even if there is life beyond the fallen state of the present world, our work would be in vain if the new world were completely disconnected from the present one. At most, it would launch us (and perhaps others) into the new world. But we have already seen in 1 Corinthians Chapter 2 that work done according to God’s ways survives into eternity. In the second half of chapter 15, Paul develops this matter further by stressing a fundamental continuity between pre- and post-resurrection bodily existence, in spite of vast differences in their respective substances. “This perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53). Our soul does not change out of the old body into a new body—as if donning a new suit of clothes—but our present body “puts on immortality.” The old continues into the new, though radically transformed. It is precisely this continuity that lends meaning to our present existence and guarantees that our labor for God is of lasting value.
Because we know that one day Christ will return to fulfill God’s restoration of the world to his original intent, we have the confidence to work diligently toward Christ’s coming kingdom. When we work according to our abilities, God rewards our work with a fair share of the fruits of our labor.
Our ultimate goal is God’s kingdom and his glory. Love is the mainspring of God’s kingdom. When we work out of love for the people for whom Christ worked and died, our work is not in vain. It has eternal significance and survives along with us into the new world of God’s kingdom fulfilled.