When was the last time you heard words like “eschatology” and “work” come together in the same sentence?What could the Bible’s teaching about the last things possibly have to do with early alarm clocks, buzzing phones, and laborious tasks? What does Jesus’ ever-imminent return have to do with production quotas or excel sheets? And what do the future promises of God have to do with our daily work? In this article, I want to persuade you of one, simple answer: everything.
The resurrection and daily labor
One of the most beautiful passages in the Bible concerning the last things is found in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58. In it, the apostle Paul utters cosmos-shaking statements about the nature of our resurrection bodies (v. 35-49), the second coming of Christ (v. 50-52), and the victory of Jesus over our greatest enemies: sin and death (v. 53-57). It’s as if Paul takes us on a journey spanning nothing short of the whole of human history and then places us right at the edge of eternity. When reading such a passage as 1 Corinthians 15, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer weight of Paul’s words.
If you’re anything like me, it’s tempting to shrug off Paul’s argument and think, “Well, that’s very nice, Paul, but I’ve got enough on my plate right now. I need to focus on normal things: school, work, and my family. I don’t have time to think about the future. I need to be here, now.” Here’s the thing… That might actually be where Paul expects, and even wants, our minds to go – to work, to family, to the constant grind of daily living. You see, Paul was not a naïve person. He didn’t travel throughout the Roman Empire in a kind of dreamy state, always-and-forever focused on a vague, distant future. No, Paul was a “tentmaker by trade” (Acts 18:3). He was a man who spent much of his days traveling from city to city, making and selling tents, preaching the good news of Jesus to whoever had an ear, and planting gospel-centered churches smack-dab in the middle of hostile cultural environments (see Acts 17:7).
In short, Paul was a busy man, and he knew how to get work done (see 1 Cor 15:10). So, when he spends an entire chapter talking about resurrection and future hope and the defeat of death, we needn’t write him off as a “dreamer.” There’s another reason why we can’t write Paul off as a dreamer, one found in the same chapter in the last sentence: “Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (15:58).
Abundance and promise
Do you see it? Paul could have ended 1 Corinthians 15 – a chapter bursting with faith in the future promises of God – simply by saying, “So, brothers and sisters, you don’t have to worry about earthly things. In fact, you should focus all your attention on the future, because that’s where your hope is!” But he doesn’t. Instead, Paul draws every bit of our attention back to the work of our daily lives. With one stroke of the pen, we are moved from contemplating the world’s future in Christ to the daily motions of following Jesus and doing his work. And, with the simple word “therefore,” Paul shows us there is a deep connection between the future promises of God – promises of resurrection and renewal – and the abounding work of our lives. It is a connection so deep that, at times, may seem unreal; never-the-less, Paul assures us that the connection between present labors and our future redemption is real, abounding, and meaningful.
So, Christian, I want to encourage you to ponder these last things anew. Consider the hope of resurrection and the glorious transformation of your earthly body (15:49). Morning by morning, find ways to remind yourself of Christ’s glorious return, which will occur “in the twinkling of an eye” (15:52). Contemplate a world in which the powers of sin and death have no more authority (15:54-57). As the apostle Peter says, “Set your hope fully on the grace of God that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:13).
And then, get to work.