What i do matters
I want you to imagine a conversation between yourself and a young boy, and the subject of school arises. You ask why he goes to school. “To learn,” he says. “And why do you learn?” “To get a good job.” “And why do you want a good job?” “To make money.” “And why do you want to make money?” “To eat.” “Why do you want to eat?” “To live.” “And why do you live?”
And then there’s a long pause.
Many of us are living in the space of that long pause. Our lives are full of activity, but are they full? Our lack of answer for WHY causes us to feel like the proverbial hamster in a wheel – running ever faster, but never running further. You can’t make progress until you answer WHY. And it can’t just be answered logically, either. It must be exercised practically, so that the purpose for your life is pressed outward into the way you work and play and relate and study. Can you honestly say that you are living with purpose in every area of life—even the mundane, everyday tasks? Or do you feel more like that hamster, stuck in the pause of running faster but going no further?
We’re in the last week of a series called, “Tell yourself the truth” – combatting the lies we tell ourselves with the truth God tells us about ourselves. This week, we’ll address the lie that “What I do doesn’t make a difference.” Our passage this morning is 1 Corinthians 15. A great theme of this section is the theme of “vanity” – that is, that life is empty and hamster-on-a-wheel-like. But then there’s a qualifier. Life is empty IF Jesus’ tomb was not. But if Jesus’ tomb was empty, life is full. In other words, the meaning of life hinges entirely on the resurrection of Jesus. With that introduction, now, let’s read 1 Corinthians 15:50-58:
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 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 imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power 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 brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
The way I’d like to approach this passage is by showing three ways in which resurrection gives life meaning. We’ll start now with the first way: Resurrection means that matter matters.
Paul begins by saying, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”—but then he goes on to describe resurrection. We might have expected him to say, “Flesh and blood can’t inherit the kingdom, and therefore, we’ll ditch these bodies and live forever as spirits.” But he doesn’t say that. Instead, he says that we’ll exchange one kind of physicality for another. The problem is not with physical bodies, per se, but with the fact that our current ones are perishable (also translated, corrupted) and mortal. That is, our bodies are both easily addicted and slowly dying.
That’s why Paul says twice that our bodies will “change” – that is, when Jesus returns, departed spirits in heaven and living believers on earth will receive a new body that doesn’t die, decay, or get addicted. Resurrection is not just going to heaven when you die; resurrection means new bodies. It means that death cannot diminish you to a mere spirit. It means that God never gave up on the goodness of His original physical design. Resurrection means that matter matters.
This is something Corinth especially needed to hear because they’d begun subtly making a distinction between “spiritual” and “physical”, as though “spiritual” was good and “physical” was at least not as good. I think we do the same thing. We tend to think that overtly spiritual acts like worship, prayer, and Bible reading are superior to overtly physical things like driving through rush hour traffic, cranking out a spread sheet, or cooking dinner. But if we live with this false dichotomy, we’ll inevitably feel like a hamster on a wheel, because the majority of things we do are overtly physical. What if I told you that flipping a burger could be just as sacred as singing to God? There’s a way of living – and we’ll get to it shortly – in which we allow the resurrection of Jesus to press outward into the way we work and play and relate and study… so that every physical thing we do matters. Resurrection means that matter matters.
And now for our second point: resurrection means that life matters.
This is what we see in verses 54-56, where Paul marvels at the victory of resurrection. If you think about it, there are two ways in which the world could experience “no more death”. The first is that everything dies. Like fire consumes the wood until there’s nothing left, death would consume life until there’s nothing left. This is actually the way the Universe is heading right now. Galaxies are growing further apart, and as they do, they grow colder and colder until their energy is used up, and every star dies, including the sun. As TS Eliot wrote: “This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang, but a whimper.” If the atheists are right, death will be no more because death swallows up all life.
But if the Scripture is right, death will be no more because Jesus swallows up all death. Let’s come back to 15:56: 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. What’s happening here? Paul is pointing out that death is not just a result of natural processes; death is theological. It comes about as a result of sin’s deadly poison (“sting”), and that poison gains potency through the Law, because the more rules God gave, the more we rebelled. Because death is theological, God couldn’t just wave His hand and end it. Dealing with death required Him to pull up the root causes of death: sin and law. Through His life, He fulfilled the Law. Through His death, He paid for sin. And then through resurrection, He swallowed death forever.
It makes all the difference in the world, which worldview we hold. An illustration from the life of Jim Watson will help you see what I’m talking about.
Jim Watson is one of the scientists who discovered the double-helix structure of DNA. He was a brilliant man. But he also didn’t believe in God. When people told him, ‘Jim your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t believe there’s a purpose for human existence.’ He would always respond, ‘Not really – I’m anticipating having a good lunch.’”
It would be funny, if it wasn’t so tragic. The only way Jim Watson could deal with death was by distracting himself from it with humor and or the thought of his next sandwich. The same is true for anyone who doesn’t believe that Jesus will ultimately swallow up all death. If death wins, all we can do is distract ourselves from its terrifying reality. This explains why anxiety and depression are spiking like never before during COVID. Not only is there an unknown virus traveling around the world, but now they don’t have entertainment and sports and work—at least not in the measure they once had—in order to distract them. So many people live without any sense of purpose beyond their next good lunch, or their next night out, or their next deadline, or their next great accomplishment. If death wins, this is all just a distraction from the reality of our mortality.
But if life wins, what we do while living lives forever. Because we live forever. Achievements aren’t lost in space. Memories don’t fade into blackness. The smallest act of love for the smallest person will be eternally remembered. Resurrection means that life matters.
And now, last of all, resurrection means that work matters. Let’s read verse 58 one more time: 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
The key phrase in this passage is “in the Lord.” Everything you labor for “in the Lord” has meaning. Pop quiz: If you yell curse words at the guy who cuts you off, are you cursing “in the Lord” or not? Of course not. You can’t sin “in the Lord.” What about when you use your words not for cursing, but for praising Jesus – are you, then, praising Jesus “in the Lord?” Absolutely.
But now for a neutral question. Something that’s neither sinful nor overtly spiritual. What about when you drive through rush hour traffic, crank out a spread sheet, or cook dinner? The answer is – it depends. Maybe this example will help you see what I mean.
Before I became a pastor, I was a Financial Analyst. I literally cranked out spreadsheets for a living. And when I was offered the job to work at Wellspring, I gave my old company a one-month notice. During that last month, I had a strong sense from the Holy Spirit that I wasn’t supposed to just “mail it in” during my last week. I was supposed to double-down, and work even harder. I was to set the next person up for success as a witness to the whole company that Christianity doesn’t just affect me in the afterlife; Christ affects my everyday life.
I worked harder in that last month than I did in all my previous months. When the finish line was in sight, just a few days away, I could see that I wasn’t even close to finishing a “manual” I had been working on for the next person to fill my role. It was very detailed, because I did not want the person to miss out on any of the knowledge I’d acquired in that position. So when 5pm rolled around, and people started to close their laptops, I kept typing away on mine. By 7 o’clock, most people were gone. By 8pm, it was me and the janitorial staff—and I wasn’t even halfway finished. The clock kept moving, but I stayed there – All. Night. Long.
The next morning, people began rolling in, offering their customary greetings. Then my friend Jeremy said, “Wait a minute, Rowntree – didn’t you wear that shirt yesterday?” Word began to spread that I pulled an all-nighter in my last week of work. People couldn’t believe it. Why would you work so hard when you have no promise of a raise or a bonus?
Simple: I was working for Jesus.
Motive is what transforms the mundane into the meaningful. Whether you’re driving through rush hour traffic, cranking out spreadsheets, or cooking dinner, if you’re doing it for Jesus, you’re laboring in the Lord. And whatever you do “in the Lord” lasts forever. That’s the power of resurrection. Without it, our works die in the dust, just like us. But because of resurrection, our works live on – just like us. It’s not what you do that makes something spiritual; it’s whom you do it for. Eating a cheeseburger can be just as worshipful as singing to God. In fact, it can be even more “spiritual” because worship songs can be sung heartlessly, but eating a cheeseburger can be done with thanksgiving. Motive is what transforms mundane into meaningful.
So how do we live this out practically? How do we push this sense of purpose, of living for Jesus, into everything we do? I have three words for you to remember: DEDICATION, DILIGENCE, AND DIALOGUE. Dedication. Diligence, and Dialogue.
Dedication means that just like Solomon dedicated the Temple to God, or like Israelites would dedicate their firstborn to God, we dedicate even our most mundane tasks to God, and suddenly they become holy. The secular becomes sacred. The physical becomes spiritual.
Diligence means that after you’ve dedicated that task to the Lord. You work hard at it, “as unto the Lord.” This applies in the workplace and at home. When I exercise, I ask God for strength to help me “give it my all” for His sake, as an act of thanksgiving that He’s given me a functioning body.
And last of all, there’s dialogue. This happens throughout the work you do. In the beginning you talk to God by dedicating the work to Him. Throughout, you ask for wisdom and strength. And at the end, you give thanks. And of course, this is only your side of the conversation. God is the other side – and the most important one. Whenever you’re laboring for the Lord, keep your spiritual ears open. God will give you wisdom on how to make that sale or solve that problem. Ask Him questions. And if He doesn’t answer directly, He’ll answer indirectly by just giving you the solution in a way that feels like you did all the work! At the end, you’ll find yourself saying with the Apostle Paul, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).
So WHY do you do the things that you do? Why do you LIVE? The reason Jesus emptied His tomb was to fill the pause at the end of that question. Jesus wants to be the WHY driving everything we do. Rather than believing the lie that what we do doesn’t matter, tell yourself the truth that whatever you do with Him lives forever.