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Not in Vain

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

William Borden was born in 1887 to a wealthy family. He graduated high school at age 16, and for his birthday, his parents gifted him a trip around the world.  Traveling with a missionary, God used Borden’s trip to give him a heart for the nations, and he knew his calling was to be a missionary.  William enrolled at Yale and, upon graduation, pursued a seminary degree at Princeton Seminary. William’s primary academic goal was to be an equipped and sharpened tool for the kingdom of God.

At age 22, William became a member of the North American Council of the China Inland Mission. His heartbeat was for the immense Muslim population in China to know Jesus as their Savior. As he worked day in and day out to serve the Lord while equipping himself to be an effective instrument in China, he would often journal.

In his journal he would often write, “No reserve, no retreat.”

1 Corinthians 15:58 tells us, “Therefore, my dear brothers, 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.”

Leading up to verse 58 in chapter 15, the Apostle Paul defends the necessity of the Christ’s resurrection. The fact of Christ’s resurrection gives us indisputable proof that we too will be resurrected.  Our hope is real and is rooted in the risen Jesus Christ.

The assurance of the resurrections leads Paul to command the church two things.  The first is to “Stand firm. Let nothing move you.”  There are a lot of things in this world trying to knock us from standing firm and move us. You might be facing a personal struggle to be selfless in a relationship. You might be fighting temptation to indulge in desires of the flesh. Or you might be challenged by people around you on sound doctrine, such as whether or not you can lose your salvation or if God permits homosexual marriage; or the silly fallacy that Jesus was just a man.  Yet, God tells us: “Stand firm. Let nothing move you.”

Secondly, Paul tells us: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.” Always.  Always, we are to be devoting our lives to God’s work. What does that look like?

  1. Giving your very best to glorify God in your workplace, your home, and your private life.

  2. Pursuing authentic community with your church and the people you work with.

  3. Searching for and prayerfully anticipating daily opportunities to witness and disciple.

We learn fairly quickly that pursuing these two commands is exhausting. It’s NOT easy.

But, Paul goes on to encourage us:  “Your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Not. In. Vain.

Maybe it’s because my wife and I are in the throes of transition to a growing family, but the “not in vain” mentality has been a daily challenge and encouragement the last few months.  The word “vain” in Greek can also mean “empty.” Our sacrifices, our standing firm, and our hard work are not empty.  And as Paul teaches on throughout 1 Corinthians 15, our work is NOT empty because the tomb IS empty.  Praise God!  Our labor in Jesus is not in vain, because He is risen!

When William Borden decided to be a missionary in China and witness to the Muslim population, he went to Egypt to learn Arabic, so that he could speak with and relate with Muslims in China. While in Egypt, William contracted bacterial-meningitis. He died in 1913. He didn’t get the chance to directly witness to his target audience.

On his deathbed, William wrote in his journal: “No reserve, no retreat, no regrets.”  He never made it to China, but he knew his academic pursuits designed to equip him for life as a missionary were not in vain.  He gave himself fully to the work of the Lord, always.

Where do you need to be reminded that your labor is not in vain?  How do you need to stand firm?  In what areas do you need to give yourself fully to the word of the Lord?  Let’s commit to living a life of no reserve, no retreat, and no regrets.

Stand firm. It’s not in vain.

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