Topical Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3:10–15
Labor Day is the day when we do the opposite of what the name says. It’s a bit oxymoronic, like “jumbo shrimp” or “plastic silverware.” Nonetheless, it’s good to have a day not to labor. But the day will soon be over, and the world will be waiting when we get back.
What could we decide today that would make the day after Labor Day as hopeful and fulfilling as possible?
There are more than 155 million Americans in full-time and part-time employment today. Researchers say we work for six reasons, on a scale from less to most meaningful:
- Inertia: working to do what we’ve always done
- Economic pressure: working to make a financial living
- Emotional pressure: working to please family, friends, and society
- Potential: working to fulfill personal goals for a better future
- Purpose: working for a sense of accomplishment
- Play: working because we find joy and fulfillment in what we do.
All six are legitimate, but obviously, the more we can move further to the side of meaning, the better. When we can’t believe someone pays us to do what we do, we’re in a good place.
In our walk through the Sermon on the Mount, last week we noted Jesus’ statement that whoever does and teaches the word of God “will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).
The Bible describes specific rewards in heaven, crowns given to those who are faithful on earth. On Labor Day weekend, let’s explore the reasons to labor that have eternal significance.
Work for reward that lasts
Our text begins: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it” (v. 10). Paul is describing his apostolic ministry as apostle to the Gentiles, a ministry that brought him to Corinth and led him to establish the first Christian church there. This is the “foundation” he laid; now that he has left the city, those who followed him in faith are “building on it.”
However, the apostle is clear: “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (v. 11). He is the one true foundation of the church, the rock upon which we stand as Christians.
Now Paul comes to our choice: “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw” (v. 12). We can build on Christ using materials that are precious and last, or material that are cheap and temporal.
Here’s why we should give God our best: “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done” (v. 13). The “Day” to which he refers is the day of judgment when “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Here’s the good news: “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward” (v. 14). As fire reveals gold, silver, and precious stones for what they are, so God’s judgment will reveal the good works we have done in his name and for his glory. For them, we will “receive a reward.”
Here’s the bad news: “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (v. 15). At question is not our salvation. If we have asked Jesus Christ to forgive our sins and become our Lord and Savior, he answered our prayer and made us the children. We will therefore “be saved,” no matter what. But we will forfeit eternal reward that God can give only to those who are faithful to him.
It stands to reason that we would want to work most for that which is most valuable. Eternal rewards in heaven are the most valuable purpose for which to work on earth.
Seek crowns in heaven
The Bible describes these rewards as “crowns.” It’s a powerful metaphor. In the ancient world (and today), crowns are made of the best materials and awarded only to the most significant people. To wear a crown is to be royalty, to be recognized above all others.
Scripture lists four such crowns that God wants to give all of us.
First, there is the “imperishable crown.” “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24–25 NIV).
Here we learn about the importance of “strict training,” of running “in such a way as to get the prize.” This means to live with discipline, to know and live by God’s word, to walk with him daily as his Spirit empowers us.
Are you in “strict training”? Are you walking daily with your Lord?
Second, there is the “crown of life.” “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12 NIV). Jesus said, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
This crown comes to those who choose to suffer in order to be faithful to their Lord. When we take unpopular but biblical stands, when we share our faith with those who ridicule us, when we serve Christ in hard places and times, he knows what we do for him. And he rewards us forever.
When was the last time it cost you something significant to follow Jesus?
Third, there is the “soul-winner’s crown.” “What is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 NIV).
Paul is speaking of Thessalonians he led to Christ when he came to their city. There, he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’ And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” (Acts 17:2–4).
Now he rejoices that these and others he helped find Christ will be “the crown in which we will glory.” Every person you lead closer to Christ is such a crown waiting for you. How many will you have in heaven?
Fourth, there is the “crown of righteousness.” “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7–8 NIV).
This crown comes to those who are faithful to the end, who glorify Christ with their lives and service until he calls them home. We cannot know that we will be faithful until the day we die. But we can decide every day to be ready to meet him every day, until that day comes.
Have you made that commitment yet today?
If we live with spiritual discipline, paying any price to serve Jesus, leading others to him and being ready to meet him daily, we will live and work in ways God can bless. We will give him our best and receive his best.
C. S. Lewis once said that there are two kinds of people. Some say to God, “Your will be done.” For them, meeting God in judgment will be reward and victory. To the others, God must finally say, “Your will be done.” They have rejected heaven, or rewards in heaven.
Is it his will or yours? You have only today to decide.
I’ll close with a personal word. More than four decades years ago, like millions of other people, I was preparing on Labor Day weekend to go to college. Choosing God’s will or my will was the major issue before me.
My dream was to become a professional tennis player or trumpet player. My parents, being a bit more realistic, would have preferred that I become a doctor. I knew that God had called me into the ministry of the word.
So, I kept all my options open. I chose to major in music, medicine, and religion, while keeping up my tennis game on the side. I tried to do my will and God’s will at the same time.
But I was miserable. I wasn’t happy in school or in life. I actually made plans to transfer to another university, hoping that would help.
Then, three of my professors befriended me. They gave me opportunities to teach Bible studies and preach sermons, to become involved in the ministry to which I knew I had been called.
And the more I served Jesus, the more I came to love Jesus. And the more I came to love the life he intended for me. Through that process, I chose to submit my life to God’s purpose for my life.
Looking back on that decision forty-three years later, I will always be grateful I chose his will over my own. Always.
I’ll make you a personal promise: if you’ll choose his will over yours, you’ll be glad you did. You will receive eternal rewards that far outweigh their cost, and you’ll live a life on earth of significance, purpose, and joy.
My college pastor told me something I’ve never forgotten: “The will of God never leads where the grace of God cannot sustain.” If you’ll live for God in heaven, you’ll live your best life on earth.”
This is the promise, and the invitation, of God.