Distractions, Deviations and Divergencies – I Corinthians 15:51-58

We have just read the conclusion of Paul’s exposition of the doctrine of resurrection. This may have been the most controversial Christian doctrine of his day. The details of this doctrine are often debated in our day, but it was even more important in Paul’s. One of the major Jewish sects, the Sadducees, denied this doctrine entirely (Matthew 22:18). And even though the Pharisees believed in resurrection generally, they refused to accept the proof that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead, proving Himself to be the eternal Son of God. As I’ve pointed out before, nearly every sermon in the Book of Acts expressly declares Jesus’ resurrection, because it was such a hot topic.

One of Paul’s conclusions here is – “if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” As I say, Jesus’ resurrection was under attack, and souls were in jeopardy as a result. So I Corinthians 15 – one of the longest chapters in any of Paul’s epistles – definitively teaches the importance of Christ’s resurrection – and our resurrection in Him. Then he concludes with a statement about the Christian life and doctrine in general – “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye STEDFAST, UNMOVEABLE, always ABOUNDING in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

One of the problems with American society is a lack of consistency. The media tries to tell us that the police are not consistent in their application of force and the law. Parents are not consistent and uniform in the raising of their children. The first child is highly disciplined while the younger ones are not so much. Or their child finds his parent’s standards changing throughout his formative years, leaving him with questions about right and wrong, rules and regulations.

Over the last ten years the United States has passed between 1,000 and 2,000 bills and legislations in each of its five two-year congress. Why do we need to create more laws and to change the current ones? I suppose it’s to justify the existence of Congressmen. But one result of all these new laws is that lawfulness a moving target – ever changing.

And another area of inconsistency is religion. There is hardly a denomination in “Christendom” that is the same as when it was begun. The Wesley’s would be shocked at the state of Methodism today, as Luther and John Knox would be of their denominations. I can’t imagine what John Gano or David Benedict would think of the vast array of Baptists today. Not even the Catholic church is what it was a hundred or two hundred years ago, despite its unchangable core doctrines.

And that was something about which Paul was fearful. Don’t relax your grip on the doctrine of the resurrection – or any other principle doctrine. There is victory in the Lord Jesus Christ. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be YE stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

As I say, Paul was speaking primarily about Jesus’ resurrection and what it means to us. But we can’t separate Christ’s resurrection from the event which created the necessity for that resurrection. How does the chapter begin? “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

So an attack upon Christ’s resurrection is an attack at the heart of the gospel. And if the gospel is brought down in someone’s eyes, along with it will come the Person of Christ, including His deity. Paul calls Jesus, “our LORD.” “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our LORD Jesus Christ.” Who is this LORD Jesus Christ? He is God. He is Jehovah. Deny the resurrection and you attack Jehovah Himself.

Verse 26 says, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” And the death of death will come by way of the life of Christ – the resurrected Christ. What is the cause of death? Why does death even exist in this world? “The sting of death is sin,” and the source of death is sin. But the solution for sin and death is to be found in Christ and His gospel. “How that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

Bible Christianity is a DOCTRINAL religion as opposed to a priestly or sacerdotal religion. Christianity is a doctrinal religion as opposed to a religion of works and service. And this means that what God lays out before us as eternal truth, we must believe, maintain and implement. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

Christian doctrine is like a sweater, knitted in such a way that to break a single strand will eventually unravel the entire garment. Or perhaps a better analogy might be a coat of mail. Coats of mail were the body armor of the military for nearly 20 centuries. A coat of this armor, was made by interlocking metal rings or pieces of chain in a pattern, forming a mesh. Tightly constructed coats of mail could stop a sword blow, a spear and even an arrow. But if through use, there was a chink in that armor, then theoretically, an arrow might find that hole and bring the soldier down. The coat of mail needed to be well-maintained; it needed to be complete, or it wouldn’t function properly. And such is the case with much of our Bible doctrine.

Let’s consider Paul’s exhortation here in this last verse. He warns us about distractions, deviations and divergencies. Bro. Austin spoke of distractions Friday night and I’d like to develop that thought just a bit. We need to remain steadfast when it comes to doctrine; we need to be unmoveable in our relationship to the Saviour. And we need to be always abounding in the work of the Lord.

Let’s start with the PARTICULARS of this PRECEPT.

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” The difference between “steadfast” and “unmoveable” is a matter of perspective in my opinion. “Steadfastness” speaks of resolve, purpose and heart – it speaks of what lies WITHIN us. The second word, “unmoveable,” suggests, at least to me, the idea of planting one’s spiritual feet and refusing to be moved by forces from OUTSIDE.

And let’s start there. Don’t be distracted by what others are doing & saying – especially what they are doing & saying about you. As I say, the religious world is in constant flux, pushed around by the evil god of this world and every contemporary wind of doctrine.

I have lived a relatively short period of time, but during my half century in the ministry, it seems that people’s focus and many of the doctrines which were commonly held are now on the back burner or forgotten entirely. For example, when I came out of Bible school, nearly everyone I knew were looking for the imminent return of the Saviour. When a missionary friend of mine announced that he had taken up the idea of a post-tribulational return, I was shocked. His home church disavowed him, our church stopped supporting him and I stopped writing to him. Now everywhere I look I see churches which, like him, are no longer watching for the Redeemer. They are either looking for the Tribulation or they imagine themselves to be in the Tribulation. There is a strong wind which is pushing young saints and novice pastors off their spiritual feet.

Fifty years ago only liberal churches used Bible versions other than the King James. Today more and more Baptist churches and new pastors are falling into the lie that the manuscripts of Origen and Westcott and Hort, with their denial of the deity of Christ, are the original scriptures. Various arguments, from “ease of reading” to the education of the recent translators, are pushing saints off kilter.

And why are so many former Baptist churches calling themselves something else these days? Isn’t it because they are no long Baptist churches, having cast aside the doctrines which our forefathers held dear and even died to protect?

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be YE stedfast, unmoveable and unmoved by the rhetoric, popularity, and the educational degrees of the ever changing religious world.” Modern religious education is knocking young believers off their feet. Look at the Baptist schools of the past and examine what they are today – Brown University, Baylor, Richmond University, Mercer, Furman, even relatively young, Liberty in Lynchburg, Virginia. 300 years ago more than 95% of all Baptists in this country held to the doctrines of sovereign grace. But today is it not considered logical, loving or liberal to believe that God has chosen people to save. Paul says, Don’t be pushed around by others. Don’t cast aside your belief in the resurrection of Christ. Don’t give up any of the clearly defined doctrines of the Word of God.

Then, of course, there is physical opposition – there is the coming of legal and penal pressures. It will soon become illegal – it will become a hate crime – to teach that abortionists are murderers and homosexuals are sinners in the sight of God – that transvestites are transgressors. Preachers in neighboring countries are being jailed for preaching the Bible in face of human governmental powers. This has been our history in this country, and it will be once again.

Persecution was common in the days when Paul was exhorting his friends in Corinth with this verse. Their neighbors, Macedonian believers, were being attacked by Jews and Gentiles alike because of their faith. So Paul wrote to the Thessalonians – “No man should be MOVED by these affliction; for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. For verily when we were with you, we told you belore that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.” He said to the brethren in Colosse, “… CONTINUE in the faith grounded and settled, and be not MOVED away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you…” Much earlier, David said in Psalm 55 – “As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me: for there were many with me. God shall hear, and afflict them, even he that abideth of old. Selah. Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God. He hath put forth his hands against such as be at peace with him: he hath broken his covenant. The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords. Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be MOVED.”

When persecution strikes, and when Christians see others fall into heresy, it is natural to become less steadfast ourselves. Our faith, like our fleshly bodies, will fail us unless it is properly maintained. Our bodies for long periods may seem to be strong and healthy, but then days of weakness and disease come along. Similarly, we may think of the particulars of our faith as rock solid – embedded in the rock that is higher than ourselves. But remember, “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” If we are not feeding our faith by daily Bible study; if we are not strengthening our faith by regularly assembling ourselves with other believers in the house of God, our faith will be in jeopardy.

We may have confidence in the Lord and what he has revealed to us. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable… forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” The Lord cannot be defeated or even wounded. And whatsoever is done in his name, for His glory, and in His will, is not wasted or empty.

So keep moving forward – “always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” It may be tough slogging up that steep slope toward the presence of the Lord. The world’s gravity may be pulling you backward, trying to drag you off the narrow path. It may seem like the ground beneath your feet is nothing but crumbling shale. And there may not be another hiker in sight. But keep on keeping on “always abounding in the work of the Lord.”

Without completely finishing that thought, let me move on to our PROTECTION and POWER. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” The work which is done FOR the Lord will not be vain IN the Lord. It will not be empty or useless. “Thanks be unto God, which giveth us the VICTORY though our Lord Jesus Christ.” “We are HYPER-CONQUERORS through him that loved us” and who gave himself for us.

Keep in mind the theme of our chapter – the resurrection of Christ and its relationship to us. I might be argued – the primary importance of Jesus’ resurrection is in the salvation of sinners. But when Paul says, “if in THIS life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable,” doesn’t he tie together this life and what we call “the next?” The resurrected Christ not only guarantees our ultimate salvation, but also our lives and our service today. So I go back to our message from last Sunday – we are “MORE than conquerors.” Christ is our source of PROTECTION throughout our few short days of service. He is also the source of our POWER of and of the ultimate SUCCESS of that service here on earth.

When the Oldfield’s were in Calgary, and I was trying to lead a church which didn’t have the resources to support us, we started a typesetting business. We prepared business cards, brochures and books for printing companies to publish. Those were the days just prior to the ubiquitous personal computer and its publishing capabilities. But the writing was on the wall; soon every little print shop could produce its own ready-to-print copy. The company which Judy and I had built was doomed. But the work of the LORD – our service for the Saviour which we did in Canada, we also did in New Mexico, and we have been doing here in Idaho for the last 30 years – is still as viable and vital as ever. Our little secular business had its purpose, but no longer. Just about everything we published is pointless and out of print now. But our labor in the Lord has never been in vain – its effects have been – and are – eternal. And that is true for the Christian service of us all – not matter what it is. “THEREFORE, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

And this leads to one more quick point – the implied PURPOSE.

If all your energy – all your time – and all your lives – are spent in the service of yourself and your secular employer, at the end of the day or life, there is little need to be steadfast and unmoveable. It is less than permanent – it is fleeting; it is as substantial as the clouds. But if you are abounding in the work of the Lord, then steadfastness takes on new meaning and purpose. What you are doing for Christ is eternal, raising the importance and thus – your resolve in this regard – exponentially. What is your purpose in life? For what reason did the Lord give His life to ransom your soul? If you think that it was only to take you to Heaven when you die, then perhaps you need to reconsider your salvation. You were saved to serve and glorify the Saviour.

In Revelation 5:12, we hear a multitude of saints proclaiming, “WORTHY is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” Paul says, “My beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” because there is victory in our Lord Jesus Christ. And he implies – remember you have saved by the grace of God through the excruciatingly painful death of the Lord Jesus. “Be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” because your service is the least you can do to honor and thank the Lord for giving you eternal life through His death and eternal life. Verse 34 here in this chapter says, “Awake to righteousness and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.”

We have a work to do during these last few days of life and freedom. It is a work which must glorify our risen and returning Saviour. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”