Only one life ’twill soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
(Colossians 3:23 ESV)
I don’t want to waste my life
I want my life to count for eternity. I want my daily work to matter. I want to make a big impact on this world, and the next.
Some of this desire was driven into me from childhood by teachers, parents, coaches, and others who, because they loved me, wanted me to have a high self esteem and a large vision for the possible. They told me I could do whatever I set my mind to and achieve whatever I desired. I believed them. I grabbed on to this vision, as did much of my generation, and fully expected to be at the forefront of some movement, initiative, business, or other enterprise that would, in fact, shape the entire world.
In essence, I violated the Scripture’s command to not think of myself more highly than I ought.
In college, I was saved into a church (where I am now a pastor) that held a mantra of reaching “every nation in this generation.” This is an exciting (and biblical!) call on a young man’s life, but it carried with it some cultural baggage that has been hard to shake.
Namely, we categorically excluded “secular” work from “kingdom” work. This is a false distinction. We said that the only things that will last are human souls, so evangelism is all that matters. This is unbiblical and false!
All kinds of tasks can be “Kingdom work”
Colossians 3:23 brings dignity and humility to all work, both “high” tasks and “low” tasks. It removes pride and boasting from high profile, high prestige jobs, and brings dignity to the messiest, most menial tasks. And vice versa.
Think of the implications of this passage for a minute… The Lord Christ is the one you are actually doing the task for. So, if I am building God’s Web site… how am I going to go about my work? If I am building God’s apartment complex, if I am farming God’s land, if I am cleaning God’s house, if I am doing God’s laundry, how am I going to go about my tasks? With extreme excellence! With care and precision, with careful research, and with joy!
Make it last: Build it with gold
1 Corinthians 3:12–15 (ESV)
12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 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. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Paul speaks of his work in establishing the early church in this passage, but there is application we can all make to the rest of us in our work to which God calls us.
We have this saying in Evangelicalism: “It’s all going to burn.” And that saying is true, but not everything will be destroyed in that fire. If your work is built with “gold, silver, precious stones” it will survive.
Revelation 14 talks about our deeds following us. There is a sense in which your work will last. Maybe not the physical structures, but maybe. Randy Alcorn says in his book “Heaven” that one potential implication of the Scripture’s teaching on the resurrection (which includes this Earth, Matthew 19!) is that even some of the work we have done will be resurrected. That’s speculation, but worth consideration.
This passage says that some of our work will, in some sense, survive. That is encouraging to me. The “secular” work I am doing all day is not temporary.
What are the “gold, silver, precious stones”? This is work done out of love for your neighbor. It is all about the motive and direction of the work. Work done for self is the wood, hay, and straw. It is interesting that Paul is talking about ministry work specifically in this passage. Even “ministry” work, done for the wrong reason, will burn up and be destroyed. But even a cup of cold water given in love, will not go unrewarded.
Whatever is done out of faith in God’s promises (accurately understood in the Bible), whatever is done in hope (which is saying the same thing), and whatever is done out of love – all of these defined Biblically, not romantically – will last forever!
Remember the Gospel: Your work will never be good enough
But we must remember the Gospel and its implications on our work. There is a danger here when we focus on the work itself. We will NEVER be justified before God. We will never be saved by our work. Our work will never be good enough to save us. Only Christ’s work is effective for salvation.
Even our righteous deeds are as filthy rags before God in His holiness, and are made clean only through Jesus’s blood.
And even our worst deeds can be redeemed by Jesus’s blood through repentance and faith in His work on our behalf.
Our good works are a response. “Go and love others as I have loved you” is Jesus’s command. So let your good work be done as a loving response. You will drive yourself mad either out of despair, or out of pride if you seek justification before God through your works.
Editor’s note: This guest post was written by Matt Heerema, a friend of the Blue Letter Bible team. Matt runs a design agency that builds great websites for churches and organizations. We support Matt and his team in this gospel endeavor and encourage you to check out their website, if you’d like to learn more.