In Dante’s poem Inferno, a sign was posted on the gates of Hell that read:
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!
Today many would suggest that the same sign should hang above the entrance to their workplaces.
It’s clear that we need hope, and sometimes we need it while at work. This engages a “mental” need we all share.
In my last couple of posts we looked at a recent article in the New York Times that suggested employees are vastly more satisfied and productive when four of their core needs are met. I have proposed four tools that God has given Christians to help us address these four core areas of need in our lives:
- In the physical area, God has given us the Sabbath.
- In the emotional area, God has given us work.
- In the mental area, God has given us the resurrection.
- In the spiritual area, God has given us our calling.
Today we want to look more closely at how, in the mental area, God has given us the resurrection as a tool in order to fulfill our deep need for hope.
The Biblical Definition of Hope
In I Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul explains that Christ’s resurrection is the very cornerstone of the gospel. Without it nothing else matters.
Paul does not describe Christianity’s great hope as Christ’s resurrection – he treats that as historical fact. Instead, he describes the great hope as our own resurrection at the end of this current age.
Many of us struggle with this concept because we don’t understand the biblical definition of hope.
Today, we define hope as wishful thinking: “I hope something will happen.” This is not what the Bible means by hope.
The Bible defines hope as a “confident expectation” based on the promises of God. Hope is a firm assurance regarding things that are unclear and unknown (Romans 8:24-25;Hebrews 11:1,7). It is not a feeling. It is an intellectual acknowledgment that God is faithful.
Paul says that because Christ was raised from the dead, Christians have the great hope (i.e., assurance) that we too will be raised from the dead at the end of this age. We will be given new, resurrected bodies that are imperishable, in which we will live with Christ forever in the new earth.
Why We Don’t Labor in Vain
At the end of this this incredible chapter on the resurrection, what does Paul say? “Since there is a resurrection, look forward to this glorious future?” No. He says something quite different:
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Your work is not in vain! Why not?
I love NT Wright’s answer to this question and quote it in my book, How Then Should We Work. He says:
Because everything you do in the present, in the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, everything that flows out of love and hope and grace and goodness somehow will be part of God’s eventual Kingdom. That is the message of the resurrection. The resurrection is your new body in which you will be gloriously, truly wonderfully you. The resurrection means everything you’ve done in the present through your body – works of justice and mercy and love and hope – somehow in ways we don’t understand will be part of God’s new creation.
All of our work matters to God and has eternal consequences because of what happened on that first Easter, and because of what will happen to all of us who are in Christ at the end of this age.
Far too often we read “knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” as the work we do in the church, or our evangelism. But this is not what Scripture says.
Our labor here refers to all of work: what we do in our families, what we do in our churches, what we do in our communities, and especially what we do in our vocations.
One of the ways we love God with all our mind is by embracing this great hope and knowing that everything we do in obedience to God’s call on our lives matters.