William Gurnall (1616-1679) pastored in a little town of Lavenham, England and is best known for his Puritan leanings and his classic writings on spiritual warfare titled, “The Christian in Complete Armour.”
In his work, “The Christian’s Labor and Reward,” Gurnall sets out to enforce the exhortation found in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast and immovable. Always excel in the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
He writes, “There is the certainty of the reward: ‘knowing…your labor is not in vain.’ It is not an uncertain surmise taken up by a self-flattering hope from some easy ground of a weak fortess. It is not a ‘maybe,’ but you know it upon infallible grounds…You shall not lose your labor, that is, you shall be infinite gainers by it; you shall receive a reward greater than now you can conceive.”
Gurnall is right. However, is any work done, in any spiritual condition worthy of being rewarded? He goes on,
“The Christian’s work must be done from a right motive to a right end. The first right motive is obedience to the love of God, and that such as springs from the love of God. He does not God’s work who does not obey Him, and he does not obey Him who does not love Him, that only being true obedience which is hearty obedience.”
Right again. Good show, Gurnall.
But can you do work from a right motive or a right end? How do you know your work is actually pleasing to the Lord, or just a self-salvation project done to make you feel better?
The key is that little phrase in verse 58, “in the Lord.”
The truth of the matter: we never have good motives when we work. Our Adamic nature, the one that produces jealousy, strife, envy, anger, malice, impure thoughts, and hypocrisy can only do those awful things. That fact offends our senses doesn’t it? We can’t be that bad can we? But we can’t NOT be evil. We can’t produce the righteousness of God no matter how good the stuff looks from the outside. Catch that? Man cannot produce the righteousness of God. How could we? God is without any spot or darknes. But everything we do is tainted by sin, so God brutally crucified His Son on the cross to demonstrate the incredible sinfulness of sin. There couldn’t be a more vivid picture of the corrupt nature of man than in the fact that God had to take on flesh and be crucified to save us. Those are drastic measures.
Gurnall: “The great opposition the Christian meets with in doing the Lord’s work makes his labor greater still. Other men can work in their shops quietly, and none will molest them, much less throw stones at them; but the Christian is hindered from all sides. The flesh within controls him, lusting against every good motion and holy action which the Spirit of God stirs him up into; so that he is forced to dispute his way before he can come at his work. Would he pray? Then the flesh begs for time, and will put it off till a more convenient season. Would he give money? The flesh asks him whether he himself may need it…There is no duty but the flesh either keeps him from it or disturbs him in it.
So, “How do I have good motives when I do work for the Lord?”
The Christian has two sources to draw from: the first Adam of sin, and the Last Adam (Christ) of holiness. As a Christian, we have both of those lives and natures living in us simultaneously, which is why Paul could call himself the “Chief of Sinners” while also doing the most Christian labor (probably of all-time). The Christian life is one of faith, and the power of sin and self yields only to the exercise of faith in compliance with the Word of God and reliance upon the Spirit of God.
“Just as you have believed on Him, so walk…(Col. 2:6)”
You believed there was nothing you could do to save yourself from God’s wrath. You needed a substitute to live a righteous life for you, and sacrifice Himself as if He did all your unrighteous deeds (2 Cor. 5:21).
The same is true for our Christian work — we have to realize our work doesn’t meet God’s standard for righteous works. They are dirty rags, even as Christians, if produced by us…Adam. This is the first step in Christian maturity — you gotta’ know what your made of. John Newton once wrote of his Christian life that he felt like a child who couldn’t cross the street on his own. Just like when were saved from Hell, we have to recognize our moment-by-moment need to be saved from sin’s power now.
“Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6),” and “anything not done in faith is sin (Ro. 14:23).” Anything we are participating in that isn’t combined with resting on the merits and life of Another, namely Christ, is an offense to God. Our labor is pointless when it isn’t combined with faith.
But we have a new nature: Christ. Unlike us, His motivation in obeying God is always love. He is holy, righteous, joyful, peaceful, bold, gracious, just, and kind. He “always does the work that pleases the Father.” We are now in union with Him. What is His is ours, and where He is, so are we.
This means, of course, as Pastor Curtis said a few weeks ago at our men’s get-together, we can’t coast through life. We can’t just “not do bad things,” and “not rock the boat.” No, a mature Christian aggressively pursues the knowledge of Christ in each and every situation, “taking every thought captive to the obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).” Only then will we be worthy of reward on the day of judgement, when we as Christians are rewarded for the fruit we produce in this life.
Walk by faith in your new life in Christ. Know Him, yes, know Him so well that you recognize Him and understand what His will and response is in every circumstance. “Put Him on” as Colossians says. Study the Word of God to know a Person, so that He can live the life that is pleasing to the Father through you, so you “know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”