A Strange Juxtaposition

heaven"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."--1 Cor. 15:58 In my last post, I explored the idea that as humans, we tend to be satisfied with the small stuff. The Lord is constantly challenging me in this as I get sucked into what I think is reality at the expense of what is truly real. I need to train my mind to think of heaven just as much as the next person. So what does that look like?

As I was reflecting on this, I was reminded of this passage in 1 Corinthians 15. In it, Paul writes a stirring explanation of the importance of Christ's resurrection and His second coming. You can hear the victorious spirit in his voice as he proclaims, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (v. 55). This thought propelled me to look at other passages that speak of our future to come when Christ returns.

Throughout the New Testament, we are told to watch and wait for this day for we do not know when it is coming (Matt. 25:12, 1 Thess. 5:6).  This again reminds us that we are not to set our sights on life here. We are passing through here, not staying long term. We are not to get comfy, surrounding ourselves with what the world here has to offer. We are not to lounge around thinking, "There is peace and security." (1 Thess. 5:2)

Rather, we are to focus on the fact that our Savior is coming again. That is our reality. That is our hope. He promises us that He will take us back to us Father's house, that even now He is preparing a place for us where we will stay for eternity (John 14:2, 3). This home is going to beat every other description of home we can ever imagine. This home is going to satisfy us in all the deepest longings we have.

But even more interesting is what follows each of these reminders. Instead of walking in la-la land, each of these passages is followed with some very practical advice: get off your butt and get busy! When the New Testament writers write about the second coming, it is not so that we live on another plane, ignorant of what is going on around us. Take a look. We are not to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use.

1 Thessalonians 5:8 tells us to not sleep but to stay awake and sober, "putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation." Them's fightin' words! We are to be getting ready for battle, not merely dreaming of faraway lands of bliss. A few verses later in verse 11, Paul tells us to encourage one another and build one another up. We often take that verse out of context, but it is a practical thing that we are to do as we are waiting for his coming again.

Jesus tells us the same thing in his discourse on the end times in Matthew 24-25. He was the one who originally taught that He will come again at a time unknown to us. In 24:43, He reminds us that if we know this, our response should be to be caught ready and waiting. Following that admonition, He launches into the parable of the ten virgins (25:1-13), five of whom were not ready…and missed out.

But what is more interesting is what follows after that: the parable of the talents (25:14-30) and the description of the final judgment (25:31-46). Because He is coming again, we are to be actively watching and waiting, and while we are doing so, we are to be making the best use of the talents we have been given, whether it is a little or a lot. We are to be meeting the needs of the people around us, even if it is simply offering a cup of water, a meal, or clothing to those who are in want. The juxtaposition of these passages is not a mistake. Even as our eyes are focused on His return, our hands and lives are to be busy with the work of the Gospel.

It is no different in 1 Corinthians 15, a chapter completely devoted to resurrection theology, starting with the reality of the resurrection of Christ (v. 1-11). the resurrection of the dead (v. 12-34), and the nature of our resurrected bodies (v. 35-49). As I mentioned earlier, Paul ends with a stirring cry of victory, one that not even death can vanquish (v. 55-57). But right away, in verse 58, he admonishes us to abound in the work of the Lord, knowing our labor is not in vain.

Do you see the connection? Even as the Chans write about being focused on hope and heaven in chapter 5, we are not to sit in glassy-eyed wonder, letting life pass by. Au contraire! We should be found with our hearts full of hope and our hands hard at work, making disciples. Friends, we are to get into our armor, gearing up for battle, even as we find our hope in the promises of heaven.

There is much to do. This is our time in the story to play our part, to do the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Are we going to be caught doing them or are we going to be caught napping?

What I took away from this chapter is two-fold. First, I need to examine my heart. Does it long for heaven? Or am I too content on earth? Again, C.S. Lewis writes, "Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” What am I aiming at?

And then second, even as I aim at heaven, what am I doing while I am waiting? Am I working, rolling up my sleeves and pouring myself into the disciple-making mission of Jesus or am I just….waiting? We cannot be content with just disciplining our minds to focus on the reality of heaven.

I believe that when we do, we are not only sending ahead rewards for the world to come, we are bringing heaven into the places in which we live today. For eternal life does not only begin someday, but it begins now. May the reality of our eternal future impact us today so that how we live, act, think, feel, do reflects the certainty of our hope.