If one word could sum up the nature of the apostle Paul’s commitment to the call of Christ on his life, it would be excellence. Paul desired to excel in everything He did for the Lord (2 Timothy 2:15), so he tackled his God-assigned mission to preach the gospel with all-out fervor, giving himself entirely to the work. He warmly encouraged fellow believers to do the same: “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 Corinthians 15:58, ESV).
When Paul said to always be “abounding in the work of the Lord,” he may have had these words of the prophet Jeremiah in mind: “Cursed is he who does the work of the LORD with slackness” (Jeremiah 48:10, ESV). Paul knew that life as a gospel minister was arduous work (2 Corinthians 11:23–28). It was often tedious and thankless work, too, so he encouraged Christians not to “grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9, ESV).
The term abounding means “being abundant or plentiful, going beyond, or producing or existing in large quantities.” The work of the Lord refers to the work of preaching, teaching, and being a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s wording in 1 Corinthians 15:58 closely resembles his question in 1 Corinthians 9:1 when he defends his work as an apostle: “Don’t you agree that I’m an apostle? Haven’t I seen Jesus our Lord? Aren’t you the result of my work for the Lord?” (1 Corinthians 9:1, GW). Paul said that his ministry protégé Timothy was “doing the work of the Lord, as I am” (1 Corinthians 16:10). And of Epaphroditus, his “fellow worker and fellow soldier,” Paul said, “He nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life” (Philippians 2:25–30, ESV).
Believers can always be abounding in the work of the Lord no matter what we do to further the kingdom of God. Whether we are onstage preaching the message or behind the scenes cleaning toilets or cooking for the crowds, we ought to devote ourselves to it wholeheartedly: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23–24).
To church elders, preachers, teachers, and ministry leaders, Paul taught, “And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching. Teach the truth so that your teaching can’t be criticized. Then those who oppose us will be ashamed and have nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:7–8, NLT).
We can always be abounding in the work of the Lord if we keep the same tenacious attitude as Paul. He completed the job with unswerving dedication, recognizing that serving Christ involves real labor. The rewards of heaven are worth going all out for, which is what Paul meant when he said our labor is not in vain. When the going gets tough or unexciting, ministers of the gospel must remember to “never tire of doing what is good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13). We are not called to idleness but to diligence (2 Thessalonians 3:6–15; Hebrews 6:11–12). Jesus taught this principle in the parable of the sower. The sower of the seed labored, knowing that some of the seed would fall on good ground and “produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown” (Mark 4:20; see also Matthew 13:1–23).