Welcome to Welling, for your spiritual well-being and your ministry overflowing. I know you’ve heard the wonderful phrase, to be or not to be, some of the famous six words in the English language. My series is called, in vain or not in vain. Over these few moments together, and around the series, we’re going to ask a question of final assessment of your life and mine.
My wife Bonnie has a habit of reading obituaries, a habit that she acquired from her father. I’ve been looking for my name in the obituary column for a while. And I’m glad she’s not. As obvious, I’ve not yet found it. And I think she’s glad. Unlike the Englishman who saw his name in the obituary one morning, and he was so upset. He called his editor and yelled at him. And the editor profusely apologized and said, I can’t do anything about that. But I’ll be sure that in tomorrow morning’s edition sir, your name will be found in the birth column.
Birth and death are the two terminal points of our lives. And what we do during those 25,000, and by reason of strength, 30,000 days, can be expended in vain or not in vain.
Leonard Woolf, a British writer, politician, and social commentator, best known for being the husband of Virginia Woolf, the great British literator, during the end of his life said something like this. I see clearly that I’ve achieved practically nothing. The world today and the history of the human anthill during the past five to seven years would be exactly the same if I had played ping pong instead of sitting on committees and writing books and memoranda.
I have therefore to make a rather ignominious confession, that I have in a long life ground through between 150,000 and 200,000 hours of perfectly useless work. In vain, it seems like.
The apostle Paul towards the end of his life, he had the climactic assertion. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I’ve kept the faith. That seems like a life that could be emblazoned with, not in vain. In vain or not in vain? That’s a good criterion for self discernment, not other discrimination, in self understanding, not judgment of others. To examine your own motion and action to see if you’re living in vain or not in vain.
The good thing is we get to decide what we want in our biography, in our eulogy, in our obituary. And how we use this life, how we expend this life right now, whether in vain or not in vain.
Our theme verse for the series is found at the end of the longest chapter written by the apostle Paul, actually the longest chapter in the New Testament. It’s found in 1 Corinthians 15:58. And I hope you can turn there because I’m going to give you a piece of homework in just a moment. 1 Corinthians 15:58. This is how it reads. “Therefore”, built on the first 57 versus, maybe all of the 15 chapters. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
That’s the homework. I want you to put a big red box around that phrase, not in vain. That’s our anchor verse. Vain could mean elusive. It’s like a life of vanity. That’s the word used in the book of Ecclesiastes. Depending on how you count in Hebrew, it’s either 37 or 38 times talking about vanity with nothing but air bubbles.
Vain could mean emptiness, empty life. On the outside, you have presence and possession. But in the inside, you have nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Vain could mean a lot of waste. Every moment of your 30,000 days comes and you don’t want to squander it. Vain could mean weightless. You are so taken up with the incidental and the inconsequential. The fluff. The show. The image. Like the dandruff which falls off your hair.
Vain could mean aimless, random, giving the least you possibly can on eternally important things in a short termism which preoccupies us and characterizes the entire human situation. Sadly, and most importantly, living in vain could mean a life without effect or result. Without energy. Without impact. Of no consequence. Of utter uselessness. Instead, like you, I seek a final assessment of a life emblazoned with the words not in vain.