(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s message “Be Steadfast and Immovable,” part one of the Steadfast series. The video is also available to you.)
Well, today I want to teach you a verse that I’ve turned to for the last fifteen years. And whenever things have felt out of control, I’ve turned to this verse. Whenever I’ve felt—needing some sense of anchoring, I’ve turned to this verse. It’s a verse that maybe some of you know by heart; maybe some of you have never heard before. But my prayer is that, today, you might just cling to this verse sometime this week. Maybe some of you will even kind of dedicate this verse to memory. I think it’s that powerful.
It comes from 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verse 58. It says, “Therefore, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your work is never in vain.” I’m gonna walk through what some of these words mean, but any time you see the word “therefore,” you know that after it, it’s gonna be a declaration. But you gotta get curious—what’s before it?
Now, the city of Corinth was a fascinating city. It was a harbor town. People would come into Corinth for the weekend. To literally lose their minds—drinking, eating prostitution. Many scholars say it was like the Vegas of the ancient Near East. What happened in Corinth would stay in Corinth. They had a word that people would say to each other: “What do you wanna do this weekend?”
“I wanna go corinthianize—I wanna lose myself in all that Corinth has to offer me.”
Now, imagine this upstart church in this city. Trying, in the midst of all of these cultural pressures, to live out the teachings of Jesus. And when you walk through the book of 1 Corinthians, I need you to know this was a broken group of people. And Paul—Paul understands it.
See, even in the first chapter, you see there’s a church that’s divided over its leaders. “Oh, I love when this person teaches. I don’t wanna go if this person teaches.”
They were divided over its leaders. We see, another page over, that they were dealing with a case of incest in the church. You go another page, and you see that people in the church are suing one another. You see that there is rampant sexual immorality happening within the church. They have questions about married life, single life. You turn another page, and you see that people are sacrificing to idols and then eating that food. You see that they have no sense of self-discipline. It’s just whatever they desire, whatever they can experience, whatever they can get their hands on. You see that there is these idle feasts that many of them are partaking in. You see that they have this sense of “My spiritual gift. I know my gift, and I don’t need your gift—my gift is better than your gift.” There’s like inner competition within the church.
You see that they are gathering for the Lord’s Supper like we just did, and they were pushing the poor out from their community. You see that there was a struggle with unity within the body. Which is why, in chapter 13, Paul says, “You have forgotten how to love. You have to return to what it means to love.” Oh, and, every weekend, when they would gather, there was disruptions and distractions within the gathering.
This church was a mess.
And so they had found themselves fixated and majoring on the minors. And so Paul, in chapter 15, begins going, “You have forgotten about the Gospel that I preached to you. You have forgotten about the good news and what Jesus taught.” And then he says this, in verse 3, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried”—which means he was dead—“that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” And then it goes on to say that Jesus, in the resurrected state, made himself known to all of these various groups of people.
What Paul’s trying to get to these people, this church, is... he’s trying to help them understand what is of first importance? You have forgotten it. It’s that Christ died so that every person could have the chance to be in a relationship with the Father. And he was actually dead, and that, three days later, there was resurrection.
But there was questions that was happening within this city of Corinth—within this church. Many people believed that the Resurrection wasn’t that big of a deal. And Paul was like, “What? You’re allowing all of the cultural influences to shape your thinking!” Some of the prophets of that day, they would say things, like in verse 32, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Let us just be fixated with pleasure—with experience. And when we die, we just die.
I was on a plane recently; we were flying to the West Coast. And I struck up a conversation with the guy beside me, and I said, “Hey, why are you heading out West?”
He says, “I’m going to a funeral.”
And I’m like, “Oh, man, I’m so sorry. Family member?”
He goes, “No, it was a college buddy.”
I said, “Oh.”
And then he said, “There’s something about death. Just makes you think about much deeper things.”
And in this moment, in 34B, buckled in, I felt like this whisper from God: Just ask him some more questions. Get curious. And so I said, “What do you think happens when you die?” Which isn’t the right question to be asking on an airplane, but... his response was fascinating.
He said, “Hmm. It’s kind of like the sunrise: lights are on. You live your life. And then you die. The sun sets, and it just goes dark. That’s it.”
I said, “That’s it?”
He said, “Yeah, I think so.”
I was like, “Huh.”
And then he goes, “What do you think?” And he didn’t know what I did for a living. And I was like: Yes! Okay!
I said, “Here’s my thing, I get what you’re saying, but just play that out with me. If you think that, and you believe that to the core, what you’re saying is that evil wins.”
He’s like, “Well, go... what do you mean?”
I said, “Well, somebody who is orienting their life to bring pain, trauma, devastation, to a group of people... gets the same ending as Mother Theresa? Who gave her life for the sake of the poor—they get the same? Or... somebody who is trafficking kids... gets the same thing at the end of their life as Martin Luther King? What’s the point of living if we all get the same thing?”
And, all of a sudden, as I start to say this, the guy in the row in front of me goes, “Preach!”
And I was like, “Alright. That’s what I needed.”
And so, in this moment, I’m like, “But here—here’s the thing. When you start to think about this, many people, for generations and generations, have thought what you thought. But I think there might be another way.”
He’s like, “Tell me more.”
I said, “There’s this man by the name of Jesus. And you’ve probably heard of Him. But you have to understand that there was something profound about Him because it felt, in His life, that evil won—that’s what Good Friday was all about. It looked like evil won. And He dies on this cross. He’s buried. But three days later, He resurrects! He comes back to life. He shows Himself to other people.” Now I’m like unbuckling—I’m like walking the aisle now, on the plane. But I’m like, “You gotta understand this: He resurrects. Which means... that all things are possible. That any life can be transformed. That anything can be made new. That any person can change. And that evil doesn’t have the last word. And the truth is, in the Scriptures, if you don’t have a view of resurrection, it’s meaningless. It’s pointless. But if you have a resurrection, it makes this life matter, and it also makes the next life matter.”
And this is what the Corinthian church had forgotten. So Paul says—he says it so brilliantly in verse 34. He’s like, Guys, “come back to your senses as you ought.” You gotta understand—he uses this agrarian metaphor. It’s like a farmer who goes out and he finds this piece of corn before the entire harvest is ready. And he plucks this piece of corn, and he sees that this is going to be a fantastic harvest. He runs back, shows the family, and they begin to start this celebration process. Cause they know that the harvest is coming. And they would call this the first fruit. And Paul is saying, “Jesus’ resurrection? It was the prototype. It’s the first fruit.” And that we live as Easter people—a part of a resurrection parade, pointing to the reality that cities can change. That countries can change. That people can change. That transformation is possible! That’s why we live.
And you can’t forget that.
And for many of us, we’re just gonna find ourselves slipping back into the Corinthian mindset. Just eat and drink and be merry. Pleasure and power. That’s not the way of the resurrection. That’s not our way and mode of operating our life.
And so Paul, in view of all of that, has a declaration to make: “Therefore, be steadfast, immovable.” Which would make every one of us say, “Steadfast to what? Immovable to what?”
To the matters of first importance—that Christ died for every one of you so that you could be made right with God. That Christ was buried. And that, three days later, Christ rose from the grave. And Scriptures say that the same power that allowed Christ to raise from the grave lives within us as Christ followers. And that, as Christ followers, this Spirit has given each and every one of us unique spiritual gifts. And here is what Paul is saying: “Be steadfast and immovable to that.” The core Christian beliefs. And the belief that you have a calling. You have a spiritual gift. And you matter on this life. You have a purpose. Be steadfast in that.
To get to my childhood home, you’d go down this big grade to get to our city. I’d go on these runs, and I would find myself at the base of these mountains. And they were constant. They were strong. They were massive. In these moments, where I would look at these mountains, and I could experience God’s immovable, steadfast power, and I could feel God saying, “That’s what I want from you.”
Paul’s saying, “Therefore, be steadfast. Be immovable.” But for many of us, we waver, don’t we? Our lives kind of just drift. We’re more like tumbleweeds—being blown over here. And over here. And over here. And we forget the matters of first importance—we forget that we have a calling. We forget that we have been given spiritual gifts, and we just slightly drift.
When I lived in California, I was invited to do a speaking engagement in Milwaukee. So I got on a plane, I fly to Milwaukee, and, as I’m in the air, getting ready to land, I look out the window, and I see this sign: “Welcome to Cleveland.” And I was like, Cleveland? What, I don’t wanna go to Cleveland! I’m supposed to be in Milwaukee.
Come to find out some artist just wanted to prank everybody in Milwaukee when people were coming, that he just put that on the roof of his house—which is just genius. But as I’m walking through the Milwaukee airport, I start thinking about this. How many of us think that we’re steadfast? Moving in the right direction? And, without even knowing it, we’re drifting, and finding ourselves in Cleveland. Don’t be that person. Be true to the matters of first importance. Be true that you’re here for a reason. Be true that God has given you spiritual gifts. And if you don’t know your gifts, you will waver. If you do not know those core Christian beliefs, you will drift. But when you can receive that, hold that, cling to it, you have the best chance to be steadfast and immovable.
But the verse doesn’t stop there.
It says, “Therefore, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” I love this, because this work of the Lord is the activity of God. The stirring, the move of God. And the truth is, God is everywhere that you go. He’s in every environment, restaurant, marketplace, neighborhood, city—He’s everywhere. And many of us are unaware of it.
This verse kind of has the same tenets of John 15—that when you remain, abide, in the Lord, you will bear much fruit. But, apart from Christ, you can do nothing. It makes me wonder... are you someone who’s always abounding? Are you someone who’s occasionally abounding? Are you someone who’s sometimes abounding? Are you someone who’s eh-bounding... in the work of the Lord?
But Paul’s telling this Corinthian church, “Man, you gotta be steadfast. Immovable. Looking for God’s activity all around us. And always abounding. Always stepping into it. Always being willing to risk.”
I remember the first time I met you, Mike. It was at Cooper’s Hawk in Arlington Heights—you were my waiter. And I remember, it was about two and a half years ago. And I just had this little conversation. My wife and I are on a date, meet this guy, and... and you could just sense that there was something stirring—it wasn’t right. Just, you could feel there was questions that he was wrestling with. I’d go back in that Cooper’s Hawk, I’d see him, he’d be my server, we had a couple more interactions. You fast forward to like three months ago. I walk into the South Barrington’s Cooper’s Hawk, and I see him, and there’s just this smile. This joy. This moment. And I just stood back, and I was like, man, God is up to something.
This powerful moment, because I need you to know this—God transforms people’s lives. But the truth is, if I’m really, really candid with you, sometimes I have the willingness to kind of adopt the Corinthian model—just eat, drink, be merry. Sometimes, I have just this feeling inside... that I shouldn’t care as much. Sometimes, I wish that, when I would go to a restaurant, I would just care about the food and not the people. Sometimes, I wish that I didn’t actually have to know my server’s name. Sometimes, I wish I could just kind of push them and their story away, and I could just eat, drink, and be merry. Sometimes, I wish that I didn’t get these whispers and promptings from God and see what He was trying to do, and I wish that I could just neglect that. Sometimes, I wish that I could just abound in the work of the Lord on Sunday mornings or on Wednesday nights.
Sometimes, I wish, when I look in the world, and all of the brokenness and pain that is stirring in our world—sometimes I wish it didn’t bring me to my knees. Sometimes, I wish I could just escape it all. Sometimes, I wish... this verse just said, “Occasionally abound in the work of the Lord.” But Paul is challenging the church to be steadfast. Immovable. Always abounding in the activity of God. Always leaning in.
And do you know how you are someone who is always abounding? I’ll tell you. You have an “Only God” story every seven days. Every week, you tell a new story of how God is up to something in your life, with you and through you. You’re not telling a story from last month. You’re not telling a story from last year. You’re not telling a story from the past decade. You’re not telling a story from when you were in high school. You are telling a story of how God has done something in the last week. Do you have an “Only God” story? Cause that’s what God is calling us to. To always abound in the work of the Lord.
But then he flips it a little. And I think this will be a great encouragement to you. “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your work is never in vain.” Let’s just be honest. How many of us just hate wasting time? All of us. Yeah. I don’t wanna waste time. I’m always thinking strategically, okay, I could cut ninety seconds there, I can cut thirty seconds here, I can cut forty-five seconds here. Oh, it’s too long of a line at the drive-thru at Starbucks, I’m just gonna park, go in, get a quick cup of coffee, and I beat that Honda Civic—yes! I win! And, like, I feel good about it. I don’t want to waste time. I don’t like doing the same thing over and over and over again. I don’t wanna waste time.
One of my family members is an incredible builder. He’s pretty renowned in Michigan, and he’ll get asked to do these different projects. And he was asked to build this house of five-bedroom, four-bath house. And the person who asked him to build it happened to be on vacation for a few months. And his hope was he would return from vacation with this new, beautifully stunning house. So, every day, he’s checking in, “How’s it going?” And my uncle’s building this house. It’s awesome. It’s amazing. And, finally, this family returns, and they show up to their piece of property. And there’s no house.
And then he looks across the street. And he sees his house. He calls my uncle and he says, “Hey, um... how’s the house going?”
Uncle’s like, “Oh, it’s amazing. You can’t wait till you see this.”
He’s like, “Oh, I see it. It’s just not on my property.”
My uncle had accidentally built it on land he didn’t own.
Now, I hear that story, and I’m like, oh, I would hate to waste time building that. Like, what do you do? Do you tear it all down? Like, what do you—do you have to buy that piece of land? Do you have to build the exact same house on the other side? Like, what do you do? Wasting time!
And hear what Paul is trying to get at: “You have to know that, in the Lord, your work is never in vain—it is never a waste of time.” Every time you intercede and pray. Every time you pack seeds. Every time you bless. Every time you serve. Every time you show up. Every time you make an invitation. Every time you’re on your knees, begging God for someone’s life to change, or some city to change, or for something that happened... heaven notices. Heaven acknowledges. And it’s as if God is standing—looking down at you going, “Yes! That’s my son! That’s my daughter!”
It’s never in vain.
I’ve been trying to teach my son... how to live an invitational life—how to be someone who hears the whispers and promptings of God and is quick to respond and make an invitation. One of the things that we talk about in our home is invitational fails. Nobody’s gonna hit 100 percent. But, if you believe this verse to be true, which I do, it’s that God sees our faithfulness—God sees us taking risks. God sees us making invitations. And so I’ve been teaching Emerson. He’s eight at the time of this story. And I said, “Hey, when you hear God, invite someone. Invite a student to your table at school. Invite someone to church.”
And he’s like, “Okay, I think I got it.”
So, one Wednesday night, after Midweek, he and I are sitting at a table at the Lucky Monk, and he goes, “Huh.”
A server comes up and asks us for what we want to drink. And he just looks at her and goes, “Why don’t you go to church?”
I was like... heh heh heh heh. You remember the moment, you’re like, “Uh, dude, take it down. That’s not how we do it.” You know, I was in this moment, I was like, heh heh.
And then he goes, “Here’s why. Cause our church helps people. And if you come to our church, you can help us help more people!”
And I’m like, Eh, not bad. Turned that around.
And she kind of looked at him and kind of gave a nice response and walked away. And I looked at my son, and I was like, “You did it!”
And he’s like, “But it didn’t—she didn’t say yes.”
I was like, “It’s okay. You know what? Heaven saw. You heard a whisper. You can maybe do a little bit better in your intro. But you went for it!”
Friends, you gotta know this. It’s never wasted. It’s always seen. And people who get this understand what will happen. That every one of us, when we die, the Scriptures are clear about this, we will stand before a good and holy God. And every one of us will have the chance to share with God what we stood for—what we believed. How we oriented our life. And it will determine our eternity. And I guarantee you, none of you, in that moment, will being thinking about the stuff that you had.
I’m not gonna be standing there going, “I wish I would’ve bought one more black sweater.” You’re not gonna find yourself thinking, I wish I would’ve done this. I wish I would’ve done this. You know what you’re gonna be thinking about? But I wish I would’ve showed up more for my friends and my family. I think it’s gonna be an honest, human, profound moment.
When I was in college, a buddy of mine said, “Hey, you wanna run a 5k?”
I said, “No.”
He said, “Please, just, just come down—come to my home town. Let’s run a 5k.”
I’m like, “Okay.”
So we show up, and we’re kinda being herded into this kind of station of people who are all ready, and they’re all stretching and I’m like, “5k.” And I’m like, “Ah, you know what? Before I run, I probably should use the restroom.” And I see kinda like little porta potty over there. So I duck under a rope, and I start running over to this porta potty. And then, as I start to come back, I go under another rope, and there’s like a herd of people who are beginning to move forward. And I’m trying to find my buddy, and I can’t. And, all of a sudden, I’m like, “Well, I’ll just see him at the finish line. I’ll just go with them.” And, I should’ve known that there was a problem. Because the length of shorts were a lot shorter in this herd of people. They’re all wearing shoes like, words I couldn’t pronounce, like saucany or sockaknee or something. And so we start running, and I’m running, and it’s probably like twenty-five, thirty minutes in, I’m like, “Man, this is a long 5k.” And I’m just running. Finally, I look at this guy, and I’m like, “Hey, how much farther?”
He’s like, “I think we just hit the, the fifth mile. 8.1 to go.”
“8.1 miles to go?” I was like, “I thought this was a 5k.”
He goes, “No, it’s a half marathon. You’re in the wrong race, dude!”
And I’m like, “You’re in the wrong race, dude!”
I do not like to run! Except form pain, you know? So, over the next 8.1 miles, every step that I took was just filled with bitterness and deceit and evil. I was tripping people. Like, I was just running... and I got to the finish line. I get down. A guy tries to hand me a beer. I’m like, “Psh.” I can’t even feel my legs. And my buddy runs by.
He’s like, “Dude, you ran the wrong race.”
I’m like, “[mumblings].”
Guys, here’s the thing. You’re gonna get to the end of your life; I don’t want you to run the wrong race!
Paul talks about this in the New Testament. He says, “You know, there are these athletes, and they will beat their bodies to win a prize.” You know what their prize was? It was a crown, made of petals of olives and celery stalks. That was just gonna wither within a few days. But he says, “There are also these Kingdom athletes. They’re steadfast. They’re immovable. They’re always abounding in the work of the Lord. And they know that everything they do for God is never in vain. And their reward? It’s gonna be an eternal reward forever. It is going to be a crown. You will spend the rest of your life with the Father, and with the Son, and with all of heaven.”
What race are you running?
I think, for many of us, we’ve drifted. We’re not steadfast. We’re not immovable. We’ve just wavered into the wrong race. We don’t have “Only God” stories. We’re just trying to get through our life, and we’re just stumbling, taking step after step after step. And I don’t want you to cross the finish line of your life and come to a point when you hunker down and you realize everything I did was in vain. I don’t want that for you. May you be steadfast, immovable, and may you run the right race. Amen?