By Tim Sullivan

Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ,
that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.
(Philippians 2:16)


One can scarcely imagine a greater dismay than to have reached the end of your days of service to God only to discover that yours was wasted effort, that you ran or labored in vain. How loudly this verse of scripture speaks to our hearts, urging us to be certain that our labour is NOT in vain. For this verse does not concern those who, like so many, do not run at all, who shrink away from even the thought of labour. No, in this case, effort had been made, work was done. What remains to be seen is whether the work done was productive.

If your labour is in vain, it has no real value or significance; it is worthless, empty, hollow. It is fruitless, unprofitable, unavailing. Certainly this comprises much of the activity of the Church of Jesus Christ today. The people of God labour, yes, but not always unto the Lord. God would that we do not pursue vain endeavors that cannot profit or deliver us.

1 Samuel 12:21:
And turn ye not aside: for then should ye go after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver; for they are vain.

It is when we labour in the work of the Lord that our labour is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58:
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

God would have us to know that there is much vanity, falsehood and worthless effort in and amongst the Church of Jesus Christ. Some worship in vain.

Matthew 15:9:
But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

Some pray in vain.

Matthew 6:7:
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Others teach that to serve God and keep his ordinances is vain.

Malachi 3:14a:
Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance ....?

Some go so far as to take the name of the Lord God in vain.

Exodus 20:7:
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Certainly all suffer at the hand of false prophets who prophesy in vain.

Ezekiel 13:6-8:
They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The Lord saith: and the Lord hath not sent them: and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word.
7 Have ye not seen a vain vision, and have ye not spoken a lying divination, whereas ye say, The Lord saith it; albeit I have not spoken?
8 Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Because ye have spoken vanity, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you, saith the Lord God.

Such words are vain words, words of vain deceit, vain jangling and babbling. We are warned explicitly and repeatedly to avoid them.

Titus 1:10a:
For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers ...

Ephesians 5:6a:
Let no man deceive you with vain words ...

Colossians 2:8a:
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit ...

1 Timothy 1:6:
From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling;

1 Timothy 6:20:
O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called:

We are exhorted by Paul not to walk in the vanity of the mind:

Ephesians 4:17:
This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,

To this the Psalmist agrees:

Psalm 119:37:
Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.

Psalm 119:113:
I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.

When we walk in the vanity of our fleshly mind, our labours will likewise be in vain. Therefore, our efforts should not be on the things that we, in the vanity of our minds, have determined should be done, but rather on that which the Lord has directed. It is when our efforts are directed by the Lord that our labours will not be in vain.

The writer of Ecclesiastes summed it up for all time when he wrote:

Ecclesiastes 2:11:
Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

We would all do well to remember:

Psalm 127:1:
Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

Throughout history, there have been men who have built many edifices to their own glory.

Mark 13:1-2:
And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!
2 And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

Psalm 49:10-13:
For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others.
11 Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.
12 Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.
13 This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.

Certainly, there is no greater deterrent to a godly ministry than to seek the praise of men.

John 12:42-43:
Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue:
43 For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

Proverbs 25:27:
It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search their own glory is not glory.

Galatians 5:26:
Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

Proverbs 27:2:
Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.

Return with me to Psalm 127:1a

Psalm 127:1a:
Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it....

When the Lord sets out to build a house, He lays out the blueprint. The Lord did not simply direct Solomon to build him a house, any old house. His directives far exceeded "fours walls and a roof." The third chapter of 2 Chronicles records that the Lord told Solomon exactly what kind of house he wanted built. For Solomon to deviate one detail from God’s instructions would have resulted in the entire work having been wrought in vain. Surely we must remember that our labour will not be in vain only when we labour together with – and not independent of – God.

1 Corinthians 3:9-15:
For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.
10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.
14 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Once again we return to Psalm 127, now for the latter portion of her first verse.

Psalm 127:1b:
... Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

This truth comes alive in the words of Gamaliel, who knew that no work of man can stand on its own accord.

Acts 5:38-39:
And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:
39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.

If our labour is not to be in vain, we must labour in the will of God.

1 John 5:14b:
... If we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:

James 4:3a:
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss....

If you would not have your labour be in vain, labour in the Lord.

Romans 16:12:
Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord.

1 Timothy 5:17:
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.

If you would not have your labour be in vain, let your labour be of love.

1 Thessalonians 1:3:
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;

If you would not run in vain, be sure that the reward you seek comes from God and not men.

Hebrews 6:10:
For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.

And if you would not run in vain, so run that you may obtain an incorruptible crown.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

When you live your life in accordance to divine revelation from God, you will not run in vain.

Galatians 2:2:
And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.

Then you too can rejoice in the day of Christ.

Philippians 2:16:
Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.