Yesterday we continued our series at Southampton Student NAVS with our fourth session entitled “An Invitation to Labour – God’s Harvest”.
This week we introduced our next metaphor which will be the basis for our discussions for the rest of the term. Having discussed what it might mean for us to follow, grow and to build (primarily in our own lives) our focus in this series is now changing to start to think about how we labour in God’s harvest-fields. This metaphor is from the natural world and follows the process of a seed sown to the point of being reaped at harvest and then the subsequent process of conservation in order to be ready for consumption.
What are workers and what is the harvest? Our starting point this week is Jesus’ classic words in Matthew 9 in which Jesus describes the crowds before Him as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”. Jesus observes that “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few;
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:35-38
The pertinent question arising from this is ‘what does it means to be a labourer or worker?’ in God’s Harvest. The definition of the Greek word “ergates” is “a worker in the fields”, “a workman, usually one who works for hire, an agricultural labourer” and the basic term means “to work, denoting action or active zeal in contrast to useless busyness.” A second Greek word “Sunergos” means co-worker or fellow worker and is used in the New Testament of Priscilla and Aquila, Urbanus, Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, Aristarchus, Mark, Justus, Philemon, Demas and Luke. Workers are those who are working or indeed we might just as well say co-working amongst God’s harvest field.
The second pertinent question is ‘what is this harvest?’ and for that we turn to John 4. After Jesus had met the woman at the well the thoughts of the disciples turn to food and in response Jesus tells them to open their eyes and look to the fields. By this Jesus means the crowds, who following the woman’s testimony, were making their way toward Him;
“Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest?’ I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour” John 4:35-38
The harvest fields that Jesus talks about are made up of people; the people we live, work and study with. Do you really believe that the fields (even the fields of Europe) are still ripe for harvest? This passage should encourage us not to be discouraged. God is still at work and the fields are still ripe for harvest even if it doesn’t always appear that way! For me the harvest-fields include my immediate and extended family, friends at the school playground, neighbours, the student ministry we work with, my colleagues in the NAVS, friends from Uni, church, graduated students from our ministry and so on and so forth. Many are believers but there are also many who are not. God wants me to co-labour with Him in these contexts. What however does this labour look like in practice?
Responsibilities in the Harvest – Jesus relates the concept of the harvest to the people around us so it is in that sense that we too are involved in “harvesting a crop for eternal life”. Jesus says that the harvest brings gladness to both the sower and the reaper. There are different roles in the harvest but each role is still intrinsic to producing the harvest. Some of us sow, some of us water, some of us reap and still others conserve or establish the fruit of the harvest. Essentially a worker is a follower of Christ who is actively involved in helping those who do not yet know Jesus (sowing/reaping) and/or helping those who have already followed Jesus (establishing/conserving). Whatever role God has gifted us to play in the harvest the truth is that He wants to us to co-labour with Him.
Working hard and Being Refreshed – In 1 Cor 15:58 Paul encourages us to work hard; “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” He assumes that we are involved in the Lord’s work and testifies that he himself had worked harder than all of the other Apostles. What kind of things to we give ourselves fully to? Its clear in 1 Corinthians 15 that Paul is giving himself fully to the work of the Lord and he says that such work is “not in vain”. A caveat here however would be that we must be co-labouring with God; Solomon writes “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain” (Psalm 127:1).
We are to work give ourselves fully to this but there are also promises of refreshment as well. Proverbs 11:25 tell us “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” and Jesus Himself says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). God refreshes us by His presence (through our relationship with Him) and by grace (which is sufficient for us in our weakness). After all Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 15 says “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (15:10).
Summary – What we’re talking about here is not merely making more of an effort with our non-Christian mates to share the gospel and/or more of an effort with our Christian mates to be a bit more encouraging. We are talking about an intentional mindset to co-labour with God in whatever context we find ourselves in and with whoever God brings into our path. This is life on life for the whole of life and there is no compartmental-ism here! Co-labouring with God has no boundaries and its about a mindset which is expressed in our intentionality with others. I’m not talking about going into full-time ministry (though God might call us to that); but rather I am talking about ministering full-time in the contexts God has placed us in. The harvest is indeed still plentiful and the workers are still few! So thinking about the people God has brought into your life in the various contexts that you do life in, let me encourage you to take up the invitation to co-labour with God? Will you give your life to His work and make your life count?