Matthew 13:1–9 (ESV)—1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”
Matthew 13:18–23 (ESV)—18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
One of my many privileges in ministry is to sit with people over a meal and listen. To hear and speak the gospel in all it's wonder, and seek to align our lives to the mystery that is Christ in us, the hope of glory.
This morning was one such moment.
I sat with a fellow Elder as he prepared for his day at work, sharing a simple meal and a coffee. In our conversation, it soon became apparent that each of us battles with the continual tension that seems to exist between 'faithfulness' in the gospel and 'fruitfulness' in the gospel. A tangibly real tension often exists in the daily work of the gospel; sowing and reaping seem poles apart in our everyday existence, yet we want to enjoy both.
After praying together and going our separate ways, it occurred to me to return once again to something I was taught in Sunday School as a child, the parable of the Sower.
The Sower sowed because he expected a harvest. We always work with some hope for experiencing the fruit of our labour. Fruitfulness is a good thing. I think the problem exists when we expect to always see the fruit. And I purposefully use the word 'see', because we are prone to measure fruitfulness by what we see or experience personally. But seeing the fruit may not always be a useful criteria to use when we assess 'successful' or fruitful ministry.
Jesus taught his disciples around a well in Samaria that, "I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour." Imagine now for a moment those 'others' that Jesus mentioned here—others who could have given up in their labour because they had not seen the fruit. But the fruit came. Likewise, Paul exhorts the Corinthian church:
1 Corinthians 3:5–9 (ESV)—5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
So 'faithfulness' and 'fruitfulness' are directly linked, but not always in one experience or one lifetime. We should never give up on one to achieve the other.
Sow faithfully with the hope of fruit, even if that fruit is the joy of another.
Reap with the joy that, in your reaping, you have been divinely joined with the faithful labour of another.
To the praise of His glory!