The Work of the Gospel Requires Work

One of the things I have learned living in the Midwest and living in communities where people grow corn or beans is that farming is hard work. It is not for the lazy. Men and women who farm, whether full-time or part-time, invest long hours to raise a crop. And the reason they work hard is because farming requires hard work. It requires early mornings. It requires late nights. During planting and harvesting seasons, there are rarely days off.

But the hard work does not go unrewarded. In farming, there is a fruit to the labor, which is the harvesting of the crop. But if you want to enjoy the harvest, you must be willing to put in the work.

In 2 Timothy 2, the apostle Paul makes a connection between hard-working farmers and Christians who labor for the sake of the Gospel. This is actually the third analogy Paul uses in this passage. He first compares a Christian to a soldier who is committed to and focused on his task. Second, he compares a Christian to an athlete who claims the prize by competing within the rules. And third, he compares a Christian to a hard-working farmer who enjoys the fruit of his labor.

In chapter 2 verses 4-6 he writes, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.”

Now the soldier and the athlete make sense as an analogy for the work of the Gospel. But why does Paul also give us this statement about a farmer? Because just as a farmer must labor hard to reap a harvest, the one who labors in the work of the Gospel must also work hard.

Paul is writing to a young pastor,Timothy, who has been laboring hard. We don’t have Timothy’s letters to Paul, but if we did, we would probably read about difficult and challenging things happening within the church in Ephesus that have led to Timothy being discouraged. We would probably read Timothy asking if he can be done with this assignment.

In both the letters of 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy, Paul encourages Timothy to remain where he is and continue to do the work he was called to do. There were probably many times Timothy thought, “This is too hard.” And Paul is responding by saying, “Yes, this is hard,” which is why Paul uses the illustration of a farmer.

A farmer who is training his children into being farmers doesn’t hide the hard work but invites them into it. The farmer models what hard work looks like. He shows them you are going to sweat and sacrifice and get tired and exhausted. The farmer shows them the mornings are early and the days are long. It is what comes with the job. The children of a farmer are not surprised at the work it requires when they take over the farm. In fact, they have been doing that very work from the time they were young.

Paul has been doing the hard work of the ministry of the Gospel. And Timothy has been with Paul in that work. He has seen it. And he has experienced it. And so in 2 Timothy 2:3, Paul writes, “Endure suffering along with me….” Paul is reminding Timothy that the work of the Gospel involves suffering–a suffering that Paul is also enduring. Paul is saying, “You are not the only one feeling this way. The work of the Gospel is indeed hard. And everyone who enters into it will suffer.”

But for Paul there is hope in that suffering. Later in chapter 2 he writes, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him….”

Too often we get discouraged when the work of the Gospel gets hard. And I think it is because we don’t typically think Gospel-centered ministry should be difficult. We know marriage involves work. We know parenting involves work. We know maintaining our house involves work. We know gardening is work. We know staying in physical shape involves work. We know having a job requires work. We may have a hobby that requires hard work. And we willingly enter into that hard work because we know the work produces the results we are trying to achieve.

But when it comes to the work of the Gospel, the primary work of our lives as believers in Jesus Christ, we can quickly get discouraged because it just seems like it shouldn’t be so hard. I have to admit that I can find myself trying to pursue a life that is centered around the Gospel but that is also full of comfort and ease. When pastoral ministry gets hard, it is easy for my mind to wander and think, “Can I still be in involved in Gospel work but do it in a manner that is easier?”

But the reality is the work of the Gospel and suffering go hand and hand. We should not be surprised that the Gospel requires work.

Just like the farmer’s kid who knows what he is getting into, every young Christian should be taught that the work of living out the work of Christ is hard. It will require sacrifice. It will require labor. But it is joyful sacrifice. It is joyful labor as we persevere so that those who are perishing may know hope and life in Jesus Christ.

One of the things that always jumps out at me when I read the words of Paul is his joy. This is a man who knew hardship. He knew suffering. He knew persecution. If Paul wanted to sound bitter or defeated, he had plenty of reasons to do it. But Paul’s words are not ones of defeat but of hope. In Philippians 2, Paul writes to his audience of Christians that he has worked hard for them and prayed hard for them that they will remain in the faith, and he says, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.”

Sacrificially pouring out his life for others resulted in joy because of seeing others walk in faith and remain in the faith. That was the fruit of Paul’s labor. In 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Just as a hard-working farmer enjoys the fruit of his labor, we will enjoy the fruit of our labor for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Are you laboring for the sake of Christ? Are you investing in the work of the Gospel? It does demand a sacrifice. It will demand your time. It will result in some hard days. It will bring seasons of discouragement. But we have the privilege of being a part of the very work that God has been doing and that he invites us into. And as we labor, we do it through his power and strength. A power and strength that gives us his joy and encouragement.

Christian, you have been given a task. Now let’s get to work.

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