Farmers and Gardeners

“Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Corinthians 3:5-9a).
After several years of enduring a “yard” of weeds, barren of shrubs, flowers, or any adornment, my wife, Brenda, and I have more recently spent nearly all of our “spare” time on landscaping and gardening. Our latest project was mulching all our foundation plantings and flower beds. Several pickup loads of shredded bark now cover the ground, keeping out weeds, preserving moisture, shading roots, and looking good to boot. This whole process has reinforced my early childhood opinion ?- gardening is hard work! That opinion is now tempered, however, with the additional observation that the rewards are great. It is well worth the effort.
Are not the same principles true of working in the vineyard of the Lord? Christian service is hard work, but well worth it. We are partners of Jesus Christ, fellow workers with God himself. It just does not get any better than that. Christians are involved in the greatest labor on earth. Whether our ministry is preaching, teaching, edifying, helping, or leading by example, we are pursuing an eternal reward for ourselves and for those we serve. No goal is higher. No accomplishment is greater.
The metaphor of gardening (or farming) is one often used by Jesus and the Apostles in describing the work of Christians. Jesus prayed for “laborers in the harvest” (Matthew 9:22). He often used agricultural parables to illustrate truths concerning God and his kingdom (Matthew 13). Paul compared the preacher to “the hard-working farmer” (2 Timothy 2:6). And perhaps most famously he identified himself and Apollos as “those who planted and watered” in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:5ff). These texts, along with many others, suggest several principles regarding our service to God.
First, there is important work for the Christian to do. Perhaps God could have arranged for the salvation of the world in some direct, miraculous manner, not using human help in any way. However, he did not. He chose to save the world through preaching (1 Corinthians 1:21; Romans 10:13-17). That means he chose to have humans assist him in achieving his eternal purpose. We are his fellow workers! You and I have meaning — purpose in life. We matter. That is a great blessing, one which many may not appreciate, until the meaning-less-ness of their own lives leads them to depression and failure.
Secondly, like farming or gardening, Christian service is hard work, with many steps along the way. Ground must be broken with plow or hoe. Seed beds must be prepared, then the seeds planted. Weeds must be hoed or pulled, and fertilizer added. Young plants must be watered and they need to be mulched. Finally, at the end of the season the harvest must be gathered and processed, with the whole procedure beginning anew in a few short months. There is need for many laborers, and for each one to work diligently. Paul points out that no one has to do (or can do) all this alone. Each has his own gift, his or her own talent within the general area of Christian service. Some are planters. Some can better water. Others can plow, or hoe, or mulch. There is room and need for all. Recognizing this removes jealousy and pride. I do not own the vineyard. I do not deserve credit for the harvest. Others have done equally important work along the way. And none of us caused the increase. That was given by God. Be grateful for it, but never claim it as a personal accomplishment. We are his workers; the vineyard belongs to him. Pray for more laborers.

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