Enjoying the Fruit of Hard Work (2 Timothy 2:6-7)
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Enjoying the Fruit of Hard Work
The Christian is a FARMER–2 Timothy 2:6-7
Has anyone here ever wanted to be a farmer? Is anyone still a farmer–was? New Testament Israel was first and foremost an agricultural society. The nation did benefit from overland trading, since the location of the land was the fastest and safest connection between Africa and Asia. But because of the lack of ports, Israel never grew into a maritime power.
So the average Israelite in the first century was a farmer. The farmer would often own a plot of land, causing him to obey the timeless rhythms of the seasons and the weather for his daily sustenance and livelihood. In Israel, farmers grew olives along with crops of flax (for linen), wheat and barley. Farmers also grew lentils, chickpeas, onions, cucumbers, melons, dates, almonds and spices for food and for sale.
Each home also planted vegetables and many also grew grapes when the land would allow. Grapes, pomegranates and figs were important crops that could be sold and sometimes shipped. Farmers also kept oxen and asses for pulling plows. Both animals were used to ground grain into flour.
On the coastal plain and many valley floors, the soil was rich and ready for planting. On hillsides, terraces were constructed to retain the soil and moisture. Rocks were removed from the uphill side and used for a wall on the downhill side to create terrace farming, which is still used today. Large annual crops required plowing first. Good plows had a metal blade attached to a specially made wooden frame and were pulled by an ox or donkey.
The cycle of rain and dry seasons defined the time when various crops were planted and harvested. Both wheat and barley were grown for the staple food, which was bread. Wheat makes better dough, but requires good soil and more water. Barley tolerated poor soil and drought better. Between November and January, seed was scattered then plowed or hoed to bury it.
Since birds eat the seeds and young plants, both humans and scarecrows were used to keep them away. Barley matured first, from April to early May and wheat matured a month later. Stalks were cut with sickles, then tied in bundles called sheaves. The sheaves were collected, then spread on a flat rock for threshing. Separating the seed from the plants required long, painstaking work from both man and animal.
The early Israelite rose before the sun, dressed in a simple tunic and leather sandals, and tilled the fields for several hours before returning home for his morning meal of vegetables and bread. His home was no more than a few rooms, with walls of stone and mud and a roof of beams, branches and mud. After eating, the farmer returned to the fields, using hand tools and perhaps an ox to do his work.
Occasionally, he went to market to sell or buy the items needed for his farm and family. After his toil, the New Testament Jew would return home to his wife and children for an evening meal, a little teaching of the Scriptures and perhaps singing and Albania-style dancing, along with an early bedtime. It was a simple life, but a very hard life.
You need to know the New Testament farmer, why? Paul uses the farmer as a picture of the Christian life and service to Christ in 2 Timothy 2:6 to 7. Open your Bibles to 2 Timothy 2 and follow along in your outline. Each of you, man and woman, boy and girl may not have ever been a farmer or you may not have ever wanted to be a farmer, but in reality, as a Christian, God says you are a farmer–or at least a lot like a farmer.
Read with me aloud 2 Timothy 2:6 to 7, “The hardworking farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. 7 Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” If you’re a Christian, then you are a hardworking farmer. Why does Paul say this to Timothy?
Second Timothy is Paul’s last will and testament. Paul has been arrested again, but this time Nero blamed his burning of Rome on Christians and as the Christian leader, Paul was arrested again. This time Paul is in chains, hidden away in a dark, disgusting jail cell. Paul has been tried, now awaiting sentencing. Paul seems certain the sentence is death.
So Paul writes Timothy his final New Testament letter, challenging Timothy while he’s ministering in Ephesus. Paul urges Timothy to be bold in the face of pressure from heretics inside the church, and to be fearless in the face of persecution outside the church. Difficulty, arrest and possible death are on the line for Timothy if he stands with Paul and continues to teach God’s Word and continues to proclaim the Gospel where Christ is Lord.
Paul asks Timothy to come see him as soon as possible, but also wants Timothy to focus on his most important ministry–training of men and the preaching of God’s Word. Stand up, Timothy. Speak out, Timothy. Be bold, Timothy. Focus on what’s most important, Timothy–then come see me, if you can, before I go home to Heaven.
In chapter two, Paul challenges Timothy to be aggressive and stay focused by comparing the Christian life and ministry to a teacher, a soldier, an athlete, and today a farmer. Each picture highlights certain qualities every Christian must demonstrate, and each analogy points to a desperate need in Timothy’s life and in all our lives.
The teacher of verses 1 to 2 often finds exhilaration in inspiring the minds of his students. The soldier of verses 3 to 4 often experiences the excitement of battle. The athlete of verse 5 has the thrill of competing. But most of a farmer’s life from verse 6 is different. The farmer’s working hours are long and his labor is tedious.
And unlike the teacher, the soldier, and the athlete, the farmer often works alone. He has no students to stimulate him, no fellow soldiers to fight with, nor any teammates or crowd to cheer him on. FBC family, much of your Christian life is like a farmer.
Although there may be occasional times of excitement, blessing and unique satisfaction, the daily routine of service, the choices of fleeing sin and pursuing Christ, the discipline of learning and living the Scripture is hard work, often unattractive, and at times it seems unrewarding. But whatever your day-to-day responsibilities may involve—like a farmer, all faithful believers are promised God’s blessing and reward.
You may be underpaid, treated unfairly by your fellow employees, even unappreciated by Christian friends, but Christ’s reward to His faithful disciples is never deficient, never unfair, never late, and never omitted. You and I desperately need this passage. Christianity is often painted as easy, making us think our walk is a cruise ship, when it’s actually a rowboat–with two arms and a back moving the oars in God’s ocean of grace.
When you want vegetables, you go to the produce section and pick from a hundred choices, but our faith and ministry is different. Our faith involves plowing, planting, watering, weeding, feeding, harvesting, winnowing, grinding, cooking and only then eating. Some of you are addicted to excitement, reliant upon emotion, or dependent on the joy of short term team ministry, or feeding off the dramatic harvest of a summer camp, or seeking the high of a special service.
In contrast, the passage today states your walk with Christ is mostly made up of daily faithfulness and everyday dependent obedience, often pursuing mundane responsibilities of life. Every godly man and godly woman in this room knows the labor of maintenance/routine. You don’t stop the basics. You don’t seek a break from the Word, prayer, study, memorizing, fleeing sin, or pursuing holiness. You don’t slip into patterns of ongoing sin.
There are times your study for a lesson or the preparation for that gathering is the last thing you want to do. But you do it anyway, because you know the importance of faithfulness and the power of consistency over time. I’ve been tempted in the past to think, “Will this sermon make a difference? Is it worth the work, discipline, labor, study, sitting in my chair for countless hours in a row? Is this lesson going to be used so some can come to Christ or become like Christ? Will this six-hour Monday night commitment to train really pay off in the lives of men?”
Are these choices to stay away from any compromise or appearance of compromise necessary? And the answer is–faithful in little means faithful in much. The answer is, trust the Lord to use these efforts for His glory in His own way. God’s answer is keep fleeing youthful lusts and continue pursuing Christ-like character no matter what.
In other words, be the farmer. And Timothy and you believers–don’t merely pick off the fruit of the crop from the edges of the field, like the law allowed the poor to do. Pick up the plow, sow the seed, pick the weeds, water the fields, stay at it no matter what, so you can eat the best of the crop–the fruit! Get immersed in ministry and stay there.
Are you a believer who benefits only from the labors of others–or are you a hard working farmer? Only the faithful servant enjoys the sweet fruit of hard work. Listen again to what Paul tells Timothy in verses 6 and 7, “The hardworking farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. 7 Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”
These two verses contain three major points, which all, remarkably, begin with the letter T. Do you see them? 1) “The hard-working farmer, 2) ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. 3) Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”
#1 The TOIL of the Spiritual FARMER
“The hardworking farmer”–just as the athlete must abide by the rules of the sport, so the farmer must also go about his business according to the laws of nature. He has to plow, plant, cultivate, and reap in due season, if he wants to taste the fruit of his labors. Paul knew what he was talking about when he says, “the hard-working farmer.” The word translated farmer means “tiller of the ground”–a man who operates a farm.
The believer is like a farmer, in that his work is never done. Fields must be plowed and harrowed, seed must be sown, soil must be fertilized and kept free from weeds, plants must be protected from harmful pests and watered, and fences must be kept in good repair. At harvest time, crops must be cut, threshed, and gathered into barns. In Paul’s day, this hard work was done by hand–they had no tractors, no mechanized harvesters, and no other modern laborsaving devices.
The farmer had to be up at sunrise and he saw no end to his labor until after sunset. Paul reminds Timothy here, he had put his hand to the plow and there is no looking back. The farmer’s toil comes first before the fruit. The chores on a farm or vineyard are endless and a farmer’s hours are long. The Greek participle hardworking is descriptive.
It tells you the spiritual farmer is involved in a never-ending exertion. The verb means ongoing labor, recurring trouble, incessant difficulty and persistent deep fatigue to the point of exhaustion. Paul says the farmer is hardworking. Paul had walked by many farms in his travels. You tend to think of Paul always in an urban setting, because his strategy was to evangelize the population centers of the Roman world–places like Antioch and Corinth, Ephesus and Rome.
His missionary journeys took him to the great cities of his day. Yet, Paul spent plenty of time in small market towns too, traveling from city to city through the countryside. And because he was a Jew, Paul must have known many farmers.
We have an information based society–how many of you know a computer programmer? They had an agrarian society–you can be certain Paul knew many farmers. Paul would have taken a keen interest in their work, just as he would have taken an interest in the work of goldsmiths, weavers, or sailors.
Because almost every household farmed in some manner, Paul would’ve grown up farming. Paul certainly would have joined families and friends at dawn and gone to the fields to harvest, if not plow or sow or weed. Paul was never afraid of hard work. And farming was almost synonymous with hard work in the first century. The farmer endured the cold, the heat, the rain, and the drought. He plows the soil whether it is hard or loose.
He does not wait for his own convenience, because the seasons do not wait for him. When the time comes to plant, he must plant. When weeds appear, he must remove them. And when the crop is mature, he must harvest it. The farmer’s life involved: 1) early and long hours, since he could not afford to lose time, 2) constant toil (plowing, sowing, tending, weeding, watering, reaping and storing), 3) the regular disappointments of frosts, insects and disease, 4) lots of patience–everything happened in slow motion, and finally 5) boredom.
Do you get it? Farming is hard work. By using the image of a farmer, Paul was speaking by analogy about the hard work of spiritual life and ministry. That Greek word translated “hardworking” is almost a technical term in Paul’s vocabulary for ministerial labor. The ministry of the Gospel, preaching of the Word, shepherding the flock, serving week in and week out requires strain, struggle, and diligence–all of which are akin to suffering.
Diligent people genuinely do better at suffering. I have a mentor who is the most disciplined and diligent person I know. He has suffered greatly. His son had a brain tumor, his wife almost died in an accident, yet I watched him as he endured those tests amazingly. Diligence prepares you for the suffering that comes to all who know Christ. The diligent do better at suffering.
Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV), “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 labor in the Lord is not in vain.” The Christian life and ministry involve work and labor.
So the teacher, soldier, athlete and farmer. Timothy must train aggressively as a teacher, fight wholeheartedly for the good cause like a soldier. He must compete according to the rules like an athlete. And Timothy must toil undyingly like a hardworking farmer. God is clear. This truth is not fuzzy or controversial. God expects every believer to work hard in life and ministry. Those who don’t are immature or unsaved.
God warns the lazy in Proverbs 10:4, “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.” Proverbs 19:15, “Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless go hungry.” And God dislikes the lazy farmer, Proverbs 20:4, “The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, so he begs during the harvest and has nothing.” Proverbs 24:30 and 31, “I passed by the field of the sluggard and by the vineyard of the man lacking sense, 31 And behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles; its surface was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down.”
Be a farmer, Timothy. Be a farmer, Christian–learn to work hard. When you start a task, finish it. Clean up your space, have a place for everything, keep a schedule, stay on your budget. Do not forsake your daily and weekly commitments. Be aggressive in your efforts to flee sin and pursue Christ. Be faithful in your ministry. Stop wasting time in front of the computer or TV. Work hard–only the faithful servant enjoys the sweet fruit of hard work. In fact, what drives a believer to do hard work is the harvest.
#2 The TRIUMPH of the spiritual FARMER
“The hardworking farmer,” verse 6b, “ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops.” After the toil comes the farmer’s triumph–the taste repays the toil. The principle here is all throughout Scripture. It is the principle of labor and reward. The soul winner tastes the fruit when a person turns to Christ under his ministry. The shepherd tastes the fruit when the couple start obeying the Scripture in marriage.
The discipler enjoys the sweetness when a student seeks to please Christ at home. The usher is blessed when the ratty looking attender he seats up front studies his Bible. The hard work of ministry, service, obedience is rewarded in this life and the next. The phrase ought to be, can be translated, “It is necessary for the farmer to receive.”
As you are living with Christ and ministering for Christ, Christ believes it is necessary for you to receive a share of the crops. That includes things like blessing, joy, growth, material help, care, and special relationships and more.
I cannot tell you all the results from helping couples with their budgets in order to be good stewards of the Lord’s money–their giving increases beyond 10%, they’re able to serve the Lord on short term trips. They’re able to enjoy time together as a family. They now have a freedom to help others financially. And as they experience massive joy from that discipline, the Lord usually finds a way to bless them with more money.
If you work hard in ministry, being a steward of time, money, service, and investing into others, you should also be the first to take a share of the crops. This principle began in Deuteronomy 20:6, “Who is the man that has planted a vineyard and has not begun to use its fruit?” Proverbs 27:18, “He who tends the fig tree will eat its fruit.” If Timothy (or any worker in God’s vineyard) exerts himself to the full measure of his God-given spiritual task, he too will be the first to be rewarded.
Paul was always looking to produce some fruit in his labors. Romans 1:13, “I have planned to come to you…so that I may obtain some fruit among you.” Philippians 1:22, “If I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me.” Not only will your own faith be strengthened, your hope quickened, your love deepened, and the flame of your gift enlivened so that you will be blessed in serving–but you will also watch as spiritual fruit is produced in the lives of others.
I am crazy to preach, partly because people get saved and lives are transformed. I am nuts to train men, because I enjoy the fruit now and eternal reward later for that labor. And friends, there are some crazies all around you in this body, who are committed to similar labors–partly because of the fruit they enjoy now and reward later. Only the faithful servant enjoys the sweet fruit of hard work.
#3 The TAKE AWAY of the four analogies
Verse 7, “Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” The Greek word consider means, “to perceive with the mind.” Paul is challenging Timothy to think about the illustrations in verses 1 to 6–to ponder them, then work out in his mind all their implications. Timothy is told to put his mind on that which Paul has just said. Reading is not enough. What has been written must be pondered. What has been spoken must be digested.
Timothy need not fear such mental activity will be fruitless. The Lord has promised in John 16:13a, “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” Timothy is in need of understanding, in need of comprehension and insight. And it will be given to him if he will apply himself.
Verse 7 prays, “Consider what I say.” The verb consider is used only here in the New Testament. It denotes perceiving clearly with the mind, of understanding fully, of considering carefully, of pondering and deeply mulling over. The verb consider is an imperative–indicating Paul was giving a strong admonition, not mere advice.
The apostle was saying to Timothy, and still says to you believers today–depend upon the Lord, think over and ponder carefully what I have been saying. Let Timothy compare Scripture with Scripture first above all. Let Timothy pray James 1:5 for wisdom. Let Timothy reflect on his own past experience and the examples of other believers. Let Timothy listen to what the Word teaches, wisdom shares, experience teaches and the example others model.
Through these means, the Holy Spirit will give Timothy all the guidance he’ll need to stand boldly under the pressure of heresy and stand unashamed under the pressure of persecution. The Spirit will expose Paul’s intent in using these four pictures found in verses 1 to 6 and Timothy will derive the comfort and challenge they were intended to give.
Look at verse 7, “The Lord will give you understanding in everything.” Paul’s prayer is that the Lord would help Timothy get the full point–everything Paul intended. So ponder with me–Timothy needed to ponder first what it meant to be a teacher/trainer. God had entrusted Timothy with gifts, with sound doctrine and apostolic truth, and tremendous opportunities.
Not many people in the history of the Church could say they’d been disciple by the greatest of all of the apostles. Timothy must not–dare not–squander the enormous investment of time, teaching, and training Paul had made in him. Timothy must not throw away his training, like Demas did. Timothy needed to be a faithful teacher/trainer.
Timothy also needed to be a disciplined soldier, because the empire had declared war on the Church. The roll call of casualties was already long. Rome itself was the center of the conflict. The Lord’s people were called on daily to face the most dreadful deaths imaginable. Paul himself was a prisoner of war.
Paul had already been interrogated, and he fully expected to be executed. As Paul rattles his chains, he challenges Timothy, “Don’t be a coward. Don’t flinch in the hour of battle. You have your orders. If an ordinary soldier can leave family, friends and prospects to endure hardship on the front lines, surely you, Timothy, as a soldier of the Christ, dare not shirk your duty.”
Paul was also challenging Timothy to be a determined athlete. An Olympic boxer or wrestler subordinated everything to his one goal–achieving mastery in the ring. He curbed his appetites, put his body under subjection, studied the stamina and the style of his opponents. He gave up many legitimate pleasures and hardened himself for the critical hour when he would be alone with his adversary.
Behind all of this vigorous training was a driving determination to win a crown. How could Timothy do less? He had Paul’s own fearless example to spur him on. Paul had told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” In the face of every danger, difficulty, and discouragement, Timothy must be determined to win.
The final challenge in this passage was for Timothy to be a diligent farmer. The farmer is dedicated to the crockpot long haul. He doesn’t expect microwave results. Timothy needed to ponder the farmer’s patience and never-ending hard work. All four expose an element of suffering–Timothy and FBC Christian, don’t forget the trainer’s ongoing investment as a coach, the soldier’s single-minded devotion and the rigors of warfare against Satan, the world and the flesh, the athlete’s rigorous exercise and incessant training, and the farmer’s demanding toil.
All four contain an element of reward–Timothy and FBC Christian, don’t forget the teacher/trainer has reward in knowing he has enriched the lives of his students. The soldier has the reward of pleasing his commander-in-chief and fighting toward victory, the athlete has the reward of a trophy—his wreath, and the farmer has the reward of the first and best share of the crops.
So this morning, look at your own life and ask yourself if you are a growing Christian. Do you deny yourself and count your life as nothing in order to faithfully serve the Lord? Are you willing to work hard and work faithfully in the work of the Lord? Do you practice self-denial? Are you willing to pay the price Christ demands?
If you can answer, “Yes,” to those questions, you put yourself in a place where the Lord can grow you and use you in a great way. Only the faithful servant enjoys the sweet fruit of hard work.
TAKE HOME–be the HARD WORKING FARMER
1. Labor for PROTECTION
The image of the farmer, soldier, athlete, and trainer were designed by Paul to steel Timothy to guard the Word–to boldly stand up for Christ and the Gospel. Timothy was to do that by training men, to focus his life like a soldier in battle, to aggressively minister like a rule-keeping athlete, and to work hard like a farmer.
Be protective of God’s Word by what you believe, how you live, by what you speak up for, and by what you speak against. Work hard for protection.
2. Labor for a PURPOSE
Galatians 4:19,”My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.” Why do we labor so hard like a farmer? So that others can come to Christ and become like Christ. Why battle like a soldier, or practice discipline like an athlete and train others like a coach–why? So others can get saved or get sanctified. You labor directly or indirectly so others will come to Christ or become like Christ.
3. Labor in His POWER
Speaking about ministry to others, Colossians 1:29 says, “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” Never serve in your own strength, but serve dependently upon the Spirit of God as you exercise your will and step out in faith according to the Word of God. Labor like a farmer, but only according to the Spirit’s power and not your own.
Be filled with the Spirit, confess all known sin, saturate your mind with God’s Word, pursue using your gifts in ministry to the saints in the Church, sharing the Gospel to the lost in the world, and seek to live each moment in total dependence upon the Spirit. Labor in His power.
4. Labor against PASSIVENESS
Jesus shares a sobering parable, which serves as a warning to the lazy. Matthew 25:26 to 30 (NIV), “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has, will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’“
There is great danger in being a lazy Christian. It may mean, as the case of this servant, you are not a Christian at all. What are you doing with the gifts God has given you? Are you serving? Are you working hard like a farmer?
Maybe it means today you repent of your sinful lazy heart and depend on Christ in faith, trusting in His work accomplished on the cross for you. And trusting Him to change your heart so you’re willing to serve Him, no matter what the cost or labor. Only the faithful servant enjoys the sweet fruit of hard work. Let’s pray.
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