What are our Choices and Requirements for Mutual Fellowship?

The Choices and Requirements of Fellowship

© 2023 C. O. Bishop

2nd Thessalonians 3:10-18

10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.

12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. 13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. 14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

16 Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all.

17 The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.


Last week we read 2nd Thessalonians 3:6-9, and we saw that Paul and the other missionaries had set an example by working to earn money to pay for their own food and lodging, during their very brief stay in Thessalonica.

Paul pointed out that he and the others had earned the right to expect compensation, but they chose to set aside that “right,” and deliver the Grace of God to the people of Thessalonica without cost. We have done the same. We have no employees here: all the work is done by volunteers. All of our teaching and sermons are available online, free of charge


In other passages, Paul laid out the need for support for the elders of a church, but he had already established the precedent that a leader can abstain from receiving support; and he gave the reasons why he, himself, had done so.

It is a good thing for the believers to support one another, especially if someone is sick or disabled and needs assistance. But: human nature being what it is, there will always be a tendency for some to try to take advantage of the generosity of believers, and avoid earning their own keep.

So, Paul addresses that problem in these last verses.


Paul describes the broad issue of disorderliness; but he links it to idleness (not working) and being “busybodies.” We know what it means to “not work”…and Paul specifies in verse ten that he is referring to someone who will not work: not someone who cannot work, for whatever reason (injury, illness, other incapacities.) But what is the biblical meaning of a “busybody?”

In modern English, it usually means a “meddler:” someone who is constantly involving themselves, uninvited, in the affairs of others. Sometimes it is linked to gossip and talebearing.

What is a Busybody?

But in this passage, the Greek word is “periergoi,” meaning “around working.” (Getting around work, perhaps? Or, maybe, being a “runaround,” working the system?)  

In 1st Timothy 5:13 we see the same Greek word used, this time in a context that may offer some explanation, specifically in the context of someone who is capable of function, but who is needlessly being supported by others.13 And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.”

In the Timothy passage, we see several things linked together:

  • Idleness (choosing to not work)
  • Wandering from house to house (as opposed to tending to their own home.)
  • Tattlers (tale-bearers, gossips)
  • Busybodies (periergoi, again)
  • “Speaking things which they ought not.”

In this context, it seems that perhaps our modern definition of “busybody” fits pretty well.

Other Shades of Meaning

It is interesting to note that the passage in 1st Peter 4:15, which uses the same English word, is from an entirely unrelated Greek word, literally meaning “overseeing the business of others:”meddling,” perhaps: trying to exert influence in other people’s affairs. That word comes much closer to our modern definition.

But, collectively, the picture seems to be of someone who “hasn’t got anything better to do” than running around “chatting people up,” and avoiding doing any work of their own. Paul exhorts believers to do what God has called us to do, earn our keep at whatever trade or work we can do, and be a good testimony of the Holy God who has called us. To do otherwise is to be “disorderly,” and such behavior dishonors the Lord. Paul commands such people to work, tend to their own business, earn a living and eat the food they earned.

“Fellowship” means “Partnership:”

Some people try to say that “fellowship” means “two fellows in a ship: both in the same boat.” That is simplistic at best; it is an error. Two people on a ship may hate each other, and they even may be committed to one another’s destruction. That is certainly not fellowship. Fellowship means “having in common.” It implies “partnership.” We are called to join in the fellowship of the suffering of Christ. (Philippians 3:10) The believers at Philippi (Philippians 1:5) were commended for their fellowship in the gospel. They were partners in the work of evangelism.

In 2nd Corinthians 8:4 Paul commended a poverty-stricken church in that they begged the privilege to join in the fellowship of ministering to the needs of the believers in Jerusalem. They wanted to serve as partners in the work! As believers, they chose to function as partners, and they begged him to receive that gift, acknowledging that partnership. It is obviously implied that he did choose to accept it. (This is in the context of correcting the church at Corinth, who evidently were not so eager to participate.)

Fellowship is a Choice

We attach ourselves to a local assembly of like-minded believers and we are willing to be partners with them in worship and in service. Each person has a different ability and different gifts, but we serve together and desire to collectively please the Lord who has called us and who bought us with His blood.

Is it possible to desire the appearance of partnership without actually being committed to that union? Yes, evidently it is. There are thousands of people who are on the membership list at churches across the world, who never attend, and yet will claim membership in “their church” as a part of their credentials as a “fine, upstanding citizen.” But they have no real connection or partnership with that assembly of believers.

We are called to become partners in the work of ministry, and in the work of evangelism and discipleship with the local assembly to which we have attached ourselves. We make a conscious choice to do so.

Requirements of Fellowship

But God has also called us to live in such a way as to not dishonor Him, and not shame the church. We are warned that such behavior is detrimental enough that believers are told to not have “partnership” with such persons. That is a hard thing to do, when we are called to love one another. But that is what it says!

Could this requirement be used wrongly, to attempt to force conformity on a person who is doing no wrong? Certainly, it can, and it has happened many times! Missionaries have been dismissed from  Organizations because they disagreed about some relatively small point of doctrine.

People have been drummed out of churches for things that were none of their doing. I knew a man whose wife left him for another man…and he was told to leave his church! I’m not sure what their accusation was, but he was definitely the victim, and rather than seeking to help or comfort him, they excluded him from fellowship.

So, How can We Prevent the Misuse of This Concept?

Galatians 6:1, 2 spells out a rule for church discipline that should prevent abuse.

1Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

Five points:

  1. The one doing the restoring always must be in the Spirit…this is not done in the flesh!.
  2. The motive is always to be restoration, not punishment or rejection.
  3. The approach is always to be one of humility, and gentleness, not condemnation.
  4. The person or persons attempting the restoration must always remember that they, too, are fragile, and that they can easily be drawn into sin, through anger, pride or other flaws.
  5. We are always to help others bear their crushing circumstantial burdens, not just stand back, and watch them struggle.

But, if such a person simply rejects help, rejects correction, and rejects the Word, then there is no place for partnership. We are still reaching out, desiring their restoration, but true fellowship is not possible. (No Condemnation! v.15: He is not an enemy! You treat him as a brother!)

Grounds for Fellowship

Paul lays out the sevenfold basis of our Unity in Christ…the “Unity of the Spirit.”
In Ephesians 4:1-6, he says,

1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

One Lord, one faith, one baptism,

One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

Seven unities:

  1. One Body (1st Corinthians 12:12)
  2. One Spirit (John 14:16)
  3. One Hope of our Calling (Colossians 1:27)
  4. One Lord (1st Corinthians 8:6)
  5. One Faith (Romans 1:5, 16)
  6. One Baptism (1st Corinthians 12:13)
  7. One God and Father (John 17:3)

If all those “unities” are in place, fellowship should be possible. But fellowship can be broken, even among brethren who agree with all these “unities.” That is why it says we are to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace. It is a fragile fellowship, easily damaged by pride and self-will.

We are warned specifically that a “root of bitterness” can spring up and thereby defile many. Others will be affected! None of us live lives disconnected from the believers around us. My sin does not affect just me: it can affect all of my family, and anyone in my sphere of influence.

Maintaining Unity

So, we are to give diligence to maintaining that unity and not allowing small differences to grow into serious divisions. Are we concerned about the overall testimony of the church? Yes, absolutely! But we are equally concerned about the well-being and spiritual health of every person. We are not on some kind of “inspection tour” to “ferret out flaws” and “slap sense into slackers!”  The Command is to “Love One Another!”

(v. 16) Paul reminds us, that we are called to peace! We are called to forbear one another in Love. We are called to forgive one another, just as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us! Let’s not forget these things!

And the Grace of God (v. 18) is what sustains us all.

Lord Jesus, draw us into close fellowship with Yourself and with one another. Help us to Love one another as You have commanded us. Protect Your flock from Evil, in Jesus’ Name.

The Burden of the Gospel

The Burden of the Gospel

© C. O. Bishop 7/10/2015 THCF 7/12/15

Romans 1:1-15


The Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is one of the most eminently practical books in the New Testament. It is also among the most foundational books in the New Testament, meaning that the truths it teaches are foundational to understanding the rest of the New Testament, as well as to living the Christian life. The Book of Romans, as it is commonly called, has sometimes been referred to as “the Gospel of God’s Grace” because that is the theme of the book, and that theme is woven throughout the entire epistle.

In this Book:

  • The Gospel is clearly defined and explored.
  • The effect of the Gospel is examined and expounded upon.
  • The built-in responsibilities of the recipients thereof are outlined, as well.

Even in the beginning lines, we can see these interwoven ideas begin to unfold. Paul identifies himself in terms of the Gospel, and, in the same breath, defines the source and key subject of the Gospel; the person of Christ. He goes on to state the effect of the Gospel in his own life and that of the recipient believers. Finally, he begins to state his own responsibilities, in regard to the Gospel.

This is the “burden of the Gospel”. I use the word “burden” in the same sense as Paul did over in Galatians 6:5for every man shall bear his own burden.” The Greek word there is “phortion”, meaning an assigned task. This is in contrast to the word in Galatians 6:2 where we are admonished to “bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” There, the Greek word is “baré”, meaning a crushing, unbearable load. The Gospel is not a crushing burden, but it is an assigned task, and should become a governing passion in each of our lives.

The Person of the Gospel

 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

(Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)

Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:

Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:

Paul introduces himself as a servant of Jesus Christ; an Apostle (“sent one”), but immediately shifts the focus to the Gospel itself, which is what his apostleship is all about. I am reminded of a sheriff’s deputy, who, after briefly identifying himself as a minion of the court, immediately goes about the business upon which he has been sent: he is there neither to boast of his prowess as a lawman, nor to simply pass the time of day. He is there on business, and he immediately gets to the point. The “point” of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the Gospel of God’s Grace.

Paul immediately says that he is “separated unto the Gospel of God”— set apart for the work of the Gospel; the Good News of God.

Having thereby stated his business, in verse one, Paul begins to expand upon that theme in the verses that follow: explaining the character of the Gospel, and what it concerns, and so forth. He says first that it was promised from time past, through God’s prophets. (A prophet is a speaker for God—a mouthpiece; a spokesman for God. God promised the Gospel through the prophets.)

Further, it concerns Jesus Christ—it’s about Jesus—who is God’s Son, and who is our Lord (Greek kurios—“master”), and who, in terms of human origin, is of the seed of David. This was in accordance with the prophets who unanimously said he would be of the lineage of David.

He points out that God placed His own authoritative “stamp of approval” on Jesus, declaring him to be the Son of God with power, by the Holy Spirit raising Him from the dead. (Yes, that ought to show his authority: only one person has the authority and power to raise the dead, immortal.)

In verse 5, Paul continues talking about the person of the Gospel, Jesus himself. He states that it is from Jesus Christ that he (and others) had received “Grace and Apostleship.” Now, Grace has two aspects…he was given Grace as the gift of eternal life (as we also have been), but he further received the grace (Greek “charis” also translated “gift”) of being an apostle.

Paul evidently had a multitude of spiritual gifts, which apparently went along with being an Apostle. I personally believe that Paul is the twelfth of the twelve Apostles, and that Matthias, through no fault of his own, was mistakenly chosen by lot (drawing straws, or whatever), and appointed to be the replacement for Judas Iscariot, in Acts chapter one. All the apostles (including Paul) were chosen by Jesus, personally, except Matthias. If I am mistaken, so be it, but it seems to me as though Jesus chose his own replacement apostle in the person of Paul, and that Peter may simply have spoken out of turn. However, all the eleven were involved, and God did not correct or rebuke them, so I will not state that they were wrong. It just seems that way to me. I may be mistaken. Matthias may have been God’s choice as well. In that case, I do not know for whom will be the “twelve thrones for the twelve apostles.” But it doesn’t matter: God knows. (By the way, there are other people spoken of as apostles, too, in scripture, so this is not at all a “cut and dried” issue.)

There is no question, however, as to the apostleship of Paul. He was chosen personally, by Jesus, and given a specific task— he was made the “apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13). The word “apostle” means “sent one”. Paul was sent to take the Gospel to all nations, which was to result in the obedience of faith…or obedience to the faith…among all nations. Paul literally became the founder of the Gentile church. The Jewish church had begun under the ministry of Peter. But the Jews and Gentiles were to become one in Christ; and that was revealed first to Paul, though Jesus himself had hinted to that effect, saying “Other sheep I have who are not of this fold. Them also I must bring and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” (John 10:16) (The Mormons attempt to use this passage to justify some of their doctrines, but the Bible makes it absolutely clear that what Jesus was predicting was the joining of Jew and Gentile in one Body of Christ. There is no other Biblical interpretation.)

Paul states (verse 6) that the believers in Rome were also among the “called” of Jesus Christ. In fact, if you believe the Gospel, you are one of the “called” of Jesus Christ as well. You are definitely called to serve God with your life. You can do some thinking about what that might entail, but this is a Biblical imperative: If you belong to Jesus, you are to serve Him.

The Effect of the Gospel

Next, in verse seven, Paul addresses the recipients of the letter:

To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice that the words “to be” are in italics, meaning that they were not in the original manuscripts… it means that the believers are called saints: “holy ones” (that’s what “saint” means.) It implies that being one of the holy ones of God is predicated upon being a believer in Jesus Christ, not having the approval of the Pope, or some other human. We are not made saints by people, but by God. And we are not called “to be” saints, as if it is to be at some time in the future, but now: from the moment we receive Him as our savior. Perhaps the translators only meant to imply that we are called to “be saints…and had no intent of putting it into a future view at all. We are called to be saints. That is what is supposed to be happening…we are to behave as the holy ones of God, because we are the holy ones of God. We are set aside for His purposes, and His alone. We will discuss that more at a later date.

We can further see that the gift of God is in the following order: “Grace, then Peace.” This is consistent in all the epistles to the church, throughout the New Testament. If one feels they are not dependent upon God’s Grace for salvation, then they cannot have Peace with God, let alone experience the peace of God, after conversion. There are those who reject God’s Grace, hoping to “earn” their own salvation. I have had people actually tell me this. They don’t understand that such earning is utterly impossible. Just as it was impossible for Cain to please God with the fruit of the cursed ground, in Genesis 4:3, it is impossible for any human to please God with the fruit of a life already cursed through original Sin. We have nothing to offer—it is ALL tainted by sin.

A person who claims that he is dependent upon God’s Grace for salvation, but who subsequently supposes that he must work to “stay saved”, is still not understanding the point of “Grace”. What does the word “grace” mean, but “un-earned favor”? If you are trying to earn it, it is not Grace, but wages. We will address this idea later on, but for the moment, please see that if you want peace with God, you receive it by Grace. If you want the peace of God, you also receive it by Grace. There are things we are called to do in response to God’s Grace, to allow his Peace to flow unhindered (see Philippians 4:6-9), but those still have nothing to do with earning Grace.

In verses 8-12, Paul expresses his own longing, to go and see the Roman believers face to face.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;

10 Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;

12 That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.

He evidently knew at least some of them, as he calls them by name, in the final chapter. But many he apparently had never met. He knew of their faith, and was thrilled to know of the fruit it was having in their lives. As a result of the testimony of the Roman believers, which he had heard everywhere he went, Paul prayed for them continually, especially longing to go visit them, and add to their joy by imparting “some spiritual gift, to the end that they might be established”, or strengthened in their walk with God.

I don’t know what it was he hoped to do, beyond further teaching. Perhaps he actually intended to impart a “gift of the Spirit” as listed in 1st Corinthians 12, or Romans 12, but I really doubt it. From what we can see in the scripture, the gifts are given specifically by the Holy Spirit, at His discretion, and apparently at the moment of salvation, though such gifts may not come to light for some time, in many cases.

There is one passage that refers to a gift being in someone “by the laying on of hands of the presbytery”, but I wonder whether that may simply be the recognition of the gift (as that is universally what the “laying on of hands” refers to. When the elders laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas, in Acts 13, for example, they were simply acknowledging that God had called Paul and Barnabas to the work they were going to do. The Holy Spirit had spoken (evidently audibly) to the group, telling them that He was going to send Paul and Barnabas out for a special job. All they did was to agree with God. I suspect that was also the case with Timothy (1st Timothy 4:14), and the gift of Evangelism that apparently was assigned to him by God.

Paul further expanded on the idea of a spiritual gift by saying, “that is, that I may be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith both of you and me.” What he evidently hoped to do is to enjoy fellowship with them. The word fellowship is an old English idea which only means the “status of being a fellow (something)”. The word “fellowship” has nothing to do with “two fellows in a ship” as so many modern preachers are fond of saying. Fellows can be in a ship and despise one another. (Anyone ever hear of a ship called the “HMS Bounty”? Captain Bligh, and all those jolly good fellows?) In England they have what is called the “Royal Society.” It is considered a great honor to be called an “FRS”—a “Fellow of the Royal Society”… a fellow-member of that elite group. We have fellowship because we are fellow-Christians… we share in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. It implies “partnership”—having in common—sharing something…participating together in something. Paul commended the Philippian believers for their “fellowship in the Gospel”…they were participating with him as partners in the work of evangelism. Paul knew that these believers were his brothers and sisters, and he longed to go spend some time with them. I can only wish that Christians felt this way about one another today, but they seldom do. We are exhorted to grow in grace and brotherly Love, increasing more and more. But it seems the Church today has gone the other direction. God help us to love one another with the Agapé love, as well as learning the brotherly love that God commands.

The Burden of the Gospel

13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.

14 I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.

Notice that in verse 13, Paul begins to explain his motivation in his travels: he says, “I would not have you ignorant, brethren…” (I want you to know…) that I often intended to come visit you, but was restrained, until now. I wanted to come there, in order to have fruit there, as I have everywhere else. He wanted to lead others to Christ in Rome, and to impart wisdom and maturity to the believers there. He wanted to build up the Church, there.

What had originally been an assignment from Jesus had become a personal passion to Paul. This was not a simple statement of duty, but a personal burden for the souls of those for whom Jesus died. He was determined to preach the Gospel to those in Rome just as he had everywhere else. (He hadn’t been there, yet.) He considered himself to have a debt to pay in Rome and elsewhere. Notice too, that he did not limit his ministry to “the elect”: in verse 14 and 15, he states categorically that he considered himself a debtor to all: Greeks, Barbarians, wise and foolish. He clearly understood that Jesus had died for the sins of the whole world, as did the Apostle John. John states that Jesus is “the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1st John 2:2) Paul echoes that conviction, stating that he himself was a debtor to the people around him, wherever he went: He owed them the Gospel.

Whenever God opened the door for him to go to Rome, he was ready to go. We know he eventually got there, but as far as we know he only went there in chains, as a prisoner. He was in prison there for at least a few years, and we know that he led many to Christ from that prison cell. The location had changed, but the burden was still the same.


As we read through the rest of the Book of Romans, We will see that the Lord Jesus is the central figure in all of the Bible, and that he has called us to be set aside for His service. We will also see the lostness of the human race. We can see here in Romans 1:14 that Paul considered himself to owe the Gospel to everyone around him.

Do we take that assignment seriously? Has it become a guiding passion, for you, to pray for opportunities to share the Gospel, and then use them as they arise? To pray for wisdom as to when to not offer the Gospel, and when to speak boldly?

Jesus said “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish his work.” The job had never been just a task to Jesus: it was his burning passion from the beginning. Apparently it had quickly become the same for Paul. Where is your passion? There are multiple assignments that we all have as believers: we are to pull our own weight in every area—taking care of our needs and those of our families, making good use of our time, loving the brethren, etc. But where does the Gospel fit into the equation? Is that the passion of your life or just something you think about once in a while? Give that some thought: What is the primary “burden” in your life?

Lord Jesus, help us to share your compassion for the Lost, and to willingly take up and bear the Burden of the Gospel, for the sake of your Glory.


Law of the Harvest, Revisited

The Law of the Harvest, Revisited

© C. O. Bishop 6/10/15 THCF 6/16/15

Galatians 6:6-10; 1st Corinthians 9:1-18; Genesis 1:11, 12, 21, 24-27; John 5:23


We have spent a few months going through the book of Galatians, and we have only a few verses left of the book: Today we begin at verse six of the last chapter of Galatians.

Paul seems to be changing the subject, here, but it actually ties right in with what he has been teaching. He has completed his warnings against legalism, and his reiteration of the absolute necessity of Grace. He has explained how to walk with the Lord, and how to get along with one another. He is beginning the conclusion of his letter to the churches of Galatia by explaining the outcome of their subsequent choices: He begins with one last command relating to the interpersonal responsibilities within the local assembly (namely the support of the shepherds of the flock) but then says, “You will reap what you sow!”

This is not a “new doctrine”… Paul is reiterating a principle taught clear back in the Creation story. Reaping and sowing is not about punishment, but about results. If I plant apple seeds, I have some hope of getting an apple tree, and I would be astonished if I got a cornstalk instead. We are exhorted to make appropriate decisions and expect appropriate results in our lives.

But Paul first addresses an issue that probably needed attention, as it frequently does today.

Responsibility Toward Those who Feed the Flock

6 Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.

This is a scriptural principle, and it is repeated elsewhere. In Luke 10:7, Jesus commanded that the disciples were to stay with (and be a blessing to) those who invited them to stay, and who fed them. He said, “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” Paul reiterated this to Timothy (1st Timothy 5:18), and quoted that passage, as well as a foundational passage from Deuteronomy 25:4, saying “thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.” The principle is sound, but it has been so thoroughly abused and contorted that many preachers are ashamed to even teach on it, for fear they will be seen as “panhandling”, or worse.

I think it is instructive to note, however, that the man who delivered the message in this case (and some of the other passages) did not avail himself of the privilege of “living by the Gospel”, though he was entitled to do so (1st Corinthians 9:14). Paul served unpaid, almost without exception, which sometimes necessitated a hiatus from preaching, in order for him to work his trade (which was tent making) and earn support for himself and his entourage. There were a few churches who sometimes joined him in his work by sending support to him…but not many.

Paul clearly stated his right to be supported in the work in 1st Corinthians 9:1-18, but he concluded that passage by saying he counted it a privilege to serve without charge, to avoid being a burden to the church, and to avoid any accusation of having abused his authority.

I like his example, and, as long as God continues to give me the privilege of serving without pay, I will choose to do so. He has provided for my family’s needs for the last 40 years through my own work in the secular world, as a welder, teacher, and builder. I continue to choose to follow Paul’s example in not being a burden to the church. (My fellow-servant Richard Banham has made the same choice, and has served without charge for longer than I have been alive.) But, that being said; if I ever am in a position where I really have to serve full time, and can no longer support myself and serve the church, then I will cheerfully submit to this principle, as well, with God’s leading and supply.

The Law of the Harvest

7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

This applies to work, service, giving and personal relationships…and many other areas as well. It is one of the oldest “laws” in the Bible. (Turn to Genesis 1:11.) When God created the world, and began to create living things, he created the plants first (v. 11, 12), and said that each of them bore seed “after its kind”. Then he made the animals, each “after his kind” (v. 21, 24, 25). Finally, it says he created Man, male and female, in His own image. (v. 26, 27)

Like begets like. We were to be like Him. The message of “like begets like” was quietly observed and decreed as the norm, clear back in Genesis. What you sow is what you reap. When a chicken incubates an egg (provided it was her own egg) I expect a baby chicken; nothing else: not ducks, eagles or lizards.

So why would it be a surprise today? We should realize that there are consequences and rewards for behavior…and for the choices we make. Every farming society knows the principle of sowing and reaping. They also know that not every seed sprouts…so they sow sufficient seed to make up for probable losses…and if they overestimated the losses, then they may end up with a bumper crop. But we are dealing with the God who said the very hairs of our heads are numbered. And that a sparrow does not fall without His knowledge. So there are not going to be any crop failures, in eternity. What you sow, in terms of both quality, quantity, and kind will be what you reap. God knows the hearts. People who seem to be “sowing” a lot may be simply “showing” a lot. The quiet servants who are not seeking applause may be the real “farmers” in the group.

Sowing and Reaping

8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

“Sowing to the flesh” could take any form—we tend to think of it in terms of gross immorality, gluttony, corruption, or something similar, but the fact is that the works of our flesh include things like gossip and bitterness, and pride, and anger, as well as lust and debauchery…and those are just as fatal to fellowship as the ones we think are “really bad”. So, when we habitually make choices that feed the old sin nature—the books we read, the conversations we engage in, jokes we tell, movies we watch, how we spend our money, who we want to be around—and who we shun, and why— we can count on eventually reaping loss. In 1st Corinthians 3:10-16, Paul talks about the Judgment Seat of Christ—where our works will be judged, of what sort they are, whether good or worthless (the word in KJV is “bad”, but it is not in the moral sense, but the sense of value). Our sins are not in view, having been dealt with at the Cross, but Paul says that there will be those whose works are burned up, yet they themselves will be saved, though as one escaping through the flames. Not all works have eternal value.

“Sowing to the Spirit,” so far as I can tell, is just walking in the Spirit… faithfully being obedient, day by day, and moment by moment. It is not “great, heroic acts of service”, though those could be included. Jesus said, “he who is chief among you, let him be your slave.” That doesn’t sound very “heroic.” But Jesus said that is the mark of genuine “greatness” in the eyes of God.

So, how does one “reap eternal life?” Is Paul saying that this is how you earn eternal life? No—it can’t be earned at all. But there are things within the greater title of “eternal life” that certainly can be earned. For one thing, in John 17:3, Jesus said, “this is eternal life, that they may know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” So—does that only mean “being born again?” Actually, it means that if you want to experience eternal life today, every day, you have to be in a growing, living, obedient relationship with Jesus. The “ginosko” knowledge is the word used, there in John 17:3, and although it only means a “personal knowledge” of Christ, as in a personal acquaintance, not just a knowledge in terms of information, it also indicates an ongoing relationship. When I first “knew” Jesus I gained eternal life—and it is eternal; I can never lose it. But when I am in an ongoing relationship with Him, I experience that eternal life.

Years ago, I knew a man who was quite wealthy, in the sense that he owned many rental houses, and he personally maintained them. But he “owned nothing”, in the sense that his personal belongings included a mattress, a single cookpot, one set of eating utensils, a few changes of clothing, etc., and the tools with which he repaired the older, run-down “fixer-uppers” he bought to make into still more rentals. He had lost his wife (actually wives) to divorce, and his children to drugs and rebellion. He had lost his license to drive, through drinking; so he didn’t even have a vehicle. He would live in a house while he was renovating it, sleeping on the mattress on the floor, then have a friend drive him and his belongings to the next house, when that one was ready to rent. Yes, he was “wealthy”, if you want to call it that; but was he actually experiencing any of that wealth? No! He lived like a miser; in far poorer conditions than any of his renters.

There are eternal rewards listed, as well, that go along with Eternal life, and they are the direct result of “Sowing to the Spirit” on a continuing basis. But the daily experiencing of the reality of eternal life is dependent upon daily “knowing” Him.

“Farmer Faith”

Every farmer knows that the harvest requires patience. One does not sow today and hope for a crop tomorrow. One works all year, in faith that the harvest season will be the payoff. Paul exhorts us to press on, knowing our reward is sure: He says,

9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

I have never been a “real farmer”, though I have worked on farms, and have lived in farming communities most of my life. We have raised chickens for meat and eggs, and have tilled the soil and planted gardens (which gave rather haphazard results.) I can observe, however, in farming, that, although harvest is in a specific time of year, there is work to be done virtually all year, in preparation for (and in hope of) that harvest.

The difference is that even a good farmer can do absolutely everything right and finally have his crops wiped out by calamity: a hard, late freeze, a blight, a terrible rainstorm or hail during harvest time, a plague of insects, birds, or a fire in the ripe fields. A wheat field fire is a terrible thing, and very hot—it can wipe out not only the year’s work, but the lives of those trying to fight the fire.

Our work, on the other hand, is secure. We are to faithfully respond to God, and allow Him to control the temporal results, as well as to record the eternal results. We really can’t see the long-term results anyway. The Christian life is a lot more like potato farming than wheat, in some ways—the reward is underground, and out of sight until the harvest.

Notice, too, that the harvest here is not primarily in reference to a “harvest of souls.” Jeremiah, for example, had an absolutely faithful life of service, but a very hard ministry. As far as we know, during his lifetime, only two people responded well to his message—his sidekick, Baruch, and the Ethiopian eunuch, Ebed-melech. Everyone else, from the king on down, utterly rejected his message. But Jeremiah was completely faithful, and kept sowing the good seed. The reaping is twofold—He went to his reward more than 2500 years ago; and there have been millions since then who have read and believed the words he wrote…and have been blessed in turn.

Paul likens our work to that of a farmer. He says we are to press on, in full confidence that our reward is secure in Christ. But service is a privilege:

Service is a Privilege, and Open to All

This is an open invitation to all believers to “come to work with Jesus!” It’s an all-planet “bring your kids to work” day. Except that, we are not there to just “giggle, and gawk at what Daddy does for a living.” We are invited to come and work with Him! Can we do his work? Not without Him, no! But He doesn’t ask us to do that: He invites us to join Him in the fellowship of the Gospel.

Take a peek over at Philippians 1:5. Paul commends the believers there for their “fellowship in the Gospel” with him: their participation with him; their partnership with him. That’s what “fellowship” means, folks! If we walk in fellowship with Jesus, it means we choose to work as partners with Him in the job of world evangelism; the job of feeding the flock, and the job of seeking the lost ones for whom he died. His whole goal is to offer eternal life as a gift to all who will come to Him to get it. He says, “Whosoever will may come!” We join him in that work, and we invite people to Him, loving them; reaching out to them, and faithfully walking with Him, to set an example, to demonstrate the Grace of God and the Love of Christ, and to serve as ambassadors of Christ. Paul says,

10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

This life is the only opportunity we have to “do good.” We may think we will just “hang on and wait for Jesus to come”, but that is not at all what he commanded. We are to work while we have the opportunity to serve with Him. We already have eternal life; that is not the issue. We are serving out of love, and sowing in hopes of an eternal reward. We are to pay special attention to loving other believers, because Jesus said this is one of our two strongest testimonies. He said “by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another.” (John 13:35) We are to give special attention to maintaining unity, because Jesus said that our unity is our evidence to the world, that He is the Messiah, sent from God. (John 17:21) Unfortunately, historically speaking, the church has failed miserably in both those arenas. But, regardless of our past failures, Jesus has invited you, today, to come and quietly walk with Him, and receive his blessing. Will you do it?

Will you join Him as his partner in the work? Only you were able to choose to receive Him as your savior. No one else could choose for you, and no one could keep you from making that choice. Only you can choose today to walk with Jesus, and to quietly, lovingly, humbly follow his leading, and obey His Word.

A Harvest of Souls

So what about a “harvest of souls?”  Isn’t that part of what we are hoping for? Didn’t Jesus say that we were to lead others to Him? Isn’t that a priority?

It certainly is! In fact Proverbs 11:30 says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he that winneth souls is wise”. So that is a high priority, and definitely part of the Law of the Harvest. Then, what do we sow, in order to reap a “harvest of souls?” We sow the Agapé love of Christ, and the Gospel (the good news) of God’s Grace.

In John 5:23, Jesus said, “He that heareth my words, and believeth on Him that sent me, Hath everlasting life, and shall not come into Condemnation, but is passed from death into life.” That is what we have to offer to all who will listen: Jesus says we can have eternal life now, not waiting until we die to find out if we “made the cut.” He says that those who have trusted in Him will never be condemned. And he says that they have eternally crossed over from death to life…never to be lost again.

That is the good news we call the Gospel: Jesus died for our sins, in fulfillment of the prophetic scriptures; He was buried, and rose again the third day, still in fulfillment of the prophetic scriptures. Those who believe that message, trusting Jesus’s finished work at the Cross—His shed blood—as full payment for their sins, are born again, and shall never perish. That is the personal promise of Jesus to all who believe. And, that’s the seed we are sent to sow in the world.

Sometimes it isn’t easy: Psalm 126:5, 6 says, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” Jeremiah was called the “weeping prophet” because he had such a grievous ministry. But he pressed on, and we are still benefitting from his work.

The apostle Paul had a hard ministry, but his life and death laid the foundation of the Gospel in countless lives and is still doing so today. Will join him in the fellowship of the Gospel? In the fellowship of suffering, if need be? The harvest is upon us!

Let’s keep on sowing that seed, and press on into the Harvest!

Lord Jesus,

Make us conscious, moment by moment, of the result of obedience, and the magnitude of the Harvest into which we have been sent. We hope to reap reward, we yearn to reap the sure knowledge of your presence and blessing in our lives, and we pray for a harvest of souls in our own town, as well as in the ministries of the missionaries we support.

Grant us the Grace to walk with you, in your love, and in Your name.