The Christian as a Farmer
These portraits of the Christian to which Ross Rainey calls attention have created an exercise in a number of hearts, a longing to make life more conformed to the high spiritual standards of the Word of God.
The author, after graduating from college, was called early like Timothy to the work of the Lord. He knows the practical side of Christianity as given pictorially in these articles for he writes out of daily experiences as well as from biblical knowledge. Three more articles are to follow.
The apostle Paul continues to emphasize the strenuous nature of the Christian life as he passes from the athletic world to the agricultural world. In the two previous metaphors of the soldier and the runner (wrestler) there is a certain amount of adventure, excitement, and thrill; but this is not generally true of the toiling tiller of the soil, or as Paul calls him, “the husbandman that laboureth.” The farmer’s life is characterized by hard work, patient waiting, and hopeful reaping.
All told, the writer has spent between three and four years of his life on a farm in the community of Fox-mead, Ontario, Canada, and can testify first-hand as to the farmer’s hard work, disappointments, frustrations, and hum-drum routine; and yet of his joys, wholesome way of life, hopes, and harvests.
Clearly and concisely the Spirit-inspired Apostle writes of the farmer as follows: “The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits” (2 Tim. 2:6). Two things stand out in this text, the first being:
The Toil of the Farmer
At least five things are characteristic of the farmer which, of course, have their application to the Christian under this particular metaphor.
Persevering toil: The farmer’s lot, even in our highly mechanized and technical age, requires persevering toil, especially if he is to be a successful farmer. In like manner, the Christian is exhorted to toil perseveringly in his appointed task, assured that he will reap an eternal reward if he is faithful. To the Corinthian saints the Apostle Paul writes: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). Surely, there is no finer example of persevering toil in the service of Christ than the Apostle himself, and, earlier in the same letter and chapter just referred to, he could sincerely, humbly, and truthfully state: “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (15:9,10). Silas, Timothy, and Epaphroditus are further sterling examples of persevering toil in the service of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Protracted hours: Just as the farmer must generally arise early and often work until dark, especially in harvest time, so the Christian can and must often expect long hours of toil in the fulfilment of his task. Linking Silas and Timothy with himself, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, reminding these saints of the character of their walk and witness among them by stating: “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day. because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God” (1 Thess. 2:7-9).
As an added note, let us remember that regardless of the duration of each day’s “labour of love” in the service of Christ, it is wise and well to commence and close each day in His presence. We can form no better habit in the ‘Christian life than to begin each day with the reading of God’s Word and prayer. This was the habit of the Psalmist — namely, David (Ps. 5:3; 63:1). Is it yours?
Periodic disappointment: Frosts and floods, droughts and damaging storms, pests and plant diseases are all so often the cause of trial and disappointment to the hard-working husbandman. On the same night in which He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). To the sojourners of the dispersion, scattered because of severe persecution, Peter encouragingly wrote: “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Pet. 4:16). And it was James, probably the earliest writer in the New Testament, who in writing to persecuted Jewish believers took for granted that Christians would experience various testings, when he stated: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations (testings)” (Jas. 1:2). Yes, all true believers in one degree or another will experience testings which in turn may bring disappointments, but let us remember that “Our disappointments are His appointments.”
Prodigious patience: Of all the virtues needed by the farmer, patience is probably the key one, and it is certainly a key virtue needed in the believer’s life, requiring testing for its development. That is why Paul wrote: “… we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience” (Rom. 5:3). Furthermore, the author to the Hebrews has written: “For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (Heb. 10:36). A little later on in the same letter, we are exhorted to “run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). This is only possible as we are found “looking unto Jesus” (Heb. 12:2), the perfect example of patience.
Perpetual hum-drum: Finally, unless the unusual happens or something goes wrong, the farmer’s life is characterized day in and day out by the same old routine. Sometimes the Christian life is played up as being filled with daring deeds and exciting episodes. This may be so as an exception to the rule, but it is certainly not the rule. Let us look at Enoch’s life for a moment. Before his translation he walked with God for 300 years in a dark and difficult age. It is this writer’s firm conviction that if Enoch could testify today concerning his walk with God, he would declare that it was characterized far more by the resolute routine of daily living than by the exhilarating ecstasies of exciting experiences. That is not to say his walk with God was devoid of “mountain-top” experiences. From beginning to end it must have been a precious experience indeed, but generally speaking, it was undoubtedly a walk of patient plodding and pressing on with God from day to day. Its secret was living faith in the living God, resulting in a testimony pleasing to Him and his ultimate translation into the presence of our Lord (Heb. 11:5).
With these things in view, it is no wonder Paul referred to the tiller of the soil as “the hard-working farmer” (R.S.V. trans.).
Summing up, H. C. G. Moule has aptly commented: “Here Timothy is led by contrast to a similitude totally devoid of excitement, remote from all glamour of peril and applause. The strenuous and prosaic toil of the tiller, his patience under uncertain seasons, his quiet waiting through pains for gains, this all is to enter deeply into the life of the Lord’s servant; plowing, sowing, tending, and then reaping at last. That supreme quality is here in view, so great in the Gospel scale of virtues — the patience that goes on!” (The Second Epistle to Timothy, p. 78).
This brings us to
The Spoil of the Farmer
The lot of the labouring husbandman is not all toil. After plowing, planting, and patience there comes a season of plenty when a rich harvest is reaped. Thus, as the courageous soldier is decorated, and the runner (wrestler) is crowned, so the toiling tiller of the soil is at last rewarded by a good crop. It is only right that the farmer be the first to partake of the fruit of his labour as a reward for his patient toil (cf. 1 Cor. 3:8). God will always recognize and reward diligent labour on the part of the believer (1 Tim. 5:17), and He is no man’s debtor (Heb. 6:10; 1 Cor. 3: 14).
The words of Psalm 126:5 and 6 are indeed applicable and appropriate in view of the metaphor of the hard-working farmer. “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” (see also 2 Cor. 9:6; Gal. 6:7-9).
Today, more than anything else, God needs toilers in His harvest fields (Matt. 9:38). Does He have to say to any of us: “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” (Matt. 20:6).