“For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until Christ returns. May you produce the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:10-11).
Farming went out of style a while ago — at least in my neck of the woods. Few of us suburban kids have any real knowledge of farming culture and practices. That makes Paul’s talk of “producing a harvest of righteousness” with our lives or “being filled with the fruits of the Spirit” all seem kind of foreign. Yet, it doesn’t take a farming genius to figure out the point of this powerful metaphor. Here is what I gather:
The basic idea is that our lives are like a carefully planted seed-designed to yield a good, healthy crop if planted in and growing out of good soil, rich in nutrients, well watered and properly tended to. A good harvest will take time, effort, cooperation and purpose.
1. Harvesting a good, healthy crop takes time. The harvest does not come a week after the initial planting. A good harvest comes when the full growing season comes to a close. Likewise, our lives will only produce an abundant harvest after the full growing season is over. We need to have patience with ourselves and show grace toward others as we grow ever so slowly together over the long haul.
2. Harvesting a good, healthy crop takes effort. While we are saved and brought back into right relationship with God only through Christ’s work on the cross and the resurrection (Eph 2:9-9), the process of becoming more and more like Jesus is often like farming — it is hard, dirty work. Christ calls us to take up our own cross, to die to our own desires and walk the narrow path with him. This work requires our overalls and work boots!
3. Harvesting a good, healthy crop takes cooperation. We are not left to our own strength, but are cooperating with Jesus by the power of the Spirit in this task of bearing fruit with our lives. “The harvest of righteousness”, Paul says, “comes through Jesus Christ” (v. 11). Again, as Paul says elsewhere, “To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in me” (Col 1:29).
4. Harvesting a good, healthy crop demands a greater purpose. No farmer invests the time and sweat plowing, planting, watering and harvesting a crop if it doesn’t serve a greater purpose. The farmer’s hard work is worth it because his harvest serves the greater purpose of feeding and nourishing others. Likewise, Paul reminds us that we were created for the highest purpose of all: to bring praise and glory to the Creator! Never forget that we were created to reflect the majesty of God in all that we do!
We could all benefit from a year’s apprenticeship to a local farmer. Farmers have a great window into the complex “stuff” of growing things — human souls included. Our life is the greatest gift we are given. Like a small, fragile seed, we can either make our lives count by bearing fruit for God’s Kingdom, or we can wither in the hot, scorching heat of life. Or, as Jesus put it:
“Listen. What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled among the weeds and nothing came of it. Some fell on good earth and came up with a flourish, producing a harvest exceeding his wildest dreams. “Are you listening to this? Really listening?” (Mar 4:3-9)