We have all seen the signs along the road saying, “Have you eaten today? Thank a farmer.” There is a lot of truth to that sign. We all need food to survive, to stay healthy, and to grow. As a boy, I grew up on a family farm. I remember the year my Dad told me to clear out an overgrown plot of land in order for us to plant a family garden. There was a lot of work to accomplish this. First we cleared the thick undergrowth. We then cut down some large trees to open up the land to the light of the sun. We had to dig out the roots and stumps. Next we had my uncle plow the ground, which revealed all the rocks we had to remove. Finally, the day arrived when we could plant the seeds in the ground. Before long we saw the desired plants grow, but along with them came weeds that needed to be removed on a regular basis. Just about the time we started to see produce reaching maturity the raccoons would come and eat it. They were as destructive and aggressive and Monkey’s can be here. So, I had to catch these animals to keep the vegetables safe. After all, the goal of a garden is produce – fruitfulness.
A plot of ground is full of potential. God created it with the capacity to grow an abundance of plants that we can eat. However, to turn a vacant field into a lush garden requires man to work at two things: (1) removing hindrances to fruitful production and (2) cultivating the ground to provide the best environment for production to occur. Well, this picture of a fruitful field is what the Apostle Paul uses to teach truths about what God intends for His church.
Two weeks ago Phil started a new series entitled “Pictures of the Church.” The first message was from 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 which shared the picture that “The Church is a Family.” In that message we saw that the goal is maturity. Today we continue this series and we will pick up where we left off in 1 Corinthians 3.
Big Idea: As a result of today’s message we will see that the church is a field and the goal is quantity. The goal is fruitfulness.
As we examine this picture of the church we must remember some things that Phil shared with us in our two-week introduction to defining what a church is. We must remember what the word church means. It comes from the Greek word, Ekklesia – which means called out ones. We still use it in our English language. The word eclectic comes from this Greek word. The church is an eclectic group of people that God has called out of the darkness of this sinful world to be separated for His special use. If you have turned to Jesus Christ in repentance of sin and faith in His work on the cross then you are part of the church. When you become a Christian you are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. To be a Christian is to be part of the church.
With that information in mind, let’s now think of today’s big idea again. The church is a field and the goal is quantity. As God’s field he wants to produce fruitful faith in each of us. So, by the end of today I hope each of us will leave here with specific things in mind that we can do to bear more spiritual fruit in our lives.
Let’s now turn to 1 Corinthians 3 and we will start by reading the passage that Phil preached on 2 weeks ago and then move on into the next section. As we read through these verses we see three things about this picture of the church as a field. Let me say up front, that the first point will consume most of our time together this morning. The last two points go by fairly quickly as our text does not have as much to say about them.
There are many roles involved with farming the field v. 5-6
We each have various roles when farming this field called the church. This image should come naturally from the typical farming methods in Zambia. I have a friend in Choma named Mike Beckett who owns Muumba Farms. He helped me see that in Zambia, the key to a productive farm is a large workforce that is broken into teams to accomplish different purposes. This is very different from farming in America where large farms can be worked by only a few men with lots of machinery. In the day Paul wrote to the Corinthians farming would have been very similar to what we still do in Zambia. There is one “farmer” with many employees. Each one has a job to do and their jobs differ from one another.
There is a lot of work involved in the planting (clearing, plowing, putting seed in ground). The human heart is the soil for spiritual growth. Think of Jesus’ Parable of the Sower from Matthew 13:3-9. There were many kinds of soil (hard soil, rocky soil, thorny soil, good soil). To get the first three soils to be productive there is work to be done. The hard soil could represent those of us who have become hardened to spiritual things because of how those who should be tending the soil are actually trampling it under foot. Some of you may have hard hearts in response to the hypocrisy you have seen from so-called Christians. Some of you may have hearts of rocky soil. There are stones of stubbornness that must be removed. When you hear the truth of God’s Word and it clashes with your worldview you don’t want to remove those boulders. You want to try to produce spiritual fruit, but your heart is too stony for the things of God to really take root. Some of you may be like the thorny soil. You genuinely want to grow, but there are worldly ideas that are choking out your growth. You are trying to cultivate spiritual things and worldly things at the same time. You are compromising to accommodate both views, but this will never lead to fruitfulness because the worldly weeds are stealing nutrients from the spiritual fruit. What needs to be done is some serious plowing, removing of stones, and plucking out of weeds by the very roots. This is work – hard work!
So, we have seen that in both a physical field and a spiritual field much work is necessary to increase productivity. A field is full of potential; but for that potential to be realized – to be actualized there is much work to be done. Yet, we must remember that despite all there is to be done; we do not accomplish the production. Our work in planting is to remove the obstacles and barriers to production and apply the truth of God’s Word – the seed. By removing the barriers it allows space and nutrients for the spiritual fruit to grow.
Some other workers have a different focus than cultivating the soil, removing the weeds, and other barriers. Rather, they add the nutrients needed that were lacking in order to produce fruit, speed up production, and increase the yield. In a physical field these would be things like water and fertilizer. In the spiritual field we water by applying prayer and the Word of God for continued spiritual growth. This doesn’t always mean preaching a sermon or teaching a Bible Study. It can be much more informal than that. Adding the water of God’s Word could be speaking words of encouragement and accountability in our everyday conversations with those in the church and those that we are trying to bring to the Lord for salvation. So, we have seen that some plant and some water. Then, once we do that, it seems that nature takes its course. In a physical field, it is at this point that the natural process of germination and growth takes over. In the spiritual field, the Holy Spirit of God takes over to produce spiritual growth. We can be confident that once we do our part of applying the truth of God’s Word that the Holy Spirit will make good use of it. In Isaiah 55:11 God says, “My word will not return void, but will accomplish that which I sent it.”
Now, here is an important truth we cannot miss from this passage. If the church is a field and every Christian is part of the church then we are all both the soil and the laborers. We plant and water into the lives of others and let them do the same to us. Once the obstacles to spiritual growth are removed and the essential nutrients applied we get out of the way because God Himself produces the spiritual fruit.
God Produces the Growth
The Process We don’t do the production; God does. If someone puts his faith in Jesus after I share the gospel with that person I am not that one that saved him. Jesus saved him; I just cultivated the soil. Our work, our role is to optimize and maximize the fruitfulness by applying the nutrients that speed of growth and production. Yet, none of that work would accomplish anything if God had not already built in the mechanism for productivity. God has placed eternity in man’s hearts Ecclesiastes 3:11. Everyone knows that there is something more out there than just this life. God has placed eternity in man’s heart so we will know that after death there is something more. The question is, where will we spend eternity. To help man see the need for righteousness and forgiveness of sin God has given us a conscience (Romans 2:15). This is place of the knowledge of right and wrong. This is the natural contact point God has given to us all. Now, if we will just apply the truth of God’s Word and prayers of intercession to the conscience we will see a wondrous thing take place. We will see spiritual fruit sprout from what was once the dry, infertile soil of man’s heart. We will see the Holy Spirit bring to life what was once barren and useless soil overrun with the weeds and bush of sin. So, we have seen the process. Now let’s look at the products.
The Products – Fruitfulness First, let’s examine the fruit in our own lives. The Bible refers to this as the “Fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-24). If God is really on the throne of our lives then the Holy Spirit will be free to control us and produce in us these 9 spiritual fruits. 1. Love 2. Joy 3. Peace 4. Patience 5. Kindness 6. Goodness 7. Faithfulness 8. Gentleness 9. Self-control Now, we know that the opposite of these 9 fruit are addressed in Galatians 5 also where a list of sins are recorded as the works of the flesh. We obviously know that we should avoid these and that if they are present in our lives that it is evidence of a serious problem. However, Satan is so clever that he has deceived many of us into thinking we have the fruit of the spirit when we really only have counterfeit fruit. It looks like real fruit but without the substance. Rather than a bowl of assorted fruit it is a bowl of wax fruit. It looks good, but tastes bad. These offer no real nourishment.
Sadly, many of us have settled for counterfeit spiritual fruit in our lives.
- Authentic Fruit – Counterfeit Fruit:
- Love – Selfish affection
- Joy – Selfish elation – “I get blessed”
- Peace – Indifference
- Patience – Cynicism – “This is too small to be bothered about.”
- Kindness – Selfish manipulation
- Goodness (integrity) – Truth without love (I’m just being myself)
- Faithfulness – Love without truth (being loyal when you should confront)
- Gentleness (humility) – Inferiority
- Self-Control – Will power from pride
We must be just as alert regarding the counterfeit fruit as we are the works of the flesh. Second, God will produce from our labors fruit in the lives of others. When we serve him, we will be the sowers planting the seed in others that brings about the salvation of more souls (Matthew 28:18-20; Proverbs 11:30). Of course, once there are new believers God uses our labors to help these young Christians experience spiritual Growth/Discipleship (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Peter 3:18).
So, we have examined the produce God intends to develop in our lives. Now we must examine our lives to see if the fruit is there. Do you see these fruits being produced from your life? What is lacking? Have you identified it on your list? Great!
Then what do you do to see more fruit? It depends on your condition:
If you are not a born again Christian then you can’t become a productive field. You are not part of the field until you have repented of your sin and put your faith in Christ. Perhaps that is what some of you need to do today. Perhaps some of you need to become the property of the Ultimate Farmer – Jesus Christ. He can turn your life into a highly productive field, but he won’t do that until you belong to him.
Second, if you have already put your faith in Christ for salvation then what you need to go through is the process called sanctification. Salvation is an event that happens in a moment in time.
Sanctification is a process that continues throughout the lifetime of a Christian. Sanctification is being set apart for special use to God. This is the process every believer goes through. Some go through it more quickly than others depending on the cultivation that they allow in their lives.
- Cultivate the soil by repenting of known sin in your life. Pull it out like you would pull a weed out of the garden. Pull it out by the roots or it will grow right back.
- Enhance the soil of your soul by adding nutrients that are lacking. Develop the habit of spending time with God every day. Apply the water of God’s Word to your life. Add fertilizer by coming to every Bible study you can make it to. Add sunshine by spending time in prayer every day all throughout the day.
- Lastly, every day you must die to your selfish sin nature. Submit your will to God’s will. That truth brings me to our second point.
There is only one reputation that really matters v. 7
On my friends farms there are many workers – usually 300 or more. None of them own the farm, but all of them work on the farm. Mike Beckett treats his employees well. He is firm, but fair. His employees respect him and want the reputation of the farm to be good, not for their own glory, but for the good of the farm owner and the good of the farm. They view working on Muumba Farm as a privilege.
There is a lot we can learn from that example. Too many of us are wanting to make a name for ourselves. Too many of us want to be seen as being essential to the farmer as if he could not succeed without us. Too many of us are concerned about our own reputations when we are nobodies. We tell people how great our God is and then quickly draw attention to ourselves for serving him well and when we do that we are saying, “See how great I am.” This will not lead to a healthy productive field. You will never convince people that God is great when you are spending so much time trying to convince others that you are great. Forget your reputation. It’s not about you. It is about God. It is about Jesus Christ. He isn’t fortunate to have us as workers. We are blessed to be working in his field! We are privileged. Our lives and our labors must be consumed with spreading the fame of His name!
There is a reward for faithful laborers in God’s field – the Church v. 8
This passage does not specify what the rewards are for faithful laborers, but I would like to close by providing you with a list of rewards based on other passages of scripture.
- Reward of Personal Spiritual Growth • Reward of praise – “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21,23)
- Reward of Crowns in Heaven But, these rewards are proportional to the labor you invest. Remember, we are a field. Do not expect to reap where you did not sow. Do not expect to reap where sin has overgrown and choked the life out of the spiritual fruit. Brothers and Sisters in Christ, let us be motivated to cultivate our spiritual lives to maximize our fruitfulness.
Conclusion: v. 9 We are God’s fellow laborers. You are God’s field!
The very purpose of a field is to produce crops. Every farmer wants a fruitful field. Every farmer wants an abundant field – a high quantity of fruit. As the master farmer, that is what God desires to see in his church. That is what He desires to see at Kitwe Church.
Each one of you is like a zone within a large field. How productive do you want your zone to be? Are you willing to do the work of cultivating godliness in your life so you can see the fruit of the spirit growing more and more?
Imagine what would happen if each of us dedicated ourselves to being a fruitful Christian. If we worked together we would see the field expand to more and more people. As elders Phil, Nathan, and I are excited to see the attendance grow because each person is a soul with the potential of bearing fruit. As we move into the future as Kitwe Church will this picture that Paul presented in 1 Cor. 3:5-9 be true of us? Will we be a field whose goal is fruitfulness?
Download: The Church as a Field