Lesson 9 Laboring In Discipleship

“I must work the works of Him that sent Me” (John 9:4). The Lord Jesus Christ was a worker. In this He joined together with the One who sent Him. “My Father has been working until now” (John 5:17). God is seen as a worker from the opening pages of Scripture (Gen. 2:2-3). Creation was His work. The accomplishment of salvation was a work which the Son finished (John 17:4; 19:30). The labors of believers even now are to be seen as making us “workers together” with God (2 Cor. 6:1; cf. 1 Cor. 3:9). The picture of the Lord in Scripture is that of the Great Worker, not the Great Bystander. The Lord’s people, who are called “to walk even as He walked” (1 John 2:6), should follow in His steps.

All are Called to Labor

Since the times of our Lord Jesus there have never been enough laborers to adequately carry on the work of God. It was this problem that caused the Lord to say, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38). There have been many Christians, but there have been few laborers. Many believers do not know that God has called all of His people to labor.

1. As Taught In The New Testament. It is easy to see that the laborers in the New Testament included the Twelve Apostles (Matt. 10:1-4), the Seventy (Luke 10:1-2), Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:2), Timothy (1 Cor. 16:10; Rom. 16:21; 1 Thess. 3:2), Titus (2 Cor. 8:23), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25). However, the list widens beyond this company to a larger group of believers. These would include Mary (Rom. 16:6), Tryphena and Tryphosa (Rom. 16:12), Priscilla and Aquila (Rom. 16:3), Persis (Rom. 16:12), all of Rome. Among those in Philippi were Euodia, Syntyche and Clement (Phil. 4:2-3). Add Stephanas (1 Cor. 16:17), Gaius (3 John 1), Philemon (Philem. 1), Justus and Epaphras (Col. 4:11-12), and no doubt Aristarchus and Mark (Col. 4:10). Note that women were very active.

The Spirit speaks of all believers as workers (Eph. 4:12,16; 1 Cor. 15:58), just as they are all servants, all priests, all saints. This includes the single and the married, those with families and those who have none, male and female, old and young. No distinction is made in calling a certain group to “the work of the Lord” and others not so, based on whether they have full or part time jobs, or have been professionally trained.

2. Yet Neglected Since Apostolic Times. One of the great problems of contemporary Christianity is the limited conception of the role of the average believer. With the rise of the “clergy-laity” distinction among believers, it was thought that the work of the Lord was set apart essentially for a professional class of ministers, bearing titles and being divinely “ordained.” Supposedly, these were the ones who understood the Scriptures and did whatever was to be done. Others were called “laymen” (common people), doing common or lesser tasks. There is no Scriptural basis for this distinction. Among other unfortunate effects, this has resulted in blinding believers to their universal calling to work together with God in a mighty, worldwide endeavor to make Christ known and then spiritually build up those being won to Him.

All Are Needed to Labor

1. As Full-Time Workers. Whether we hold a secular job or work for God “full-time,” we still “serve the Lord Jesus Christ” (Col. 3:24). Jesus Christ served the Father no less during His years as a carpenter than the three and a half years in itinerant ministry. If we are in the will of God, we are all full-timers in this larger sense. Just as there is no Biblical distinction between clergy and laity, there is also no distinction between secular and sacred employment, although we sometimes use those terms. Whether we give up our jobs to concentrate on the work of the Lord depends on the effectiveness of our current ministry, the demonstrated need for more ministry in our gift area(s) and the recognition of these needs by the church leadership.

The Biblical pattern for ministry is seen in the life of the Apostle Paul. As a young man, he learned a trade (tentmaking). After conversion, he yielded his occupation to the priorities of the kingdom. Sometimes he is seen working “full-time” in his trade while pouring all his spare time into the ministry. At other times, it was expedient to set aside his tentmaking job and spend all of his time in direct ministry. In the latter case, he was entitled to the financial support of fellow-believers (Luke 10:7; Matt. 10:10; 1 Tim. 5:17).

2. As Specialists And Generalists. It is one thing to declare that Scripture calls for every believer to be a laborer, but what are we supposed to do? Are there not differences in gifts? Yes! The very fact that each believer has a spiritual gift and is called to function in the Body by use of that gift, reinforces the idea of a working function (1 Cor. 12). In spite of this, at times there seems to be a paralysis of function within the church due to the claim that we do not know what our gift is. Believers are called upon to function in numerous gift areas whether they have that gift or not. We can all give, show mercy, exhort, help and many similar things. However, we should not minimize the particular gifts given us, but use them (2 Tim. 1:6). These develop only as we use them. Spiritual gifts are for the “equipping of the saints” (Eph. 4:11-12). This is the divine provision for “building up the Body” through the saints themselves. The people are “God’s building” and we are builders together with Him (1 Cor. 3:9-10). The disciple’s goal is to help present “every man mature in Christ” {Col. 1:28-29). That is the chief part of our labor for God.

3. As People Persons. Supremely, the work of God is bound up with people. It has been said that the life of Jesus could be summed up in one word —”others.” He poured out His earthly life for other people. He continues to intercede now in heaven for us (Heb. 7:25). He demonstrated a quality that each of us needs. He is a “people person”; one with a “heart for people.” This calls us away from isolation to be involved with others for Christ’s sake. We are to look after the interests of others, not just our own (Phil. 2:4). Unhappy people are often occupied with themselves. Our circle of involvement should not be confined to family and a few other contacts.

4. Workers In A United Body. The passage in Corinthians 15:58 pictures the entire church being involved in the work of the Lord. This high view of our function, like that of being members of the Body, moves beyond the usual view of membership. We are all to be workers “unto the Kingdom of God” (Col. 4:11), and are all to labor in prayer in the advancement of this kingdom (Col. 4:12). In an exclusive sense (Acts 6:4) all believers are called to devote themselves to prayer and ministry of the Word. But all can be involved in the work of evangelism in the general sense (2 Tim. 4:5). We are all to be laborers toiling in the work of the Gospel (Phil. 4:3). To each of us has been committed the “word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). There is also practical work (1 Cor. 16:15-16) in the area of helps or service.

5. As Pioneers In New Fields. It is from the ranks of diligent workers in local churches that the Lord no doubt will “thrust out” workers into the larger field (Matt. 9:38). Barnabas and Saul were separated by the Holy Spirit for missionary ministry elsewhere, only when they had first proven themselves where they were (Acts 13:2), even endangering their lives for the work of Christ (Acts 15:25,26). Mobile workers such as Judas and Silas were sent forth, as well as John Mark (Acts 15:37). Timothy, Titus, Tychicus, Trophimus, Silas, Epaphroditus were also among the many workers moving about the world as God’s representatives. They saw a mighty harvest field, to which the Lord Jesus called them. They knew that reapers received wages and gathered fruit unto life eternal (John 4:35-36). What a life vision!

Why Don’t Many Believers Become Laborers?

In spite of the vital importance and the unbelievable immensity of the tasks facing the church today the workers remain but few (Matt. 9:37-38). How can it be, with so many Christians, that so few can be termed laborers?

1. Relying Upon Paid “Professional” Staff. The unbiblical clergy-laity division of labor continues to stifle so-called “laypersons,” even in Bible oriented movements. Believers are largely reduced to the role of money-givers and listeners. Gifted members of the body are denied meaningful ministry opportunities, especially in pastoral and preaching areas. The tendency to relegate ministry of a spiritual nature to full-time workers remains even in churches who may not appreciate this system. The layperson expects the full-time worker to do what he’s hired him to do. When asked why they are not engaged in the work and service of the Lord many reply that they don’t feel called or prepared. This is a gross misunderstanding of the call for all believers to serve. Many more would labor if they were given challenge, opportunity and “in house” training. Believers should be challenged to consider the Lord’s work as their chief occupation and their job income as support.

2. Insufficient Training. Most Christian movements provide some specialized training yet they still look to professional schools to do most of this. However, little practical training for meaningful ministry is made available to ordinary church members. The risen Christ has given His church great gifts in people with God-given capabilities. Evangelists, pastors and teachers are called of God to equip the rest of the saints for meaningful ministry in the body (Eph. 4:11-13). The usage of the word translated “equip” is quite instructive. It is used of fishermen mending (repairing) their nets (Matt. 4:21). The nautical term was used for preparing a ship for voyage. As a medical term this word describes the restoration of a disjointed member of the body to its proper function (Gal. 6:1).

The potential contribution of many Christians lies dormant, often buried under unresolved problems and ill-training. They need repair! Those believers who lack “know-how” need preparation for the Lord’s work. Still others need supervision and help to find their proper place of function in the body. Such training and care has been sadly lacking in most churches.

3. Fear Of Signing Up For Life. Some believers hesitate to take on a responsibility for fear of committing themselves to “serving a life sentence” in a certain ministry. Instead of performing a task at which they may possibly fail, they do nothing. Rather than running the risk of involvement in a ministry, of which they may grow weary, they play it safe while remaining idle. Initial involvement ought properly to be for a specific period. 4. LACK OF MOTIVATION. Some believers seem content in the pursuit of secondary life goals. The crying needs of the church fall upon deaf ears. The plight of lost souls doesn’t move them. The call of the Lord leaves them cold. Many a Christian is spiritually “blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins” (2 Pet. 1:9).

What Can You Do To Become An Effectual Laborer?

1. Make Yourself Available For The Service Of God. As a young man Isaiah received a prostrating vision of the sovereign Lord of hosts. Isaiah became keenly aware of his profound unworthiness as a spokesman for God, being overwhelmed by the beauty of His holiness. Then he heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” The prophet responded, “Here I am. Send me/” (Isa. 6:1-8). God delights in the voluntary service of those who feel greatly privileged to serve such a wonderful Lord (2 Cor. 4:1; 1 Tim. 1:12). God wants to use people who feel overwhelmed with a sense of His greatness. His great mercies should move believers to present themselves for service (Rom. 12:1-2).

2. Consider Where Your Aptitudes Or Gifts May Lie. Scripture stresses the need for sound judgment when considering our gifts and function within the body of Christ (Rom. 12:3). Seek opportunity for service in the area of your supposed gift and get started. It’s impossible to steer a ship that’s sitting dead in the water! Be open to suggestions or needs which at first seem to intimidate you.

3. Seek Training In The Specific Area Of Concern. Take the initiative. What ministry and learning opportunities are available? Who has the necessary expertise to train you for this task? On-the-job training is most valuable. “Learning by doing” under supervision of experienced workers is ideal.

How Can You Improve Your Labor?

1. Set High Standards For Yourself. Although unrealistic expectations can discourage the beginner from initiating necessary action, we should never allow ourselves to be satisfied with mediocrity. The Jews offered sacrifices to the Lord which they wouldn’t have thought of giving to the governor. Lame and sickly sacrifices are a disgrace to the Lord of glory and dishonor Him (Mai. 1). His work deserves excellence! Evaluate your ministry performance. Set realistic and ambitious goals. “Cursed is the one who does the Lord’s work negligently!” (Jer. 48:10).

2. Confer With Others And Review Your Ministry. We stand or fall before our Lord. His commendation is of primary concern. Also, the constructive criticism and counsel of concerned co-workers can be a real help in our quest to improve our work for the Lord. Individualism and the lack of teachability are the arch-enemies of improvement. The book of Proverbs expresses the beneficial effect of working with others. “Iron sharpens iron. So one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17).

Conclusion

New believers should be taught that they are called to be spiritual workers in the Kingdom of God. There is nothing wrong with attending services, preparing church dinners, singing in the choir, ushering and being committee members in the church. Many professed believers do not even take part to this extent. A careful consideration of the Scriptures, however, will indicate that we are called to a life and ministry that far exceeds these familiar activities. Had the church been doing this, and teaching its converts to do this, its history might have been far different. Long ago, the believers went forth and proclaimed their message of Christ everywhere and “the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the Word with signs following” (Mark 16:20). The early Christians, even when persecuted, “went everywhere preaching the Word” (Acts 8:4). The tragedy of the church is that it ceased to see that this was its great mission and that every believer should be active in that mission. Investing our lives in believers who become fruitful workers is one means of knowing we have not labored in vain.

Lesson 9 Laboring In Discipleship

1. Read Matthew 9:36-38. What caused Jesus to be moved with compassion? What great need did He see? What observations did He make regarding laborers?

2. Who has the Lord called to participate in the work of the harvest (Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Cor. 15:58; Acts 8:1; Matt. 10:8b)?

3. Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. Explain how specialization of function is necessary for effective ministry.

4. In what sense must we be “general practitioners” in the body as well as specialists?

5. What is our responsibility regarding our spiritual gift (2 Tim. 1:6)? What do you think your spiritual gift is? How are you using it in your local church now?

6. What is God’s view on the difference between a “full-time” Christian worker and a Christian worker who holds down a “secular” occupation (see Acts 18:1-5,11,24-26)? How would you determine whether to hold a “tentmaking” job or to concentrate all your time in direct ministry?

7. Often workers are thrust out from a local area to other areas. Who sends out these workers (Acts 13:2)? How is this carried out by the church (Acts 15:22-25)? How had these men proved themselves before they were sent out (Acts 15:25-26)?

8. If the Lord evaluated your work in the church today, in what way would He speak to you about your activity, in your opinion? Are your activities commensurate with your gift and calling?