We need to labor on Christ so that we may be able to bring something of Christ to God the Father (Romans 12:1). We could labor on Christ as the foundation or good land. Laboring on Christ as the good land is to till the ground, sow the seed, water the seed, and take care of the crop. Laboring on Christ can be compared to the laborious work of a farmer; the most diligent, life-preserving, and industrious of people.
In Matthew 28:19, the Lord spoke concerning the preaching of the gospel with the intent of bringing many to life, saying “disciple all the nations”. This is a lifelong journey, and a consideration for the long run. Lifelong laboring admittedly is a daunting task that turns to present discouragement along the way. The scriptures prescribe a weapon fit for all circumstances of life and call it the shield of faith (ESV, Ephesians 6:16). Above all weapons of spiritual warfare, the shield of faith settles and secures you in labor.
I recount reading an article written by John Piper titled “Even if you labor for Nought”. In this profound article, he talks about the secret weapon of endurance and strength in his journey of spiritual maturity and commitment to maturing disciples in Christ. He had served for 33 years as a pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis Minnesota.
John Piper passionately takes us back to the very beginning before he accepted the call to become a pastor 33 years ago, and how his father wrote him a discouraging letter. It was a letter of warning about the pastorate, giving him a long list of the discouragements, pitfalls, and hardships of the pastoral ministry. Later, when he accepted the call, his Father rejoiced with him and affirmed that the letter was not meant to stop him, but prove the reality of his call.
He goes on to reveal one of the pitfalls his father mentioned in his “letter of warning” as the life-quenching discouragement that comes from an extended period of apparent fruitlessness. Which is a threat not only to spiritual leaders, but to all believers. All of us can be let down and crushed by the feeling that our work is of no value. Every now and then, the reality of pain hits us- we go through stress, health problems, financial demands that put us in a vice, the desperation of wanting to get married, the regret and wishing we had never married, and aches that are set in our soul due to child parenting, the death of someone we love. Who has never felt the pangs of laboring in vain and spending one’s strength for nothing?
In an effort to refresh his spirit in his early days of pastoral ministry, John Piper turned to a great old book written by Charles Bridges and found a weapon suited for such warfare. Bridges said, “our recompense is measured not according to our success but our labor”- Then Charles cited his supporting text from the prophet Isaiah, who was sent to preach to people who were incorrigible and would not repent.
ESV, Isaiah 49:4 – But I said, I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God.
John Piper explains his experience with the verse as a piercing in his heart, like a shot of spiritual adrenaline. He suddenly imagined a large-hearted, gentle, steady old pastor serving in a small church. Who was worn and weary at the end of his life. He had been faithful for three decades through every crisis, never succumbing to the temptation to quit. When a young replacement asked him how he had the endurance and strength of soul to keep on in the ministry and fellowship all those years, he said, “the Lord measures the faithfulness of our labor, not our success. I have always looked to the Lord and not man”.
The Lord measures the faithfulness of our labor, not our success. We ought to resolve with faith in God’s power (2 Thessalonians 1:11) and labor with our lives in the hope that, faithful Christ-dependent labor is pleasing to the Lord. Always bearing in mind that our recompense is measured not according to our success but our labor.
As lifelong Christ-dependent laborers, we must acknowledge there is warfare to be fought, discouragements to be withstood, and hence joint warfare is necessary for the victory of the body. Regardless of your age, there is the need for us to brace ourselves with the requisite spiritual weapons we need as laborers and commit to the work in all faithfulness. We ought to be a people strong in the scriptures, praying continually, never flagging in zeal, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, no matter what (Roman 12:11). Being conscious of the ultimate truth, that not only does the Lord measures the faithfulness of our labor but ultimately rewards the faithfulness of our labor (KJV, Romans 8:17).