Read Philippians 1:19-26
(We all need to read this passage about one hundred times so it will sink in deeply to our souls and through it Jesus will change us.)
Now check out Philippians 1:22 -- “if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.”
<> What labor in your life is bearing fruit?
<> Are there areas of your life where you are putting in effort but seeing no fruit?
<> How do you respond when your labor doesn’t produce the expected result?
Paul makes a bold claim here as he wrestles between the thoughts of dying and being with Christ or continuing to live on earth. The claim is definitional, challenging and confident. If I am going to keep living in this body, this will mean fruitful labor. You can strip his statement down to this core idea:
Living in the body = fruitful labor.
There are no other options for Paul; no fallback plans. It’s as if he says, “Look I’d much rather die and get to hanging out with Jesus face to face, but if I’m going to stay here, you better believe I’m going to be busting my butt and my labor is going to pay off.” In the words of Dustin Willis, “This ain’t no game.”
Fruit of Salvation
Go read Colossians 1:3-14
<> Are you aware of the ways the gospel is bearing fruit and growing all over the world?
(Check out http://www.commissionstories.com/ for a little glimpse.)
<> In verse ten what does Paul say about fruit?
Paul’s desire for the church at Colossae is that their good works would bear fruit for the gospel. He doesn’t say I hope you have a neat social-service-Kumbayah club where you do nice people and no one ever comes to know Jesus. Since Christ’s death on the cross the good news of His salvation has been spreading like wild fire and we have been invited into His story. The problem is that far too many of us will never labor for it, and far too many of us will labor in such a way that we never see any fruit. (Matthew 9:35-38)
Choosing to Labor
Neither of those were options for Paul. If I’m alive, it means labor and it means labor that bears fruit. The difference in whether you choose to labor or not is generally an indicator of your knowledge of Jesus. The more intimate we become with Him the less able we are to ignore His missional call on our lives. You cannot know intimately a Savior who loves the lost so much that He died for us, and claim to be aligning yourself with His values while simultaneously ignoring all the lost people He puts in your life. More bluntly: If you are not growing to care about the lost in a way that transforms the way you live, it is an indicator that you might not know Jesus.
Wisdom and Sacrifice
The difference between fruitful labor and fruitless labor is generally an issue of sacrifice and wisdom. Some of us just aren’t willing to do whatever it takes to advance the gospel. We want to care about people who don’t know Jesus and we definitely talk about the idea a lot and feel convicted whenever we read the overwhelming amount of scripture that pushes us toward Jesus’ mission, but at the end of the day we settle for doing just enough Christiany service that no one will call me out and I won’t feel guilty.
Some of us are completely surrendered and submitted to Jesus’ mission and willing to sacrifice all but doing so in such a hideously foolish manner that most of our labor builds more obstacles to the gospel in people’s lives than bears fruit. Some of us in an attempt to build relationships with the lost end up being tempted and disqualified. Zeal and excitement for the gospel without any amount of wisdom can be damaging to ourselves and to the people we are trying to love. Wisdom and caution are not the enemy of passionate sacrifice. They are the guardrails that allow your passionate labor to last for a long time.
Questions That Beg for Honest Answers
<> Are you laboring for the gospel that is bearing fruit all over the world?
<> Are you seeking relationships with people who don’t know Jesus?
<> Do you love your lost friends enough to pray desperately for their salvation? (spiritual labor)
<> Do you love the lost enough to have open honest conversations about the gospel?
<> Are you seeing God bear fruit through your labor?
(1 Corinthians 3:5-7)
<> Are you fully committed to fruitful labor or are you half-committed to social goodness?
<> Do you seek wise counsel about the way you try to love people who don’t know Jesus or do you carelessly put yourself in damaging situations?
Go reread 1 Corinthians 3:5-7. The honest truth is that God doesn’t need you to advance His gospel and His kingdom. He’s more than adequate on His own. AND, He has invited you into His story where you get to be a part of what He’s doing. So pray that He will send out laborers into His field, and pray that He will show you how He wants you to be one of them.