Summary: Rewards come only after we work. The Apostle is encouraging those who are called by the Name of the Son of God to work diligently.

“It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” [1]

Paul has presented a variety of images to illustrate the strong spiritual life expected of those who will follow the Master. As we saw in a previous message, the emphasis in these verbal pictures the Apostle has drawn demonstrates the principle of delayed rewards. [2] The fourth and final image he presents is that of a farmer. The teacher is rewarded by knowing that he has enriched and stimulated the lives of his students. The soldier is rewarded by the knowledge that he has pleased his commander. The athlete wins the award of a trophy. The Apostle reminds Timothy that the farmer is rewarded with the first share and the best example of the crops.

DELAYED REWARDS — The concept of “hard working” is key to understanding what the Apostle has written. Farming, even in this day, is a demanding occupation. When Paul wrote this letter, the vast majority of the population lived close to the land. Those who were not farmers would have been intimately acquainted with the labour required of a farmer. That is not necessarily the case today. As we grow ever more distant from the land, we become less aware of what is entailed in producing food for the nation. Fewer people than ever are producing more food; and few appear to understand that the food we eat is produced through the hard work of farmers. Let me illustrate that fact by referring to some published data.

Statistics Canada recorded a decline from 2006 to 2011 in total farm numbers that was consistent across all provinces, and a decline in every new census since 1941. [3] Another report released by Statistics Canada states that the number of farms in Canada is dropping, while their size is growing along with the age of the people running them. This study notes that there were 205,730 farms in 2011. This is a decline of more than 74,000 farms since 1991. Moreover, the same study notes that the average farm area increased from 80 hectares to 315 hectares. Report author and agriculture analyst Martin Beaulieu said one reason for larger farms is that they are being consolidated as older operators retire. [4] Similar studies from the United States make similar observations concerning the number of farms, the size of farms and the age of farmers. [5]

The collected data on farming in North America speaks of a situation that differs radically from history—fewer and older farmers are producing more food than ever. North American farmers are producing enough to feed Canada and the United States with enough foodstuffs to supply much of the remainder of the nations of the world. Land that might have been considered infertile in the past now produces an abundance of crops through newer farming techniques and with the administration of chemical enhancements. The advent of genetically modified crops allows resistance to common plant diseases or increased yields. Likewise, domestic livestock breeds provide ever greater yields of dairy products and meats. To accomplish this provision of foods, farmers must work hard. In some respects, despite modern farm implements and improved grains and newer breeds of livestock, farm families must work longer hours and assume greater risks than in any previous era.

What I want us to seize on is the idea that Paul is presenting. He is emphasising to Timothy the reality of delayed gratification. We seldom see immediate rewards for the work we expend. We realise intuitively the truth of the Proverb, “In all hard work there is profit” [PROVERBS 14:23a]. We are in substantial agreement with the Preacher when he writes, “I have seen personally what is the only beneficial and appropriate course of action for people: to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in all their hard work on earth during the few days of their life which God has given them, for this is their reward” [ECCLESIASTES 5:18, NET BIBLE].

Yet, the modern mind appears inclined to imagine that rewards should be instantaneous. Do you doubt that last statement? Listen to the delicate little snowflakes currently occupying college campuses in the United States as the “cri du Coeur” bursts from their lips demanding safe spaces, trigger warnings, free tuition and banishment of all challenges to their worldview. The thought that they may encounter unpleasantness in the world or that they may meet with ideas that challenge their worldview leaves them weak! They expect to graduate after four years of campus indoctrination with a degree in some critical field of study such as Women’s Studies or Mongolian Philosophy or Ebonics and immediately receive the offer of a huge salary. How startled they are when they find they are qualified to flip burgers, work as a greeter at Wal-Mart or drive a cab if the area served is not too large! An entire generation has been schooled in the idea that they are the centre of the universe and the world is waiting for their unveiling! They bought into the lie vocalised by an American President who arrogantly crowed, “We are the ones we have been waiting for!” [6] How has that worked out?

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