The Samaritan woman was not sure, but she was so excited with the possibility that Jesus might even be the Messiah that she left her bucket behind as she rushed back into the town to tell everyone about him. Telling people about Jesus had priority over the everyday necessity of drawing water! How encouraging for us that her new and uncertain faith (“Could this be the Christ?”) led to the start of a major movement of God’s Spirit among the Samaritans! Let’s pray that our wavering witness may also lead to a major movement of the Spirit in our town or village in spite of our lack of sure faith!
Was the Samaritan woman’s pressing call to tell people about Jesus the introduction in John’s mind to Jesus’ words, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work”? (4.33) As with the Samaritan woman leaving her bucket behind, so also for Jesus the Father’s will and work has priority over mere food. His ‘meat and drink’ lies in doing and completing the Father’s purposes. As Jesus’ followers we are challenged to ask ourselves whether we are like Jesus. What are our dreams and aims in life? Does the work of God have priority over everything else? That leads us to the further question: What is God’s purpose and call for us?
As distinct from ‘completing’ God’s work, the word ‘do’ implies initiating and working on some new ministry for the Father. In every walk of life new developments await someone of vision and courage. This is true too of mission both in Britain and overseas. Many of our churches need a breath of fresh air with new forms of evangelistic outreach and social or environmental care. Ethnic minority communities and asylum seekers often remain untouched by the good news of Jesus. Some churches consist very largely of people from a particular age-range or educational level, but fail to reach out effectively to others. Overseas also whole areas of a country may remain without anyone coming to start Christian work there. This is particularly true of some Muslim and strongly Buddhist countries. Large high-rise housing estates may have no Christian witness. We need Christians who can get such ministries started. How well I remember going to one Muslim village after another in South Thailand, knowing that I was the first Christian ever to have shared the good news of Jesus there. I remember particularly too driving through East Thailand on a local lorry, knowing that each place we passed through remained still unevangelised. What a challenge!
The word ‘complete’ implies the climax and perfection of something which has already been worked on. So Jesus is the completion and climax of God’s Law/Torah (Romans 10.4 – the completion, not the ‘end’ of the Law) and finally on the cross he cries out, “It is finished”, using the same word which declares that his death on the cross is the glorious completion of his life and work. In us also as his followers he ‘completes’ the good work he has been doing in us (Philippians 1.6). Jesus by his Spirit not only initiates his work in us by bringing us to faith and new life, but then brings his work in us to completion. We all rejoice when someone gets converted and is born again, but Jesus’ concern always goes beyond that. His purpose is that we should grow into maturity. Babies are beautiful, but 20-year old babies are a tragedy!
Evangelism without on-going teaching goes against Jesus’ pattern in the will and work of the Father. Likewise Church planting without further Bible teaching, the sanctifying work of the Spirit and training for evangelism and service fails to follow the model of Jesus, whose meat and drink was both to do and to complete the will and work of the Father.
Having declared that his food is doing and completing God’s work, Jesus immediately turns to the disciples with the accusation: “Do you not say ‘four months more and then the harvest?'” The original Greek emphasizes the word “you”. So, unlike Jesus himself, his disciples deny the urgency of reaping the harvest by postponing things. “There’s still four months, so we can twiddle our thumbs and have a holiday”. Living in a country village now, I notice that when the harvest is ripe, the farmers don’t take a holiday. They work hard into the night to gather the harvest before it is spoiled by rain. “We can’t do evangelism yet”, some people say, “first we need to discuss it in our leaders’ meeting; then we will need a year of prayer and then a training course”. There are yet four months (or longer!) before the harvest! Of course prayer and training are much needed for mission, but let’s not lose our sense of urgency.
“I sent you to reap”, Jesus declares (4.38). When had he sent his disciples? Was he referring to their initial call to follow him when he had told them that he would make them “fishers of men” (Matthew 4.19)? Or was it when he sent out the 12 and then the 70 (Luke 9 and 10)? Whenever it was, Jesus makes it clear that they (and we!) are called to reap the harvest. Clearly Jesus is thinking of evangelistic ministry, for he says that the harvest leads to eternal life (4.36).
The one who reaps has the advantage of ‘drawing their wages’ as well as having the joy and excitement of seeing the harvest gathered in. When we have the privilege of reaping the harvest, it is good to remember that we are entering into other people’s labours. They have done the hard work. They sow and we reap, but both rejoice together (4.36). Some of us may be called to evangelistic witness without seeing much fruit from our work. Others may have the joy of reaping. When I worked in South Thailand, we all evangelised widely. It was indeed hard and apparently unrewarding work with no-one at that time coming to believe in Jesus. Then I was granted my visa for Indonesia and moved to North Sumatra. It was a time of mass movement there and we reaped the harvest. Thousands of people became Christians and multitudes of lives were radically changed by the work of God’s Spirit and the preaching of God’s Word (see Elizabeth’s life story “God can be Trusted” and my “Life’s Tapestry”). What a privilege to reap the harvest which resulted from the labours of former missionaries and local Christians! I some times point out that I didn’t have a revival experience on the plane from Thailand to Indonesia! I was just as bad a missionary in Indonesia as I had been in South Thailand! The sower and reaper have equal worth and rejoice equally in the harvest which God produces. To him be the glory!
P.S. To train for God’s work with biblical cross-cultural teaching, let me recommend All Nations Christian College. Such training will be tremendously helpful both for service in the multi-cultural and inter-ethnic context of Britain as well as for any form of work overseas. We would all benefit from such further training, whether in a short course or longer.