Already the reaper draws his wages and gathers a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may rejoice together. John 4:36
Here’s my mash up translation of this verse: Even now, the one who is doing the harvesting is receiving his paycheck, and what he’s harvesting is people brought to eternal life, so that the one who plants the seed and the one who harvests the crop can rejoice together.
It’s a pretty cool passage when you break it down. Jesus speaks of a harvest that’s already taking place. Wait, when did this happen? We were just reading about Nicodemus. Now suddenly, we realize that Jesus has brought souls to eternal life! And what a surprise, they’re Samaritan souls! The woman at the well believed in Jesus, and spread the good news to her whole town. They came to believe as well.
“Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” . . . And many more believed because of His message. They said to the woman, “We now believe not only because of your words; we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man truly is the Savior of the world.” John 4:39, 41
Jesus also says that the one who does the harvesting is receiving a wage. We know he’s referring to his disciples as the harvesters, because later in the passage he tells them, “I sent you to reap.” But what is this compensation he’s talking about?
We can look at some other places in the Bible to give us clues. In Matthew 10:10, when Jesus sent out his disciples to spread the good news, he told them to not take money to buy food, because “those who work deserve to be fed.” God would make sure that their needs were provided for by the people they ministered to. So it could be that Jesus was saying that the harvester would be sustained by the providence of God as he did the work, and that would be his reward.
The “pay” also could be an intrensic reward. It could be the satisfaction of doing the will of God. This certainly was true for Jesus, as he said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to finish his work.” (John 4:34)
It could be the joy of bringing souls to eternal life. The verse goes on to say that the sower and reaper will rejoice together. This is backed up when we look in Luke 10 at how the 72 disciples were sent out to minister. They returned with joy in their hearts. Jesus told them, “do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Two initial takeaways from today’s reading.
What can we take away from today’s red letter passage? First, will we be harvesters? Jesus didn’t do much to set this harvest in motion. He just cared about a woman. He just had a conversation. We can do that too.
Second, will we see the harvesting process as rewarding? There’s a reward we can experience now, because Jesus promises that those who seek the kingdom first will have their physical needs met. (Matt. 6:33) We can’t take it for granted if we have a place to live, clothes to wear, and food in our bellies! These are perks we have because God is taking care of us.
But there’s also the reward of having a deep peace and satisfaction that comes from doing God’s will. And there’s the reward of the joy we experience as our hearts burst in celebration when someone makes a decision for Christ. Each new soul becomes dear to us, and we take the treasure of them into eternity.
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. I Thes 2:20
Having the motivation to put this into practice.
How motivating are these rewards? In life coaching, when someone wants to change a behavior, they have to have a proper incentive. They can’t just say, “I’m think I’m going to start waking up early every day and exercizing.” If they do, they’ll find themselves sleeping in! Instead, they have to tell themselves, and believe that, “It’s so important to me to get into shape, that I will give up sleep for it.”
Sharing our faith has to become so important to us that we will push through and do it. The rewards have to be a powerful incentive. And for me, I admit, they haven’t been. I’m focused on too many other things that seem important to me. And I don’t realize the magnitude of the reward.
I did a coaching workshop a few days ago, and I asked the participants, “At the end of your life, what would you regret not doing or spending more time on?” When I asked myself that question, it was sobering. One of the main things I would regret is not sharing the gospel with more people. That makes me realize that it truly is of top importance to me. I just get distracted by day to day life. Or I give into my fear of what people will think, or my love for comfort.
Just as I am trying to open my own eyes, I think that Jesus was trying to open his disciples’ eyes to the enormity of what they were doing. After centuries of sowing, it was finally time to reap! God was bringing eternal life to souls, and the disciples were part of the process. They needed to see that the labor of harvest was the best use of their time. Everything else would fade away, but the work done in God’s field would last forever.
The real motivation and reward goes much deeper.
As I’ve thought of this over several days, I think that the real reward for being a harvester is much more than what I’ve written. The real reward is that, as a follower of Christ, the harvesters were now living their new identity.
You know, if you don’t live out your identity, you feel unsettled. You can pretend to be someone else, but sooner or later, you’re miserable. But when you get your life in line with who you are, and what you value, you’re in the sweet spot.
So I think that living the life they were called to live was the greatest reward of the disciples. Harvesting was their new groove, and they would feel most alive when they participated in it. They had an exciting knowledge that was bubbling inside, waiting to be shared with others. They had a light that was meant to shine, not be hidden under a basket. (Matt. 5:16) And shining for God would feel like the best thing ever.
It will feel like the best thing ever for us as well, if we can push through and live out our identity. Let’s open our eyes to what’s really important to us. Let’s realize and be motivated by the amazing rewards that are ours when we do the work.
And one day, we will have the greatest reward of all. We will have treasures in heaven. (Matt. 6:19-21) We will rejoice with the sowers over each soul from the field in which we labored. It will be utterly sweet.
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and to lose his soul? (Mark 8:36)
Do not work for food that spoils; instead, work for the food that lasts for eternal life. John 6:27b