God Makes It Grow—Do You Play Your Part?
IMAGINE the scene. You are in a beautiful garden, surrounded by majestic trees, luxuriant shrubs, and banks of brilliantly colored flowers. Emerald-green lawns slope down to the carefully tended banks of a stream bubbling with crystal-clear water. Nothing mars the view. Impressed, you ask who made this lovely place. In reply the gardener modestly says that God makes all things grow.
Naturally, you knew that. And you remember the gardener’s words when you get home and see your own unkempt backyard, where nothing appealing grows, garbage accumulates, and rainwater fills unsightly holes in the ground. You deeply desire to have a garden like the one you just visited. So, firmly believing the gardener’s words, you get on your knees and pray fervently to God to make beautiful flowers grow in your yard. What happens? Nothing, of course.
What about spiritual growth? You may have a keen desire to see things grow spiritually, in the way of new disciples responding to the truth of God’s Word or in your own spiritual advancement. And you may pray fervently to Jehovah to produce such growth, with a deep conviction that he has the power to do so. But will your keen desire, fervent prayer, and confidence in God’s power in themselves produce growth?
God Makes It Grow
Perhaps you feel that your part in producing spiritual growth is insignificant, even meaningless. Did not the apostle Paul suggest this at 1 Corinthians 3:5-7? He wrote: “What, then, is Apollos? Yes, what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, even as the Lord granted each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God kept making it grow; so that neither is he that plants anything nor is he that waters, but God who makes it grow.”
Paul rightly acknowledges that when things grow, all credit goes to God. A gardener may prepare his ground, sow his seed, and carefully tend the plants, but in the end it is because of the wonderful creative power of God that things grow. (Genesis 1:11, 12, 29) What, though, does Paul mean when he says “neither is he that plants anything nor is he that waters”? (“It is not the gardeners with their planting and watering who count,” The New English Bible.) Is he playing down the individual minister’s part in making new disciples, suggesting that in the end it matters little how we go about our ministry?
“Neither Is He That Plants Anything”
Keep in mind that in this part of his letter, Paul is not discussing the Christian ministry but the foolishness of following men rather than Jesus Christ. Some in Corinth were giving undue importance to notable servants of Jehovah, such as Paul and Apollos. Others were promoting sectarianism and elevating men who thought they were superior to their Christian brothers.—1 Corinthians 4:6-8; 2 Corinthians 11:4, 5, 13.
Glorifying men in this way is not healthy. It is fleshly thinking, and it produces jealousy and strife. (1 Corinthians 3:3, 4) Paul shows the consequences of such thinking. He says: “Dissensions exist among you. What I mean is this, that each one of you says: ‘I belong to Paul,’ ‘But I to Apollos,’ ‘But I to Cephas,’ ‘But I to Christ.’”—1 Corinthians 1:11, 12.
Hence, when he writes, “the planter and the waterer are nothing” (Phillips), the apostle is combating such fleshly thinking, stressing the need to look to Jesus Christ as Leader and to acknowledge that all glory for growth in the congregation goes to God. The apostles and other elders are simply servants of the congregation. None should be elevated nor should they themselves seek prestige or prominence. (1 Corinthians 3:18-23) So the planter and the waterer are nothing, says Paul, “compared with him who gives life to the seed.”—1 Corinthians 3:7, Phillips.
God’s Fellow Workers
In saying this, therefore, the apostle Paul was not minimizing the importance of our part in planting and watering. He did not mean for us to begin thinking, “God will make things grow in his own time,” and then simply sit back and wait for him to do it. He knew that what we do and how we do it have an impact on how things grow.
That is why Paul constantly encouraged Christians to work hard at their ministry and to improve their skills as teachers. Think of the advice he gives to the young man Timothy. “Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching. Stay by these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” (1 Timothy 4:16) “I solemnly charge you . . . , preach the word, be at it urgently . . . , with all long-suffering and art of teaching. . . . Fully accomplish your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:1, 2, 5) There would be little point in Timothy’s working hard to improve his skills if his planting and watering were to have no impact on making things grow.
Like Paul and Apollos, you too can have the inestimable privilege of serving as one of God’s fellow workers. (1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 4:1; 1 Timothy 1:12) As such, your work is important. The gardener does not expect God miraculously to produce a beautiful garden without effort on the gardener’s part. Should it be otherwise with spiritual growth? Certainly not. Like the farmer who patiently “keeps waiting for the precious fruit of the earth,” we must first exert ourselves in planting and watering, waiting while God makes it grow.—James 1:22; 2:26; 5:7.
Play Your Part
Since, as the apostle Paul says, “each person will receive his own reward according to his own labor,” we do well to ask how we are laboring.—1 Corinthians 3:8.
Gardening expert Geoffrey Smith says: “No special qualifications are needed to become a gardener, just an interest in plants.” (Shrubs & Small Trees) Similarly, no inherent special qualifications are needed for us to be God’s fellow workers, just a genuine interest in people and a willingness to be used by God.—2 Corinthians 2:16, 17; 3:4-6; Philippians 2:13.
Consider some of the good advice offered by skilled gardeners. As one authority says, if a novice gardener is willing to listen to those more experienced than he is, “the learner can quickly become an expert.” And, says this same authority, “the expert is always finding something new to learn.” (The Encyclopedia of Gardening) Do you willingly accept the help and training that Jehovah provides so that you can plant and water effectively? If you do, whether you are new at the work or experienced in it, you can develop further skills as God’s fellow worker and so become “adequately qualified to teach others.”—2 Timothy 2:2.
If he is willing to listen and learn, says Geoffrey Smith, “the beginner will avoid the worst pitfalls.” If we listen to the direction that Jehovah gives through his Word and his organization, we will do things his way. We will then avoid, for example, such pitfalls as foolishly arguing with those who only want to quarrel or fight over words.—Proverbs 17:14; Colossians 4:6; 2 Timothy 2:23-26.
Another piece of good gardening advice is to think things out carefully before rushing to dig up the soil. “Before spade is put to soil,” says The Encyclopedia of Gardening, “spend time quietly assessing [your prospects].” Do you fall into the trap of rushing into the Christian ministry without first giving careful and prayerful thought to what you want to accomplish and how best to do it? Get your objectives clear before you start. Think, for example, about the kind of people you may meet and the problems you might face, and prepare to handle these. This will allow you to “gain the most persons [as you] become all things to people of all sorts.”—1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
“Do Not Let Your Hand Rest”
If we appreciate the privilege of serving as God’s fellow workers, we will not stint in our share of the partnership. “In the morning sow your seed and until the evening do not let your hand rest; for you are not knowing where this will have success, either here or there, or whether both of them will alike be good.” (Ecclesiastes 11:6) The final results are in Jehovah’s hands, but we will reap only if we first sow diligently.—Ecclesiastes 11:4.
No garden was ever made beautiful through some token, perfunctory digging and scattering of seeds. Similarly, more is required in the Christian ministry than some token share in the distribution of Bible literature. As God’s fellow workers, we need diligently and thoroughly to declare the good news about God’s Kingdom, searching out those rightly disposed. (Acts 13:48) Remember the principle in the apostle Paul’s words at 2 Corinthians 9:6: “He that sows sparingly will also reap sparingly; and he that sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”
Like all good gardeners, we try to plant in good soil. Once something is planted in even the best soil, however, that is not the end of the matter. Says Geoffrey Smith: “This does not mean that once planted up nothing more is required from the person responsible except the purchase of a deckchair and sunshade.” No, for things to grow, effort is required in watering and protecting the plants.—Compare Proverbs 6:10, 11.
The Christian ministry may, in fact, mean long periods of hard work when nothing much seems to happen. But suddenly, and sometimes unexpectedly, wonderful results may ensue. Geoffrey Smith says: “Gardening consists of long periods of routine toil interspersed with moments of such sublime beauty that all the digging, weeding, and downright anxiety are forgotten.” You too can have moments of sublime satisfaction when a receptive heart responds to the message of truth—provided you are willing to do the initial digging, planting, weeding, and watering.—Compare Proverbs 20:4.
Paul and Apollos knew that their work of Kingdom preaching and disciple making did not earn them some special prominence in the Christian congregation. They understood that it is God who makes things grow. Still, they did plant and they did water—diligently. May we follow their example and make ourselves available to God as “ministers through whom [others become] believers.”—1 Corinthians 3:5, 6.
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God makes all things grow—but the gardener also plays his part