..but God gives the increase

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen

(Rev 1.5&6)

I have been reading this week in Deuteronomy, of the end of Moses’ life and his final exhortations to the people whom he had led so faithfully from Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the borders of the land promised to them by God as their new home. It is a poignant tale, as the great leader reviews God’s mighty acts of deliverance, the people’s rebellion and struggles, his own weaknesses, and the very real choices which lie ahead – to obey and receive the covenant blessings, or to disobey, and bring curses upon their heads.

I think Moses knew quite well that there would be great trouble and sorrow ahead – he had not forgotten the disobedience, idolatry and deep doubts which the Israelites had shown during their wanderings. He knew their hearts, their weakness, and had no illusions that the bounty of their new home would bind their hearts permanently to worship God alone. It must have been very sore, to lay down the burden of leadership, to see the faithful Joshua take it up in full knowledge that the job would take all he could give, and at times almost crush the life and hope out of him.

Did Moses ever wonder whether there would be anything to show for all his labour a few years after his death, any lasting fruit at all? In those times of doubt, perhaps he would go back in his mind to the miraculous provision of food in the wilderness, of water from the rock, and take strength in his faith that this God would not abandon the people. Or perhaps he would go further back to the dramatic time when God – seeming to be exasperated beyond bearing by the disobedience of the people when they created and worshipped a golden calf – had threatened to destroy them utterly and build a new nation around Moses’ own family. That day, Moses had reminded God of the promise made to Abraham, God’s own sworn covenant, to build a nation that would show his glory to the nations. What boldness on Moses’ part, and yet, what faithfulness too, seeking always to serve and magnify God, to honour and obey his word.

I think that this is the key to our own faithfulness in serving God – which is what we are called, enabled and privileged to do. We are made new creatures in Christ, commissioned to bring the good news of the gospel and the kingdom of God to all people, and promised the presence and power of God as we go. We are emphatically NOT given quotas, targets, deadlines or performance indicators. We are not given annual reviews and spreadsheets to complete. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to make it clear where the credit for their coming to faith should lie!

What, after all is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1Cor 3.5-7)

It is God who builds the church, as it was God who called, saved and formed the people of Israel, keeping his promises to them in spite of chronic disobedience over centuries. Moses was not blamed for their failures, but commended for his faithful obedience in doing all that God had asked of him. So also, Paul points out that each labourer in God’s harvest field is rewarded for his labour, but is not responsible for the fruit – or lack of it.

We need to pray for our church leaders, that they will remember God calls them only to obedience, trusting him for growth in due time, and grieving over a lack of response without taking wrong personal responsibility for it. We need to hold God to his promises, as Moses did, that he will build his church, that he will be glorified among the nations and gather his church from every people under the sun. It is not our job to produce the fruit in other people, but to labour as God gives us abilities and opportunities, in loving and proclaiming the kingdom. In this way, all the glory goes to the one to whom it belongs, and we have the joy of exalting him alone!

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and for evermore! Amen!

(Jude 24,25)

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