Paul’s third metaphor is that of a diligent farmer. The “hardworking farmer” is the first to receive a share of the harvest (2 Timothy 2:6). Lazy or negligent farmers cannot have good harvests.
Divine illumination comes with our diligent effort to study God’s Word and our serious reflection on it
Farming is not an easy occupation (this was especially true in Paul’s day). Farmers have to exercise great discipline and diligence in waking early every day to tend to their crops and farm their animals. Ploughing, planting, weeding, watering, feeding, and so on can be tiring. These are thankless tasks at the time, but they bring fruit and harvest in due course. As such, farmers must be not only hardworking, but also patient. Crops do not grow overnight. If people are impatient, they cannot be farmers.
We live in an industrialised modern era where speed and instant gratification are part of everyday life. In spiritual matters, however, progress is made at a pace that is often closer to the slower, gradual process that is seen in agricultural cultivation, rather than the speed of mechanised factory production or ease of supermarket shopping. Many Christians make the error of measuring their spiritual growth by modern standards. They need to learn the ways of the farmer.
The Lord’s field is in the heart (personal discipleship), church (Christian nurture), and world (mission and evangelism). It is imperative that we give regular attention to this field and not just rely on occasional spurts of action. Like the hardworking farmer, daily and diligent input is required. New Testament scholar N. T. Wright’s wise advice is apt: “Beware of the temptation to engage in the Christian life like a kind of absentee landlord, expecting the benefits without having to do any of the hard work.”
Having put forth his three striking metaphors, Paul calls Timothy to “reflect on what I am saying” (2:7). He assures the younger pastor that the Lord will give him the necessary insight. Here is a wonderful union of God’s grace and our response to it. We must take time to reflect on God’s Word, and God will do the rest. Divine illumination comes with our diligent effort to study God’s Word and our serious reflection on it.