by Carter Cox
When we don’t follow the inspired model of Christ, His apostles, and the first churches, then we will find it impossible to accomplish His mission - “The Work” - of getting His Gospel to every person on the planet within a generation.
At the onset of His mission Jesus said: "FOLLOW ME, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). Again, very early on in His ministry, Jesus affirms His disciples part within His work: “'My food,' said Jesus, 'is to do the will of him who sent me and to FINISH HIS WORK. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I SENT YOU to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor'” (John 4:34-38).
This agricultural analogy of Jesus and His disciples’ work is a key theme woven throughout the gospels and epistles. In fact, after sharing the parable of the sower and soils, Jesus goes on to tell His disciples: “Don’t you understand this parable? Then how will you understand any parable?” Mark 4:13 (See Mark 4:1-20; 26-29 also Luke 8:4-15)
So what is the pattern of kingdom Work within this parable of the sower? How did Jesus model this work?
Like the sower - Jesus entered the God prepared fields, the soil, the hearts of people.
Like the sower - Jesus sowed the kingdom message, the Gospel.
Like the sower - Jesus rested, as God’s Spirit gave the growth and increase. Jesus witnessed this growth, and nurtured His growing disciples.
Like the sower - Jesus saw attrition of those who’s hearts proved unfruitful in their: 1) rejection of His Word sown; 2) falling away through trials and persecution, and / or 3) cares of the world chocking out the crop.
Like the sower - Jesus gathered those who grew up into following Him, they are the harvest - His church.
To be very clear that Jesus was indeed modeling a pattern of work, which He expected His disciples to reproduce, Jesus said to His disciples early on that they would become LIKE Him when they were fully trained: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will BE LIKE his teacher" (Luke 6:40).
At the apex of Jesus’ final moments on earth He prays a profound prayer:
“I glorified you on earth, having accomplished The Work that you gave me to do.”
John 17:4 Jesus prays this BEFORE he goes to the cross and is resurrected. You read it right. He “completed” or “accomplished” His repeatable earthly “Work” that God sent him to do BEFORE the cross.
What exactly was “the Work” He completed? (Study Mark 1:14-39; John 17:6-22)
4) Gathering Church
5) Multiplication of Leaders
Is this pattern or example within His earthly Work a pattern we must follow in order to finish the task He left us to complete? The task of taking His gospel to every person on the planet (Matthew 24:14).
How do the following scriptures affirm that Jesus’ model was equally inspired as His message? “His Work” being equally inspired as His Words.
The Pattern of Jesus WITH the Disciples
A part of Jesus’ training was being WITH Him, learning this pattern, His work:
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him. (Luke 8:1)
In the following chapter, Luke 9, Jesus empowers and releases the 12 to repeat His pattern of work:
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick... So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere. (Luke 9:1-2, 6)
In the following chapter, Luke 10, the 12 disciples had now multiplied into 72 other laborers who are again sent out to repeat the pattern of Jesus’ work, within His prepared harvest:
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He said to them, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.' (Luke 10:1-2)
Later, after washing His disciples feet and just before His arrest Jesus said:
For I have given you an EXAMPLE, that you also should DO JUST AS I HAVE DONE to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you DO them. (John 13:15-17)
Jesus then ties His Works to our greater Works in Him AFTER He ascends to the Father:
Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:11-12)
Did you catch that? Jesus said we, His disciples, would not only do what He had been doing, but even greater works!
After His death, burial, and resurrection Jesus appeared to His disciples and sends them to continue His Work just as He was sent:
Peace be with you. JUST AS the Father has sent me, even so I am SENDING YOU. (John 20:21)
The Pattern of the Apostles WITH their Disciples
Jesus' disciple John, who was there witnessing the risen Christ, writes:
whoever says he abides in him ought to WALK IN THE SAME WAY in which he walked. (1 John 2:6)
Paul, having learned this pattern from Jesus’ disciples, puts it to practice throughout his work in Acts 13-14:
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for THE WORK to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2-3)
But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian CITIES of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the GOSPEL...They preached the GOSPEL in that city and made a large number of DISCIPLES. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the DISCIPLES and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed ELDERS for them in each CHURCH and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. (Acts 14:6-7, 21-23)
From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for THE WORK they had now COMPLETED. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. (Acts 14:26-27)
On their next Journey (Acts 16-18) Paul and team follow up with the first work and then, lead by the Spirit, enter into Philippi. There they share the Gospel and start a church with two different households (Lydia & the Philippians Jailor), He then writes back to this church from house arrest in Rome exhorting them to follow His example:
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join together in following my EXAMPLE, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a MODEL, keep your eyes on those who LIVE AS WE DO. (Philippians 3:15-17)
Again, like Jesus' pattern, Paul leaves Philippi and enters Thessalonica, shares the Gospel, made disciples of those who followed Jesus and started a new church with Jason’s household. He then sent a letter a few months later with Timothy to this brand new church. It is evident from Timothy’s report that this young church is reproducing the pattern of Paul - the pattern of Jesus:
And you became IMITATORS of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an EXAMPLE to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7)
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. (1 Thess. 4:1-2)
Paul sends a second letter with Timothy to the church in Thessalonica particularly focused on urging these believers to imitate himself in all areas, including how they work for a living:
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not IN ACCORD with the tradition that you RECEIVED FROM US. For you yourselves know how you ought to IMITATE US, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an EXAMPLE to IMITATE. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10)
In Corinth, Paul again repeats Jesus’ pattern of work. Entry, sharing the Gospel, discipling new believers, gathering as new churches meeting in homes (Home of Titius Justus, next to the Synagogue), and raising up leaders. He engaged in this work for a year and a half in Corinth while at the same time working with hands to provide for his needs. After departing, he wrote a letter back to the church in Corinth urging them to imitate him:
For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, BE IMITATORS OF ME. (1 Corinthians 4:15-16)
Again Paul says in this same letter that they are imitating him the way he is imitating the person and pattern of Christ:
Be IMITATORS of me, as I IMITATE of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. (1 Corinthians 11:1-2)
Paul exhorts the church in Corinth to give themselves fully to "the work" of the Lord:
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
After the year and a half in Corinth, Paul spends the majority of His third journey in Asia Minor, Ephesus being the main hub of work. The same pattern was laid down: Entry, Gospel, Discipleship, Church formation, and Leadership development / multiplication (Acts 19:1-10), from this God empowered a movement that reached “all of Asia” in “two years” (v8-10). A year later, after Paul finished following up back through Macedonia and Achia, he met with the Ephesians elders exhorting them to follow HIS example. Do you see “the Work” with his final exhortation?:
When they arrived, he said to them: “You know HOW I LIVED the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus... So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears... I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I SHOWED YOU that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:18-21, 31, 33-35)
Later, He writes back to this same church in Ephesus saying:
Therefore be IMITATORS of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
At the Apex point of Paul’s work, after these three distinct trips across the Roman Empire and no more than 10-12 years of setting hand to this Work. Paul writes to the church at Rome explaining that from Jerusalem to Illyricum there was #NoPlaceLeft for him to execute this Work - the Work of Christ:
Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ….But now that there is NO MORE PLACE FOR ME TO WORK in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. (Romans 15:17-19, 23-24)
Although it is not known if Paul made it to Spain, he did make it to Rome. Probably not under the conditions he planned. Nevertheless, his containment under house arrest gave him time to sit, reflect, and write. Timothy, having accompanied Paul throughout the entirety of his 2nd and 3rd Journey (Acts 16-20), was now living in Ephesus. His role was that of raising up new elders of the churches there, while at the same time, continuing to do the Work of an evangelist. Paul reminds Timothy in this final letter:
FOLLOW THE PATTERN of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 1:13).
Follow the pattern.
Is it possible to finish the work Jesus gave us to do by following a pattern or model OTHER THAN the one which He, His apostles, and the first churches clearly followed?
In our prayers, engagement of people far from God, gospel sharing, disciple making, formation of new churches and leadership development are we following, imitating, walking according to Jesus’ same pattern? To the apostle’s pattern?
We must follow Jesus & His Pattern to finish His Work.