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Mission as Cultivation

Note: this is part three of a series on being disciples, part of a family, and missionaries.

God’s design in creation was good, very good in fact…as God reflected on what he had made there was a complete satisfaction with what came about. This is obvious, but the creation he made and the intent behind it was perfect and his design in Adam’s role was therefore perfect. He put Adam in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it (1). He was to cultivate and care for the garden. God would give the growth, but Adam was to be his agent, his steward in the garden working alongside God in caring for this beautiful creation. This was Adam’s assigned role, and it was a good role given as a gift of grace.

In Genesis 3, as Satan deceives them, undermining God’s promises and skewing his words, Adam and Eve eat of the apple resulting eventually in death but in the present curses. Adam’s curse is as follows:

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out if it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” — Genesis 3:17-19

Adam was driven out of the garden to the east to work the ground from which he was taken. He was made to be a cultivator, and under the curse he remained a cultivator but no longer in the same way before the Fall. He wouldn’t be working alongside God and in perfect relationship to him, but now working by the sweat of his brow in order to eat. Death is the ultimate penalty for this transgression, but as he’s cast out of the garden he is spiritually dead toward God (2), hiding from him and seeking to cover himself, and sentenced to working a cursed ground. His role as cultivator remains, but under completely different and sin-distorted circumstances.

Being born in the likeness of God, we are cultivators as well. Being under the curse of Adam, apart from Christ we cultivate our own identities, our own desires, and that which is contrary to the will of God.

God, when He curses man because of sin, not only curses man, but He curses what he was supposed to cultivate. So, even when a man tries to cultivate what’s right, it wars against him. So when a man tries to build and cultivate and work with even good, positive things, those things that he’s trying to cultivate will, at times, instead of producing fruit, producethorns and thistles. — Matt Chandler (3)

Our cultivation is marred by sin, but as we discuss the idea of mission in our Missional Communities we cannot have a robust conversation without using language of cultivation. As Brett has preached recently in Mark 4, the gospel is compared to a seed that is sown. The soil is compared to the heart of men who hear the truth, and either Satan takes away that which is sown, persecution leads to falling away, the cares of the world choke the word, or it’s received in good soil and fruit is born. Cultivation is part of our mission as groups, we plant seeds in faith, working in conjunction with the Spirit of God who convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment. We throw out the seeds, praying that they land in good soil. The cultivation is done in partnership with the Spirit, because again if we seek to cultivate saving faith on our own it will only result in severed relationships or people who respond with joy but eventually fall away.

Through faith, we can again work in conjunction with the Spirit, trusting that the soil has been tilled and prepared for the gospel to go deep and take root, bearing fruit. We are sent to preach the Good News (4), leaving the rest to the Spirit to convert. We’re simply newscasters who report on what God has done in Christ to reconcile sinful men and women to himself. He remains just and the justifier of those who believe, and we’re blessed to speak the truth in word and deed to those whom we serve.

The attitude we are to have is described in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7. The language of cultivation is prevalent here as well. There seemed to be factions within the Corinthian church who defined themselves by the theologian they followed. In addressing this, Paul reorients their views of men in light of who actually does the work of salvation, church growth, and sanctification.

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants or he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” — 1 Corinthians 3:5-9

As Missional Community leaders, we have the incredible blessing of watering God’s plants with the truth of the gospel. In our mission, we have the incredible blessing of planting seeds of the gospel alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ. In our MC, we’ve heard a few stories of sharing the gospel alongside brothers and sisters we don’t even know. One member of our group was just talking to someone who poured out her life and it came up that she was hearing the gospel from other people who love her. The member of our group was able to come alongside their brother & sister in Christ in witnessing to the truth of the gospel. I’ve seen it as well, having been able to share the gospel with someone I’ve been praying for over a long period. I found that he was hearing the gospel from other people he knew but who I didn’t!

Other examples of cultivation language would include Matthew 9:37-38 and 13:30 as well John 4:35. Paul seeks to reap harvest amongst the church and Gentiles in Rome, he was eager to preach the gospel and see fruit born from the work of God (5). As we enter into the cultivation that’s taking place, we have blessed opportunities to sow and to reap as the Spirit works. We have the blessed opportunity to watering the gardens of our Missional Communities with the truth of the gospel and watch transformation take place. We behold the glory of the Lord ourselves, see our lives transformed from one degree of glory to another, and we exhorting others to stand in the truth of the gospel (6).

In this way, our discipleship, family care for one another, and mission all come together. They go hand-in-hand, we cannot extract one element of discipleship, care, and mission from our groups. Discipleship and caring for one another apart from mission shows that we’ve turned inward, that a Holy Huddle has emerged where barriers to entry are high and in essence, we’ve become monastic. This is our tendency because mission is messy. Gardening and cultivating is not the cleanest of activities. It takes intentionality, attention, focus, and effort.

However, we find comfort in that we are not the ones who are to cultivate the growth. Our cultivation is limited to casting seeds of the gospel. As people come to faith, as we see something sprouting out of this tilled soil, we water it faithfully with the truth of the gospel. We care for the seedling, pulling out weeds that come around it and the thorns that seek its demise. We give it water so the sun of persecution doesn’t kill it. And we watch God bring about growth as more and more fruit is born. This fruit contains seeds and spread, and the process continues on.

How glorious is this?! How great is our God for this ministry of reconciliation in partnership with his adopted sons and daughters?! It’s a reflection of the cultivation God initially planned with Adam and it points to a time when this partnership is done in God’s actual presence when we behold him by sight (7). There will be a New Jerusalem, a Garden City (8), where we are in the presence of God. As we move from Genesis to Revelation, the language of cultivation is not to be missed, as we see the Cultivator do what he does through the faithful preaching of the gospel.

Jesus as Forerunner

Jesus is the embodiment of this lifestyle, working in conjunction with the Father in witnessing to himself.  Whether it be the woman at the well in John 4, or the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18 or Matthew 19, he was an effective missionary.

He went so far as to make his home with us (9). The Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man came to earth to seek and save the lost (10). Jesus went to synagogues in his early ministry and preached the gospel (11). He ate with tax collectors and sinners (12). He boldly preached repentance & faith (13). He crossed cultural boundaries in the name of gospel proclamation (14). He didn't cheapen the law or preach grace apart from true repentance (15).  Our faith in Christ and beholding his glory is the empowerment in our mission.

Our Response

We intentionally go as the body of Christ to the lost, under Christ’s authority knowing that he’s with us every step of the way (16). As the gospel is preached, enemies of God are reconciled to him, they begin to honor and glorify him with their lives.  Here are a few passages that shape our mission as individuals and as a group:

  • Matthew 9:36…compassion for those apart from Christ, intentional prayer for laborers.
  • Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 5:1-11, Colossians 4:5-6, 1 Peter 2:9-12 & 3:15…bold/intentional lifestyles.
  • Acts 1:8…Spirit-empowered witness, domestic/international perspective.
  • Acts 2:42-47, Philippians 1:27-30…corporate witness.
  • Romans 10:5-17…being sent to preach the gospel of Christ.
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16…bold/affectionate desire/love for those you’re pursuing.
  • 2 Timothy 2:10…sacrificial, enduring attitude toward God’s elect.

May we be defined in these ways, lovingly and boldly entering our city to the glory of God proclaiming his gospel.

Footnotes

  1. Genesis 2:15
  2. Romans 3:10-18, Ephesians 1 & 2
  3. Matt Chandler, The Role of Men — Part 1: Defining Masculinity, pg. 3.
  4. Romans 10:14-17
  5. Romans 1:13
  6. 2 Corinthians 3:18, 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, and Hebrews 3:12-14
  7. 2 Corinthians 5:7
  8. Revelation 22:2
  9. John 1:1-18
  10. Ezekiel 34:11, Luke 19:10, and John 3:16-17
  11. Matthew 4:23 and 9:35
  12. Matthew 9:9-13
  13. Matthew 3:2 and 4:17, Matthew 19:16-22, and Mark 1:15
  14. John 4:1-45
  15. Matthew 5:17-20 and Luke 18:18-30
  16. Matthew 28:18-20 and Romans 10:14-17