And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply…”Genesis 1:22, 28
The early to mid-1980s saw a rise is kitchy, comic “horror” films that as a middle schooler I often found more comedic and than horrific. Such films of this error included the likes of “Return of the Walking Dead”, “Army of Darkness”, and other such ridiculousness that were filmed in more horrible taste than actual horror. However, there was one film in his genre that appealed to my age group that still resonates in my memory to this day.
In 1984, the film “Gremlins” introduced the world to a loveable, furry little creature named Gizmo. He was an unknown species called a Mogwai that came with special rules for his keeper. First, don’t expose him to light, as this would kill him. Secondly, don’t let him come in contact with water, as this will cause him to spontaneously multiply. Finally, perhaps the most important rule of all, was under no circumstances were you to feed the mogwai after midnight, for this would turn him into an ugly, mischievous, and destructive gremlin.
While the film was created as a cautionary tale for middle schoolers to learn how to properly take care of pets and follow rules, the often over-the-top humor and mischievousness of the gremlins took center stage and the moral lesson was generally lost in the action and bizarre, gang-like violence displayed by the villainous Stripe and his posse.
What I’ve always found interesting in the film is how the mogwai would reproduce by simply throwing water on it or the gremlins would massively reproduce by jumping into a swimming pool. What strikes me as odd is that at the time this seemed to also be emblematic of how the church and evangelists of the day would emphasis church growth through multiplication of numbers. Simply get them baptized and on the rolls, and then let them figure out how to swim on their own. The reality is, this is just not how Biblical growth and multiplication happen.
Multiplication Requires Relationship
Discipleship must be built on the foundation of relationship, but not just a casual relationship. For growth to maturity, it requires deep relational investment. Just like a parent must invest time and energy in teaching their child how to grow and eat and behave and live, so must mature believers invest in the lives of new believers to grow them in how to digest the Word of God, apply the Word of God to their lives, and begin to walk on their own in the Light of the Word. Once this relationship has been built up, then it is possible for the mature believer to begin to pour into the lives of others.
Just as for the animal kingdom and for mankind to reproduce as a product of the intimate relationship between the sexes, multiplication within the kingdom requires an intentional investment in the spiritual relationship of believers and the living out of the spiritual life within the world of non-believers. Now, please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not suggesting that believers should be engaging in casual sexual relationships in an effort to gain converts into the kingdom. What I am suggesting that we need to be willing to build relationships with people that get beyond the surface of who we all are.
Jesus was often accused of participating in the sin of those who would come to Him, simply by His association with them. Yes, Jesus ate with sinners, but He didn’t sin with them. Yes, He broke bread with prostitutes and traitors and liars and thieves, but He didn’t participate in their sin. He came to redeem them from their sin and the only way that could happen is that He had to build a relationship with them in order to create a safe environment to expose their sin and provide a covering for their shame.
And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”Luke 5:30-32
In the same way, we ought to seek out relationships with those who don’t know Jesus and live the example of His life in such a way that we draw people to Him. Unfortunately, we have all too often either tried to short-cut the process through mass evangelism events or through political activism that seeks to shame people into the Kingdom. Mass evangelism events have their place in the Kingdom, but we cannot rely on such events to be the catalyst for Kingdom growth. Political activism has its place, but we cannot expect to use shame to bring into the Kingdom those that are already hiding their shame behind the fig leaves of pride and self-sufficiency. Sustainable organic Kingdom multiplication just doesn’t work that way.
Anyone who has ever grown up on a farm knows that it takes time to plant seed, allowing time for that seed to grow through watering and careful treatment and protection, before you can harvest the fruits of your labor. Ground must first be broken up and prepared properly before you even begin the process of planting seeds so that they can take root. Seed that doesn’t take root will not grow to support the fruit once it is in season.
Additionally, if you are the one who plants the seed, you may not be the one to participate in the harvest of the fruit of that seed. Many times in various agricultural societies, division of labor would necessitate sowers and reapers. Sowers would work in season to sow the seed that would be reap by a different group of harvesters. I recall times when my grandfather would plant a field of corn, he would hire one guy who had a planter and would plow the fields and plant the corn seed in the duly appointed rows. However, when harvest time came, he hired a different local harvester who would come and work the same rows with his combine harvester that would separate the corn from the stalks. The division of labor in this case was due to who had the available tools for the job.
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 nor 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
Wherever you are in your current experience of faith, you have a job to do in the field. In some cases, it is just to sit back, observe, and learn. In other cases, it is to provide water and support for those doing the work. In other cases, you are the one breaking up the ground. In others, you are the one sowing the seed. In others, you get to participate in the harvest. It all comes down to discerning the individual circumstance, and proper discernment requires an investment in the relationship to the field.
Your field that you are called to work is wherever you are at any given moment. It is incumbent upon every believer to be observant of the relationship with which you have influence and use that influence to present the gospel as it is appropriate. Browbeating and Bible-bashing are not effective means of presenting the gospel in a light that draws men to the cross. An old southern proverb says it best “You can attract more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.” Relationships intentionally built to produce a safe environment for you to minister the gospel of the Kingdom are what is most effective. The key is intentionality.
Kingdom relationship are not built casually. They must be built intentionally. You must make intentional investment in your relationships with non-believers to demonstrate that your life is different and what motivates your life to live in accordance with the gospel. If the only thing that people know about you as it relates to your faith is what you stand against in society, it’s going to be very hard to break the ground to plant any seed that will take root. If the only thing that people know about your faith is your sense of judgement against their sin and the shame that accompanies that sin, it’s going to be very hard for people to be willing to lay down their fig leaves and expose their lives to you and make it possible for the blood of Christ to cover their shame. If you want to see multiplication in the Kingdom, you must be intentional about how you go about developing relationships that produce a safe environment for the seed to grow and the plant to bear fruit that will multiply in its own right.