By Titus Chu
The Sabbatical Year and the Festival Life
The Sabbatical Year
When God gave Moses and the children of Israel the Ten Commandments, He told them to keep a weekly sabbath day (Exo. 20:8). Later, however, He told them that they should also keep a sabbath year: “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop, but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard'” (Lev. 25: 2–4).
It was only after they had the land and worked it six years that they could enjoy this sabbath. The fruit of the land would be so abundant that it would supply everyone. It would be for “yourself, and your male and female slaves, and your hired man and your foreign resident, those who live as aliens with you. Even your cattle and the animals that are in your land shall have all its crops to eat” (vv. 6–7). Not only was the landowner blessed, but all those with him and even the animals were blessed. When God gives us this kind of rest, we hardly know how to respond. We cannot praise Him enough. He is too marvelous.
Developing Our Land
The weekly sabbath spoken of in Exodus 20 leads us into a life of rest in which we do not kill, steal, or covet. The sabbatical year however leads us into a life that is fruitful. Not only will we be fed, but we will become a supply to all those around us. For this, we need to become a piece of land that every seven years is left to “grow of its own accord” (v.5, KJV).
It is good to have the covering and direction of the leading ones. They look out for us and do their best to help us grow. We should honor them. But every once in a while they should allow us a sabbatical year to grow of our own accord. This is according to God’s principle and will bless the church with spiritual food.
If others plan for us, they may in their good intentions spiritually kill us. If we think and plan too much for ourselves, the results may be no better. Can we become very restful in the Lord and let Him arrange our future? Yes, we need trainings and conferences to get help from others, but we also need to simply spend much time with the Lord seeking His leading. It may take six years to build a spiritual base, and then He will give us something. That is our piece of land, and for the next year it is ours to develop and enjoy. We will feed the church through it and will grow spiritually, but that sabbath lasts only one year. After the year is done, we will have to give up that piece of land and go back to have another six years. Of course in the New Testament age these are no longer literal years, but they do present a spiritual principle.
If we don’t have any spiritual base, we can never have a sabbatical year, because we are not yet grounded. We have to be in the church life and the Word. We have to experience Christ to gain some spiritual substance—then the time will come. Once they see we are ready, the leading ones should give us freedom, and we should learn how to rest in the Lord to let something grow. Perhaps we have always been fed by others up unto now, but this year we must learn to feed others.
We should not grow attached to our piece of land. It was given to us for only one year so we could learn to develop it and so we could mature a little more. At the end of the year, just when we think we really have something, the Lord will tell us to give it up and go back to the normal church life under the proper leadership for another six years. This is for our further growth so that we can eventually enjoy another piece of land in a future sabbath.
Blessing the Church
For example, every church needs a good children’s, high school, and college service. Each of these is a piece of land ready to bless the church. At the right time, the leading ones may put one of these in our hands and tell us to develop it. There is so much that can be done to feed the young ones, their parents, the serving ones, and gospel friends. We could hold a conference in which the young people present their Christ to their parents and friends. This would encourage the whole church.
Or we may be charged to make sure the singing in the church meetings is always marvelous. We would have to learn to pick the right hymns and lead the church into rich enjoyment. We would need to coordinate with those who have musical talent and teach music to those who don’t. We may even work with some to write new hymns to match the burden of the church.
Or we may be asked to minister something in the meetings that is short and full of truth and experience. This would cause us to labor in the Word and spiritual books for the sake of the saints. Eventually we could bring others into such a labor with us.
If we see some need in the church, we could step forward and volunteer ourselves to meet that need. I believe the leading ones would always be open and offer guidance if needed. Every field of labor is a piece of land for our labor in the coming sabbath year. We could totally revive and revolutionize the church life wherever we are. But our sabbatical year will eventually end. We will have to give it back.
Those who have a view like this will really grow. Over time, after a number of sabbatical years, they will become very useful and a blessing to the church.
Speaking to the leading ones, we can lead the brothers and sisters to a certain point, but we must give them some freedom to enjoy their sabbatical year. If we don’t give them such opportunity, all our planning will be for nothing. They will die and we will be overburdened. We will sweat so much and harvest so little. Everyone needs a piece of land.
Many times the church is limited because we violate His very simple two-step principle: first He gives us Himself; second He gives us His rest so that we would grow something and bear fruit for the whole church to enjoy.
The Festival Life
In addition to the celebration of the sabbath, God wanted His people to enjoy a life of festivals. There were three main festivals: Passover, Harvest, and Ingathering. To us today, each of these festivals is significant.
Every believer has experienced the reality of the Passover, for it represents our initial salvation. Because of the blood of our Lamb, the death angel has passed over us and we were regenerated to begin our journey as children of God.
Then we grow as Christians until we can be harvested. Some plants, such as corn, grow rapidly so the farmer can measure their progress every day. Others grow more slowly. But no matter how fast or slow, once the plant is mature and the fruit is ripe, the farmer will harvest it. It is the day he has been waiting for, a day to celebrate.
After harvest comes the ingathering, when the farmer brings the harvest into his barn where it waits his pleasure. Until now, it would have been possible for weather of some creature to damage it and steal it away. Once it is in the barn however, it belongs uniquely to the farmer.
Fruit for Harvest
Many have a good start. They enjoy the Passover by believing in Jesus as their Savior and receive “redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:14). They are cared for by older ones in the church life and seem to be growing well. But it is possible to love the Lord for years and bear no fruit for Him. There is no harvest for the Lord. Instead they are harvested by their computers, their careers, or by religion. Sometimes it is because they are passing through some turmoil, and sometimes it is because of the attraction of the world. To continue to the end is not easy.
We must pray for one another and labor together that we all would grow to bear fruit that can be harvested for the Lord. We need to help one another read the Bible, preach the gospel, pray, love the Lord, and grow in life. We should be responsible for one another. This is the church life. We are in it together, and we want no one left behind. Paul said, “We proclaim [Christ], admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28).
To my understanding there are at least two possible reasons why a plant does not bear fruit. One is that it is overly fertilized and overly watered. If we go to all the conferences and trainings, read all the spiritual books, and listen to all the messages in the church meetings, and yet bear no fruit, this may be our case. We only take in, but do not give out. We need to get involved with other people by preaching the gospel, visiting new ones, or helping younger saints. Then some real fruit will come.
The second possible reason for fruitlessness is a lack of trimming. All the nutrition goes to the leaves to make the plant pretty, but it bears no fruit. Who dares to trim us? If we are treated as untouchable royalty, we have no hope. We should not be so tough that all attempts to trim us just bounce off, but neither should we be so sensitive and easily offended that no one can touch us. Our Lord is looking for fruit, not leaves.
Ingathered to the Lord
After the festival of Passover and Harvest comes the festival of Ingathering. If there is no harvest, there can be no ingathering. But a harvest in no way guarantees an ingathering. We can be carried away even after we are harvested. We can be carried away to our mission, our commitment, or our burden, and miss the Lord. The festival of Ingathering is to be gathered uniquely to the Lord Himself.
Harvest means the fruit has come; Ingathering means it belongs to the one who has gathered it. Every believer has a good Passover; only some grow to bear fruit that can be harvested; fewer still allow that fruit to be ingathered by the Lord.
Harvest is individual. We harvest one ear of corn or one apple at a time. The fruit must be mature and ripe, able to be put into storage. Ingathering is corporate. We move all the corn or apples into the common storage area in the barn. When the church has a need, it’s all the stored riches that will meet the need. At such times, some who have been ingathered will be able to stand and say, “Let us continue to follow the Lord!”
We may not have many riches now, but our prayerful desire should be that the Lord would harvest and ingather what we have. We trust that the experiences of Christ we accumulate over the years will one day be valuable and useful to Him to supply and meet the needs of His people. May the Lord bless us In this way.