I recently listened to a sermon given by Mr. Richard Ames of the Living Church of God a few months ago entitled "Are You Growing Spiritually?" In that sermon he pointed out what Herbert W. Armstrong said about those who grow spiritually being those who have their heart in God's work.
I think it is absolutely true that those whose heart is in God's work tend to grow spiritually. As Mr. Ames reminded me in his sermon, it was Jesus's food to finish God's work (John 4:34). Mr. Ames said that he thought that the reason that some ministers who seemed very solid later went into heresy is that they did not have their heart in God's work.
I agree, but why is that true?
There is a principle involved that we reap what we sow. This is an active principle that can apply to many aspects of God's way of life. For example, in this same sermon, Mr. Ames quoted Proverbs 19:17, "He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, And He will pay back what he has given," showing that when we sow mercy by giving to the poor, God will pay us back by giving a blessing to us. It is a particular application of the general principle of "whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7-10, Romans 2:6, Job 34:11, Psalm 62:12, Proverbs 24:11-12, Jeremiah 17:10, 2 Corinthians 9:6).
We can see the application of this principle in the examples written in the Bible for our learning (1 Corinthians 10:11). For example, if you study the life of Jacob, you will notice that he had a problem with lying. He deceived his father by lying to him to obtain a blessing (Genesis 27:1-35). Did God cause him to reap what he sowed? After this, Jacob several times became the victim of the deceptions of others. He was deceived by Laban concerning his wife (Genesis 29:15-30). He was also deceived by Laban several times concerning his wages (Genesis 31:7). He suffered for years mourning for his son Joseph, thinking he was dead, because his sons deceived him (Genesis 37:12-36). So it seems God caused Jacob to reap what he sowed. He sowed deception when he deceived his father to obtain a blessing, and he reaped deception when he was later deceived by Laban numerous times and by his sons when they deceived him about Joseph. No doubt God did this to teach Jacob a lesson about the consequences of lying.
How does this apply to having our hearts in the work of God of preaching the gospel to the world?
Our relationship with God is based on the knowledge of the truth that God has given us. We have that knowledge because others have sacrificed to give us that knowledge. We have been able to learn the truth because Mr. Armstrong and many members in the Church of God and co-workers were zealous and sacrificed to produce the Plain Truth magazine and to broadcast the truth on radio and TV. Either we learned of the truth through the broadcasts and literature, or we learned from others, perhaps our parents, who learned from the broadcasts and literature. Those broadcasts, magazines, and books and booklets were possible only because those who were before us had their heart in the work to the point that they were willing to give up some of the nicer things in this life - restaurant meals, nicer homes, nicer clothes, vacations, etc. - in order to give the truth freely to others as they received freely. There is a principle of reciprocity involved. As we have freely received, we should freely give (Matthew 10:7-8, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, John 4:35-36).
We know the truth because others have had their heart in the work before us, and we have an obligation to pass that blessing along, to have our hearts in the work and to sacrifice so others can receive the truth as we have received it.
And if we don't?
If we selfishly hold on to the truth for ourselves but do not sacrifice to help give it to others, what then?
I think in that case, God's principle of causing us to reap what we sow goes into effect. What we sow is the decision to not be zealous and sacrifice to pass the truth on to others. What we reap is the result of that decision according to God's judgement. We may receive the fruit of our decision.
What would have been the fruit or the consequence of the decision of others before us if they had decided not to sacrifice to preach the gospel to others? We would never have learned the truth. We would have continued in the world, deceived by Satan. That is the fruit of not having one's heart in the work of preaching the gospel to the world.
And if that is our decision, if we decide not to support the preaching of the gospel to the world, God can take from us the knowledge we have. God could put us in the state we would be in if those before us did not sacrifice to give us the truth. We can fall away from the truth. And I think that may have been what happened to ministers who had a solid foundation in the truth, yet lacked zeal for the work of God, and then fell away.
There is also the scripture in Revelation 12:10-11: "Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, 'Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.' " Notice that one of the ways Christians overcome Satan is by the word of their testimony. This can apply to giving testimony under threat of martyrdom, as the context seems to indicate, but I think the principle can also apply to giving testimony by sacrificing to support the preaching of the gospel to the world. That is one of the ways of overcoming Satan.
We need to sacrifice to support the preaching of the gospel to the world to pass the blessing of God's truth to others as those before us have sacrificied so we could learn the truth. That is a direct application of God's command to love our neighbor as ourself (Matthew 22:37-40) and to do to others as we want them to do to us (Matthew 7:12).
Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:
The Church, Chapter 4
How Could Trained and Experienced Ministers Be Deceived?, Chapter 5
Will Focusing Exclusively on Feeding the Flock Heal the Church?, Chapter 5
Is the Church Commissioned to Preach the Gospel to the World?, Chapter 5