John 4:38
I sent you to reap that where on you bestowed no labor: other men labored, and you are entered into their labors.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(38) I sent you to reap . . .—The pronouns are again emphatic. “I sent you to reap;” and the statement is of wide meaning. He is ever the Sower. All others are more or less fully reapers, though in the degree in which they really reap they will become likened unto Him, and will become sowers too. We all inherit from the past the greatest part of our mental and spiritual knowledge. The child of to-day knows more than the philosopher of early history.

Other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.—Or, others have laboured. In the immediate application to the present case, the “others” is to be interpreted of Christ Himself, who had been sowing during their absence, and it may be of the woman who has sown this seed by her testimony to the Samaritans. Or the plural may be chosen as in contrast with the plural ye, and as pointing to the general truth, while the immediate reference is to Christ only.

4:27-42 The disciples wondered that Christ talked thus with a Samaritan. Yet they knew it was for some good reason, and for some good end. Thus when particular difficulties occur in the word and providence of God, it is good to satisfy ourselves that all is well that Jesus Christ says and does. Two things affected the woman. The extent of his knowledge. Christ knows all the thoughts, words, and actions, of all the children of men. And the power of his word. He told her secret sins with power. She fastened upon that part of Christ's discourse, many would think she would have been most shy of repeating; but the knowledge of Christ, into which we are led by conviction of sin, is most likely to be sound and saving. They came to him: those who would know Christ, must meet him where he records his name. Our Master has left us an example, that we may learn to do the will of God as he did; with diligence, as those that make a business of it; with delight and pleasure in it. Christ compares his work to harvest-work. The harvest is appointed and looked for before it comes; so was the gospel. Harvest-time is busy time; all must be then at work. Harvest-time is a short time, and harvest-work must be done then, or not at all; so the time of the gospel is a season, which if once past, cannot be recalled. God sometimes uses very weak and unlikely instruments for beginning and carrying on a good work. Our Saviour, by teaching one poor woman, spread knowledge to a whole town. Blessed are those who are not offended at Christ. Those taught of God, are truly desirous to learn more. It adds much to the praise of our love to Christ and his word, if it conquers prejudices. Their faith grew. In the matter of it: they believed him to be the Saviour, not only of the Jews but of the world. In the certainty of it: we know that this is indeed the Christ. And in the ground of it, for we have heard him ourselves.I sent you - In the commission given you to preach the gospel. You have not labored or toiled in preparing the way for the great harvest which is now to be gathered in.

Other men laboured -

(1) The prophets, who long labored to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.

(2) the teachers among the Jews, who have read and explained the law and taught the people.

(3) John the Baptist, who came to prepare the way. And,

(4) The Saviour himself, who by his personal ministry taught the people, and prepared them for the success which was to attend the preaching of the apostles.

Especially did Jesus lay the foundation for the rapid and extensive spread of the gospel. "He" saw comparatively little fruit of his ministry. He confined his labors to Judea, and even there he was occupied in sowing seed which chiefly sprang up after his death. From this we may learn:

1. That the man who is crowned with eminent success has no cause of "boasting" over others, any more than the man who reaps a field of grain should boast over the man who sowed it. The labor of both is equally necessary, and the labor of both would be useless if God did not give the increase. Compare 1 Corinthians 3:6.

2. We should not be discouraged if we do not meet with immediate success. The man that sows is not disheartened because he does not see the harvest "immediately" spring up. We are to sow our seed in the morning, and in the evening we are not to withhold our hand, for we know not whether shall prosper, this or that; and we are to go forth bearing precious seed, though "weeping," knowing that we shall come again rejoicing, bearing our sheaves with us, Ecclesiastes 11:4; Psalm 126:6.

3. Every part of the work of the ministry and of teaching men is needful, and we should rejoice that we are permitted to bear any part, however humble, in bringing sinners to the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, 1 Corinthians 12:21-24.

38. I sent you, &c.—The I is emphatic—I, the Lord of the whole harvest: "sent you," points to their past appointment to the apostleship, though it has reference only to their future discharge of it, for they had nothing to do with the present ingathering of the Sycharites.

ye bestowed no labour—meaning that much of their future success would arise from the preparation already made for them. (See on [1780]Joh 4:42).

others laboured—Referring to the Old Testament laborers, the Baptist, and by implication Himself, though He studiously keeps this in the background, that the line of distinction between Himself and all His servants might not be lost sight of. "Christ represents Himself as the Husbandman [rather the Lord of the laborers], who has the direction both of the sowing and of the harvest, who commissions all the agents—those of the Old Testament as well as of the New—and therefore does not stand on a level with either the sowers or the reapers" [Olshausen].

I have sent you to reap that which you did not first labour for; the prophets, and John the Baptist, and myself, have sown the seed, and by their doctrine prepared for the Lord a people; you enter upon their labours, gathering them into a gospel church. I sent you to reap,.... To preach the Gospel, and gather in souls by your ministry; referring to the mission of them in Matthew 10:6;

that whereon ye bestowed no labour; being sent to the Jews, who had the writings of the prophets, and were versed in them; and had learned from them that the Messiah was to come, and were now in general expectation of him; so that they had nothing more to do, than to declare to those persons who were cultivated by the prophets, and were like to ground tilled and manured, that the Messiah was come, and the kingdom of heaven was at hand.

Other men laboured; the prophets, and John the Baptist:

and ye are entered into their labours; to finish the work they had begun, and which was almost done to their hands.

I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
John 4:38. The exemplification in our Lord’s mind is given in John 4:38, where the pronouns ἐγώ and ὑμᾶς are emphatic. “I sent you to reap.” When? Holtzmann thinks the past tenses can only be explained as spoken by the glorified Lord looking back on His call of the twelve as Apostles. That is, the words were not spoken as John relates. But may not the reference be to the baptising of many by the disciples in the preceding months? This would be quite a natural and obvious reference. The work in Judaea which justifies the preterites was now alluded to, because now again the same division of labour is apparent. The Samaritans come not because of anything the disciples had said while making purchases in the town, but because of their Master’s talk with the woman.38. I sent you, &c.] The pronouns are again emphatically opposed, as in John 4:32.

other men] Christ, the Sower; but put in the plural to balance ‘ye’ in the next clause. In John 4:37 both are put in the singular for the sake of harmony; ‘One soweth’ (Christ), ‘another reapeth’ (the disciples). All the verbs in this verse are perfects excepting ‘sent;’ have not laboured, have laboured, have entered.John 4:38. Ἐγώ, I) The Lord of the whole harvest.—ἀπέστειλα, I sent) I have begun to send (John 4:2) you to the Jews, intending hereafter to send you through the whole earth.—ἄλλοι, others) the prophets.—ὑμεῖς) He does not say, we, but you. Christ is the Lord.—κόπον, their labour) the results obtained by their labours: Nehemiah 5:13, “I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour (the fruit of it), that performeth not this promise.”Verse 38. - If this be the meaning, then, in the following verse, the whole conception of their relation to the past and dependence upon it is singled out for additional comment. I have sent you, and am now sending you, to reap that whereon ye have not toiled to weariness. The idea of sowing (σπείρειν) is now expanded to (κοπιᾶν) exhausting toil; i.e. to all the laborious preparation of the soil for the seed, clearing of the forest, and ploughing on the rocky places, the cultivation of the jungle and fen. Much has been done by those who have gone before you. Others have toiled thus; their footmarks are red with blood, their tears have watered the earth, and ye have entered (and are now entering) into their toil. There is no limitation here to the cycles of work and suffering, of disappointment and apparent failure which have preceded you. The "others" is surely not a pleonasm for himself, he does verily associate with himself all his forerunners. This κόπος is far more than the mere sowing of seed or diffusion of truth, and they who have during many centuries contributed of their life to the creation of the state of mind which makes these people susceptible to the truth, have prepared the way of the disciples. In a fit place, and in the fulness of the times, he came. The disciples of Jesus, moreover, have always had a greater or less degree of pioneer work to do. The efforts of the missionary Church may be represented at all times as toiling as well as sowing. Each generation of labourers in the great field of love to man enters upon work and toil which its precursors have originated. The Tubingen critics here, true to their theory of the origin of the Fourth Gospel in the second century, suppose that, by the "others," Jesus is supposed to mean Philip the evangelist, and, by the "reapers," Peter and John, who entered into his labours, in Acts 8:15. Hilgenfeld thinks by the "others" was meant Paul, and by the "reapers" the twelve apostles, who sought to enter upon his work and appropriate its fruit. Thoma has followed vigorously along the same lines, and supposes that the Pauline thought 1 Corinthians 3:6-8, and the story of the conversion of the Samaritans and of the heathen world to the Church, are here forthshadowed by the fourth evangelist. I sent (ἐγὼ ἀπέστειλα)

The I is emphatic. The aorist tense points back to the mission of the disciples as involved in their original call.

Other men

Jesus himself and all who had prepared the way for Him, such as John the Baptist.

Labored (κεκοπιάκασι)

The perfect tense. Rev., rightly, have labored, their labor showing its effects in the present case. On the word labor, see on Luke 5:5. Compare Joshua 24:13.

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