Pirkei Avot is a Jewish text, the title of which is generally translated as “Ethics of our Fathers.” There is a line from that text that is on my mind this week: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (2:21, emphasis mine).” It reminds me of the New Testament verse: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).”
There are some truths evident to me as I ponder that line from Pirkei Avot. First of all, it implies that each of us has work to do. Our work could be a paying job, a passion for a certain cause or people group, a ministry or some combination thereof. Whatever the context, we are all called to do some kind of work and it is to be a good work.
The first part of the line says “you are not obligated to complete the work,” and this is an encouraging and humbling reminder that we are contributing to a larger work going on. You may see that as working toward the larger vision of an organization, or see it as your work within the even larger narrative of the work that God is doing to reconcile all things to Himself (Colossians 1:20). Either way, it is humbling to acknowledge that you are part of a larger work and know the completion is not contingent on your efforts to complete the work. You are contributing toward a larger goal which you may not see realizedand for which you may not receive credit. Nonetheless, we are to work diligently.
The second part of the line reminds us “neither are [we] free to desist from it.” As we move though different seasons in life, we are called to different works and we are to persist in that work whether or not we see the desired results or receive expected acknowledgment or affirmation. When it’s hard – persist - until your part is complete. Then, when your part is done, let it go. Finish your part and finish well.
The verse from Galatians brings hope into this conversation. (the Word of God tends to do that.) Paul exhorts us not to grow weary in doing good and also gives us a promise. In due season, we will reap a harvest.
Thankfully, we do often receive something tangible from our efforts. We receive payment, gratitude, seeing others enjoy the results of our efforts, and the satisfaction of knowing we have contributed to a larger effort. Also, and importantly, when we work with the right focus and attitude we reap personal growth in spiritual maturity. Ultimately our continued growth in resemblance to Jesus Christ is the harvest God has in mind. If we persist, if we persevere, this will happen (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:1-5).
Don’t give up. In due season, good will come of your efforts.