“Gleaning in the Fields”

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God."

Leviticus 19:9-10

There are special people whom God blesses us with who influence our faith. One such person for me was a man named Jim Frisby. I had the pleasure of knowing Jim during my time serving a congregation in rural Missouri. Jim had served the church there for decades as a teacher and an encourager. He was happily married to his lovely wife Hazel but the two had no children. I always thought this was regrettable, for Jim would have made an excellent overseer (cf. 1 Tim. 3:4). Jim has since gone on to his reward but "through his faith, though he died, he still speaks," as the Bible says (Heb. 11:4). 

Jim was always ready to accompany me to visit the sick, to help with Bible classes at assisted living homes, classes for new converts and any other evangelistic efforts. He was a gentle, humble, wise man who spoke softly but with conviction and purpose. He could always be counted on to say the right thing in the right way at the right time. He was a comforting influence and a good friend with a great sense of humor. Needless to say, there are precious few people in the kingdom like him. Through his quiet leadership of service to Christ Jim did more good a thousand sermons.

After visiting someone together, Jim and I had a conversation that I will never forget. I asked him why he had never devoted himself to preaching the gospel. He had an excellent knowledge of the Scriptures and a great reputation with his neighbors and was highly respected by the congregation. He was an gifted teacher as well, having developed all the skills necessary for teaching during his tenure as a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Missouri. And it seemed to me that local churches needed more faithful men like him to teach and preach God's word.

His response was classic.

In his humble and casual manner, Jim paraphrased Leviticus 19:9-10, but he did so through the lens of the gospel, so to speak. Those verses anticipated Israel's life in the Promised Land and focused on sharing food from the harvest with the needy. Israelite farmers were not to harvest their field or vineyard bare in order to leave food for the poor and the sojourner. These weaker members of society were at a disadvantage and were to receive special treatment under the Law (Deut. 10:18-19; 24:19-21). 

Through the Mosaic covenant, Israel was to learn what it meant to serve a holy God. This included generously caring for those in need (Ex. 22:25-27; Lev. 25:35-37; Deut. 15:7-11; 24:12-15). Such generous care means putting people before profits. We see this principle worked out in the way God intended in Ruth chapter 2. Of course, this same spirit of generosity should characterize God's people today (Mt. 5:42; Gal. 2:10; 6:10; Jas. 1:27).

Jim knew what Leviticus 19 taught but he allegorized it for my benefit, to answer my question. Jim saw himself as one of those poor Israelites picking up the pieces during the harvest. A handful of grapes here, a leftover sheaf of grain there, and perhaps a few olives. To Jim, there was plenty of work to go around in the kingdom and he was content to be the kind of worker that picked up the pieces others left behind. As a gleaner in God's field, Jim played a 'supporting role,' for lack of a better term. 

The irony of this humble description of his work in God's vineyard was that in what he called 'gleaning' Jim had gathered more sheaves than many 'hired' laborers! The fields were "white for harvest" and his food was to do God's will (Jn. 4:34). He was truly "gathering fruit for eternal life" (Jn. 4:36). Local congregations need more servants like Jim who humbly do their work, picking up the pieces behind the scenes. No one knew the full extent of Jim's work or how many lives he had touched and enriched. No one knows, that is, except the Lord (Mk. 12:41-44). Jim did what he could, and that is always enough (Mk. 14:8). The longer I think about him, the more I aspire to be like him. "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (1 Cor. 15:58)