A Time to Plant and a Time to Pluck
A Time to Plant And a Time to Pluck
In a copyrighted editorial in U.S. News & World Report entitled "What Are We Planting?" Marvin Stone (1977) writes: "It's planting time now for America. The soil awaits decisions that can either shade and comfort the future, or create only thickets." The burning questions are:
Should we go on mindlessly wasting precious natural resources, or should we conserve as best we can, keeping in mind our children and our children's children? Should we perpetuate a welfare system that ... [fosters] waste and corruption? Or should we perform radical surgery to ensure health and wealth for all of us? ... Should we skimp on money for basic research, while spending on bigger race tracks and sports palaces, with multimillion-dollar contracts for young athletes? Or should we also be building better libraries and laboratories, planting the seeds of tomorrow's science and technology? ... [In a word], what are we planting, anyway?
These are questions we could ask about any nation—and they are necessary and urgent questions—but there are even more important questions facing the church—the church of God's people everywhere.
In the divine order of things, there is a law of harvest that affects every man and woman on earth. It is the law of sowing and reaping. From the age of responsibility to the hour of accountability, we sow and reap. What we sow in youthful days, we reap in older years. What we sow in time, we reap in eternity. So there is "a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted" (3:2). The only consolation about this law of harvest is that behind it and beyond it is the Lord of the harvest. To know Him is to sow and reap to our eternal gain; to ignore Him is to sow and reap to our eternal loss. Let us then address ourselves to this law of harvest:
The Responsibility of Sowing
There is "a time to plant" (Eccl. 3:2). The responsibility of sowing becomes apparent when we apply the four tests of general inquiry.
1. Why should we sow? In the very nature of things, "sowing and reaping" is a law of life. Therefore, to ask, "Why should we sow?" is to challenge the wisdom of God. The apostle Paul exposes the impertinence of questioning Omniscience in this regard when he asks: "O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, 'Why have you made me like this?'" (Rom. 9:20). The fact of the matter is that all of life is structured on the law of cause and effect. Thus it happens that when we sow we also reap.
2. What should we sow? One of the world's great thinkers has reminded us:
Sow a thought, you reap an action;
Sow an action, you reap a habit:
Sow a habit, you reap a character:
Sow a character, you reap a destiny.
(Naismith 1962, 193 )
It matters, therefore, what we sow.
In his Epistle to the Galatians, Paul tells us that "he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life" (Gal. 6:8). The important question then is what is "sowing to the Spirit?" To find our answer, we do not need to leave the immediate context. In simple terms, sowing to the Spirit is loving God —Galatians 6:7 declares, "God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap." Loving God is the opposite of mocking God. To mock God literally means "to turn up the nose at Him," or "to treat Him with contempt." In the Septuagint, an early Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word is used to describe those who are not prepared to accept that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov. 1:7). Concerning such, God says, "They would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke" (Prov. 1:30).
Conversely, the fear of God leads to faith in God, and faith in God leads, in turn, to the love of God. And it is the office of the Holy Spirit to create in us that love of God through the redemptive merit our Lord Jesus Christ. Only by the Savior's death and resurrection has the groundwork been laid for the sinner's reconciliation to a holy God.
But sowing to the Spirit is not only loving God, it is loving man. The apostle exhorts, "As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10). We are in the world to sow love—love to God and love to man. And Paul makes it quite clear that such love is not just sentiment or mere words. According to the apostle, such love is "doing good to all men"; it is meeting human need—spiritually, socially, and economically. John echoes this when he declares:
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth." (1 John 3:16-18)
A great many of the social, moral, and civil problems of our lives today could be solved if we knew how to "sow to the Spirit," for the fruit of the Spirit is love: love to God, and then love to man. So we see that there is a time to plant, and what we should be planting is love.
3. Where should we sow? The Master answered this question, once and for all, when He told the parable of the four soils (see Mark 4:1-20).
There is the dusty soil. Along the plowed fields were little paths that became hard and dusty with the trampling of feet. The fowls of the air immediately gobbled up seed that fell here. This represents the heart that is defiled by human traffic, and therefore exposed to satanic domination.
There is the stony soil. This was ground that had a narrow skim of earth over a shelf of limestone rock. Seed falling on this ground germinated all right, but because of shallowness of earth and lack of moisture, the sprouting seed quickly died. There is such a thing as emotional response to the gospel without theological content and spiritual conviction.
There is the busy soil. We are told that the Palestinian farmer was a lazy man in those days. He cut off the top of the weeds, but left the fibrous roots below the surface; consequently, when the new seed began to grow, the old weeds revived in all their strength and choked the harvest. It is possible to be busy for self and lazy for God. Room for pleasure, room for business,
But for Christ the Crucified,
Not a place that He can enter,
In the heart for which He died.
adapted by Daniel W. Whittle
There is the ready soil. This was the good, clean, and deep soil in which the seed always nourished. This is the heart that is ready for the gospel of love in Jesus Christ.
So while it is true that the seed we need to sow is love, it is also true that love will not grow in dusty, stony, or busy soil. Love grows only in ready soil, or good ground.
4. When should we sow? While it is clear that all life is sowing and reaping, it is likewise evident that there are two crucial periods in the history of any one of us for sowing and consequent reaping. One is the time of youth, and the other is the time of old age. Ask any farmer, gardener, or forester and he will tell you that the two times for successful planting are spring and autumn. Spring is youth time; autumn is old age.
The emphasis throughout Scripture is on planting when we are young. Solomon says, "Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, 'I have no pleasure in them'" (Eccl. 12:1). There is a springtime of responsiveness. It is the time of comparative innocence, interest, and initiative.
To a lesser degree, the autumn of life is also a time of decision. The failure of life and the fear of death are often the incentives that prompt an older person to seek God and to plant his faith in Jesus Christ. To such, the Bible says, "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2).
So we see there is "a time to plant." But there is also "a time to pluck what is planted," and it involves:
The Accountability of Reaping
With regard for the designed contrast of these couplets, some expositors interpret the plucking up as a reference to the time of judgment and destruction. And without doubt this thought carries validity since we are thinking of the accountability of reaping; but the season of reaping need not always be a time of judgment. It can also be an occasion of joyful harvest. It all depends on how we have sown. Whether in time, or in eternity, reaping has its own inescapable laws.
There is the law of likeness. The Bible tells us that "whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Gal. 6:7). Then Paul goes on to say, "He who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life" (Gal. 6:8). The apostle does not leave us in doubt as to what that fleshly corruption is. In the previous chapter of the Galatian epistle he writes: "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like" (Gal. 5:19-21). And then Paul concludes, "Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:21). And Jesus confirms this when He warns, "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted" (Matt. 15:13). We are accountable for the seed that we have sown and the plants that we have buried in the soil of our past lives, for it is written, "God requires an account of what is past" (Eccl. 3:15).
The story is told of the little boy who, in a moment of spiteful temper, buried his sister's teddy bear. Father, Mother, sister, and even brother looked everywhere for the missing teddy bear, but all in vain. Weeks later, Father was in the garden, doing some weeding, when he called the family to come quickly and see a strange sight. With the family around him, he pointed to a piece of ground where fresh blades of grass appeared in the pattern of a teddy bear! What the small boy had not realized was that the buried teddy bear was stuffed with a cheap grade of grass seed! How true are those biblical words, "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Num. 32:23).
Thank God, however, that "he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life" (Gal. 6:8). And the apostle tells us that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:22-23). This is the harvest that will receive our Lord's "well done" and will endure throughout eternity. To pluck this fruit and present it to Christ in glory should be the supreme ambition of every Christian.
What kind of harvest are we expecting in that day? We must realize that sowing and reaping have a law of likeness. If we have sown to the flesh, we will reap of the flesh corruption; on the other hand, if we have sown to the Spirit, we will reap of the Spirit life everlasting.
But reaping has another law: it is the law of increase. When Jesus told of the seed that fell on the good ground, He said that it brought forth some thirtyfold, some sixtyfold, and some a hundredfold (Matt. 13:8). Now this is true of all reaping. Not only do we harvest likeness in kind but also increase of kind. This must be a terrifying thought to those who sow to the flesh! Think of the multiplied corruption that awaits judgment day! But for the Spirit-filled Christian, it is not only going to be fruit or more fruit, but much fruit. Jesus said, "By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples" (John 15:8).
Let me ask you if this law of likeness is matched by the law of increase in your life? As you grow day by day in the Lord Jesus, are people seeing more love, more joy, more peace, more longsuffering, more kindness, more goodness, more faithfulness, more gentleness, more self-control? Is the Holy Spirit reproducing in you the likeness of the Lord Jesus? Can people say that you remind them of Jesus? This is what Christian living is all about. Has it ever occurred to you that God's purpose in redemption is to populate heaven with men and women who are like His dear Son, and in the meantime, to populate earth with men and women who are like His dear Son—conformed to His image. This is the supreme ambition of my heart. With Robert Murray McCheyne I say every day, "Oh God, make me as holy as a saved sinner can be." In the words of our text, my desire is that as I plant day by day the seeds of prayer, Bible study, and yieldedness to the Holy Spirit, the life of the Lord Jesus is going to be manifested in me.
The lesson of our text is plain. We are responsible for our sowing, and we are also accountable for our reaping. What kind of harvests are we expecting? God's purpose for our lives is likeness to the Lord Jesus! How are you planting? What are you planting? When are you planting? Are you busy at this planting business? Once again I must remind you, "Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Gal. 6:7). Harvest day is coming. One day you will have to stand before that judgment seat of Christ, and the harvest you have reaped will be evaluated (2 Cor. 5:10). What kind of harvest are you expecting? Is it likeness to the Lord Jesus? This involves sowing the seeds of daily prayer. Have you a personal altar; have you a family altar where you kneel to pray with your loved ones? Are you sowing the seeds of regular Bible reading. Do you read the Word of God every day? The only way that we can be like Jesus is by looking into the mirror of His Word and having the Holy Spirit mold us into the image of Jesus that we see in the Word—from one degree of glory to another. Our daily prayer should be:
Earthly pleasures vainly call me,
I would be like Jesus;
Nothing worldly shall enthrall me,
I would be like Jesus.
Be like Jesus, this my song,
In the home and in the throng;
Be like Jesus, all day long!
I would be like Jesus.
Think on These Things (Phil. 4:8)
"Sowing and reaping" is an immutable law of God. This is true especially in Christian living. The great hindrances to such good living are weariness and discouragement. Four months elapse between planting and harvest (John 4:35), and while it is true that in spiritual sowing the results occasionally come sooner, it is also true that more often the results take longer. So Paul warns us with two imperatives: "[Do] not grow weary" and "do not lose heart" (Gal. 6:9). The apostle emphasizes this when he affirms that "the hard-working farmer must be first to partake of the crops" (2 Tim. 2:6).
— Time for Truth, A