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The Law of Sowing and Reaping

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\\ Think about seeds. A single seed can grow a plant that produces hundreds or even thousands of seeds. A single bag of seeds can sow a whole field and produce hundreds of bags of new seed. We reap more than we sow. This is true in the positive sense, but it is also true in the negative.

Introduction

It is as certain as the sun coming up.
It is as reliable as the orbit of the moon.
It affects the wealthiest playboy on earth as surely as it impacts the poorest peasant.
Wise men approach it with caution. Foolish men plunge on, and are ruined.
It is not theory. It is law.
It is an ultimate justice - a court that never experiences a mistrial.
Nobody outwits it. Nobody escapes it.
The careless fall headlong over it. Mockers are broken by it.
It is as solid a principle as the reputation of God.


I refer to the Biblical law of sowing and reaping and this morning I would like to review it together with you in Galatians 6:7-10. Please join me there in your Bibles.

(Read Galatians 6:7-10)

This Biblical passage has become a familiar proverb in our day, even among those who do not know God. "You reap what you sow," is often heard. "What goes around comes around." "Garbage in, garbage out." Yet I don't think most folks really understand what this means for them.

Let's look at this passage more closely this morning and see what we can learn. I have several points to make about the Law of Sowing and Reaping. The first one is the obvious, bedrock meaning from this passage. The other points come from more careful consideration of this whole metaphor of sowing and reaping.

1. We Reap What We Sow.

It's a straight cause-and-effect principle. If we sow to the flesh (that is, do the things that appeal only to our fleshly natures) we will reap corruption, a word whose Greek equivalent comes from a root meaning, "to shrivel, to wither, to spoil, to rot." The idea is that while sowing to the flesh might look great at first, the things we gain by it will eventually rot or spoil on us.

On the other hand, if we sow to the Spirit (that is, do things that build up our spiritual lives) we will reap something that doesn't shrivel, wither, spoil, or rot. The implications are eternal.

The positive teaching here is encouragement not to give up on doing good in our lives for the Lord. The negative teaching is a warning that spells out the results of doing evil.

A Christian man was presented with a proposal from his non-Christian father-in-law who was willing to put up money so the younger man could go into business for himself. It sounded like a great opportunity, so with little hesitation he plunged right in. It wasn't long before the money coming in was substantially more than this man had ever made in the past, not to mention the heady experience of such quick "success". He was spending a lot less time at home with his wife and kids, and frequently missed church (though his family continued to attend) but he assured all concerned that he had everything under control. His absence from these important things was only temporary. Once he had the business on its feet, things would get better. Soon though, he was working seven days a week. He had purchased several new vehicles to replace the old ones he had been using, and had made the down payment on an office space in a good location. He also hired a contractor to remodel portion of his home. It seemed that things were going better than they ever had, at least from a financial standpoint. His frequent absences from the church meetings though, had now become constant. Several Christians who loved this man cautioned him of his neglect of his family and his spiritual life. "I'm doing fine" was always his answer. "As soon as I can get beyond this current raft of obligations, I'll return to the church." It didn't work out that way. In fact, in order to save money, he had his wife go to work in the business with him as a secretary and bookkeeper. They hired someone to watch the kids during the long hours they were away from home. Now no one was attending church and no one related was tending the home front. The church leaders requested a meeting with the man and his wife but were politely told that there just wasn't enough time right now. So, months went buy. Several Christians were so bold as to go visit this man at his office since that was the only place to catch him. "We're fine" was the response. "No need to worry about us. We'll get back to church someday." Soon though, there was no contact at all between this family and their Christian friends. The months turned into years. No one heard from them. Naturally, people moved on with their lives. Then late one evening the wife called the minister of the church and told him that her husband was in jail. Could someone from the church please go down to the police station and help him? When the minister arrived he was surprised to find that the wife wasn't there. Apparently she had called from another location. There I the County Jail, through the two-way glass, the story came out. The man had started drinking when he found out that his wife was having an affair. After an angry confrontation he had stormed out, climbed into his vehicle, and sped off into the night. At some point he ran down and killed a pedestrian along the road. Sitting there in the visitation room, the man poured out the rest of the story. The affair had been going on for over a year. He lost his head when he found out. Now he was charged with manslaughter. Could the minister help him, he asked? Could God help him? He remembered something he had heard in a sermon one time about God's word having answers and the truth setting one free. Surely he needed some of that now! Could God get him out of this jam and give him his wife and family back?

Folks, there is a terrible truth looming here with awful implications. But it needs to be said. Do you know what it is?

"Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap."

What had this man sown? Neglect of his wife and family. Neglect of his spiritual life. Love of money that was out of balance with his love for God. He had gone from "seek first God's kingdom" to "don't seek His kingdom at all." What was he reaping? He got an extended jail sentence. His wife divorced him to go with her lover. His teenage children rebelled. He filed bankruptcy and lost his business. Eventually, because he couldn’t make the payments, he lost his half of the house they had lived in.

Folks, the Bible does have answers to all of our problems. God has provided for us "all things pertaining to life and godliness" through the true knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 1:3). But please here me on this: The answers God gives are mostly preventative rather than remedial. In other words, He tells us how to avoid these kinds of problems, not how to make them vanish when we have ignored His warnings.

Could this man repent of all his neglect, turn back to God, and restore his hope of eternal life? Yes, if the turning is genuine. Would such a move restore his wife and family and business? That is far less likely. Why? Here comes that awful law again: We reap what we sow! When we sow to the flesh we reap corruption. We reap things that shrivel, wither, spoil, and rot. Should this man be angry when God doesn't step in and take away all of his problems? Could God be blamed for these troubles? Yes, God could be blamed, and many angrily blame Him in such cases. But the truth is, this man can rightly blame only himself. God has published a book full of warnings about things like these. But that book is meaningless to people who don't pay attention to it.

Is all lost then? Not necessarily. This man may still find hope in his life. I'll come back to this issue in a little bit. For now let's consider some other aspects of this law of sowing and reaping.

2. We Reap More than We Sow.

This point is seen in the second part of the law of sowing and reaping. If we sow to the spirit (during this life) we will reap eternal life.

Think of the proportionality between cause an effect there. You and I can do here and now to earn or equal the benefit of eternal life. Yet if we live for God here and now, in this relatively short span we call earthly life, we will receive much more than we ever put in. Live a relatively short time for God and you'll receive eternity with Him.

Think about seeds. A single seed can grow a plant that produces hundreds or even thousands of seeds. A single bag of seeds can sow a whole field and produce hundreds of bags of new seed. We reap more than we sow. This is true in the positive sense, but it is also true in the negative.

In the negative sense, there is a warning in the Old Testament book of Hosea, in 8:7, that says: "For they sow the wind, and they reap the whirlwind." The idea is that if we sow a little bit of evil we will reap a lot of evil. We sow a stiff breeze and we reap a tornado.

Think of the story I just told you. Had the man known the terrible things that would ultimately happen as a result of his choices, perhaps he would have thought about them more seriously in the beginning. No, it isn't wrong to go into business for yourself. Neither is it wrong to work long and hard - provided you don't neglect the things that are critically important, like your wife and your children and your God.

A single seed is such a tiny thing - so seemingly insignificant. A handful of tiny seeds is still not much. What harm could there possibly by in sowing them? They look so helpless lying there. Yes, that's how they look, but when you consider a seed, don't think of just one seed. Think of a harvest. Think of reaping a field because that's the way the law of sowing and reaping works.

Since I mentioned it in the earlier story, let's consider church attendance among the several issues involved. What difference does it make whether I come here and meet with the Christians, worship, and hear teaching from God's word? That stuff can seem so irrelevant to what I'm doing sometimes. Yeah, I know those preachers say it's important, but they're just too impressed with their own importance. Besides, they've probably never had a real job anyway. They just want a crowd. It's not that important.

1 Timothy 3:15 says the church is the "pillar and support of the truth." What happens when you remove the support from something? Yeah, it falls down! So is the church important?

Hey, but it's just a seed! Surely it's not as significant as my career and my stock portfolio and house remodel!

If we had the time I could set aside the issue of church attendance and make the same point with the other important disciplines of the Christian life. They may seem insignificant and unimportant, but they're seeds - tiny seeds that become a harvest - tiny seeds that, if neglected, become an empty field where a harvest should have been when you needed it.

As Paul says here in our text, "do not be deceived."

We reap what we sow. We reap more than we sow. Thirdly,

3. We Reap Only if We Sow.

As with the points I've already made, this has both a positive and negative application. We reap only if we sow can mean that if we don't put seeds sown to the Spirit into the ground we will get to the end of life and find we don't have eternal life. We may find even before the end of life that we don't have the strength we need to live effectively.

But again I want to focus on the negative here. This statement holds an assurance that can provide security against ruining our lives. We reap only if we sow. If we don't sow the seeds of a bad habit, we'll never have to deal with the difficulties that result.

If I don’t allow myself to brood about difficult times, I'm far less likely to get caught in the downward spiral of depression.
If I don't take that first drink, I won't ever - ever - become an alcoholic.
If I don't flirt with members of the opposite sex, I won't be unfaithful to my wife.
If I don't plant the seed, I won't have to deal with a rotten harvest.

I think this is what was behind Jesus' instructions in Matthew 5:27-28 when he said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart."

What Jesus was doing here was moving the battle line against unfaithfulness back into the heart where the seed of it begins. Thoughts germinate and grow in the heart long before they become actions. If we strive to control the thoughts, if we attack and master the problem on that level which, though difficult, is not as difficult as dealing with physical act, we minimize the potential for wrong actions. Life is far less difficult and complicated. (That's what I meant earlier when I said that the answers God gives us in His word are more preventative than remedial. It's much easier to deal with impure thoughts than it is to deal with the impact of a betrayal on a marriage.

Jesus was speaking from the masculine perspective in Matthew 5, but this principle of gaining control of the thoughts applies to all of us, male or female.

It's a lot easier to crush a snake's egg than it is to contend with a four-foot viper!
A tiny spark can be extinguished with a pinch. Putting out a destructive forest fire takes millions of dollars and risks many lives.

We reap what we sow. We reap more than we sow. We reap only if we sow.

4. We Reap Later Than We Sow.

I called Paul's warning to your attention earlier - that one in verse 7: "Do not be deceived." We get deceived when we come to believe that this law of sowing and reaping really isn't true - or really doesn't apply to us. We get deceived when we think of those seemingly insignificant things in our lives that "don't really matter," forgetting that they are the seeds of far more weighty things. We get deceived when we think that since we've sown some seeds and seemingly gotten away with it, we are somehow immune or exempt.

As the familiar modern proverb says, "Some folks sow bad seeds all week, then come to church and pray for a crop failure." It doesn't work.

It takes time to get a harvest. In the positive sense, we must patiently sow those spiritual seeds and be confident that it will all be worth it. If we do we will see some of the results in the here-and-now and some beyond this life.

The same point (some will show up here and now and some in the afterlife) is also true. Paul made that point in 1 Tim 5:24 where he said, "The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after."

Some reaping as a result of sowing to the flesh will come in this life, some in the next.

The idea that the sowing usually comes some time after the reaping also shows up in Ecclesiastes 8:11, which says, "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil."

Because there is a delay between cause and effect, we get the mistaken idea that there is no effect. Yet my point his is that we reap later than we sow.

In the story I shared with you earlier, the choices the husband made at the start of his new business didn't seem to be that harmful. In the contrary, they actually seemed to benefit him. In fact, such a one could easily conclude, early on that "God must approve because He seems to be blessing my business." Only after some years did the true harvest of neglect come due. And it was a bitter harvest.

We reap what we sow. We reap more than we sow. We reap only if we sow. We reap later than we sow. Finally,

5. We Reap Until We Have Harvested What We Sow.

Looking back at our text in Galatians 6, let's read verse 9: "And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary."

Paul was definitely speaking from the positive angle there when he spoke of reaping the results of "doing good." And it's a good lesson. For Christians who are focusing on sowing to the Spirit, while people around them seemingly get away with sowing to the flesh, the road can get long. It would be very easy to say, "I think I'll let up. I'm getting tired. Let somebody else do this for awhile." Paul reminds such a one not to quit. The effort will be worth it "in due time."

But there is another possible application for his words. I asked you earlier what you would say if you were the minister talking to that man in jail who was losing all he had worked so hard to accomplish. Here is how I might deal with his questions.

First, I would have to tell him the truth about the law of sowing and reaping.

"You mean you would tell him that he was to blame for his own problems? That would be cruel! How could you possibly hit him so hard when he is down?"

Be assured that I would do this as kindly as possible, but if I don't tell him the truth then he will end up blaming others for the problems that only he can resolve. You don't help someone by blaming other people for one's own wrongdoing.

Secondly, I would tell him to return to God with his whole heart. No half-hearted turnaround would do. He got into these problems by pushing God to the bottom of his priority list until his Creator was completely off his list. He must admit his sin and throw himself upon God's mercy. If he was truly a Christian in the first place, this repentance and return would remove the eternal penalty for his wrong. If he returns to God with his whole heart, he can still be saved. Though this man seems awash in his earthly problems, eternity is really the greater jeopardy.

Thirdly, I would lovingly tell him the truth about what was ahead. He would have to reap the earthly consequences of his sowing. God would not likely remove that. It would probably be a long haul. The jail sentence would have to be served. His wife might never come back. His children might never forgive him. But his one greatest chance of any of these things happening would be a full return to His God including a complete rearrangement of his priorities.

Fourthly, I would tell him what Paul says here in our text: "And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary." Though the bitter reaping might be long and difficult, if he continues to deal with it responsibly, while not putting more seeds of the flesh into the ground, eventually the reaping would be over. All of the nasty harvesting would be gone. This could come in this life. If not, it would surely come in the next. But during this time of bitter reaping he must resist the temptation to get angry and sow other evil things in his frustration that he would later have to reap.

Finally, I would tell him these things once. Then I would tell them to him again and again, as long as he would listen, because you can be sure that Satan would be whispering in his other ear the very opposite. "It's just too much." "It's hopeless." "All is lost." "You're doomed." "God can't help you." The name of the game folks, is deception, and at such times it comes on hard, long, and fast, brought to you by the enemy of our souls.

For the man I described it would be a long haul - a long journey, probably with much heartache. But it would not be a life without hope because Paul says in our text, "in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary." In due time the reaping would be over.

Ancient Israel began reaping what she had sown at the onset of the Babylonian Captivity. For 70 years she languished in obscurity and defeat. But ultimately, when the reaping was over, God restored her. He can do that for us, too. "In due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary."

Conclusion

Horatio Bottomley was a British journalist and financier whose talents as a writer and orator earned him a seat in the English Parliament. But his name constantly came up in the courts in connection with fraud charges, and in 1922 he was finally sentenced to seven years in prison. It was there that a friend found him at work, stitching mailbags.

"Ah, Bottomley," the man said, "sewing?"

"No," the prisoner replied, "reaping." (1)

The law of sowing and reaping: Know it. Believe it. Use it for good and not for evil.

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