The Law of the Harvest, Revisited
© C. O. Bishop 6/10/15 THCF 6/16/15
Galatians 6:6-10; 1st Corinthians 9:1-18; Genesis 1:11, 12, 21, 24-27; John 5:23
We have spent a few months going through the book of Galatians, and we have only a few verses left of the book: Today we begin at verse six of the last chapter of Galatians.
Paul seems to be changing the subject, here, but it actually ties right in with what he has been teaching. He has completed his warnings against legalism, and his reiteration of the absolute necessity of Grace. He has explained how to walk with the Lord, and how to get along with one another. He is beginning the conclusion of his letter to the churches of Galatia by explaining the outcome of their subsequent choices: He begins with one last command relating to the interpersonal responsibilities within the local assembly (namely the support of the shepherds of the flock) but then says, “You will reap what you sow!”
This is not a “new doctrine”… Paul is reiterating a principle taught clear back in the Creation story. Reaping and sowing is not about punishment, but about results. If I plant apple seeds, I have some hope of getting an apple tree, and I would be astonished if I got a cornstalk instead. We are exhorted to make appropriate decisions and expect appropriate results in our lives.
But Paul first addresses an issue that probably needed attention, as it frequently does today.
Responsibility Toward Those who Feed the Flock
6 Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.
This is a scriptural principle, and it is repeated elsewhere. In Luke 10:7, Jesus commanded that the disciples were to stay with (and be a blessing to) those who invited them to stay, and who fed them. He said, “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” Paul reiterated this to Timothy (1st Timothy 5:18), and quoted that passage, as well as a foundational passage from Deuteronomy 25:4, saying “thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.” The principle is sound, but it has been so thoroughly abused and contorted that many preachers are ashamed to even teach on it, for fear they will be seen as “panhandling”, or worse.
I think it is instructive to note, however, that the man who delivered the message in this case (and some of the other passages) did not avail himself of the privilege of “living by the Gospel”, though he was entitled to do so (1st Corinthians 9:14). Paul served unpaid, almost without exception, which sometimes necessitated a hiatus from preaching, in order for him to work his trade (which was tent making) and earn support for himself and his entourage. There were a few churches who sometimes joined him in his work by sending support to him…but not many.
Paul clearly stated his right to be supported in the work in 1st Corinthians 9:1-18, but he concluded that passage by saying he counted it a privilege to serve without charge, to avoid being a burden to the church, and to avoid any accusation of having abused his authority.
I like his example, and, as long as God continues to give me the privilege of serving without pay, I will choose to do so. He has provided for my family’s needs for the last 40 years through my own work in the secular world, as a welder, teacher, and builder. I continue to choose to follow Paul’s example in not being a burden to the church. (My fellow-servant Richard Banham has made the same choice, and has served without charge for longer than I have been alive.) But, that being said; if I ever am in a position where I really have to serve full time, and can no longer support myself and serve the church, then I will cheerfully submit to this principle, as well, with God’s leading and supply.
The Law of the Harvest
7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
This applies to work, service, giving and personal relationships…and many other areas as well. It is one of the oldest “laws” in the Bible. (Turn to Genesis 1:11.) When God created the world, and began to create living things, he created the plants first (v. 11, 12), and said that each of them bore seed “after its kind”. Then he made the animals, each “after his kind” (v. 21, 24, 25). Finally, it says he created Man, male and female, in His own image. (v. 26, 27)
Like begets like. We were to be like Him. The message of “like begets like” was quietly observed and decreed as the norm, clear back in Genesis. What you sow is what you reap. When a chicken incubates an egg (provided it was her own egg) I expect a baby chicken; nothing else: not ducks, eagles or lizards.
So why would it be a surprise today? We should realize that there are consequences and rewards for behavior…and for the choices we make. Every farming society knows the principle of sowing and reaping. They also know that not every seed sprouts…so they sow sufficient seed to make up for probable losses…and if they overestimated the losses, then they may end up with a bumper crop. But we are dealing with the God who said the very hairs of our heads are numbered. And that a sparrow does not fall without His knowledge. So there are not going to be any crop failures, in eternity. What you sow, in terms of both quality, quantity, and kind will be what you reap. God knows the hearts. People who seem to be “sowing” a lot may be simply “showing” a lot. The quiet servants who are not seeking applause may be the real “farmers” in the group.
Sowing and Reaping
8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
“Sowing to the flesh” could take any form—we tend to think of it in terms of gross immorality, gluttony, corruption, or something similar, but the fact is that the works of our flesh include things like gossip and bitterness, and pride, and anger, as well as lust and debauchery…and those are just as fatal to fellowship as the ones we think are “really bad”. So, when we habitually make choices that feed the old sin nature—the books we read, the conversations we engage in, jokes we tell, movies we watch, how we spend our money, who we want to be around—and who we shun, and why— we can count on eventually reaping loss. In 1st Corinthians 3:10-16, Paul talks about the Judgment Seat of Christ—where our works will be judged, of what sort they are, whether good or worthless (the word in KJV is “bad”, but it is not in the moral sense, but the sense of value). Our sins are not in view, having been dealt with at the Cross, but Paul says that there will be those whose works are burned up, yet they themselves will be saved, though as one escaping through the flames. Not all works have eternal value.
“Sowing to the Spirit,” so far as I can tell, is just walking in the Spirit… faithfully being obedient, day by day, and moment by moment. It is not “great, heroic acts of service”, though those could be included. Jesus said, “he who is chief among you, let him be your slave.” That doesn’t sound very “heroic.” But Jesus said that is the mark of genuine “greatness” in the eyes of God.
So, how does one “reap eternal life?” Is Paul saying that this is how you earn eternal life? No—it can’t be earned at all. But there are things within the greater title of “eternal life” that certainly can be earned. For one thing, in John 17:3, Jesus said, “this is eternal life, that they may know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” So—does that only mean “being born again?” Actually, it means that if you want to experience eternal life today, every day, you have to be in a growing, living, obedient relationship with Jesus. The “ginosko” knowledge is the word used, there in John 17:3, and although it only means a “personal knowledge” of Christ, as in a personal acquaintance, not just a knowledge in terms of information, it also indicates an ongoing relationship. When I first “knew” Jesus I gained eternal life—and it is eternal; I can never lose it. But when I am in an ongoing relationship with Him, I experience that eternal life.
Years ago, I knew a man who was quite wealthy, in the sense that he owned many rental houses, and he personally maintained them. But he “owned nothing”, in the sense that his personal belongings included a mattress, a single cookpot, one set of eating utensils, a few changes of clothing, etc., and the tools with which he repaired the older, run-down “fixer-uppers” he bought to make into still more rentals. He had lost his wife (actually wives) to divorce, and his children to drugs and rebellion. He had lost his license to drive, through drinking; so he didn’t even have a vehicle. He would live in a house while he was renovating it, sleeping on the mattress on the floor, then have a friend drive him and his belongings to the next house, when that one was ready to rent. Yes, he was “wealthy”, if you want to call it that; but was he actually experiencing any of that wealth? No! He lived like a miser; in far poorer conditions than any of his renters.
There are eternal rewards listed, as well, that go along with Eternal life, and they are the direct result of “Sowing to the Spirit” on a continuing basis. But the daily experiencing of the reality of eternal life is dependent upon daily “knowing” Him.
Every farmer knows that the harvest requires patience. One does not sow today and hope for a crop tomorrow. One works all year, in faith that the harvest season will be the payoff. Paul exhorts us to press on, knowing our reward is sure: He says,
9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
I have never been a “real farmer”, though I have worked on farms, and have lived in farming communities most of my life. We have raised chickens for meat and eggs, and have tilled the soil and planted gardens (which gave rather haphazard results.) I can observe, however, in farming, that, although harvest is in a specific time of year, there is work to be done virtually all year, in preparation for (and in hope of) that harvest.
The difference is that even a good farmer can do absolutely everything right and finally have his crops wiped out by calamity: a hard, late freeze, a blight, a terrible rainstorm or hail during harvest time, a plague of insects, birds, or a fire in the ripe fields. A wheat field fire is a terrible thing, and very hot—it can wipe out not only the year’s work, but the lives of those trying to fight the fire.
Our work, on the other hand, is secure. We are to faithfully respond to God, and allow Him to control the temporal results, as well as to record the eternal results. We really can’t see the long-term results anyway. The Christian life is a lot more like potato farming than wheat, in some ways—the reward is underground, and out of sight until the harvest.
Notice, too, that the harvest here is not primarily in reference to a “harvest of souls.” Jeremiah, for example, had an absolutely faithful life of service, but a very hard ministry. As far as we know, during his lifetime, only two people responded well to his message—his sidekick, Baruch, and the Ethiopian eunuch, Ebed-melech. Everyone else, from the king on down, utterly rejected his message. But Jeremiah was completely faithful, and kept sowing the good seed. The reaping is twofold—He went to his reward more than 2500 years ago; and there have been millions since then who have read and believed the words he wrote…and have been blessed in turn.
Paul likens our work to that of a farmer. He says we are to press on, in full confidence that our reward is secure in Christ. But service is a privilege:
Service is a Privilege, and Open to All
This is an open invitation to all believers to “come to work with Jesus!” It’s an all-planet “bring your kids to work” day. Except that, we are not there to just “giggle, and gawk at what Daddy does for a living.” We are invited to come and work with Him! Can we do his work? Not without Him, no! But He doesn’t ask us to do that: He invites us to join Him in the fellowship of the Gospel.
Take a peek over at Philippians 1:5. Paul commends the believers there for their “fellowship in the Gospel” with him: their participation with him; their partnership with him. That’s what “fellowship” means, folks! If we walk in fellowship with Jesus, it means we choose to work as partners with Him in the job of world evangelism; the job of feeding the flock, and the job of seeking the lost ones for whom he died. His whole goal is to offer eternal life as a gift to all who will come to Him to get it. He says, “Whosoever will may come!” We join him in that work, and we invite people to Him, loving them; reaching out to them, and faithfully walking with Him, to set an example, to demonstrate the Grace of God and the Love of Christ, and to serve as ambassadors of Christ. Paul says,
10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.
This life is the only opportunity we have to “do good.” We may think we will just “hang on and wait for Jesus to come”, but that is not at all what he commanded. We are to work while we have the opportunity to serve with Him. We already have eternal life; that is not the issue. We are serving out of love, and sowing in hopes of an eternal reward. We are to pay special attention to loving other believers, because Jesus said this is one of our two strongest testimonies. He said “by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another.” (John 13:35) We are to give special attention to maintaining unity, because Jesus said that our unity is our evidence to the world, that He is the Messiah, sent from God. (John 17:21) Unfortunately, historically speaking, the church has failed miserably in both those arenas. But, regardless of our past failures, Jesus has invited you, today, to come and quietly walk with Him, and receive his blessing. Will you do it?
Will you join Him as his partner in the work? Only you were able to choose to receive Him as your savior. No one else could choose for you, and no one could keep you from making that choice. Only you can choose today to walk with Jesus, and to quietly, lovingly, humbly follow his leading, and obey His Word.
A Harvest of Souls
So what about a “harvest of souls?” Isn’t that part of what we are hoping for? Didn’t Jesus say that we were to lead others to Him? Isn’t that a priority?
It certainly is! In fact Proverbs 11:30 says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he that winneth souls is wise”. So that is a high priority, and definitely part of the Law of the Harvest. Then, what do we sow, in order to reap a “harvest of souls?” We sow the Agapé love of Christ, and the Gospel (the good news) of God’s Grace.
In John 5:23, Jesus said, “He that heareth my words, and believeth on Him that sent me, Hath everlasting life, and shall not come into Condemnation, but is passed from death into life.” That is what we have to offer to all who will listen: Jesus says we can have eternal life now, not waiting until we die to find out if we “made the cut.” He says that those who have trusted in Him will never be condemned. And he says that they have eternally crossed over from death to life…never to be lost again.
That is the good news we call the Gospel: Jesus died for our sins, in fulfillment of the prophetic scriptures; He was buried, and rose again the third day, still in fulfillment of the prophetic scriptures. Those who believe that message, trusting Jesus’s finished work at the Cross—His shed blood—as full payment for their sins, are born again, and shall never perish. That is the personal promise of Jesus to all who believe. And, that’s the seed we are sent to sow in the world.
Sometimes it isn’t easy: Psalm 126:5, 6 says, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” Jeremiah was called the “weeping prophet” because he had such a grievous ministry. But he pressed on, and we are still benefitting from his work.
The apostle Paul had a hard ministry, but his life and death laid the foundation of the Gospel in countless lives and is still doing so today. Will join him in the fellowship of the Gospel? In the fellowship of suffering, if need be? The harvest is upon us!
Let’s keep on sowing that seed, and press on into the Harvest!
Make us conscious, moment by moment, of the result of obedience, and the magnitude of the Harvest into which we have been sent. We hope to reap reward, we yearn to reap the sure knowledge of your presence and blessing in our lives, and we pray for a harvest of souls in our own town, as well as in the ministries of the missionaries we support.
Grant us the Grace to walk with you, in your love, and in Your name.