Phil Cox

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Sowing, Reaping and Ploughing

29th March 2007

"As you sow, so shall you reap". It's a well-known phrase. And, like many other popular sayings, it comes from the Bible:

Galatians 6:7
... A man reaps what he sows.

The NKJV, RSV and Weymouth Bible all translate this as:

whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.

I think most of us like the idea of divine (or, some would prefer, "cosmic") justice in this idea. But WHY should we believe it to be true? As you might expect, the Bible tells us why it's true, and how it gets worked out. Here's the context of the phrase:

Galatians 6:7-9
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Do not be deceived! there truly is divine justice!

The reason why divine justice exists is God cannot be mocked. The One who created us and who gave us the Bible to teach us how to live is also the judge of all the Earth (Genesis 18:25). And He will not stand idly by while His teachings are ignored or ridiculed. He will hold us all to account - sooner or later.

We get the choice: sow to please what the NIV calls the "sinful nature" (and most translations call "the flesh") or sow to please the Holy Spirit. The Bible uses the term "the sinful nature" or "the flesh" to mean who we were (or are) before we're born again through faith in Jesus Christ. If we have been born again into God's kingdom, we are a new person - spiritually alive, in relationship with God:

2 Corinthians 5:17-18
...if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ...

But our old nature is still battling away within us:

Romans 7:22-23
...in my inner being I delight in Godís law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind...

At any moment, we can choose to yield to the demands of the flesh, or to the urgings of the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 4:22-24
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

And "A man reaps what he sows" - the choice you make will always have consequences. Every sin you commit and every loving act you do will make a difference to the future - both for you and for others. Just as what a farmer chooses to sow in his field will affect what he harvests later in the year.

And there may be a time delay between sowing and reaping. Sometimes, we try to live right but don't see much evidence of God's blessing. But a farmer isn't surprised that the seed takes time to grow and bear fruit. And the passage we read in Galatians promises us that "at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up".

Here's another Bible passage that talks about sowing and reaping:

Hosea 10:12-13
Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unploughed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you. But you have planted wickedness, you have reaped evil, you have eaten the fruit of deception. Because you have depended on your own strength...

It's the same sort of idea - sow righteousness, reap unfailing love. That is, do what is loving and good, and God will prove His love to you.

But there's a bit more in here. Firstly, part of "sowing righteousness" is seeking the Lord - prayer. No-one can live right without prayer.

Secondly, the prophet tells us: break up your unploughed ground. You can't sow seed successfully in unploughed ground. For the seed to take root, and bear fruit in due time, the ground must first be broken up so that it can receive the seed. Does this remind you of the parable of the sower? Jesus told that story (in Matthew Chapter 13) to explain that the fruitfulness of the seed - which is the word of God - depends on the receptiveness of the human heart that receives it.

It's a simple agricultural metaphor - a farmer may own several fields, some of which are ripe for seeding and some of which need to be ploughed before seeding can be effective. In the same way, a man or woman can have some areas in their heart - their understanding and emotions - which are receptive to God, to the Bible and to the needs of others. And they can have other areas where they remain hardened to these things - hard-hearted, in fact. I know of many lovely Christian people who are genuinely tender-hearted in many ways, but remain resistant to God, the Bible or other people in some ways (actually, we all do, to some extent).

Maybe this is why, in Matthew 13, Jesus talks about the seed in good ground "yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown"; Maybe our fruitfulness - and our reward - depends on how much of the "ground" of our hearts are still unploughed, and how much has been broken up so we can receive and live out His word.

This is one answer to the question of why many Christian people, whom God loves, suffer so much pain in their lives. Pain is one way that the unploughed ground gets broken up. Harrowing experiences are horrible, but they can have the effect of harrowing - breaking up hardness in - our hearts. Those who can accept that their sufferings are for their good have received a great gift.

We should examine ourselves as a farmer would evaluate his land. What's ready to bear fruit and what still needs to be broken up first? And then let's ask God to help us to plough those areas of our hearts which (for whatever reason) are still hard, so that we will yield maximum fruit and gain maximum reward.