Sowing And Reaping
Notes of an address
I want tonight to speak about sowing and reaping; a very important feature of teaching in the Old Testament and in the New. At the very outset, in creation God established the principle that never alters, never has altered, and never will alter, that whatever is sown produces a certain crop "after its kind". When God created the herbs, the trees, He created them in this fashion that in them they had the ability to reproduce "after its kind" (Gen.1:11). We know from observation and it has been from the very beginning that an apple seed brings forth an apple tree and eventually produces apples, and so that principle is all through the Scriptures. In moral matters, in spiritual matters, the teaching provides the same principle. What we sow we reap.
"Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours." (John 4:34-38)
I have selected this first passage in John 4 to show it from an encouraging standpoint. The Lord said to His disciples, 'I have got a work to do and my joy is to continue in that work until it is finished for the glory of God according to His mind and will. That is the consuming desire that I have in my life, that is my food, my meat in life, to do the will of Him who has sent Me'. Then He said, 'This is My joy, but I want you to be occupied in work in this world. Lift up your eyes now, look on the fields, they are white already to harvest, there is plenty to do. Get into the fields, get some reaping done, and when the fruit is gathered in, then shall be brought to pass that true saying that he who sows and he who reaps rejoice together in fellowship in the production of that fruit', doubtless for God. The Lord was encouraging His disciples to be concerned about working for God, and I think it is obvious from what He says there was plenty to do. There was plenty to do in His day, and we can say again, there is plenty to do in our day, either in an individual way, or in a collective sense, there is plenty to do.
"I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields......"
There is a great deal of encouragement here, and the inference is that sometimes our eyes are looking elsewhere. We are not occupied with the Lord's work, we are so blind because we are occupied with other things so that we cannot see things to do for the Lord. So He might say to us, as He said to His disciples, "Lift up your eyes, look around, there are fields that can be reaped, they only require labourers to enter into them', and, if we go under the direction of the Master, we will find there is work that will return a good profit and there will be fruit for God. Now He said that to His disciples in His day and we know that eventually their lives were thoroughly committed to the interests of the Lord, to the interests of God and to the well-being of unconverted and Christian alike, and most of them laid down their lives in the service of the Master. There could be no doubt as to their devotion in the service for the Lord. Their day and generation has gone, they have served their day and generation. We live in our day with our opportunities, and the Lord is speaking to us when He says, "lift up your eyes, increase your vision, have a look round about and see what can be done. Seek guidance from the Lord and He will give the direction that is necessary, and be thoroughly committed to His interests and take part in some of this reaping activity or the sowing activity so that there might be something for the pleasure of the Lord".
What the Lord is encouraging us to do here is to see the possibilities that lie in this kind of work. We bemoan the low condition of things today, both individually and collectively. I am sure we have all been deeply concerned as to this condition of things, and if we continue to moan about it or be concerned about it and do nothing about it then it will never improve, but if we look around to have our vision increased and enlarged by the Lord Himself, and if we are all as a result actively engaged in doing something in the reaping and the sowing, however small it might be, then things are going to change. And so the Lord is encouraging us, not only to do something that is important, but to see to it that the very practical principle of fellowship is involved in it too, the reaper and the sower rejoicing together.
There is no preacher of the gospel that has ever gone forth to serve the Lord and had success in his work who could say that it was all the result of his prayers and his service. No servant worth his salt would ever say such a thing. He would readily admit that every success he had had in the Lord's service was because others were praying and others had worked in some way or other and that both he and they were working together to secure this fruit for God. So it must ever be. We are not all called to be sowers, we are not all called to be reapers, but we can all do some little service, we can all plant some seed. I am sure that every tract that is given away is some seed sown. Every word spoken for the Lord is some seed sown. Every quotation of the word of God to a soul in need is seed sown. Every word of God quoted to a Christian for his encouragement is seed sown. Every kind act shown toward either converted or unconverted is seed sown. This is how we do it, and all this in the aggregate, in the power of the Holy Spirit is going to produce fruit. It must be on the basis of the Scriptural principle, if seed is sown it bears fruit. But the Lord is indicating we must do something about it, we must make sure that we are actively engaged in this kind of work. We look on some field, we see that something needs to be done and then we do it under the direction of the Lord. And we do want to know more about rejoicing. The Lord said the reaper and the sower, when the work is all done, when something is accomplished for the Lord's glory, rejoice together. I think it is wise that we make sure we are under His hand, after all, He was saying to them, 'Look round about you, look on the fields', He was directing them and we can be sure of this, that if we are under His direction we shall be led unerringly into the field of His choice for us so that something will be produced for His pleasure and His glory.
"......for they are white already to harvest."
We live in a country where I believe we are well supplied, broadly speaking, with able ministers of the word of God. There is a continual supply of ministry available for us to read for our encouragement, but it is very sad to know that there are places in the world at the moment where they are crying out for Christian teachers because of new converts who have been brought to the Lord Jesus Christ who require ministry for their upbuilding and for their health, and there are not enough teachers to go around in that locality. So here is a field that requires to be reaped at the present moment. Here is something we can pray about, that the Lord will raise up those who are able to minister the truth of God to those newly converted souls. We were saying this afternoon, concerning the parable of the sower, that souls that were not established could be led by various influences away from the Lord, so there is a great need for soul establishing ministry that those who are converted might stand and bring forth fruit for God. Here is something to exercise every soul, the Lord indicating that there are abundant opportunities for service for His pleasure and for His glory.
"He which soweth sparingly shall reap sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." (2 Cor.9:6)
When we come to 2 Corinthians 9 we find the apostle bringing forward a very important feature of teaching connected with this principle of sowing and reaping. The background is that there was need amongst the people of God of a practical kind, saints were poor and required help and the Corinthian believers could play their part in this service. It seems that at one time they had expressed that they were willing to help in this matter but they had been somewhat behind in fulfilling this exercise, and so the apostle encouraged them, "Now brethren, it is time you were really fulfilling what you intended to do', and so he says, 'If you sow sparingly you will reap sparingly, but if you sow bountifully then you will reap bountifully'. Who can fail to understand this simple figure? It is a very pointed challenge. We might take account of our lives and we might say, 'Well, there has not been much in my life for the Lord' and we would need to apply this principle taught by the apostle and say, 'Well, the reason is we have not sown bountifully. The reason why we have not reaped a good healthy crop is because we have not sown in a bountiful way'.
The Scripture records a very interesting thing about Isaac, it says, "Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year an hundredfold" (Gen.26:12). I do not think that means that he reaped a hundred percent, that every seed that he put into the ground germinated. I believe it indicates that he reaped a very substantial crop and this is what we would desire in our lives. The Lord blessed Isaac, the Lord was with Isaac, the Lord made promises to Isaac, and the very fact that he sowed and his harvest was a bumper one was an indication of how God was with this remarkable man. God fulfilled His promise, He was with him, He blessed him and He supported him. What we see in figure in Isaac can be seen in our lives. If we make room for the Lord in our lives, if we take account of the promises that He has given to us and the blessings He has made available to us, and if we sow in that sense then we can expect to get what Isaac got, a harvest that was really a striking token of God's blessing and power.
We have to admit with shame that one of the reasons for our spiritual poverty is that we have sown sparingly. How does this operate? If we give little time to the reading of the word of God how can we possibly expect to understand it? How can we possibly expect to grow in the knowledge and appreciation of that word if our examination of it each day is a brief one? And perhaps many days go by without even a brief visit to the word of God. If this is the case how can we possibly become able exponents of the word of God? If we give little time to prayer how can we possibly expect answers that will be a blessing for us in our lives? If we give little time to service how can we possibly expect fruit? And so we could go on, that if we use our time very sparingly in the service of the Lord how can we possibly expect fruitfulness in our lives in all its varied ways? We have to face this. Prosperity in divine things is mainly connected with the amount of time that we put in to it. It is so in secular things. How can we expect to have a thriving business if we lie in our beds half the week and give very little attention to the things that require attention? We must be diligent, we must give time, we must be active in relation to these secular matters otherwise things will fall behind. If we only go once a month into the garden what kind of garden do we expect to have? what kind of flowers do we expect to grow? The weeds will take over and everything will be overgrown and out of hand. This is exactly the figure that is drawn in the book of Proverbs. Look at the garden of the sluggard or slothful man, the wall is broken down, the weeds are all over the place, and he is lying and enjoying himself, he is gratifying himself while his garden is an awful mess (Prov.24:30-34). Our gardens - our lives - might possibly be like that spiritually because of slothfulness and neglect, because we have not given enough time, we have not sown bountifully and so we do not reap bountifully. I am perfectly sure of this, dear brethren, that this is part of our trouble spiritually, we do not give enough time to it, and we cannot afford to waste time. I know that in these days time can be very difficult to obtain because of the pressures of work and home and other things, but the Lord takes this into account and if we do organise our lives, what time we can find! I believe He will turn those few moments into good account if we give them to Him, apply them in that sense, but if we are careless and casual in our approach to these things we cannot possibly make progress, we cannot possibly reap fruit for the Lord's glory.
Now in this section in 2 Corinthians what Paul is insisting upon is again the principle of fellowship because other persons are in need, and we have got to be diligent to meet that need. In this case it was a material one but I want to apply it in relation to our collective experiences, our collective energies. If we sow sparingly, that is, if we attend the meetings once a week at the breaking of bread and then we forget about the weeknight Bible reading or the weeknight prayer meeting, well, this is sowing sparingly, this is not supporting the interests of the Lord in the local company and if our prayers are only made once a month in connection with local interests this again is sowing sparingly and so we could go on. We are to examine ourselves, how much energy, how much time do we put into fellowship matters in a local sense? Sometimes we are looking for a great deal from the fellowship, but what do we put into it? The apostle is insisting here that we sow bountifully, that we put something in with a view to getting something out. That is a well known principle in the garden. What folly for anyone to look at the earth and say, 'Well I hope that some turnips come up here, I would like some turnips', and not to sow some turnip seeds. What folly! And yet sadly this is the attitude that we can adopt towards the company of Christians. We want to get something out but oh, how sad it is that we put nothing in! How can we expect to get something out if we make no endeavour to put something in? So Paul says, 'Brethren, sow bountifully and there will be a bountiful reaping! and there is nothing so happy in Christian life and experience and service as being devoted, doing something, putting something in so that there is something available for others. The happiest service is to be a provider for others (Acts 20:35). Every soul that provides is provided bountifully for himself. This is a principle that is seen again and again and it is worthwhile putting into practice.
Then in verse 10 Paul says that it is God who provides the seed so that things can grow, so that fruit can come to light, it is God who is the real source of all fruitfulness and blessing; and we know that so very well. We know that we can provide the very best seed for our gardens, we can till the ground, we can do everything that the gardening books tells us to, but if we do not get the rain and if we do not get the sunshine then nothing will happen. God is the One who provides all the food that we eat, everything that is good comes from the hand of God and it is beneficence and kindness and love that He provides for mankind. 'Oh,' you might say as you look on the shelves of the shop with the tins and the jars and the packages, 'Man is a very clever being, he provides quite sufficient for himself'. Does he? Take all the wrappings away and what are the basic commodities that are there? Everything comes from the ground, everything that God has provided. Man may dress it up, he may put it through certain processes but basically it came from the good earth, it came from God. Paul says to the Corinthians, "I have planted, Apollos watered but God gave the increase" (1 Cor.3:4) and so we are very thankful that, although we have been stressing what is personal in endeavour in view of the collective position, we are thankful to fall back on the sovereignty of our God who supplies us with the seed to sow and the rain and the heat to make the seed grow. In other words, in spiritual things, while we endeavour to do things as guided by the word of God the One who has the final say is God Himself. In His wisdom He provides the fruit just as it is required.
"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption: he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." (Gal.6:7-9)
Now we come to this very solemn passage in many respects in the epistle to the Galatians, and yet it is encouraging too. What Paul is saying as guided by the Spirit is that if we sow to what is evil we shall reap evil, but if we sow to what is good and pure and precious we shall reap accordingly. You remember the Lord Jesus told the story of a man who sowed good seed in his field, and while his servants slept an enemy came and sowed darnel, tares, weeds, in the field, and eventually when the seeds grew they found that there was good seed and weeds all mingled together and the servants were astounded, 'Did we not sow good seed in the field? Where then have the weeds come from?' and the Lord had to tell them that while they slept an enemy had sown the weeds (Matt.13:24-30). This is exactly what Paul is saying in the epistle to the Galatians, the good seed is sowing to the Spirit and reaping from the Spirit all that is precious, all that is abiding, all that is eternal, all that is marked by life and vitality according to God. Sowing to what is wicked we reap all that is wicked. It is a principle that never alters, even in the affairs of men this holds true, you reap whatever you sow. How can it be otherwise?
This is so in the affairs of men, and it is so in a Christian's life. Paul is reminding the Galatians that, as far as this context is concerned, we are either sowing to the flesh or we are sowing to the Spirit, there are no in betweens. We are either making provision to reap something that gratifies our hearts personally or we are sowing to the Spirit that there might be something reaped in our lives that is for the pleasure of God. So here again the challenge is to each one of us, are we sowing to the Spirit or are we sowing to the flesh?
As a young Christian it was often a snare, as far as I was concerned, the question of reading. I loved to read and very often my natural heart desired to read something that pleased my natural mind. There would be a pull towards my Bible naturally, as I was a Christian, and so the conflict was often waging, 'Will I spend time with my Bible or will I spend my time with this novel or this book that I like so much?' Well, sadly, I have to say, so very often the book that could provide nothing for me spiritually won. Then I was sowing to the flesh, I was providing the flesh with an opportunity to produce fruit that certainly was not pleasing to God. I was gratifying my own natural desire, and time that could have been better spent was being wasted. Of course, if that book was portraying something highly sensational then it created a desire in my heart to be where those sensational events were taking place or to be occupied with them in some way and this is the kind of crop it produces, you become like the thing you are occupied with. It creates desires. Now then, if on the occasions of which I am thankful to say there were, when I turned away from those books and read my Bible then things were different. The reading of this pure and holy book created other desires contrary to those natural desires. As I read the service, for instance, of devoted men of God then this created desires and when I read about the pure life of Christ, when I read about the life of Paul, when I read about incidents in the Bible that were encouraging it stimulated spiritual desire. Here was a good kind of crop.
The things we are occupied with are the things that govern our lives and produce either a crop for God or contrariwise, something that is of no value, and so Paul says, 'Brethren, do not let us be debtors to the flesh, let us apply our lives to sowing to the Spirit, give the Spirit of God the opportunity to produce in our lives the things that are pleasurable to God'.
In the previous chapter we are told about the fruit of the Spirit, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance". What a lovely crop this is. I believe these things can be produced in our lives as we sow to the Spirit, that is, as we allow the Spirit in our lives to produce these things. There are none of the things we were reading about this afternoon, no birds who come and snatch away the seed, no rocky ground, the weeds or the shrubs, which prevent the seed from growing, all these things are the production of the flesh. However, if all these things are cleared away from our lives we allow the Spirit of God to produce in us those features of Christ, features that are so pleasurable to God. Let us be sure, dear young Christians, that early in our lives we apply ourselves to sowing to the Spirit and avoid like the plague sowing to the flesh. Sowing to the flesh will never produce anything in your life that will help you as a Christian and will never produce anything in your life for God, you will never be like Isaac reaping a hundred fold, you will never be one who in any way will stand for God. Sow to the Spirit, make sure that the things that you sow are pure and clean and wholesome and upright before God, and you will produce these features that we have been reading of, features of peace and love and uprightness and temperance against which there is no law.
So let us take courage because Paul says, "In due season we shall reap, if we faint not". 'Oh', you say, 'these things are so slow in my life, this is why I give up in despair.' Paul says 'Keep going on, keep sowing because you will reap eventually and that reaping will be well worthwhile, that harvest will be precious to God and it will be something worthwhile in your life'.
"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." (Ps.126:5-6)
Lastly we come to this delightful psalm. I have heard that the figure employed here is the man with nothing to eat in his home and all that he has is some seed and he is faced with this problem, 'Will I use this seed, grind it, make flour and eat it filling me now but then there is no future, or will I take this and plant it, going hungry for the present, but then expect a crop and so get more fruit in the long term not only for myself but for my wife, my children and for others?' So he says. 'I will plant it' and, because the position is so acute as he goes forward and sows the seed, he weeps. But then the crop comes and there is sufficient for all. Oh, the joy, after all the sorrow because of the pressure of circumstances when now the time has come, when the reaping is taking place and there is a bountiful harvest and every problem is being met, there is an abundance of food available for all, all the sorrow and sacrifice has been well worthwhile. I have heard that this is an interpretation of the passage. It may be so, I do not know, but it is certainly an interesting one. But we cannot mistake the plain teaching of the passage that here is a situation that involves tears, pressure, anxiety but it is turned to joy and instead of this condition of pressure there is a condition of rejoicing.
This is one of the patterns of the Christian life. It is not all happiness, it is not all success, it is not all easy, there is sorrow, pressure, difficulties, problems, but oh, when we go forth sowing the precious seed and leave all in the hands of God there is the time of blessing and fruitfulness and then there is the realisation that every exercise has been well worthwhile and it brings joy. It has brought with it a corresponding fruit that is a joy, a pleasure, that creates this satisfaction in the heart. It was so pre-eminently in relation to our Lord Jesus. What pressures He endured. We think of the sorrows of the cross and oh, what it meant to Him personally, but, oh, we are thankful that for Him sorrow's night was soon over and He became the man of joy "anointed...... with the oil of gladness above thy fellows" (Heb.1:9), and glorified "at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb.12:2). The sorrow was over forever and joy was His experience. You remember at the end of Psalm 16 it was said of Him prophetically, speaking to His God, "In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (v.11).
If we were to ask the Lord here this evening, 'Was it worthwhile, the sorrow of the cross?' Oh, we could hear His ringing, triumphant voice, 'Well worthwhile!' When He entered into His Father's presence to receive His Father's joy, oh, that was well worthwhile, and then to gather in the lost and to see the purpose of God being fulfilled in perfection, that too was well worthwhile; all the sorrow and all the pressure. Ask the saints of God (if we could ask them), 'Was it worthwhile to endure the stake, the burning and the torture? was it worthwhile?' And they would say, 'Well worthwhile. We preserved for others who were to follow the liberty to stand for God, to worship God, to serve God'. Ask Christians today who have gone through pressure of various kinds, 'Was it worthwhile to sow that seed in sorrow and difficulty and pressure and scorn and rejection? Would it not have been better to please yourselves and take it easy?' 'No,' they would say, 'It was well worthwhile, it was the pathway of the Master, it was the will of God, and we reaped the harvest of joy and satisfaction that proves it has been well worthwhile.'
Let us sow in this way, let us be prepared to sow even though it means tears, pressure, difficulty, scorn, misunderstanding, provided that what we reap is for the pleasure of God and the blessing of others. May it be so for His name's sake.