The Law of the Harvest: God’s Plan for Spiritual Prosperity
October 7, 2001
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Over lunch this week, a friend and I discussed the spiritual implications of the terrorist attacks on America. My friend commented that this ought to be a wake-up call to every Christian to seek first the kingdom of God. It’s time for each of us to figure out what really matters and then get busy doing it. When the bombs fall and tall buildings crumble, it’s time for each of us to think about what we’ve been living for. As the Apostle John remarked, “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (I John 2:17). That’s a verse we ought to memorize and then tattoo on our souls. Since the things of this world won’t last forever, it doesn’t make sense for us to live as though they will.
We’ve got to find out what will last forever and then build our lives around those things. On Saturday afternoon Marlene and I attended the Homecoming football game at Oak Park-River Forest High School. After we paid our admission and entered the stadium, Marlene stopped to purchase a sweatshirt. While she was picking it out, I stood off to the side. A man passed by, looked at me for a moment, and then said, “Weren’t you Gary Olson’s pastor?” I smiled and said “Yes, I had been Gary’s pastor and also his good friend.” For many years, Gary taught at the high school and coached the football team. He had also been an elder of our church. His sudden death in 1999 shook thousands of people in our community. The man told me that he had known Gary well and commented that his death still seemed hard to believe. Then he spoke about how Gary’s life still impacted him in many different ways. About that time Marlene came up and we started to go find our seats. As we parted, the man offered this final comment: “Every day Gary would come up to me, put his arm on my shoulder and say, ‘Jim, are you ready?’” That was Gary’s favorite phrase, his way of reminding people that Jesus is coming back and we have to be ready to meet him.
Life is short and it is uncertain. As we have learned in recent days, no one is secure and the building has yet to be built that cannot be destroyed somehow, some way. Nothing is more important than building our lives upon eternal realities so that we will be ready to meet the Lord no matter what happens today or tomorrow.
Our text challenges us to think about this issue from the standpoint of sowing and reaping. It reminds us that choices have consequences and that God cannot be fooled. Even though we may fool ourselves, and we may think we are fooling God, he cannot be deceived. As the King James Version says, “God is not mocked.” Whatever we sow through the choices we make, that is what we will reap.
Galatians 6:6-10 contains seven principles that explain this “Law of the Harvest.” These seven principles point the way to true spiritual prosperity and the life God blesses. Before we begin, I’d like you to think about two questions.
1) What have you been sowing?
2) Are you happy with what you’ve been reaping?
Hold these questions in your mind because we’ll come back to them at the end. But first let’s look together at the seven principles that make up the “Law of the Harvest.”
Principle #1: Wherever you receive spiritual benefit, there you owe a spiritual debt.
“Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor” (Galatians 6:6).
This is a very general statement of responsibility with a very wide application. All of us receive “instruction in the word” from a variety of sources. It may be from a pastor or a Sunday School teacher, from a Vacation Bible School teacher, from a small group leader or from a personal mentor. Often we receive great help from radio and television Bible teachers. And many of us are instructed in the word by the books we read and the music we listen to. The list also includes Christian camps, colleges, Bible institutes and seminaries. The point is not where you receive the instruction but how you respond to it. If we want to reap a harvest of blessing, we must “share all good things” with those who instruct us in the things of the Lord. We owe a great debt of love and gratitude. And we owe a debt of encouragement and prayer. Often we will show our support in practical ways, such as through a financial gift.
If you have received a benefit, let that teacher or minister know. Tell them. Don’t wait. Do it. Paul says we “must” do this. It is a sacred obligation. If you are blessed by David Jeremiah or Chuck Swindoll or if James Dobson has benefited you or if you have been helped by some other ministry, don’t just be a taker. Be a giver as well. Loosen your purse strings and give them some support. You will be greatly blessed by God and those ministers and ministries will be enriched.
Principle #2: You reap only what you sow.
“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” (Galatians 6:7-8).
These verses have become famous over the years primarily as evangelistic texts, although that is not Paul’s primary application. He is still thinking about the pathway of God’s blessing for believers and he uses the illustration of sowing and reaping to drive the point home. The explanation goes like this: Since you always reap whatever you sow, generous giving (which is a kind of sowing) results in generous blessing (a kind of reaping).
The principle itself is easy to understand. If you plant apple seeds, apple trees are what you get. Plant pumpkin seeds in the spring and during October you harvest round, orange pumpkins. You can’t plant carrots and expect to harvest corn and you can’t plant wheat and expect to harvest rice. You reap only what you sow. That’s true in the spiritual realm as well.
Picture a country estate with two large fields. One is labeled Flesh, the other is labeled Spirit. Every day we have hundreds of chances to sow in one field or the other. In fact, I think everything we do is either sowing to the flesh or sowing to the Spirit. There is no third alternative. Every word we speak, every step we take, every chance conversation, even the tiniest decision leads us in one direction or the other. This includes what we read, how we dress, who we talk to, what we watch on TV, what we listen to on the radio, and where we surf on the Internet. It touches our habits, our leisure time, our secret dreams, the friends we hang out with, the video games we play, the places we eat lunch, the places we go on vacation, the way we treat our co-workers, the way we respond when we are mistreated, our prayer life, our time in the Word, our giving to the Lord’s work, our willingness to help others, the way we discipline our children, the way we respond to correction, and our willingness to share Christ with the lost. And that’s just a very short list. Life is a series of choices every day, and every choice is sowing a seed into the Flesh field or sowing a seed into the Spirit field.
We sow to the flesh when we pander to it, when we indulge our fantasies, when we give in to anger and bitterness, when we lose our temper, when we give in to gluttony, when we shirk our duties, when we lie about our actions, when we dabble in pornography and then excuse it as meaningless, when we lower our standards and compromise our convictions, in short, when we do any of the “works of the flesh” Paul mentions in Galatians 5:19-21. By contrast, sowing to the Spirit means living in the Spirit so that we constantly practice love, joy, peace, forgiveness, patience under pressure, gentleness to those who irritate us, and goodness to those in need. It is living under divine control so that the fruit of the Spirit dominates our thoughts, words and deeds.
Don’t miss the key point. You can’t sow to the flesh all day long and then complain when you reap a harvest of corruption in your life. What did you expect? Did you think you could be angry and bitter and grouchy and irritable and bossy and rude and quick-tempered and pugnacious and basically a Grade A jerk and then cancel it all with a quick prayer asking for God’s blessing? It doesn’t work that way.
Whatever you sow, you reap. And you reap only what you sow every day. So make sure you are sowing your seeds in the right field if you want to reap a harvest of God’s blessings.
Principle #3: You reap far more than what you sow.
This point is closely tied to the preceding one. An acorn is a tiny thing but it contains within itself a mighty, towering oak tree. A pumpkin seed is small compared with the massive pumpkin it produces. Even the smallest carrot is many times larger than the largest carrot seed. The size of the seed does not determine the size of the harvest. That’s why the text warns on the negative side: “Do not be deceived.” It is easy to deceive ourselves. You cannot escape the consequences of your actions. Sin always carries a high price tag. You can ignore God but you dare not laugh in his face. When you think you are getting away with sin, God says, “Judgment Day is coming.” You sow to the wind but you reap the whirlwind.
Some think that if no one knows, they have escaped. Or if it’s in the past, it’s forgotten forever. Or if they try to make it up by doing good or being religious, they can avoid punishment. It is not so. God will not be mocked. Sin always leaves its mark in us and on us. You can shoot an arrow into the sky and repent while it is in the air, but that won’t stop the arrow from hitting the ground. Repentance pardons your sin but it does not cancel its consequences.
Sow a thought, reap an action.
Sow an action, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap a character.
Sow a character, reap a destiny.
There is good news here as well. The devil pays off in compound interest—and so does God. And his rewards far outweigh the “pleasures of sin for a season.” If we keep on sowing to the Spirit, we will reap the harvest of godly character, answered prayer, a life in harmony with the Lord, and many blessings that come only to those whose ways please the Lord. The chorus of a beloved gospel song says it well:
Trust and obey for there’s no other way,
To be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.
No one will ever regret serving the Lord. There are rich rewards in this life—and unimagined glory in the life to come.
Principle #4: Reaping a godly harvest requires patience & persistence.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
Anyone who has ever farmed for a living knows exactly what this verse means. It’s one thing to plant a few tomatoes in your back yard; it’s something else to plant 5,000 acres of wheat. Full-time farming is a year-round task. You start early and you work late, 52 weeks a year. There is no end of the jobs to be done. Even during the winter there is equipment to maintain and preparation to be made for the upcoming planting season. You don’t get a harvest by accident and you can’t treat it as a weekend hobby. If you want the harvest, you’ve got to work when you feel like giving up.
This week I ran across a well-known quotation from Calvin Coolidge on the importance of persistence over the long haul: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with great talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence, determination alone are omnipotent.”
This is especially true in the spiritual realm. Because we live in a fallen world and deal constantly with fallen people, it’s easy to grow weary and say, “What’s the use?” Sometimes what we need is a little reality check:
Life is hard. Deal with it.
People are jerks. Love them anyway.
Things don’t go as we planned. Keep on moving forward.
People forget to say, “Thank you.” Help them anyway.
People are hardheaded. Share Christ with them anyway.
Not all your prayers are answered. Keep praying!
God doesn’t do what you think he should do? Trust him anyway!
You may be scared and filled with fear. Keep believing!
Your friends criticize you. Do right anyway!
Do you feel like quitting? It’s always too soon to quit.
Let us keep on sowing even if through our tears and with a weary heart. In the end we will rejoice when the harvest finally comes in.
At this point I feel like I should insert a football illustration—and so I will. All Chicago Bears fans know that the greatest running back in NFL history was Walter Payton. Although he was just 5’10” and 202 pounds, Payton set the all-time rushing record of 16,726 yards. During his 12-year career, Payton carried the football over nine miles. If you divide that number by the number of times he ran the ball, you discover an amazing statistic: He was knocked to the ground on average every 4.4 yards of those nine miles by someone bigger than himself. He set the record because every time someone knocked him down, he got up and ran the ball again. He kept getting up and getting up and getting up. That’s one of the overlooked secrets of greatness. When you are knocked down by discouragement, don’t stay down. Get up and get back in the game for the glory of God. Great victories await those with great endurance.
Here is all God asks of us: Don’t give up! Don’t stop! Don’t grow weary! Keep on going. There will be a wonderful harvest to come. That harvest will partly come in life and much of it will come when we finally get to heaven. Who knows? Perhaps we will look down from heaven and find out that we changed someone’s life simply because every day we said, “Are you ready?”
Principle #5: We must seize the opportunity before it dis-appears.
Our passage comes to a very practical end with a word of application: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10). The word “opportunity comes from the Greek word kairos, which is sometimes translated “time.” However, it’s not a word that means the passing of the hours one by one. It refers to those moments in life when a door of opportunity opens before us and we have a choice to make. Will we go through that door or will we hesitate until it closes?
We all have opportunities to do good if we will take them when they come. Every day there are moments when we can say a word of encouragement. There are times when we can get involved in solving someone’s problem if we will only take the time. Will we have the time or will our personal schedule keep us from listening and helping? You may be eating lunch when a co-worker begins to open up about her fears over the future in the light of the terrorist attacks. Millions of Americans are talking openly about God these days. This is a kairos moment for the Church of Jesus Christ if only we will take it.
But no door stays open forever. Opportunities come and then they go. A sculptor once showed his studio to a friend who spotted a very strange statue. It was the figure of a man with hair completely covering his face and wings on each foot. “What is the name of that statue?” he asked. The sculptor replied, “His name is Opportunity.” “Why is his face hidden?” “Because men seldom know when he comes to them.” “Why are there wings on his feet?” “Because he is soon gone, and when he departs, he cannot be overtaken.”
There are so many opportunities to the serve the Lord. It may involve teaching Sunday School, sending gospel books to New York City, restoring the fallen, praying for prisoners, visiting the sick and dying, teaching in the inner city, leading an Awana club, sharing Christ in some distant land, giving meals to the hungry, counseling the confused, saving a failing marriage, or giving money to someone in need. The list is endless because the needs of people are endless.
Principle #6: We owe a debt to the whole world.
Dr. George Washington Carver said it this way: “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.”
Our calling is to do good to all people. We owe a debt to the whole world. To Jew and Gentile, Muslim and Hindu, Buddhist and animist, to young and old, rich and poor, to the country dweller and to the city dweller, to the happy and to the sad, to the high and to the low, to those who please us and to those who displease us, to those we like and to those we can’t stand. Paul said, “I am a debtor to all men.” (See Romans 1:15.) Because of God’s grace to us, we owe something to everyone—to African, Asian, South American, European, Arab, Jew, and to every other nationality and ethnic group on earth. That debt is to show kindness to everyone and to do good wherever we can, whenever we can, however we can do it.
And the greatest good we can do is to share the greatest news in the world—the gospel of Jesus Christ. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, we took a special offering for disaster relief. In two Sundays our people gave almost $26,000. We channeled that money through the Disaster Relief Fund at Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City. This week we got a call from someone at Brooklyn Tabernacle thanking us for our gift. Then he asked this question: Would we mind if part of that money was used to support evangelism efforts to spread the gospel? Our answer was easy and immediate. We wouldn’t mind at all. It’s a good thing to feed the hungry and to bind up the wounded. It’s absolutely right that we should give so that hurting people have a place to stay and a way to rebuild their shattered lives. But if that’s all we do, if we stop there and do no more, we haven’t met their greatest need. People need Jesus! They need to hear the good news that God loves them so much that he sent his Son to the earth to die for them. They need to know that through the death of Christ, their sins can be forgiven and they can have eternal life as an absolutely free gift.
Let us do the greatest good and share Christ wherever we are with anyone who is willing to listen. And while we are at it, let’s do any other good that we can as well.
Principle #7: Start with the needs closest to you.
Paul’s final instruction is this: We are under a special obligation to show kindness to those who are part of the family of God. I interpret this broadly—not narrowly. Because our faith joins us with Christians everywhere, we have a sacred responsibility to do good to Christians everywhere. That certainly applies to the local church you attend but it reaches out to include other churches in your community, and Christian ministries of all kinds, and to missionaries in distant lands. And on a more personal basis, it means having a godly concern for fellow believers in your own family, on your own block, in your Sunday School class, and in the place where you work or go to school.
There is another way to say this. If we want to sow good seed, there is a simple way to do it. Start where you are! Start with the needs around you! Start with the people you know and meet and see every day. Then open your eyes to wider horizons. Pray for God to give you open doors. Pray the Jabez prayer. Ask God to give you more so you can do more for the Lord.
Look to your left and to your right. Look in front and behind you. Open your eyes and you will see needs on every hand. You can’t meet them all but you can do something.
And by the way, while you are thinking about your Christian giving, make sure you give to Christian ministries. After all, if we don’t support the Lord’s work, no one else will. In these days of national crisis, there are abundant opportunities to give to disaster relief. Many of us will find many ways to help out, from the Red Cross to a fund at your local public school. These are well and good and we pray that the money raised will alleviate the tremendous human suffering. But let us not forget those men and women who labor in the name of Christ both in the United States and around the world. They deserve our support and they cannot survive without it. We cannot expect unbelievers to give to Christian enterprises. Some may, and we do not turn their gifts away, but that is not how God’s work goes forward. Christian people must support Christian ministries or they will wither and die.
No church ever died by giving too much, but many churches have died by giving too little. It is impossible to be over-generous in the work of the Lord. We ought to give and then give again and keep on giving. Why? Because when you give to God, you are sowing to the Spirit and from the Spirit you will reap a vast harvest.
I know that some people will say that this sermon reinforces the notion that Christians are nothing but a bunch of “do-gooders.” But I recall that in Acts 10:38 Peter summarized the ministry of Jesus by saying that “he went around doing good.” So I suppose that being called a “do-gooder” is a nice compliment. The world would be a better place if we had more “do-gooders.” And I’d much rather be a “do-gooder” than a “do-badder.” For that matter, I’d rather be a “do-gooder” than a “do-nothing-at-all.”
Don’t complain that the world is dark. Light a candle instead. Is this not what Jesus meant when he said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven?” (Matthew 5:16). The good deeds that we perform, when done in Jesus’ name, shine a light in the darkness and point others toward God.
Not long ago I received a copy of an e-mail that a young man wrote to his father. I was so moved by what he said that I am reproducing part of it here:
I know there is nothing in this world for me. I have recently really been thinking that. I am not made to be an architect, or a businessman, or a laborer, or a smoothie maker, or a full time rock and roll dude. God made me uniquely and specially, to perform nothing less than wholehearted service for his kingdom. Now, I don’t know exactly what that means, but that’s not important this second. It’s just the truth behind it. God wants my heart, and he will be faithful to lead me when he has it. I know that I am made for his service in some way, shape or form. Whether I am to travel to the corners of the world, or be part of a ministry in the states, I don’t know. But my heart will not settle unless I am doing the perfect will of God, and this I know deep inside. I am like David … I fall, sometimes terribly, and I make mistakes, and so often I go to bed ending my day with a sincere apology to my God … and I have come to this … I am sick of doing that. I am sick of living a mediocre life. I’m sick of coasting, and living a halfhearted life serving no real purpose. As it’s said in my favorite movie, the Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’” and for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.
I wonder how many of us would say what he said: “I am sick of living a mediocre life. I’m sick of coasting, and living a halfhearted life serving no real purpose.” Here is a young man who has found a reason for living that goes beyond making money or building a career. He has latched onto eternal realities that many Christians never discover.
How many more buildings will have to crumble before the rest of us come to the same conclusion? This world is passing away. Those who live solely for the things of this world are building sand castles in the air. They will come to the end of life with nothing of eternal value to show for their efforts.
It’s time for God’s people to heed the message. Life is short; life is precious. Seek first the kingdom of God. Stop sowing to the flesh. Start sowing to the Spirit.
Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.
I’d like to repeat those two questions I asked in the beginning and ask you to ponder them again in the light of what God’s Word says.
1) What have you been sowing?
2) Are you happy with what you’ve been reaping?
If the answer to the second question is no, what do you plan to do about it?
Lord Jesus, so many of us have been sleepwalking through life, going through the motions, sowing to the flesh, frittering away our opportunities, and ignoring the needs around us. Teach us to count our days and then teach us to make our days count. Wake us up, Lord! Shake us up. Do whatever it takes to get our attention. Help us to get busy living for you. Amen.