The Call to Persistence

Galatians 6:7-10, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Scripture is filled with living pictures, created by God and pointing to greater realities. One of these pictures is that of sowing and reaping. Sowing in ancient times was not like planting a garden today. We plant in rows, digging holes and covering them a bit at a time. The people in Jesus’ time would turn the ground over and scatter seed. This could look haphazard, but it was needed. As in Jesus’ parable of the Sower, only some seed would grow to fruition.

The apostle Paul uses sowing and reaping to give the church at Galatia hope in their work. The early portion of that particular letter is scathing in its rebuke of the legalistic teaching that abounded in the Galatian church at the time. But toward the end, he returns to a common exhortation found in many of his letters – the call to bless and do good to one another.

The idea of “doing good” is an offense to no one. It sounds nice, pleasant, like a shallow stream running softly over rocks. Yet Paul’s call to “do good” is not a humanitarian appeal to be nice to people. It’s Paul’s shorthand way of saying, “Pursue the things I’ve told you in this letter: put away self-righteousness, kill sinful desires, and sacrificially love one another.”

That brings us to this particular passage. You’ve probably heard the proverb, “You reap what you sow.” That’s an indirect quotation of Galatians 6:7. Yet we can’t neglect the first part of the verse, warning us that God is not mocked. Conservative Christians would all agree that those who live wickedly will suffer for their sins. Yet Paul’s exhortation in this book is against establishing your self-righteousness, creating man-made standards that we expect others to follow, and judging them when they don’t. Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 7:1-2, where He warns that the standards we apply to others are the same standards by which we will be judged. The Galatian church’s greatest danger was not condoning debauched lifestyles. It was exchanging the gospel of Christ for a set of Old Covenant rules that could never make one righteous. To create our standards for righteousness is to mock God and His plan. When we sow seeds of flesh-pleasing self-righteousness, the harvest is hard hearts and bitter fruit. On the other hand, when we sow “to the Spirit,” that is, love God, kill sin, and love one another, the harvest is everlasting life.

That sounds great, but as we all know, sowing in the Spirit is hard work. Sure it may be easy to do at first, but over time the work gets more difficult. If you’ve ever cultivated a garden, you know what this is like. You have enthusiasm at first, planting the seed and anticipating the luscious fruit and vegetables that will grow. Then the weeds come. One year there’s not enough rain; the next year there’s too much rain. After a while you’re tempted to give up; it’s a lot easier to buy fresh produce from the grocery store than grow it yourself. But you can’t buy the fruit of the Spirit at Walmart (it would be out of stock, anyway). You must plant, protect, water, fertilize…and wait.

Waiting is the hardest part. Sometimes we think we should be further along, things should be moving faster. “Haven’t I been at this for a while? Why is this not working as it should?” It gets tiring when you try to do what you’re supposed to, whether parenting a difficult child, dealing with a frustrating co-worker, or working hard on a project, only to see more problems crop up and no noticeable improvement. We feel like there’s no use in trying. Sometimes a lack of results is a clue that we should change something, like the gardener who discovers that he is overfertilizing his crops. The rest of the time, our job is to be patient.

Paul understood this, which is why he encourages the church to not give up on their work. “Let us not grow weary while doing good,” he says, “for in due season we shall reap if we don’t lose heart.” The church two-thousand years ago had the same trouble, the same temptation to give up in their good work, that we have. This is no empty pep-talk, like a football coach telling his team “We can still win,” despite being down 66-0 at halftime. Paul’s hope is grounded in the God who governs creation. The same God who causes plants to grow will reward our diligent work in His good time.

The key to reaping, according to the apostle, is persistence. Unlike some gardening, where we plant, weed, and mostly wait, the good work of the Christian life is continuous. We must give ourselves to it every day. The harvest will come, but it only comes with patience, which is nurtured by hope.

What how then, do we do to maintain our hope during our work? First, keep your eyes on the long-term goal. If you are a parent, don’t try to judge your child’s daily progress, which will frustrate you and your child. Don’t lash out at your boss because he won’t listen to your ideas. In time your ideas will be needed, or you may not even work there. Regardless, impatiently checking for fruit makes things worse. Second, talk to someone who will encourage you. We all know people who bless us. When you need it, make time to talk with that person who will listen and remind you of the good. Lastly, remember that God is doing things you can’t see. We don’t have the spiritual sight to see how He is working in us and through us. It can help to read the stories in Scripture where we see God working in and through people while they don’t know it (Joseph and Esther, for example). Trust that God is working.

Dear saint of God, you may think that no one sees what you are doing, or that it does not matter. I can assure you, your Heavenly Father sees and knows. Every work you do, every word you speak has eternal significance. Every day you are planting seed, not just for yourself, but for God’s kingdom. In time it will yield fruit, not just for you, but to the blessing and life of others. In God’s due season, you will reap if you don’t lose heart.

Matt Carpenter is the Associate Pastor at Trinity Reformed Church. He taught history for fifteen years and has served in pastoral ministry for eleven years. He is married to Amanda and they have four children: Phoebe, Simeon, Emmaline, and Olivia. In his spare time he enjoys cooking, reading, hiking, and fishing.