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“Choices Have Consequences”

Galatians 6:7-10
Bob DeGray
June 19, 2005

Key Sentence

Your choices can make things better - or worse.

Outline

I. The Law of Sowing and Reaping (Galatians 6:7)
II. The Heart of Sowing and Reaping (Galatians 6:8)
III. The Demand of Sowing and Reaping (Galatians 6:9-10)


Message

        Our family enjoyed an extended visit this month with Alex Stobie, who was our foster child for eighteen months or so when he was four. Alex was adopted by our friends Harry and Maria Stobie, and he’s doing well, but he really struggled when he was in our home. His behavior was almost uncontrollable, and his temper, especially toward Gail, was volcanic. So we worked hard to try to build some self-discipline into Alex’s life. We usually encourage our children to ask themselves the question ‘is this a good idea?’. But Alex had no clue if things were a good idea - or maybe he wanted to do the thing that would hurt others. So we tried a simpler model. Over and over we’d say ‘when Alex is good, good things happen, when Alex is bad, bad things happen.’ But Alex wasn’t wired to receive even that idea easily. So many bad things had happened in his life that it took a long time for him to grasp the idea of personal responsibility. When Alex repeated that phrase it came out “When Alex is good, good things happen, when bad things happen bad things happen.” Fortunately, due to love and care and God’s maturing, first in our home, but mostly with Harry and Maria, Alex is a pretty responsible kid right now.

        But I’m afraid there are many of us with the same symptoms Alex had. We’ve never really figured out or bought into what’s called the law of reaping and sowing. I don’t want to take personal responsibility, or to believe that when Bob is good, good things happen, and that when Bob is bad, bad things happen. I don’t want to believe the Scripture that says ‘a man reaps what he sows.’ But whether Alex or I or you accept reality or not, it’s still reality, and this law of reaping and sowing is just as firmly established in God’s universe as the law of gravity. This morning we’re going to look at a key Biblical text that explains this law, and I hope you’ll see that your choices can make things better - or worse. It’s true in conflict, and in all of life - your choices can make things better - or worse.

I. The Law of Sowing and Reaping (Galatians 6:7)

        Listen to our text. Galatians 6:7-10 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8The 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. 9Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

        Though these verses are meaningful by themselves, they do have a context which helps us understand why they’re here. In the first few verses of Galatians 6 Paul is giving instructions on how believers should live and relate to each other. Galatians 6:1, for example, says “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

        Verse 2 adds “Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Verses 3-5 warn against pride and self-centeredness. Finally, verse 6 says “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.” The idea is that there is an ‘others’ focus, an outward focus, to the life of the believer that expresses itself in practical care for others. It’s in this context, whether restoring believers gently or providing for teachers financially, that Paul says ‘you reap what you sow’ - the classic expression of the Biblical law of sowing and reaping, also called the law of consequences. Actions have consequences. Wrong actions have negative consequences. Right actions have positive ones.

        In his book Down to Earth, John Lawrence gives a number of principles based on the law of sowing and reaping, drawn both from Scripture and from the observation of God’s creation. The first is obvious - you have to sow to reap. In farming, if you never put the seeds in the ground, you can’t expect to get anything out. Proverbs 20:4 “A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.” You’ve got to sow in order to reap, in every area of life. So, for example, when we invest in others we receive a blessing from God. Ephesians 6:7-8, Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does.”

        Second principle: you reap the same kind as you sowed. The farmer who hopes to get a corn crop must plant corn, and if you want watermelons you’ve got to plant watermelons, and tomatoes only come from tomato plants. This basic law of nature is an integral part of God's creation. Genesis 1:11 “Let the earth sprout vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them"; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.” Scripture often applies the same principle to human behavior. Job 4:8, “As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.” Actions have consequences. And this is certainly true in the area of conflict. As one author said “No one can sow evil and produce good. We cannot sow discord and produce unity. We cannot sow lies and produce truth. We cannot sow sin and produce holiness.” When you are trying to work through conflict you’ve got to expect to get back what you put in - hatred for hatred, malice for malice, lies for lies, anger for anger, sorrow for sorrow, repentance for repentance, compassion for compassion, love for love. You reap what you sow.

        Furthermore, you reap more than you sow. Farmers would go out of business if this were not he case. A farmer doesn’t plant a watermelon so he can harvest one new watermelon. He plants a single seed in order to harvest a wealth of fruit. Sometimes he reaps 30-fold, sometimes 60, sometimes 100. But he always reaps more than what he sowed, else his crop has failed.

        The same is true in life. Jesus said of discipleship “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life.” This is often the case in relationships. In a good marriage that both partners say “Oh, I get so much more out of this than I put in.” If you put in love, you get love back multiplied. If you put in gentleness, you get more in return. And in a bad marriage both will say “I get so much more grief out of this than I put in.” One of my favorite Scriptures for this is when Hosea says that idolators ‘sow the wind and reap the whirlwind’.

        But you also reap in proportion to what you sow. This principle seems to contradict the previous one, but it doesn’t. If you sow sparingly, even if the harvest multiplies, you won’t reap much. But if you sow bountifully, you will reap bountifully. Jesus said, in the context of sharing with others, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Paul says much the same thing in 2 Corinthians 9:6. Notice that this operates both negatively and positively. It operates for those who only sow a little and also for those who sow a lot. If you have a dollar, and invest it at 6-1/2 percent for ten years, you’ll have two dollars. But if you invest a million, you’ll have two million. It’s proportional.

        Finally, and this may be the most important one, you reap in a different season than when you sowed. When a farmer goes out and plants his seed in the ground, he does not plan on coming the very next day to reap the harvest. He knows that there must first be a long period of growth. Several months will pass before the season of harvest arrives. Therefore we must expect, in all things, but not least in conflict resolution, that it will likely take a long time before we see a result. You sow now, and you have to expect to reap later. During this time of waiting, there is always the temptation to believe that the harvest will not come to pass. Peter tells us that people will say “Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But Peter’s answer is “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” If he is patient with us, how much more should we be patient with each other. This is so important in the area of conflict; your right actions and right caring now for someone may take a long time to yield fruit in the relationship. You have to wait for that harvest.

II. The Heart of Sowing and Reaping (Galatians 6:8)

        So the law of sowing and reaping is a natural part of the way God has created the universe. It reveals great principles: you have to sow to reap; you reap the same kind you sow; you reap more than you sow, but you reap in proportion; and finally you reap in a different season than when you sowed - patience is needed, reaping does not come at once. But the law of sowing and reaping is also a spiritual law and it relates to what we studied last week, that conflict starts in the heart. Listen to verse 8: 8The 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.

        In chapter five Paul wrote to the Galatians about living the Christian life. He described the contrast between living according to the flesh, the sinful nature, and living according to the Spirit. We said last week that quarrels and fights come from within, out of the heart, out of our evil desires, our sinful nature that continues to try to dominate our lives. But the resolution of conflict and the skills for peacemaking come through the Spirit, who produces his fruit in our lives.

        Now Paul says that the law of sowing and reaping is at work in that context. When we sow to please our own desires, the sinful nature, we get sinful and natural results - corrupt, destructive. But when we sow to please the Spirit we get eternal results, eternal life. Now I don’t believe Paul is talking here about our salvation - that if we fail to walk by the Spirit we lose our salvation and if we succeed in walking by the Spirit we earn eternal life. That would contradict the big idea of Galatians, which is that salvation and spiritual life come through faith, rather than through the works of the law.

        The good news Paul has been sharing with the Galatians is that people are justified, or made right with God, not because of a list of good things they have done, but because they trust in Jesus who died to pay the price for the sins which separated them from God. And that’s still the good news for every one of us - that, in Paul’s words “you are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” He was crucified that we might have eternal life, not through our own efforts and achievements, but through faith. As Paul also says in Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” That’s the good news that saves us.

        So what is Paul talking about here? He’s talking about the fact that the law of reaping and sowing is at work in the spiritual lives of believers. Those who sow to the sinful nature, give in to their own sinful desires, reap the consequences of those sins. Paul said the acts of the sinful nature were “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Every one of these things has really negative consequences - one of which almost always conflict with those closest to you. Many others, like drunkenness, or alcoholism, are devastating to mind, body, and relationships. Sexual immorality leads to disease and jealousy and violence and the death of marriages. These are the things you reap, both internally and in your relationships, if you give in to the desires of the sinful nature.
        One of my favorite Biblical examples is seen in Solomon’s son Rehoboam. When he became king the people of Israel begged him to reduce his father’s heavy tax burden on them. The elders counseled him to serve his people this way. But his peers told him to make the burden even heavier, to say “one of my little fingers - laid on you - will be thicker than my father’s waist.” So the people rebelled, and the consequence was the divided kingdom and centuries of evils. You reap what you sow - if you sow from your sinful nature - in this case, greed and lust for power - you reap the same kind of destruction.

        But the other side is also true. Paul says “the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” When a Christian sows to the Spirit, he enjoys now the benefits of eternal life. It’s more than merely a life that lasts a long time, it’s also a kind of life, a quality of life. It’s a life that produces the fruit of the Spirit. Think of it this way: when we look at salvation we see a clear line between living in the sinful nature, with death as the result, and being saved by Christ, with eternity as a result. But as believers, pilgrims, we walk along that dividing line, possibly with one foot in each camp. Sometimes we’re focused on what the Spirit wants, and so we produce his fruit, and that fruit has eternal impact for good. But sometimes we pursue our sinful desires, and those produce corrupt and destructive fruit. This truth is illustrated by the story of the boy who told his mother, "At Sunday School I learned that I have two dogs inside me, a black dog and a white dog, and they’re fighting all the time!" "And which dog is going to win?", asked his mother. "It all depends on which one I feed!"

        My point is that the choice we outlined last week, to live out of your sinful nature or to live by the Spirit, is a choice that has consequences, it follows the law of reaping and sowing. And conflict is one of the major results of ignoring this truth. When I live out of my sinful nature I live in a way that promotes conflict and I will see it. When I live in step with the Spirit I live in a way that diffuses conflict and promote reconciliation.

III. The Demand of Sowing and Reaping (Galatians 6:9-10)

        So we’ve analyzed the law of sowing and reaping and looked at our spiritual lives to see that this law is true in our basic heart choices - we follow our sinful desire, which brings negative consequences, or we follow the Spirit, which brings positive ones. We want to end by looking how this law works out in the practical realm of doing good to one another. Verses 9 and 10: 9Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

        ‘Doing good’ is a very general requirement. Paul may be thinking of doing good by helping others who are caught in sin, from Galatians 6:1, or bearing one another’s burdens from Galatians 6:2, or supporting those who teach, from Galatians 6:6, or all of those things. One could almost say that ‘doing good’ is living according to the Spirit by meeting the needs of others. Whatever else it is, it’s clearly ‘other focused’: it’s meeting needs - food for the hungry, rest for the weary, care for the sick, comfort for the grieving, hope for the hopeless, understanding and help for the troubled.
        In the Texas Water Safari we followed last weekend, all you’re allowed to give the paddlers is water and ice. But the support teams work real hard to be in the right place at the right time to provide those things, and they can’t grow weary in doing good if their team is to do well, or even finish. In the same way Paul warns us we cannot grow weary in doing good if our deeds are to matter. Remember, one of the principles of reaping and sowing is you sow in one season and reap in another. You sow by doing good to a person now; often you do not see the harvest for a long time. You invest in a person’s life, hoping for change, but it’s easy to get weary and want to give up.

        But there is a harvest. It’s promised here, and you reap it as you persevere in another person’s life. I can’t help but think of the classic stage play and movie ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ in which Miss Daisy starts out treating Hoke, the chauffeur her son insists she use, like a black slave, but as he continues to seek ways to faithfully serve her, their relationship grows until at her death he is her best friend in the world. And sometimes the reward doesn’t even come in this life. You give and give and give and you wait for God’s well done - which is the bet of rewards. It’s certainly not a waste. Our part is to do the good. God determines how to give the harvest.

        One of the ways of thinking about this is in terms of the golden rule, which is a great rule for navigating your way through conflict. Jesus wasn’t the first to define the Golden Rule, but he said it clearly ‘do to others what you would have them do to you.’ or ‘treat others as you would have them treat you.’ If you want people to speak gently to you, speak gently to them. If you want people to be sensitive to your needs, be sensitive to theirs. If you want people to see your point of view, try to see theirs. If you want people to be gracious and forgiving toward you, be that toward them. If you want people to confess and ask forgiveness of you, confess what you have done to sin against them. In all conflict, treat others the way you want to be treated.

        Ken Sande, the author of The Peacemaker, says that if you sow using the Golden Rule you reap ‘the Golden Result’. He says “The Golden Result is that people will usually treat us as we treat them. If we grab for something or blame others for a problem, they will usually grab and blame in return. But if we say, "I was wrong," it’s amazing how often the response will be, "It was my fault, too." I’ve seen this result hundreds of times over the past twenty-one years. Whether the dispute involves a personal quarrel, divorce, lawsuit, or church division, people almost always treat one another as they are being treated. When one person attacks and accuses, so does the other. And when God moves one person to start getting the log out of his or her own eye, it is rare that the other fails to do the same. I have found that the Golden Result occurs most often with people who understand and cherish the gospel. When we are aware of our own sins and remember that Jesus died to pay for them, and that he has freely forgiven us for all our wrongs, we can let go of our illusion of self-righteousness and admit our failures. Often God is pleased to use our confession to trigger a similar response in our opponents.” In other words, even in conflict resolution, you reap what you sow.

        Paul reinforces this in verse 10: ‘Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.’ I don’t think Paul is saying we only do good when it is convenient. I think Paul is saying that in this life, as believers we do have opportunities to do good. In fact overwhelming opportunities, due to the overwhelming need. And Paul says do it - do all the good you can, whether to the poor, the oppressed, the troubled, or simply your neighbors. In conflict, look for ways to do good to those who oppose you. But, Paul says, have a priority - do good to all, resolve conflict with all, be sensitive to the law of sowing and reaping with all, and sow according to the Spirit’s fruit with all - but especially to those who are of the family of believers, the household of faith.

        Why? Why these people above others? Well, partially because they are your brothers and sisters - they are family, and have a special claim on your affection. The English proverb ‘blood is thicker than water’ says you put family first. That’s true for us as believers: the blood of Jesus ties us all together and does make it imperative that we help those who are his. Furthermore when we love one another, care for one another, are at peace with one another, resolve conflict with one another, we witness to the world: ‘by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

        So what have we said? There is a law, a law of nature and of nature’s God that you reap what you sow. You have to sow to reap; you reap the same kind of things you sow; you reap more than you sow, but in proportion, and there is almost always a time of waiting between the sowing and the reaping. We’ve also said that this is a spiritual law for the believer: if you sow to your sinful nature and follow your sinful desires, you will reap the consequences, almost always including conflict. But if you sow to the Spirit you will reap eternal benefits. Finally, we have said that we apply this law by doing good to others, in accordance with the Golden Rule, hoping for the Golden Result but knowing that God is faithful and will reward.

        I want to close with a prayer, not mine, but the prayer of a 13th century believer named Francis, who understood the law of reaping and sowing in relationships. This prayer has been so overused it’s almost trite. But you know it’s still a pretty good prayer

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
        where there is hatred, let me sow love;
        where there is injury, pardon;
        where there is doubt, faith;
        where there is despair, hope;
        where there is darkness, light;
        and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
        to be understood, as to understand;
        to be loved, as to love;
        for it is in giving that we receive,
        it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
        and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.