“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”
-Jesus of Nazareth
“So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
-Paul (Formerly Saul of Tarsus)
Last year the sports/entertainment industry was rocked by yet another individual who had the doors of his private life opened wide for all to see. After the shocking revelation of multiple mistresses, this sports icon retreated from the public eye to undergo therapy and counseling. A year later he was back in the game doing what he has always done best, and the crowds continue to follow him enthusiastically, his misconduct seemingly forgotten. Four years ago an influential spiritual leader with international acclaim confessed to having visited a gay massage therapist numerous times and engaged in sexual immorality. Amid heartbreak and turmoil, this brother stepped down from his roles as senior pastor of a large mega-church and president of a well-known interdenominational evangelical organization. Today he is in the pastoral ministry once again. He leads a church he began in his barn last spring after admitting publicly to ‘over-confessing’ his behavior of four years ago. From all accounts the church is packed every Sunday and continues to grow. I make no judgment on either of these men. I relate these stories because they – and scores like them – dangerously erode our faith in the law of reaping and sowing. This ‘erosion’ has a profound effect on who we are and how we live as disciples of Jesus Christ and function as His Church.
When we observe those we admire – including religious leaders and organizations – ignoring (and even at times promoting) ungodliness, we are tempted to feel no burden of responsibility to live our lives any differently. Our natural, human tendency is to conclude, ‘if those we trust as leaders fall and still thrive with no apparent consequences, why should we attempt to live any differently?’ This is a dangerous undercurrent in our thoughts we must learn to guard against. Men fail. They always have and always will. Moses, in anger, murdered an Egyptian soldier. King David had an adulterous affair with Bathsheba. There are always consequences, even if it appears on the surface to be otherwise.
In Galatians 6, Paul writes, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct. Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them. Don’t be misled – you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always reap what you sow. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith.” There are five directives in this passage we will explore this week which, if we carry them out, we will reap the benefit, rather than the negative consequences from the law of sowing and reaping; appropriately helping those overcome by sin’, ‘sharing one another’s burdens’, ‘paying careful attention to our own work’, ‘sharing all good things with each other’, and ‘persevering in doing what is good!’
“If another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” Are we at times guilty of the opposite? Do we judge, gossip, criticize and throw stones? Do we compare our own righteousness with that of others and smugly, in our hearts, adopt the very attitude of the Pharisee Jesus warned about, who prayed, “I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery?” There are a number of possible causes for this wholly carnal attitude: another person’s failure elevates our own sense of ‘righteousness’; we don’t want to trouble ourselves with the effort it sometimes takes to restore a brother or sister; we simply don’t know how to approach someone who has fallen into sin, etc. These are poor excuses! Perhaps the biggest reason we often fail to help a struggling brother or sister is that it takes a great investment of time and energy to become involved in the lives of others in a way that directs them to Christ. We are usually so consumed with own affairs, we take little time to give heartfelt, prayerful thought to what others might be going through.
The antidote for our lack of involvement and self-absorption is compassion and mercy. These two words occur over seventy times in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, the words of the prophet Micah ring out, “O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Jesus came into this world because of the Father’s love for us. Oswald Chamber’s writes, “When we are born again we are brought into the realization of God’s great purpose for the human race, namely, that He created us for Himself. This realization of our election by God is the most joyful on earth, and we must learn to rely on this tremendous creative purpose of God. The first thing God will do is force the interests of the whole world through the channel of our hearts. The love of God, and even His very nature, is introduced into us. And we see the nature of Almighty God purely focused in John 3:16 – ‘For God so loved the world…’” (My Utmost For His Highest) In order to cultivate compassion and mercy, we must turn our gaze from ourselves and focus upward and outward. As Pastor Gordon so often states, “Love God, love others.” Let’s not allow the evil one to keep us from this important part of sowing into the lives of others!
“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.” One of the characteristics of unconditional love is the willingness to share someone else’s burden. When we begin to identify with another person’s pain and struggles, we can then be mightily used of the Father to bring encouragement, relief and healing to that individual. In doing so, however, we must never abuse our knowledge of a situation by speaking careless words. Wikipedia defines gossip as, “idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others. It forms one of the oldest and most common means of sharing (unproven) facts and views, but also has a reputation for the introduction of errors and other variations into the information transmitted. The term also carries implications that the news so transmitted (usually) has a personal or trivial nature, as opposed to normal conversation.” Gossip is perhaps one of the most devastating forces in the Body of Christ. It destroys relationship, distorts truth, distracts from our mission, and brings reproach to the name of Jesus. Gossip elevates our own sense of self-importance and worth, and we inevitably become a stumbling block to the very ones we were trying to ‘help’. When we bear each others burdens, there is only One with Whom we ever need discuss it…in the prayer closet!
“Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct.” It’s interesting to me that this directive follows on the heels of “share each others burdens” because it seems contradictory. However, I believe this speaks to another important aspect of the law of sowing and reaping. Two of the evil one’s greatest weapons against us are distraction and enticement. In the Garden, he drew Eve’s attention away from fellowship with her Creator by enticing her to consider something other than what God intended for her. He still works in the same way today. The great ‘failsafe’ in this directive is “For we are responsible for our own conduct.” Oh, that we could remember this simple truth at all times! One of the things I remember my mom saying to my brother and me quite frequently when we were young was “mind your own business!” Thinking back to the opening paragraph of this devotional, if the sports icon and the pastor had stuck to their work and ‘minded their own business’ they might not have gotten sidetracked. They were distracted and enticed. The tragedy of David and Bathsheba began similarly. Pause briefly and read I Samuel 11:1-12:13. While there’s not enough room to recount the whole story here, we can certainly read the outcome: “Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are that man! The Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anointed you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more. Why, then, have you despised the word of the Lord and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife. From this time on, your family will live by the sword because you have despised me by taking Uriah’s wife to be your own.’” Instead of doing what kings were supposed to do (“now spring was the time when kings normally go out to war”), David remained at the palace and was distracted and enticed. What he reaped as a result of his sin was turmoil within his family until the day he died, including the loss of his oldest son, Absalom. “Don’t be misled – you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always reap what you sow.”
“Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them.” I like the paraphrase of this verse found in The Message, “Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience.” There is an important principle here which is understood: learning is lifelong – for both the learner and the teacher. This is one of the wonderful benefits of sowing and reaping! Prior to entering the full-time ministry, I was a high school choral director. Over the years I had many students. One of these was a young man who, after graduating college, was hired to my previous position at Southeast High School – where he was once the student and I the teacher. Over the years we have remained close. Tommy also is a worship pastor part-time in a local church. We speak regularly, encouraging each other in the common work we share, work the Lord established for us. I ‘sowed’ into Tommy nearly 20 years ago when he was a rambunctious freshman; he now ‘sows’ into others. He also shares with me what the Lord is teaching him, and we reap the benefit from each other! This scenario is one that should happen frequently within the church. It is one of the ways koinonia (fellowship in the Holy Spirit) is designed to work. If you are not in a mentoring relationship, I encourage you to seek the Lord and allow Him to lead you into one, either as ‘mentor’ or ‘mentored.’ It will yield positive results from the law of sowing and reaping into your life!
“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith.” This is where our will, partnered with the power of the Holy Spirit, is essential in our day-to-day lives! When we ‘tire of doing what is good’ we are prime candidates for distraction and enticement. In fact, both of these can most certainly lead to ‘weariness in well-doing.’ But we are encouraged to not give up! Imagine what would happen if a farmer, after tilling the soil and sowing the seed, became discouraged after a couple of weeks, gave up, and walked away from his fields. He wouldn’t be much of a farmer! A real farmer understands the ways of his labor: tilling, sowing, fertilizing, and weeding, while all the time watching the progress of the crops until harvest-time. There will be times when doing the right thing simply won’t be easy or feel good. It will require real patience, endurance and even sacrifice on your part. During these times we are encouraged to not give up…the harvest of blessing will come. The Apostle Paul also presents us with an afterthought: do good to everyone whenever you have the opportunity, especially those of the household of faith – brothers and sister in Christ. The church in Thessalonica must have had a good grasp on this directive. Look at what Paul writes to them in I Thessalonians 1: “We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true. And you know of our concern for you from the way we lived when we were with you. So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord. As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece—throughout both Macedonia and Achaia.” What a tribute for a church congregation!
The law of sowing and reaping serves as ‘guardrails’ to keep us ‘on track’ as we pursue Christ. It is a law we should always keep in the forefront of our minds. You will always reap what you sow. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. Our ‘sinful nature’ will always seek to influence us. The role of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to empower us to live our lives above the demands of the flesh. The Father delights in empowering His children to sow in such a way that we reap His blessings in our lives!