Sowing, Reaping, and Boasting
Preached by Pastor Benjamin Vrbicek
I want to put up a picture on the screen. It’s the graphic we used for our website for this sermon series. It reads, “The Gospel + Nothing = Galatians.” That’s how Jason and I thought would be a good way to sum up this letter. Now that we are coming to the final sermon in this letter, I’m only happier with that heading. This is what Galatians is about.
Of course, each week, Paul said this a little differently, and this week is no exception. But what Paul has emphasized throughout the letter, he emphasizes now as he closes. And what we have emphasized throughout our preaching, I’ll emphasis one more time, namely, that it’s all about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s life, the life of the Galatian churches, and our lives are to be about one thing; there is only one thing we should boast in, and that is the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the pronouncement that through Jesus we can be in a relationship with God. We can say it that way, or we can say it the way that Paul says all of that in shorthand in v. 14, “Boast only in the cross.” That’s the theme of the final words in this letter we call Galatians. Boast only in the cross.
I’m going to read the passage and then pray. Follow along with me as I read from Galatians 6:6-18.
6 One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
The cross changes people. When people come in contact with Jesus in a saving way, it changes them, it makes them different.
And when I think about people who have been changed by the gospel, I think of a man named Andy—you don’t know Andy; he doesn’t live around here. Andy is about 78.
I called him this last week to catch up and when he answered and said “Hello,” my face lit up with the hugest smile as well. It’s hard not to smile with you talk to Andy because he is so full of joy.
This last year, however, was a hard year for him. He lost his wife of 34 years. As we talked about it, he mentioned how he didn’t know how he could have gotten through it without Jesus because he can’t hardly believe the change in his life. You see, Andy was only baptized 5 years ago. After over 70 years of living apart from Christ, the cross changed him.
I only knew Andy after he became a Christian, but I asked Andy what was one of the main areas of change, he commented on his purposelessness. He said he was like a ship that takes off in the ocean from San Francisco, but has nowhere to go and no purpose except floating around in the ocean. Now his purpose, he said, is to grow in this relationship with God—to know Jesus.
You never have to ask Andy to do anything. He’s always volunteering before we even announce that we need help with chairs were ushering or whatever. Right now he’s going to Saturday night service so that he on Sunday morning you can attend to Bible studies. He just loves the Bible!
Like I said, when I think about how the cross changes people, I think about Andy.
And the cross does change people, doesn’t it? It changed Paul. Paul was changed. He killed Christians, now he undergoes persecution for being a Christians.
Much of the letter has focused on how this change takes place. And he’ll end his letter with this same theme and we’ll end our sermon series with this same theme: highlighting the gospel and justification by faith alone.
In this passage we see two ways that the cross changes people. First, we see that we the cross changes people to do a different kind of sowing and reaping. And second, we see that Christians do a different kind of boasting.
1. A Different Kind of Sowing and Reaping
Let’s start with a different kind of sowing and reaping. Now, the language of “sowing and reaping” is obviously farming language. What Paul is saying is that Christians are different kinds of farmers. I’m sure this is true in many areas of live, but I’m going to highlight the same four areas that Paul does. Paul highlights four ways the Christians become different sowers and reapers.
First, Christians sow and reap not as mere consumers. Let me read v. 6 again,
6 One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.
Paul uses the phrase taught “the word.” “The word” shorthand for gospel preaching (1 Cor. 1:18; Eph. 1:13, Phil 1:14. Col 1:25; 1 Th 1:6; 2:13; 2 Tim 4:2; citied in Robert Keith Rapa, Galatians, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; 634).
And when he says “share all good thing,” he is talking about paying people to preach and teach this “word”; he’s talking about paying people to preach the gospel.
Sometimes the statement is made that if Paul was to show up at our church, or any modern church, what takes place in our churches would be utterly unrecognizable to him.
Those statements seem to imply that the early church was pure and healthy, and now churches today are just a big circus. Maybe that’s true for some churches but not all. I think Paul expects churches to sings “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (that’s the way it’s phrased in Eph. 5:14 and Col. 3:16), and it’s clear from verses like v. 6 in Galatians that there is to be someone dedicated to preaching “the word.” Sing and preach. I think Paul would recognize what we are doing far more than some would let on.
And here, the point he makes about being different kinds of sowers and reapers is that Christians are not mere consumers. They are not simply those who take, those who receive, those who are feed. Christians are different. They give back, specifically here he says, they give back by paying Bible teachers.
Few things to note. First, some of you are thinking, Oh, my, is he going to talk about money? Answer: yes, I am. I feel comfortable talking about paying pastors because this church is generous. You are not mere consumers. So that makes it easier to talk about. And if I had an issue, just know that this church has great structures in place to talk about money and paying pastors, and the Sunday morning sermon is not one of them. The are other avenue to talk about this, which is good.
Something else to consider, Paul is not a part of the Galatians churches. In Chapter 1:2, Paul begins his letter, “To the churches of Galatia.” Paul writes from one region—not Galatia—to another region—Galatia. He is standing outside of the churches he writes to. So, when Paul writes to them about money, it’s likely because he knows of some churches that are no valuing their pastors and he calls them on it.
So for me, I just want to thank you for feeing Jason and I up to preach the gospel—we love doing this generally, and we love doing it here at Community specifically.
Let’s keep moving. What else does Paul say about sowing and reaping. Look at vv. 7-8,
7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
In these verses Paul is talking about sowing with a different kind of seed and therefore reaping a different kind of harvest. If you sow bad seed, you get bad results. And if you sow good seed, you get eternal life.
And he starts with the phrase, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked…” What does that mean? I think he is saying that you are only fooling yourself if you think you are going to get a good harvest from bad seed.
Paul mentioned this list of “works of the flesh” in Chapter 5:19-21, and on that list were things like “sexual immorality, impurity… idolatry … strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions… and things like these.” And then Paul wrote at the end of that list, “that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 21b). He says the same thing here: what you sow, you will reap. God’s not fooled, he’s not tricked by the type of life you are living. You can fool others, you can fool your spouse, your boss, your family, your pastor, but you can’t fool God.
At this point in the sermon, I thought about showing you a picture of my garden, but I’m not going to. It’s not very impressive. In my home this winter and spring, for reasons that I won’t go into now, has been very abnormal; a lot was going on, including some health challenges. And in at some point, when the weeds in the garden were about knee-high and it needed to be tilled up, we made the decision to take a year off. That’s biblical. It says that someone in the Old Testament, right?
What would you think of me, if in July I told you that I was really, really confused about something. And you said, “What’s that?”
Then I said, “We’ll, I went out into my garden looking for tomatoes and snap peas and some peppers, but there weren’t any.”
What would you say? You’d say, “I’ve seen your garden, and, Benjamin, I’m not sure why you are so shocked. You didn’t plant the right seeds, you didn’t water it, you didn’t pull weeds, and now you are not reaping a harvest. That’s how this works.”
That’s sort of what Paul is saying here. But it’s not simply the negative that Paul wants to point out, it’s the positive as well, maybe even more so. He wants them to know that farming is hard, sowing and reaping is hard—the Christian life is hard—but you have to keep at it. Look at v. 9, where Paul notes a third way the cross changes people,
9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
I suppose it’s hard to stand in the middle of a field in Iowa in April with the corn in the ground, but the field is still empty. There’s no corn in April. The harvest is months away. Maybe there is even a drought that has to be endured during the summer. And it’s so tempting to give up.
Paul writes, DO NOT GIVE UP! DO NOT GROW WEARY! The harvest is coming. I know it looks like no corn will ever come up, but Christians will reap eternal life.
Finally, look with me at v. 10. Here Paul point out one final way that Christians are different in their sowing and reaping. Paul says that Christians have a different allegiance; they have new priorities. He writes,
10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Note the phrase, “household of faith.” He says, whenever you get a chance, “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
What Paul is talking about here is an allegiance to a certain group of people. And in some ways, it’s so fitting that today was a membership Sunday, a day when some in our church affirmed their allegiance to Jesus as expressed in their commitment to this local church. And our church saying back to them the same thing.
The point of all of these verses is to show that Christians are different. They are not mere consumers, they sow in the Spirit and reap eternal life, and they don’t’ grow weary, and they have different allegiances. That’s who Christians are.
Let’s transition to the last point. Namely, the cross makes people, not only different kinds of farmers, but also “different kinds of boasters.”
2. A Different Kind of Boasting
We are going to see this most especially in vv. 12-14. But before I read those verses, I want to point out that Paul brackets off vv. 12-14 for emphasis with two statements. It’s Paul’s way of waving a flag the importance of what he is about to say and yelling, Don’t miss this; don’t miss this!
I’ll give you the first bracket for emphasis. V. 11 says,
11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.
In v. 11, Paul says, Give me that pen. Let me write the ending!
Most of Paul’s letters indicate that someone else was recording his words on paper as he spoke. For example, Romans 16:22 says, “I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.” Now Paul “wrote” the letter in the sence that God inspired him to speak it, but, as the verses says, it was Tertius who copied it down. Paul doesn’t say that something like this in Galatians, but since something like this is said in several of the other letters, it was probably true with Galatians as well.
Some have said that perhaps he had to write large letters because his eyes were bad, even using verse from chapter 4 of this letter to show this (vv. 13, 15). Maybe. But it seems to me, and others, that the point is emphasis. You and I might write in ALL CAPS, or use bold and underline and italics and use a different color. Paul takes the pen and writes the closing himself because he wants us to see that what he is about to write is important.
What is it that he wants them so see? Looks at v. 12-14,
12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Look at the difference between v. 12-13 and v. 14. On the one hand, there are those that want other people to do a religious act so that they can have more “converts” to their credit. They want people to do something so that they will have a larger following. They want to be able to boast about their worldly status.
And not only that, notice that it says that they don’t want to be persecuted. Paul wrote, “only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ” (v. 12). Most of Paul’s persecution and that of the early church, and the persecution of Jesus for that matter, was not from secular, worldly people, but rather from religious people that hated God. They had a veneer of religion and faith, but deep down, their boast was all about them.
But not so with Paul. Paul says, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That word for boast means to rejoice, to take joy in, to exalt in.
Paul says, there are lot’s of things to rejoice in, to take joy in, to exalt in, but I’m going to find my deepest joy not in celebrating my own works, but the work of God on the cross for me.
He ends his letter with this theme deliberately. Paul really believes that becoming a Christian changes things. It makes us different kinds of sowers and reapers, but here at the end of the letter, he want to make sure, he has to make sure, that in all of our sowing and reaping that we don’t become tempted to boast that we are good sowers and that we are good reapers.
He doesn’t want us to say, Look, God, look at how generous we are with our Pastors. We’re not consumers. Look, God, look how we endure hardships and we don’t become weary of doing good. Look, God, look at our allegiance to your local church. Look, God, look at all we have done for you. Look at how well we have sowed. Now, you give us eternal life. You give us peace, you give us this new creation.
Paul is saying, “Don’t go there; that’s not what this is about.” The gospel + nothing.
But the temptation is real. I think that’s why he says, give me the pen and then he writes, “boast only in the cross.”
The Christian story is not a story of how good people get better through their own efforts and the story of how bad people, people who do not try hard enough, go to hell. That is NOT the Christian story. That is not the gospel. The gospel is the story of how sinners, sinners who are only deserving of God’s righteous judgment, get a savior! It’s the story of the cross. And that is the story we are to boast in. Don’t get smug, don’t get arrogant, don’t think God saves you because you are good farmers. Boast in the cross.
And make sure that if you began the Christian life boasting in the cross, make sure you keep boasting only in the cross. That’s what Paul is doing. He had 1,000 things to boast in, including his scars.
I said at the start that Paul brackets these final thoughts so that he can draws attention to the importance of what he is saying. Frist, he said give me the pen and he wrote in large letters. Look at v. 17. He is going to underscore the importance one final time.
17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
The word Paul uses for “marks” is stigmata. There was a movie in the late 90s with that title, which I did not see, that played on medieval Catholicism’s misunderstanding of that word. It was taken to mean some outward manifestations of Jesus’s wounds would show up on certain, saintly types. That’s weird, and it’s wrong. What Paul is talking about here is his scars from persecution of which he had many.
I don’t have all that many scars. I have one on the palm of my right hand. When I was young, I put my hand down on some broken glass. I didn’t get stitches but maybe I should have. I have another scar under my right eye. That one is from a bicycle accident. I was in a race years ago in St. Louis and slid out around the corner into a curb and my helmet cracked and my sunglasses cut my face. I did get 11 stitches then. I was a little weird to walk about seminary with a messed up face like I had gotten in a bar fight with a curb.
Maybe some of you have better scar stories. Mine don’t get me much respect.
I know a Jewish-Christian, another pastor that I used to work with actually, and this man once told me about his grandfather growing up. His grandfather always wore long sleeves. And every once in a while, his sleeves would get pushed up. And you could see it, and a sort of sacred hush would come upon the group that saw it. It was a tattoo he received in a concentration camp in Germany. And every once in a while, though it was very rare, you might get a story out of Grandpa. And when he told those stories, you listened because you knew he didn’t get these stories from a book; he didn’t them from a museum. He lived it. He had the scars.
Here, Paul says, Listen up. I’m living this. I have the scars. But he doesn’t boast in them. He boast in the cross. Because it’s only the cross that changes people. It changed my friend, Andy. I change me. I changed Paul. And it can change you.