Over the last several weeks we have been seeking to understand how the Bible defines the church and her role in this world. So far in our “Who are We?” series we have learned that we are what we confess (in Romans 10:9-10) and we are greater than the sum of our parts (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). Today we are going to continue answering the question “Who are We?” by taking a look at four statements Paul makes in Galatians 6:7-10 that will ultimately reveal that, at least in part, the church is defined by what it does. The proof, as they say is in the pudding or the walk speaks more than the talk. Therefore, let us crack open this important passage and learn what it is the church ought to be doing and in what direction it ought to be focusing its activity.
I. STATEMENT #1: PROVERB-6:7
The church in Galatia was established in Asia Minor during Paul’s time in the region (see Acts 13-14). The letter to the church of Galatia is one of the first letters Paul ever wrote and it is an important letter at that. Upon his departure from the region, false teachers infiltrated the area preaching a different gospel that insisted on keeping the Law of Moses as a means of salvation. Paul quickly corrects this at the beginning of this letter and then, after reestablishing accurate Christian theology, he provides some more practical things to keep in mind as they persevered in this part of the world for God’s glory. One of the things that is included in this lattermost discussion is a presentation on what the church (and those in it) ought to DO. He introduces his instructions on the church’s activity with a proverb in 6:7 that starts with a sobering reminder—“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked,..” (6:7b).
While some in the church in Galatia may have been able to fool their fellow brothers and sisters or those in and around their community concerning what they were all about and to whom they belong, God is able to see the truth. He sees through all pretense and hears beyond the rhetoric to arrive at the core of who a person or a church is.
Psalm 147:5-“Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.”
Hebrews 4:13-“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do”
In this case, God knew the nature of his people in Galatia and what gave them away is what they did. After all, people are, in many ways, a product of what they do.
Paul intimates as much when he says, “for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (6:7c). This prediction is as old as the Garden of Eden, what you yield in the field is determined by what you plant in the ground. The function of the verb “sows” suggests ongoing and consistent activity in the life of the subject and in this case, the activity involves the investing/planting of a particular seed—different kinds of activities that have the potential of producing different results and shaping people in different ways.
As sports continue to return in various capacities you are beginning to hear a lot about something called “game shape” as in “is he/she in game shape?”To be in game shape means to be in optimum physical condition to perform a specific role in the team. As you can imagine, with COVID-19, postponed seasons, lack of access to training facilities/gyms, and extended time at home, many analysts are wondering if many of the players are physically prepared for the emerging seasons. There is a big difference between an in-season body (both in look, capacity, and endurance) and an off-season body. Why? Because when the season is not on, many relax a bit, and, as a result, they change. When it comes time for training camp or scrimmages, that same body changes again. We are in many ways a product of what we do. In this analogy “sowing” may take the form of regular trips to the gym and “reaping” is being able to lift a certain amount of weight or last so many minutes in a game. However, the same applies spiritually to what people do in the context of the church. What we do (or not do) shapes who we are.
Notice, in this context, it is not what we say, but what we do that gives us away to God. A church and her people can say all they want, but who they really are is ultimately given away by what they do.
II. STATEMENT #2: CONTRAST-6:8
While many might be led to believe that, spiritually speaking, one can become any number of things based on what they do, Paul simplifies things down to their essence by drawing a stark contrast between two general directions one might take with their behaviors/investments. The first way that one might direct/focus their activity is toward the flesh—“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (6:8a). Paul wanted the church to remember that investments limited to or preoccupied with the body’s impulses/cravings/desires were ultimately futile because our bodies, in and of themselves, are limited, fallen, and degenerating. The words “his own” in “for the one who sows to his own flesh” also adds the connotation of self-centeredness. Given these insights, one might paraphrase the first part of verse 8 as “energies and activities that solely focus on oneself to the neglect of others and are more concerned about immediate cravings than they are about lasting values lead to corruption.” In fact, the word used here for “corruption” might also be translated “decay.” Yikes! If the church in Galatia (or if those in the church today) feel a sense of decay, maybe they are sowing in the wrong direction (in a selfish or self-satisfying direction). If, in part, you are what you do and you are corrupt and decaying, you might want to change your activities.
Thankfully, there is another option (ultimately the only other option)—“but [note the contrasting conjunction here], the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (6:8b). You can invest in things limited to yourself and your desires or in the things of God and his desires. The former yields death and corruption, the latter yields eternal life! Wow! Why the difference? Because when we direct our energies and activities toward the Spirit of God we are investing in something that is not limited by flesh and or stained by sin. As a result, these things are not encumbered by decay and will last into eternity. How awesome is that! What Paul says here is consistent with what Jesus said in his ministry.
Matthew 6:19-21-“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So what does it mean to “sow in the Spirit” or to invest/act in ways that are in keeping with the Spirit? For starters, one must know who the Spirit is. He is the Holy Spirit of God that indwells each believer. It is he who draws, convicts, converts, equips, and grows us more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. In fact, the Holy Spirit has a singular preoccupation—Jesus Christ. Anything that magnifies, draws attention to, celebrates, or explains the person, work and word of Jesus Christ is a Spirit-filled investment. Activities focused in this direction are used of God to bring people from death to eternal life. Therefore, such activities ought to be the focus of God’s church. If we are what we do, may we be found as sowers who invest in what the Spirit of God is doing.
III. STATEMENT #3: ENCOURAGEMENT-6:9
Because activities focused in this direction suffer eternal implications, Paul offers the following encouragement—“Let us not lose heard in doing good” (i.e. the kind of good in the latter part of verse 8). The verb means “do not grow weary” or “do not be discouraged” or even “do not lose enthusiasm.” The present tense also suggests a pattern of discouragement—a lingering funk if you will—that God’s people ought not allow themselves to slip into (i.e. “do not be slipping into patterns of discouragement”).
Friends, this is an easy thing to retreat to in today’s world. In our age of mass media, news alerts, the pandemic, economic crisis, social unrest, pressure/persecution, personal issues, social distancing, anxiety, and loneliness, the broken world has proven most recently to be a petri dish in which the bacteria of discouragement, despair, and depression thrive. These spiritual microbes can quench the motivation, drive, and willingness of even the most seasoned believer as they seek to “do good” in Jesus’ name. Lately you may have even quietly wondered to yourself, “What’s the point?” or “It is all going to change anyway.” Friends the same encouragement Paul gives to the church in Galatia echoes for us today “DO NOT LOSE HEART!” The work we have been tasked with by God is too important and eternity is in the balance! If God’s people give up doing the kind of good in the world that is used of God to bring people to eternal life, who will? Things may look different—do good. Things may be a bit more uncomfortable—do good. I may not get my way—do good. Where are the results?—do good. But I don’t feel like it—do good. After all, as we are learning, we are, in part, a product of what we do as God’s people.
To help spur on the church to perseverance Paul offers the following promise: “for in due time we will reap” (6:9b). What a promise! Labor in the Spirit for those things that direct people to Christ will reap a harvest! However, if you are like me, your next quest is “When?”
I must admit to you that as a result-oriented person waiting around for results or a lingering lack of perceived results from ongoing labor in any endeavor, let alone the gospel/kingdom-building endeavor, is troubling. I often find myself wondering “Where is the harvest?” However, while God does promise a lasting harvest for those who are investing in the Spirit, he does not say when that will come or even if we will get to see it this side of heaven. All Paul offers concerning a timetable for this harvest is “in due time.” He could have said “in God’s time.” The church may not always be privy to God’s time, but it ought to trust that whenever it is, it is perfect.
Even still, the reality of a coming harvest, regardless of when it may be seen, ought to inspire ongoing investment in the Spirit in the life of the Church among its many members. The church ought not labor in the service of the Lord as those who do not know the outcome. The outcome is sure.
However, Paul does offer one condition –“If we do not grow weary” (6:9c). The verbiage means “to give up” or “give out.” Paul doesn’t want the church body (or any member therein) to miss out on the opportunity of being a part of what God is doing in yielding the harvest because they give up in the field and head home too early. I like what Jimmy Draper shares at the very end of his book Don’t Quit Before You Finish:
“In all likelihood, there will be hours of despair and days of depression. There will be nights of unnoticed and tedious work and weeks of exhausting effort. There will be months of misunderstandings and ever years of criticism, but we must not quit. The devil will tempt us with greed and lust and laziness. He will send discouragement our way and a thousand other temptations, but we must not quit. We are to be found faithful, no matter what. In doing so, we provide the hope of Christ to the downtrodden and greedy; to the lustful and immoral; to the violent and addicted; and to all who live in our depraved and deprived world. Our hope is their only hope—faith in Christ Jesus. And our call is to stay the course for Christ.”
Do not grow weary church in your work done in and for the Spirit. The stakes are too high and the harvest is coming! If we are what we do, may we be found faithful as we work in the fields that are white for harvest.
IV. STATEMENT #4: APPLICATION-6:10
The fourth and final statement comes in the form of an application. Paul adds some urgency to what he has shared when he describes when to apply this—“So then, while we have opportunity” (6:10a). This suggests at least two things. First, the opportunities to be about the work of the Spirit that God uses to bring about transformation in the lives of others toward eternal life are limited. When Jesus returns at the end (and no one knows exactly when that may be), such planting, sowing, investing, will come to an end. Second, “while we have opportunity” assumes that the church (and the people therein) have opportunities to do what they are called to do according to this passage. Some in Galatia may have challenged this, but opportunities to make spiritual investments abound (then and now). The opportunities for you to do something of eternal significance in the lives of those around you are just as prevalent today as they were in Paul’s day.
Therefore, Paul says, “Let us do good to all people” (6:10a). There were and are plenty of opportunities to do good to all people and while she has opportunity, the church ought to take advantage of as many of these opportunities as possible. In fact, it is for this reason that Christ has saved the church, called the church, and commissioned the church according to Ephesians 2:10:“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”?
While certainly “doing good” should be extended to all people, Paul adds an emphasis on the end of verse 10—“and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (6:10c). Why might Paul have added this? Is it perhaps, because there were skirmishes in the church of Galatia that existed in part because brothers and sisters were taking each other for granted? Or, perhaps is it because, as has already been intimated earlier, there is a strong undertow that seeks to pull people away from the task the church has been given in this difficult world? I imagine it is a little of both and I cannot help but appreciate just how poignantly this emphasis applies today.
Isn’t it often the case that, if we are not careful, we can take for granted those we most love or those with whom we are most familiar? It is a strange phenomenon, but very real, that the more familiar something/someone is, typically the less attention we give to actively engaging and/or investing in that thing or person (believing, perhaps that with it or him/her, we’re good and no more work needs to be done). This couldn’t be more incorrect and Paul cautions against this in the context of the church. Our brothers and sisters in Christ ought not receive the leftovers of our affections or attention. Instead, they are, for many reasons, those who might need such the most.
If we are what we do, may we be those who understand that what we do often says more about us than what we say. May we be those who choose to invest in spiritual things that are greater than ourselves and suffer eternal implications. May we be those who never give up, regardless of how long the harvest takes or what comes against us in the sowing process. And may we be those who apply this passage by doing good to those both inside and outside the faith. It is my hope and prayer that this church and her people prove what they claim in the actions they take and that those actions demonstrate that we are people concerned with spiritual things and the mission at hand. What are you doing? What activities populate your schedule/routine? What might this say about who you are today?