How this selfish person does good anyway.
LET US NOT BECOME WEARY IN DOING GOOD, FOR AT THE PROPER TIME WE WILL REAP A HARVEST IF WE DO NOT GIVE UP.
On Halloween night, we had a massive bash.
Our big fat family of seven multiplied itself like gremlins in water, with friends and family filling our house and spilling out onto the lawn. It was a wonderful sight. We wore costumes and huddled around fire pits in our front yard, watching the parade of princesses, monsters, and super heroes filling their bags and bellies with candy. And we did the same—eating our fill of candy and junk food and chili. I love a good party, and let me tell you, we had a riot! But when Monday morning arrived (too early), evidence of our riot was everywhere—there were candy wrappers and cans, lawn chairs, coolers, fire pits, and random forgotten costume paraphernalia. Not to mention, the Abbott family woke up grumpy with minor belly aches. Thankfully, our wise school administrators gave our kids the day off to recuperate (and help clean up the post-Halloween mess). You see, when you gorge yourself on candy and stay up until midnight, it’ll come back to haunt you every time. Or, as the old saying goes, “You reap what you sow.” And here’s some fun trivia, that old saying is based on a Bible verse—the one that begins the passage where we find this month’s memory verse.
But “reaping what you sow” isn’t just a warning against belly aches.
This concept transcends physical inevitabilities and applies to spiritual truths as well. Paul, the author of Galatians, uses the concept of reaping and sowing to help us consider just how significant our actions are in light of eternity. The metaphor goes like this: Our life is like a field, and every thought, every word, every action is a seed. Our lives are spent planting, planting, planting all of those seeds. We have the choice of planting two very different types of seeds—seeds that are sown to please our flesh (our own selfish desires) and seeds that please the Spirit of God. It’s like the difference between planting weeds and vegetables. As the metaphor goes—we all reap a harvest, the natural result of what we’ve planted, either bad or good. The verse right before ours says, “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” So in spiritual terms, the result of all our planting is either death or life. It’s kind of a stark warning. Our verse wraps up the metaphor calling us to persevere in sowing those good seeds, the ones that please the Spirit, so we can reap a good harvest.
On the podcastThe countdown to Christmas is on, and you're not going to want to miss this episode. Special guests, Chris and Clayton from the Advent Blocks team are joining us to talk about how we can keep Jesus central throughout the Christmas season.
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All of this begs the question: How do we know what kind of seeds we’re planting?
If we flip back a chapter in Galatians, we find Paul knee deep in a discussion of those two ways of living (or for the sake of our metaphor, two types of seeds). He’s pleading with us not to “indulge the flesh”, but instead to “walk by the Spirit”. And he gives two lists to help us know just exactly what those two lifestyles look like. Let’s take them in turn.
Selfish living is ugly.
Paul gives a long nasty list of what it looks like to indulge ourselves in selfish living. You’ve probably read something like it before, a list full of all the bad things. And if you're anything like me, you would probably read it and just breeze over it, justify yourself as “not that bad”, and move on to the “good” list, the one you think you mostly are. I did. But then, I had to write this post, and I found myself really thinking about the “bad” list. It’s a list of “weed seeds”, the kind that bear the fruit of death that we were talking about. And as I turned those seeds over in my hands, as I really looked at them, I found my hands were a whole lot dirtier than I thought they’d be. When I mused on “idolatry”, I found that God wasn’t where he belonged, on the throne of my life. There was an imposter there, ruling my thoughts (and fears). And when I thought about “envy”, I saw my secret comparison and self-congratulation. When I pondered “fits of anger” I remembered yelling at my daughter this past Sunday on the way to church… on the way to church. O friend. I sow ”bad” seeds, seeds that don’t please the Spirit every day, even on Sundays.
There are other, better seeds.
Paul gives us another list, filled with all the “good” things—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Sound familiar? You might know this list, we memorized it last October. It’s the list of the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23. It’s what we all want to be like. We all want to plant those kinds of seeds and reap that kind of fruit. Who ever says I want to be an angry, envious, idolator? No one wants to reap even the temporal weeds that spring up from those seeds. As for me, I long to plant and reap a harvest from those other better seeds. I want to be kind, patient, self-controlled, and the like. And some of the time I do, I actually plant those kinds of seeds. Yet somehow, I always manage to plant the bad seeds right along with the good. It’s like my seeds got all mixed up in the same bag. Paul tells us in Galatians 5 that all humans are “mixed up” this way. He says that our selfish desire and the desires of the Spirit are at constant odds with one another, vying for our allegiance. It’s precisely why our verse warns us to “not grow weary of doing good” and to “not give up”, because we’re constantly and mightily tempted to do so. But how do we win out against our selfish desires?
Walk by the Spirit.
The answer’s in the text! Paul says, “...walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). Do you see that? When we are walking by the Spirit, we simply cannot indulge in those selfish desires. He tells us later that since we “live by the Spirit” (i.e. we have been saved from death and given eternal life by the Spirit of God) we should also “walk by the Spirit” (allow the Spirit to guide and empower us). God didn’t just put his Spirit in us as a deposit or a guarantee of our salvation, but as a constant personal resource of goodness. He is the good seed in us. And when we walk with him, he blesses us with an abundant harvest, not just for eternity, but here and now.
I’m still a mixed bag.
It’s true. This side of heaven, I’m always going to struggle to do the right thing, to rely on the Spirit, and to trust God. I’m always going to battle against my strong and compelling selfishness. I’m always going to fight to keep God as God over my life. I’m going to lose my temper and envy people. Going back to my Halloween example, I just know I’m going to stay up too late, eat too much candy, and make a general mess of things. But, I’m also going to invite people to the party, to come and experience love and joy and kindness. I may be a mixed bag of seeds, but I’m still gonna keep on planting. There’s a harvest coming if we “don’t grow weary of doing good.” And it isn’t just for me to enjoy, and it isn’t just for now. It’s for all people, for all time. We may be mixed bags, but God still says plant seeds. He knew we would be messy, but he wants us just the same. So, plant those seeds my friend, work for the good, there will be a harvest “at the proper time”.
What are some of the “bad seeds” you tend to sow?
What do you reap from those?
How might walking by the Spirit empower you to choose the better seeds?
Thanks for reading,
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