One of the ways believers can bear one another’s burdens – as Paul commanded in verse 2 – is to financially support those who teach the word. Paul uses this command in verse 6 as a starting point to further apply his teaching on the importance of living by the Spirit. How a believer walks ultimately determines his eternity. If he lives a life committed to his own flesh he will cultivate an eternity inhabited by him alone. If he lives a life walking by the Spirit he will reap eternal life. An immutable God created the world with these immutable truths and we are foolish to think they do not apply to us.
This passage starts and ends with references to money and so seems specifically to apply to how a believer handles his finances. But its implications are broad and apply to all aspects of life. We do not serve a God who can be fooled, and we must not allow time and short attention spans to deceive us into thinking our actions have no ramifications.
In this verse Paul seems to say, “Here is a specific way to bear a fellow believer’s burdens (vs. 2) – make sure to support those who teach you the word.” He refers here to ministers who work full time teaching the word and so have no other means of support. For those people, the individuals and groups who benefit from their teaching have an obligation to provide for them. The minister of the gospel is sharing life-changing and eternity-determining truths – for him to expect his listeners to support his efforts is not unreasonable.
This teaching goes along with what Jesus told the disciples when He sent them out to preach and heal. He told them not to take along any means of support for the laborer is worthy of his wages (Lk 10:7). Paul teaches this principle to the Corinthians when he tells them he could justifiably ask them for support: If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? The Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel (I Cor 9:3-14 – interestingly, Paul specifically chooses NOT to take advantage of this in his own ministry). Paul repeats it to Timothy and quotes Jesus’ words and the Mosaic Law: Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (I Tim 5:17-18).
This command is nothing believers need to be uncomfortable with. A minister of the gospel called by God to devote his life to teaching the word should be supported by those who benefit from his calling. A missionary raising support and a church leader drawing a salary are simply abiding by Paul’s (and Jesus’) direction.
Note the word Paul uses to show this action. He says the one taught the word should share all good things with him who teaches. This is more than a transaction between an employer and an employee or between a student and a teacher. The word for share can also be translated ‘fellowship.’ This is a partnership between two parties based in the Spirit. It is bearing one another’s burdens while walking in the Spirit. This is not to be regarded as a payment. The word ‘shared’ is a rich Christian word, which is used of our fellowship in the Holy Spirit – Stephen Neill.
Verse 7 is really the heart of this text. Paul moves forward from his admonition to support ministers of the gospel with a general truth that is the basis for it. All men ultimately reap what they sow – and no one can sow without reaping.
He issues the statement as a warning. Do not be deceived – do not allow yourself to believe something that is not true simply because the world lives as if it is. Do not impute a quality to God that you wish were true and then choose to believe it. Do not allow the Enemy to deceive you into thinking that God is like us and sometimes misses things or forgets.
The truth is that God is not mocked. God cannot be fooled and does not miss anything. God does not forget and cannot be deceived or tricked. If you assume you will never have to answer for your actions, you are the one who is deceived or tricked. God is not mocked but we can be.
The immutable law of God is that whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. There are no exceptions to this. Whatever gets planted gets harvested. There is no such thing as a dead seed or a forgotten plant. We live in a spiritual world that is very fruitful – if something is buried in soil it grows. And this world produces what is sown in it. Iniquity does not produce righteousness, sowing the wind reaps the whirlwind (Hos 8:7).
He elaborates on this principle in verse 8. The one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption. If you continually live in your own strength, if you walk by your own counsel, if your life consists of satisfying the lusts of the flesh and the lusts of the eyes; you will reap corruption. The one who lives for himself is the one who sows to his own flesh. His life is centered on him and ultimately nothing matters beyond him and his lusts. His selfish life reaps corruption because it is a life apart from God – it reaps the harvest of self.
This really goes back to what Paul said in 5:16-21. The one who sows to the flesh carries out the desires of the flesh. And the one who practices the desires of the flesh shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Ultimately the corruption that is the harvest of the flesh means an eternity without God. If we sow without God we reap without God.
It is important to remember that Paul began this section of the letter with the word brethren (6:1). He writes to believers. He wants his readers to understand that eternity is at stake when they choose to walk by the Spirit or sow to the flesh. He does not mean that Christians can lose their salvation, just that sowing to the flesh has as its ultimate end a harvest of eternal separation from God. And if that is the case, then the believer has no business toying with it.
If we look at the totality of this passage, an argument can be made that Paul continues to talk about money even in verses 7 and 8. He starts with the command to support gospel ministers in verse 6 and ends with a command to do good to all men (commentators believe this is typically a euphemism for giving alms) in verse 10. If that is the case, the first application for this teaching is to be very careful in how we handle the money God gives us. If we spend all of our money on ourselves and think little about the poor or evangelizing the world or supporting those who minister to us, we will reap a harvest of dissatisfaction and corruption. Our financial decisions have eternal implications.
These verses, however, apply to much more than just our finances. Our actions and lack of actions, our use of time, our food for thought, our priorities – these are all seeds we sow. If they are focused inwardly we reap accordingly. If we spend time feeding our lusts, if we fill our mind with the flotsam and jetsam of the world, if we are much more interested in the sports and entertainment worlds than we are in our Father in heaven we will reap corruption. The one who sows to the flesh is deceived if he expects to reap holiness and joy.
Thought: Do we wonder why our time in the word is such a chore? Do we in all honesty have no idea what it means to experience the joy of the Lord? Do we continually struggle with lust? Do we have a hard time focusing on worship or listening to sermons? Do we have little desire for the fellowship of the saints? Does the idea of taking every thought captive have little meaning to us? Are we prone to discouragement and self-pity?
If the answer to most of the questions above is ‘yes’, then the cause of those yeses may be found in the number of ‘yes’ answers to the following questions. Do we spend exponentially more time in front of the TV than we do in front of our Father? Do we feast on the world continually and nibble at the word when we have time? Is prayer on page five or six of our list of priorities? Do we click on every provocative image on the internet? Is morning quiet time with God what we fit in after Sportscenter or Today?
Sowing to the flesh is not limited to feeding on pornography or gossip (although they are definitely included). Sometimes it is simply choosing to spend time away from God. At its core, sowing to the flesh is putting a priority on filling our minds with things other than God. It is habitually focusing on ourselves rather than our Father.
The one who sows this way and expects to lead a godly life is a fool. No one eats regularly at McDonald’s and expects to lose weight. No one smokes four packs a day and expects to run a marathon. Yet we fill our minds and time with everything but God and expect to live before Him in joyful holiness. No one sows to himself and reaps God.
To ‘sow to the flesh’ is to pander to it, to cosset, cuddle and stroke it, instead of crucifying it. The seeds we sow are largely thoughts and deeds. Every time we allow our mind to harbor a grudge, nurse a grievance, entertain an impure fantasy, or wallow in self-pity, we are sowing to the flesh. Every time we linger in bad company whose insidious influence we know we cannot resist, every time we lie in bed when we ought to be up and praying, every time we read pornographic literature, every time we take a risk which strains our self-control, we are sowing, sowing, sowing to the flesh. Some Christians sow to the flesh every day and wonder why they do not reap holiness. Holiness is a harvest; whether we reap it or not depends almost entirely on what and where we sow – John Stott.
Paul gives the other side of sowing in the second half of verse 8. The opposite of sowing to the flesh is sowing to the Spirit. The one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life. The one who sows to the Spirit is the one who does everything he can to cultivate the Spirit’s power in his life. He is consumed with prayer. He works continually to know his Father in heaven through His word. He spends time with other saints and learns from those who minister to him. Far from feeding the flesh he crucifies it along with its passions and desires (5:24). His priorities are consistent with someone who has the goal of walking by the Spirit. He fills his mind and time with God and avoids those things that lead his affections away from God.
Consider: To walk by the Spirit may require radical change in our lives. If we want to cultivate seeds planted in the Spirit’s soil we must cut off (crucify) those things that lead us away from it. We must prioritize our time such that its emphasis is God – not our happiness or comfort. We are in a life-long battle against complacency and self-absorption and self-deception. We must pray for the Spirit to expose areas of our life that take us away from Him and open our eyes to the joy that awaits the one who sows to Him. No one wants to reap corruption but all of us are prone to sowing its seeds. Pray that we recognize the field of our own pride and instead plant seeds that lead to the fruit of the Spirit.
In order to bear the fruit of the Spirit we must walk with Him. In order to walk with the Spirit we must sow to Him. In order to sow to the Spirit we must prioritize those things that set our mind on Him and crucify those things that do not.
Paul now addresses the dread enemy of the righteous – time. He encourages the Galatian believers – and includes himself – to not grow weary in doing good. He tells them not to lose heart because in due time we shall reap the harvest of our good works.
The time between planting and harvesting can dull the enthusiasm for righteousness. God does not always act quickly and there are portions of our planting which will not bear fruit until the next life. Paul knows this and encourages the believers to persevere. Do not lose heart in the face of continual temptation to sow to the flesh, in the face of constant criticism from the world, or because of our inborn desire for tangible results. God is not mocked and all things done for Him will produce a harvest. We must run the race to the end and not stop sowing simply because time deludes us into thinking it is no longer important.
The harvest of our sowing to the Spirit is ultimately eternal life – as Paul says in verse 8. But we may reap portions of the harvest in this life too. Contentment and peace, the spread of the gospel because of our resources, the sweetness of covenant relationships – these may be some of the fruits to be harvested in this life for the one who sows to the Spirit.
Time can discourage the righteous and encourage the sinner. Time leads us to believe that perhaps God CAN be mocked – perhaps He will NOT call all things into account. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (II Pet 3:8-9).
Verse 10 gives the logical conclusion to verse 9. Since it is true that we WILL reap the good harvest if we persevere in doing good, we must in fact do good to all men while we have opportunity. Our opportunity is limited to this life and this life is like a vapor (Jas 4:14). Therefore we must have a sense of urgency in walking by the Spirit and doing the good works the Spirit bears in us. And we must do these works to all men but especially to the household of faith.
Thought: While we have opportunity establishes the importance of sowing to the Spirit NOW. We have very little time in the grand scheme of the universe to make our actions count. To spend precious time filling our minds with eternally worthless thoughts and facts is tragic on an eternal scale. Turning off the TV, staying away from certain media, radically cutting off the things that lead us away from God are not only important they are important NOW. Sowing to the Spirit today is what matters. Putting off necessary change is to believe the lies of the enemy that we have limitless time.
As mentioned above, ‘doing good to all men’ implies using our finances to minister to others. We are to use our money for needs within the Christian community first, but not to limit ourselves to that if we have the means. However, the truth of verse 10 obviously extends beyond money and ultimately means we should practice the fruit of the Spirit in the community of faith and beyond throughout our entire life.
God is not mocked – we will reap what we sow.
How we spend our money, how we fill our minds, how we spend our time – these are seeds.
Seeds planted in ourselves or this world produce a harvest of corruption.
Seeds planted in the Spirit produce a harvest of eternal life.
We must sow to the Spirit and keep on sowing to the Spirit – as long as we have opportunity.
Our eternity is determined by how and where we sow.
For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:13-14