by Steven Chan
27 September 2009
The work of a farmer in sowing the seed is not an easy one. It involves a lot of hardship – which often escapes those of us who may have not worked as farmers before. For a poor farmer, the decision to use the seeds for sowing instead of using them for immediate consumption involves much self sacrifice – it means having less to eat – for himself and for his children. Nonetheless, he makes that decision to sow in the hope that the seeds will grow – as described in Mark 4:27-29: he hopes that “the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
There is no guarantee that every seed will sprout and grow – but the farmer has no way of knowing which seed would sprout and which would not; nonetheless he sows in hope that some will sprout and grow. He sacrifices the little he has in the hope of gaining more after they have been sown.
But even before the seed is sown, the ground has to be prepared for the seed to be sown. I recalled my early days when I helped my family prepare the ground for sowing and planting: the ground had to be ploughed or softened, and hard rocks dug up and removed. In Malaysia, the usual tool that is used to dig up the soil and/or to remove the rock is the changkul. The changkul is the basic Malaysian farmer’s tool. It comprises a metal head and a wooden shaft – and is used by the farmer for digging, lifting soils, levelling the ground, and also for cutting weeds at ground level. It is usually quite a fun activity when one does it for a few seconds. But after 15-30 minutes of using the changkul, one who is not used to doing the work would experience painful blisters in one’s hands. Additionally, one’s back would start to hurt as one bends in using the changkul to soften the soil. It is hard work to prepare the ground for sowing and planting. That’s the reason why the Psalmist wrote about sowing in tears in Psa 126:5. When your hands are sorely blistered, your backs ached, your head sun-burned, your mouth parched and your bodies covered with sweat, and you must push on with the work of digging and softening the ground under the heat of the mid-day sun, then you will know what it means to “sow with tears”.
While the work of sowing may be painful or tearful, the farmer toils in expectation and hope of a rich harvest – and he will then reap in joy! Likewise, for the Christian and his struggles through life. The apostle Paul wrote thus in Rom 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” The expectation and hope of heaven far exceeds the challenges and difficulties that one face in this life. So, we must sow in hope and through whatever sufferings or pain barriers we may come across.
Brethren, are we busy sowing the seed of God’s word in hope (Luke 8:11)? As Jesus Himself said in Mark 4:27-29, although the one who sows does not know how the seed would sprout and grow as it is sown in the hearts of men, he nonetheless sows in hope that God will do His part and cause the seed to sprout and grow. With regards to sowing the seed of the Word of God, the apostle Paul wrote thus in 1 Cor 3:5-9: “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers…” We all become believers in Christ through various preachers/personal workers/evangelists (who are referred to as those who plants and waters the seed) but it is God who gives the increase. As the farmer sows the seed, he trusts that God will provide him with the increase; so likewise we must also diligently sow the seed so that God may give us the increase. But are we sowing the seed? Are we sowing in spite of the hardship and sacrifices required of us?
The Bible has much to say about we are doing with our lives – in terms of what we are sowing with the time and energy that God has given us.
In Matt 25:14-30, the one who was entrusted with one talent accused his lord of reaping where he had not sown and gathering where he had not scattered the seed, and he went hid his one talent. His master said that he should at least have “deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest” – and he “casts the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” What are we doing with our God-given talents? Are we profitable servants of God who are working together with God – sowing and watering the seed of the Word of God so that God can give the increase? What we do with what God has given us in this life will determine where we go after this life. It ought to be a frightening reminder of our awesome responsibilities in this life.
In John 4:35-37, Jesus said: “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.” Do we see what Jesus saw – that the fields are already white for harvest? The time for sowing, watering, reaping and harvesting is now – 2 Cor 6:2: “For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” There is no more convenient time to obey and serve the Lord than NOW so that we can gather fruit for eternal life.
1 Cor 9:9-12, the Bible applies the sowing and reaping to the reciprocal relationship that ought to characterize the teacher/preacher/evangelist and those who are taught the gospel or the word of God: “For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?” This is also emphasized in Gal 6:6: “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches.” The preacher has a right to expect to be financially/materially supported by those among whom he labours in spiritual matters. This is one area that requires more awareness and practice by brethren as we wonder why there is a shortage of full-time workers in God’s vineyard (Matt 9:37). However, it is encouraging to note that when we recently made known to brethren in Malaysia, S’pore and Australia about Bro Richard Lee’s desire to serve the Lord in a full-time capacity, brethren and congregations everywhere rallied to provide financial support for him so that he can now commence his work with effect from November, 2009. We are thankful to the Lord for the generosity of brethren towards the fellowship of the ministry together with Bro Richard Lee.
In 2 Cor 9:6-9, the Bible applies the idea of sowing and reaping as regards our commitment and involvement in financial contribution and support for the work of the church as regards evangelism, edification and benevolence: “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: “He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.” If we wish to experience a bountiful harvest, then we must sow bountifully and cheerfully (i.e. not grudgingly or of necessity). Are we sowing or working sparingly (i.e. minimally, with little or no effort) in God’s kingdom? Will God be pleased with the effort that we have expended for His Cause?
In Gal 6:7-10, the Bible applies the principle of sowing and reaping to what we do with our daily lives: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” According to Rom 8:6-9, “to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” We need to focus our minds on spiritual matters and not on material fleshly or worldly pursuits. What are we occupying our minds with in our daily lives? Does doing the will of God ever feature for any extended period of time in our daily lives? Do we spare a thought or two in our busy daily schedule for the work that God has placed in our hands? Some are so busy with this life that they are regularly missing from our worship services and they may just miss the bus to heaven as well. How tragic indeed! When in school, they have no time for God because they have to go for tuition classes, extra-curricular activities and they have to study for their exams. Now they are in secular employment (and they give thanks to God for giving them good-paying jobs as well) but they have no time for God because they have to work all the time even during our worship services. To these busy brethren the exhortation of the Lord as recorded in Haggai 1:2-10 is applicable: ‘This people says, “The time has not come, the time that the LORD’s house should be built.” ‘ ” Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: “Consider your ways! “You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,” says the LORD. You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?” says the LORD of hosts. “Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house.” The Lord’s house today is His church – it is not in ruins but one may have neglected it – when God expects each one to function as a responsible member of His body. Are we doing our part in God’s Family?
On that day, after we have sowed in tears, we can expect to reap with joy when we hear the Master says as recorded in Matt 25:21: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ May the Lord help us to sow diligently in hope of reaping the fruit of eternal life and joy in the presence of the Lord!