This sermon is part of the sermon series "Taking Responsibility for Your Life". See series.
Last week we started this series on responsibility, and we discovered a few things from the Scripture. Number one: you were created to be responsible. Before there was sin in the world and before the Ten Commandments, God gave humanity massive responsibility. The other thing we discovered, basically from our own experience, is that we are actually happiest when we have responsibility and when we are managing it well. When you have something important to do and you are doing a good job, you just feel better about yourself. And when you don't have responsibility, or if you have it and aren't managing it well, you feel kind of bad about yourself. You were created to manage and carry responsibility and to carry it well.
Another thing we discovered is that in any community—whether it's a community of two people, a family, a church, an organization, a business, a city, a state, a country—wherever there is a community of any size and people are taking their responsibility seriously, you don't need many rules and regulations. Essentially, rules and regulations are needed when people begin to act irresponsibly. We discovered that at the very beginning, God created the earth, and he gave humanity massive responsibility and one rule. From Adam and Eve's story we saw that your irresponsibility eventually becomes somebody else's responsibility. Irresponsibility isn't an isolated thing; it eventually impacts other people. You can't just be irresponsible and say, "Well, it's nobody else's business." Your irresponsibility eventually becomes somebody else's business and somebody else's responsibility.
Today I am going to take you all the way back to middle or high school. When you were in middle school or high school, you were probably introduced to what was called Archimedes's principle. A long, long time ago, Archimedes explained why rocks sink and battleships float. Rocks had been sinking and battleships had been floating for years and years before he ever came along, but he was the first person to explain this phenomenon in a formula or with a mathematical equation. Archimedes discovered the relationship between buoyancy and gravity. According to his principle, the buoyant force is equal to the displaced liquid. He discovered that a weight could be supported in a liquid if the weight of the object was counterbalanced by the displacement of the water of the object.
The point of all of this is that Archimedes didn't invent this principle; he discovered it. People have been leveraging this principle ever since to create massive, multi-thousand ton ships and pieces of equipment; they have learned how to make them float.
This principle is not good or bad; it just is. People can leverage it for positive things, or they can ignore it, and oftentimes there is a consequence. That is the nature of the principle. Now, I have never met anyone who thinks that God is in heaven indiscriminately deciding what sinks and what floats. I've never met anyone who has prayed, "God, we have created this ship, and we ask that you help it float." We don't think that way, because we understand the principle. If we adhere to the principle, what we make will float every single time. God created a principle, and we leverage it all the time. You can leverage it and benefit from it, or you can ignore it and pay a price.
Today I want to talk about a different principle. It's one you've heard before, and it easily slides into the periphery of our thinking, but it's something that runs in the background of your life every single day. The principle is this: People reap what they sow. As we talk about taking responsibility for our lives, you need to understand that the reason irresponsibility eventually becomes somebody else's responsibility, and the reason irresponsibility eventually catches up with you, is because of this principle.
Like Archimedes's principle, this principle isn't good or bad; it just is. And like Archimedes's principle, you can leverage it for good things, or you can ignore it and pay the consequences. It just is, and it is every single time. God is not against you: he's not sitting up in heaven always deciding to punish you or bless you. Instead, God has given us this awesome principle that we can leverage to our advantage.
Carry your own load.
Let's look at Galatians 6 for a bit of context. Galatians is a letter written to the people of Galatia, a Roman province in Asia Minor. Paul wrote the letter about 35 years after Jesus left the earth. There are churches springing up all along the coastlines, especially in Asia Minor, so Paul, who planted the church in Galatia, is writing to them to explain a bunch of things related to Christian growth. In chapter 6 of his letter, Paul is contrasting our responsibility to help other people against the tendency on our part to allow ourselves to be helped, simply when we don't want to take responsibility for our lives.
Let's just jump into the middle of this passage here: "If any of think you are something when you are nothing, you deceive yourselves" (Galatians 6:3). Paul is saying that it's easy to deceive yourself when you're comparing yourself to other people. "Each of you should test your own actions …." As long as you're comparing yourself to those around you, determining that you are better than some and not quite as good as others, you run the risk of deceiving yourself into being irresponsible. You have to hold yourself to your own standard. He says, "Then you can take pride [or feel good about yourself] without comparing yourself to somebody else." The pride Paul is talking about isn't the sinful kind of pride. As long as you are comparing yourself to others, you will make excuses for yourself; when you begin to compare yourself to yourself, you will make progress. It's only when you tune out everyone else's "status" in life that you can begin to reach your own potential and take on your own God-given responsibility.
Paul then clearly states: "For each of you should carry your own load." This is Paul's way of saying that you should take responsibility for yourself. You have family responsibilities, financial responsibilities, and opportunities in life that are specific to you. Don't compare your opportunities with other people's opportunities, because when you do that, you take your eyes off of your own load. If you resist that temptation, if you will focus on managing your responsibilities—really—then you will make progress.
In verse 6, Paul warns the Galatians not to use their responsibility to extend charity to people in need as an excuse for not carrying their own load. Then in verse 6, he bears down pretty hard: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked." When you were young, you deceived and outwitted and outsmarted your mama ("Mom, I don't know what happened! The teacher didn't tell us there was going to be a test!" "Don't worry, honey. I'm going to make an appointment with that mean, old teacher and put her in her place!"), but do not think you can outsmart God. There may be environments in your life in which you can slough of responsibility and get by with it. But Paul warns us as he warns the Galatians: God cannot be fooled.
I grew up in a church environment where I was taught that once I confessed sin to God, he would basically have amnesia about it and forget it ever happened. That meant that on the weekends I could go out and sin, and then on Sunday morning I could pray the magic prayer, and basically God would say, "I don't even know what you're talking about anymore! You've not done anything wrong that I can remember, because you prayed the magic prayer!" It was a great system.
But Paul says, "God is not stupid. God doesn't have amnesia." If you are irresponsible, if you are not willing to carry your own load, you are not going to get by with it. God is not going to sign a permission slip. Don't be deceived. Don't try to play a spiritual game with God.
Does God forgive sin? Of course he forgives sin. I am a good dad; I forgive my kids' sins. Do I forget their sins? No. Do I love them unconditionally? Yes. Do I treat them differently because they've sinned? No. Do I deal with their sin? Yes. And I am not a perfect father. God is a perfect father; he is never deceived; he is never mocked; he knows what's going on.
You reap what you sow.
Now Paul gives us this amazing principle: "People reap what they sow." Paul says what we really all know intuitively: life is connected. Where you are today is a result of decisions you made in the past, and where you will be tomorrow is connected to what you do today and what you did yesterday. There is a relationship between your current irresponsibility and what you can expect in the days and weeks and months to come.
We must realize what Paul doesn't say here. He doesn't say, "People reap what they sow—unless they ask for forgiveness." See, forgiveness doesn't erase it. I run into this all the time as a pastor. Someone comes to me and says, "Andy, I'm doing my best." And I have to say, "I'm glad you're doing your best, but for five years you didn't do your best. That was sowing. Now you're reaping from those years, and doing your best doesn't erase all the sowing you did."
God loves us so much he made this principle somewhat predictable. We don't have to get up every morning and say, "I hope the boat floats today." The world doesn't work that way; God doesn't operate that way. God is much more gracious than that. Through Scripture, he told us how the world works. He gave us a formula. If you sowed irresponsibility for five years and then you became a Christian or you got your life together, that's really great. But the real news—and it is actually good news—is that now you are reaping. What you sow doesn't go away. There aren't exceptions. You can't wish or pray or obey or love or serve or give your way out of it; it just is. And this principle can work for you, and it can work against you. Everybody reaps what he or she has sown.
My dad taught me this about reaping: you reap later and greater. Later is why we so easily give up on doing the right thing. We might do the right thing without seeing the fruit of it for days, weeks, months, years. Later is why we look at people who are doing wrong and start to envy their seeming good fortune. Later is why we question our choices: Why am I being so diligent when nothing seems to be coming from it? Later is why we give up too soon.
Greater can be even harder. This is the emotional part, because it's not necessarily "fair" in our minds. This is not a one-to-one principle. On both the positive and the negative side of the ledger, whatever you sow you will reap, and it's going to be bigger than you imagined. It's not commensurate. So a person who has been somewhat irresponsible with his money might say, "I know I haven't been responsible, but I don't deserve this." To that I would say, "You're right." The principle of sowing and reaping doesn't understand fair or just or balance; what is reaped is always greater than what is sown.
Here is a somewhat silly illustration of this: Somebody tries to break into your home and somehow they are stopped. They threaten your family, they get away, but then they are caught and put on trial. And this whole incident around your home took 30 minutes. The judge says, "You committed a 30-minute crime. You get 30 minutes in jail." You argue this, so the judge decides to double it: an hour. Your family goes back and forth with the judge, until finally the sentence is up to 15 years. Wait a minute: A 30-minute crime calls for 15 years of punishment? Is that fair? The point is this: we can't expect fair. And we can't blame God for this.
God gave us a principle. It's like Archimedes's principle: the boat floats every time. He has given us a gift. Every time you are responsible or irresponsible, you will reap the benefit or the burden. But remember this: what you reap will most likely come later, and it's always, always greater. Be duly warned.
You reap benefit from sowing good.
So what do you do with this knowledge? If there is any area of your life—your finances, your money, your dating life, your relationship, your professional life—in which you are not where you want to be, chances are you have sown and reaped yourself there in some capacity. In some cases it's obvious: if you have just been racking up debt, you have saved no money, and you have given no money, and now you are saying, "Oh my, we're upside down financially," well, you shouldn't be surprised. But there are other situations in life in which the cause and effect are not so obvious. So if you're somewhere in life where you don't think you ought to be, and maybe you don't even think you deserve to be, then there are a couple of things you can do to leverage this principle of sowing and reaping.
The first thing you can do is to go back to that pie graph we talked about last week. Remember, the whole circle represents the chaos in your life. Now, go back in your mind and ask this question: What is my slice of the pie? Think hard and don't deceive yourself. If you don't like where your marriage is or what's happening with your teenagers or your job, ask yourself honestly what part of the situation is about you.
For example, maybe you are unhappy with your relationship with your kids. Well, are you present to them emotionally? When you come home from work, are you still thinking about work? That may be your slice of the pie. And remember, the reaping is never balanced; it's never proportionate to what you've sown, but you still have to work and focus on what you're responsible for.
Your slice may be small or it may be big. It doesn't matter what size it is; the only way to leverage this principle in terms of taking responsibility is to own your own slice, no matter what it is. Some of you may have to do some hard thinking about this. Remember Paul's words: you have got to carry your own load. You must quit worrying about everybody else's load.
The second thing you can do is harder: you must begin to do the things you should have been doing all along. Listen to how Paul finishes this passage: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."
So you own your slice and you start doing what you should be doing. And here is where the principle of sowing and reaping works to your advantage: just like you reap way worse than you think you deserve, in due time, the rewards you receive for doing good are often bigger than you deserve as well.
I have seen this most with couples whose financial world is completely chaotic. They can't image how they're going to get out of the situation they're in, but they begin the process of steady plodding, doing what they should have been doing all along. Do you know what happens so many times? They find themselves riding that financial wave in a way they never thought was possible, and often they get there more quickly than they could have imagined or deserved.
But this kind of victory has to begin without excuses. No more pointing fingers of blame. No more self-deception. Paul promises that when we start to do good, in due time we'll reap the reward.
If you are 25-years-old or younger, I want you to listen closely. I can tell you what the people who are 45-years-old and older are thinking right now: I wish I had heard this when I was 25. But the thing is, most of those who are 45 and older did hear this principle in some way or another when they were younger, and they thought, I've got time. I don't need to worry about this right now. I can always find a way to get by or get out of things. So at 25 years or younger we begin the habits that follow up into our 40s, 50s, and so on.
This principle of sowing and reaping will bless you or catch up with you every single time. Do you know why I think God doesn't mess with this rule—why he lets us crash ourselves against it or leverage it to our benefit? I think it's because if he were to make exceptions, the next generation wouldn't learn anything. This leads me to believe that I have a choice as an individual, as an adult: I can learn from the previous generation, or I can be an example for the next one. God is not going to remove the rule.
Does God love us? Of course he loves us, and that's why he gave us this principle. Does God have compassion on us? Does his heart break when we are suffering? Absolutely. Does he cry with us? Yes, he does. Can we come to God and say, "I'm in so much pain!"? Yes, and he will console us, saying: I know, I'm so sorry; I love you. But I can't be mocked. If I allow you to mock me, the whole thing breaks apart—the ship starts to sink, the bridge begins to fall. I love you too much to let that happen. But remember the good news: just as you have been hurt because of your irresponsibility, in the same way you will be rewarded when you start doing what you should be doing. In due time you will be glad you did what's right.
So, are you taking responsibility for your life, really? Are you taking responsibility for your money, your marriage, your morality, all of your relationships, your school, and your work? If not, what do you need to do about it today?