Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
Words cannot stretch enough to describe the joy God has for his children. It is a “joy unspeakable” (I Peter 1:8) — an inexpressible blessing beyond the reach of our vocabulary. However, we do know it is never a mere satisfaction with the status quo. It lives only in the presence of achievement. Torments of depression crowd in where there is default and failure to obey, or to invest, or to produce.
Thrilling shouts of excited happiness poured from the hearts of God’s people in Nehemiah’s day. They were dedicating their remarkable accomplishment to God. Out of much agonizing toil the Jerusalem wall had been built. Achievement and joy go together. You can neither keep sunshine in a closed hand nor contentment in a disobedient heart.
“And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.” Nehemiah 12:43
Turn to Psalm 126 for a graphic illustration of these truths. National calamity had apparently befallen Israel. Though broken to the point of despairing tears, they had experienced God’s gracious relief. Now, their ravishment was beyond words. They “…were like them that dreamed.” (verse 1) Even their unbelieving neighbors agreed, “…The Lord hath done great things for them.” (verse 2)
An intriguing analogy is drawn as the Psalm closes. Israel has been like the disadvantaged farmer, who, though reduced to tears in his struggle to set out the crop, returns in jubilation with a bountiful harvest.
There is a joy which comes only with the price of service for Christ. Would you have it? Then meditate on the parallelisms of verses 5 and 6.
Sowing in tears — reaping in joy
Weeping with the seed — rejoicing with the sheaves
The Contrast Between Sowing and Reaping
Our text weds sowing to tears and reaping to joy. There is no need to be staggered upon learning that sowing is not at all like reaping.
A tiny boy watches his Dad put up the tractor after a long day of work in the fields. It is late fall, but the child asks, “Any more beans or potatoes, Dad?” The weary farmer explains that all his efforts are for the coming year’s crop. Next spring he is out again breaking ground. Tired and chilled by the dampness, he turns homeward where he faces further questioning from his youngster. “No, my son, I have no corn, no potatoes — not yet.”
Now, this farming is a strange business! In the warmth of later spring, that farmer actually carries potatoes and perfectly good grain out to the fields and “disposes” of it. Quite empty-handed he enters the house at evening. It seems as if it is entirely a matter of giving and giving.
- What if our farmer friend had looked at his precious seed grain and reasoned, “I don’t want to give up this seed. It is my very best grain. I’ll not throw it in to the dirt.” But if he refuses to give up, he will gain nothing in life. (Study John 14:24-26.) That is the law of the harvest. The harvest is the fruit you get in life. Harvest hymns are sung only after sacrifice.
- Joyless, disappointed people usually make the mistake of trying to get more out of life. Instead, they should concentrate on putting more into life. Plowing and planting is ours to do. The harvest is his. “…God gives the increase.” (I Corinthians 1:7) The Lord of the harvest will not break these laws. The only question has to do with our investment. When God does not give back, with interest, we have not given over to him as we ought.
- Now, let us go back to the farm much later in the season. Picture the young son racing toward the barn. He hears happy shouts and congratulations rising from a group of neighbors gathered there. The barn is filled, its bins overflowing. Never has the neighborhood seen such a harvest. Directly, the father instructs his son: The produce is worth the price. No worthwhile harvest comes without investment. My joy is now full, he explains.
This principle applies to each sector of your life. Consider, in order, three important fields where most of us are bound to labor: the home, the church and the world of unbelievers.
The home is so important here! No place is it more true — that what you sow you reap — than in marriage. Thus the Apostle orders: “Husband, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” (Ephesians 5:28) I’ll say a word to husbands — if you want a Christian marriage — if you want God to smile on it, to bless it, and for there to be joy, you are going to have to endure tears. You are going to have to bite your tongue sometimes. The Scriptures tell us that if a man will love his wife like Christ loved the church instead of just blasting and being sure he is straightening her out, if instead he will give himself for her like Christ gave himself for the church, he will seek to her good and welfare instead of trying to win each argument — that man who loves his wife, loves himself. What an investment and what a return.
Rearing children is a signal investment over a span of years, but there can be a harvest of happiness. This pattern is seen in childbirth. “A woman giving birth to a child has pain…but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” (I John 16:21) Many parents find that disciplining their children costs them dearly, but the return is good, says the wise Solomon. “Correct you son, and he shall give you rest; yea, he shall give delight unto your soul.” (Proverbs 29:17) In times of discouragement, parents should hold on in prayer and continue faithfully instructing, encouraging and correcting their children. There is every reason to hope for a harvest. “The father of a righteous child has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him. May your father and mother rejoice; may she who gave you birth be joyful!” You may have to invest tears of concern, hours of anguished prayer. And how much better it is to pray and to invest teaching of Scripture and hold on patiently with God. In due time you will reap, if you faint not. A parent who will invest and make an effort to have a Christian home and see that God’s Word is spread before his family day after day, you will have to work against TV schedules, up against everybody going and coming, against your own desires. But, if you will be patient and cheerful and humble and stay at it, even if it requires tears – and it is hard to get your family to sit down and be disciplined and be quiet and to add God to the schedule. The devil will fill the schedule to overflowing. It’s hard to fit God in. But you’ve got to do more than that. You’ve got to do more than just fit God in — you’ve got to put him first! You seek first the kingdom, the other things will be added to you.
The church fellowship is another area of our life where sowing and reaping stand out in vivid contrast. You see, God never intended that our church life consist of attendance at meetings with perhaps the addition of a regular duty or two. Romans 15:1-7, along with many other sections of Scripture, tell us of the costly involvement in other lives demanded of a member of Christ’s assembly. The weaker ones are the responsibility of the strong. We meet together for the ordered purpose of encouraging and upbuilding one another.
“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.” The Lord just didn’t have us come to church as a discipline — we’re supposed to meet each other and encourage each other and worship our God whenever we gather. In between times, we are supposed to notice and care about one another. You can’t do that — you can’t fit someone else into your schedule if your schedule is just “me and my family.” You are supposed to give time for others, too. See it there in Romans 15:1. We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak. And that is heavier than a seed bag. And not to please ourselves. Let everyone of us please his neighbor for his good to edification. Even as Christ pleased not himself. This reminds us of II Corinthians 8:9, “ For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Though this section deals primarily with investing our money in God’s causes, the principles hold for any spiritual sowing. Notice the teachings that conclude the chapter. God is here promising that if you put your seed into his service, he will return your seed with interest. Thus your subsequent plantings, or efforts for the Lord, will yield an ever-enlarging harvest. You, the giver, will be enriched wonderfully, others will be blessed through you and, finally, they will be ardent in their prayers for the one who so cared for them.
Literally, the earnest Christian deals in joy. That is a commodity of his. “We…are helpers of your joy…” explains Paul. (II Corinthians 1:24) In turn, he speaks of his converts as being his joy, e.g., I Thessalonians 2:19, 20; 3:9. What the Christian dispenses to others, he receives again — spiritual joy. “…counselors of peace have joy.” (Proverbs 12:20 NAS)
What is perhaps the most familiar text on sowing and reaping is often used out of context. As you read it, remember that it is referring to investments and sharing within the church fellowship.
“And let the one who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:6-10 NAS)
A careful study of the above Scripture would show many a despondent believer where his spiritual satisfaction is short-circuited.
Our various relationships with unbelievers make up another important field of service for each Christian, and again there stands out the contrast between sowing and reaping. Usually, it is through much trial that the testimony of Christ is finally fruitful.
“Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:5-6)
See the toiling farmer going forth, making tedious effort long before the jubilance of harvest. God’s best fruit comes after a price has been paid. In Luke 15, Jesus says repeatedly that the harvest shout is “Rejoice!” and we learn “…there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.” (verse 10)
Successful witness for Christ brings joy all around. The book of Acts mentions a number of times the glad hearts of new converts (e.g., 2:24, 47; 8:8; 13:52), and the joy of the brethren.” (Acts 15:3) Heaven was singing, too, and there is no question but what the Christians who labored to carry the seed of the Gospel were also exulting in the harvest.
The Connection Between Sowing and Reaping
Sowing and Reaping are not only contrasted, they are connected. “…Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) The trying pain we shrink from is perhaps the necessary connecting link with the desired end.
Ask the gardener if he ever soaks his seed before planting. Many do. They say it makes germination more certain and soon. It is often God’s plan to steep his seed in our tears. Look again at our key text Psalm 126:5, 6. The relation between weeping and rejoicing is as clearly put as that which exists between sowing and reaping.
Jesus ruled out easy joy. When his seventy disciples “returned again with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through your name,'” (Luke 10:17 Jesus sought to remedy their puffy pride. He said, “…in this rejoice not…but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” (verse 20)
Follow down the pertinent phrases of Acts 8:1-8 and you will see great joy came out of the benumbing sorrow over Stephen’s martyrdom:
“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. 4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.”
Samaria’s joy grew out of Jerusalem’s sorrow. Still further, notice that before and after Stephen’s dying prayer, Scripture is careful to insert the name of young Saul, Acts 7:58 and 8:1. Sometimes even blood fertilizes precious seed.
By putting the cross before the crown, the crying before singing and sowing before reaping, God has ruled out the half-hearted. They keep their seed, therefore they will not reap. To them belongs only the warning of Jesus: “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:30)
If realness is missing from your life with God and there is no trace of spiritual rapture, it might be that you have withheld seed from the planting — that you have declined to meet the demands of service. Sowing and reaping are integrally related. Whenever there is a reaping, you may be sure there has been a sowing. The only uncertainty is whether or not there is a willingness to sow, even with tears.
On the other hand, Psalm 126:6 promises that the farmer who has faithfully gone about his work of planting “shall indeed” know the cheering harvest season.
It will be helpful to look at Mark 4:26, 27 at this point.
“…This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.”
After the planting, God must take over. He brings the increase. That vital connecting link between sowing and reaping is provided by God. Not only does the gardener not perform that work beneath the ground, “he does not know how” it all takes place.
Perhaps you have faithfully given of yourself in your home, in the church and among outside friends and have only suffered rebuff. You have paid and prayed but have not reaped. Hold on. Some harvests take longer than others, but “…in due season we shall reap, if we faint not,.” (Galatians 6:9)
See the arms that once carried the seed bag in great toil? They now embrace sheaves of ripened grain, and it presses a heart filled with purest joy.