Understanding the meaning of reaping and sowing
Jesus spoke a great deal about farming, using the analogy of sowing and reaping. Sowing, means to spread a thin layer of seeds on top of the soil for planting. After the crops have grown, reap means to cut or gather the crops at harvest time from a piece of land.
Using the farming analogy, to “reap what you sow” means that you will harvest what you plant. For whatever seeds you sow in the ground, you will only reap according to your efforts, which would include when you planted them, and how you cared for the crops until harvest time.
To put all this in layman’s terms, it means that “actions have consequences.” As humans, what we sow, are our thoughts, words and deeds. What we reap, is a direct result of these.
Cause and effect
We can also look at this in philosophical terms. The law of “cause and effect,” also known as causation or causality. According to Wikipedia: “One event, causality is defined as: “influence by which one event, process, state or object (a cause) contributes to the production of another event, process, state or object (an effect) where the cause is partly responsible for the effect, and the effect is partly dependent on the cause.”
Classical physics defines causality in this way: “an effect cannot occur before its cause.” In other words, sewing always occurs before reaping. Or put another way, one must first sow before they can reap.
In this way, the laws of the Bible align exactly with the laws of physics.
What the Bible says about reaping and sowing
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
If all actions have consequences, and it would stand to reason that good actions would return good consequences, while bad actions were to return bad consequences.
Jesus affirmed the above statement, when he said:
“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
– Luke 6:38
The Apostle Paul wrote:
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”
– 2 Corinthians 9:6
Paul emphasizes that you get what you deserve, whether a little or a lot.
This also goes for negative actions. We’ve all heard the saying: “Live by the sword, die by the sword.” It comes from the following incident in the Bible.
After Jesus had been betrayed by Judas, some men seized Jesus and arrested him. The disciple Simon Peter drew his sword (John 18:10).
“And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.'”
– Matthew 26:51-52
Here, Jesus reiterates sowing and reaping, reminding Peter that human life is sacred and there is an eternal penalty for infringing upon this law.
In the same way as planting seeds and waiting for them to grow to be ready for harvest takes time, so does reaping and sowing with our deeds in life.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
And the same is true for those who would do evil. In due time, they will receive their just reward.
“As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.”
The phrase “reap what you sow” can be confusing today, as it is based upon a farming analogy, but it is a much repeated theme in the Bible because every one of us will be both a sower and a reaper in life.