The Meaning of “You Reap What You Sow” in the Bible

Learn the context behind the principle of “Reap what you sow.” Is it similar to karma or revenge? Or is it an entirely different concept of its own?

Every action has results. It’s a natural law to harvest what we plant. If you plant to please your desires, you’ll harvest a crop of sorrow and evil. If you plant to please God, you’ll harvest joy and everlasting life. What kind of seeds are you planting?

The phrase “Reap what you sow” is a popular idiom but it’s also biblical. The context came from two verses in the New Testament. As a general rule, we indeed reap what we sow. It’s true in agriculture and our life choices as well

“Reap what you sow” can be a pretty intimidating and threatening phrase to some. But let us go deeper and see what this quote means and the context behind it. Understanding this concept might even help us learn how to apply it and benefit from it. 

What Does “Reap What You Sow” Mean?

Sowing is the act of planting the seeds, and reaping is gathering or harvesting the crops. “Reap what you sow” is an old saying that tells us we can expect bad things to come out of our evil deeds or actions. At the same time, man reaps good things if he does good work or good things. 

This proverb or quote simply says that future repercussions are unavoidably determined or shaped by our current actions. It’s about getting what we deserve. Everything that we invest our energy, skills, and time in is what we shall receive back. It also means that we will eventually have to face the ramifications of our actions. 

How Did “Reap What You Sow” Come About?

The origin of the belief “reap what you sow” comes from the New Testament of the Bible in Galatians 6:7 which tells us “for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” It’s a concept and teaching that’s been recurring throughout the Scripture. One of the verses with a similar theme is 2 Corinthians 9:6 which tells us that whoever plants sparsely will also have a few harvests. Luke 6:38 also says that whatever amount we give will also be the same amount we will get back. 

Does “Reap What You Sow” Affect Us or Our Lives?

There is a quote from Ezra Taft Benson saying we have the freedom of choice, but we do not have the liberty to alter or change the repercussions of that decision. The options and decisions we make, big or small, have the power to transform our lives. It says in Proverbs 4:26 that we are to make a straight path for ourselves, stay on the safe course, and not get sidetracked or distracted. We need to be wise and make sound decisions to live peacefully and abundantly. 

Reap What You Sow vs. Karma

A lot of people use karma interchangeably with the concept of you reap what you sow verse in the Bible. It’s not a surprise since these two principles or themes sound so similar. However, these two ideas are different from each other. 

In a nutshell, the idea of karma lies in the belief that our life experiences, good and bad, are products of our actions. And these are supposedly deeds that we did in both our past and present lives. It involves reincarnation, and it’s supposed to help us understand why certain things in our current life happen. Originating from the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, “karma” revolves around the notion that we can earn our way of living a good or lousy existence. 

Reap what you sow definition on the other hand, is a concept found recurringly in the Word of God. It relies heavily on our faith in Him. It doesn’t neglect that even if we are already Christians, bad things can still happen to us. Matthew 5:45 says that God provides sunlight to both bad and good people. And that he also delivers rain on both the fair and the unjust. 

It tells us that both good and bad happen to everyone, Christians or not. It is how we respond to our situations, especially the most difficult ones, where the sowing happens. And reaping is not just about living a good life but bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 6:8 tell us that the person who sows as a response to God, letting His Spirit work in him, will harvest a crop of absolute, eternal life. 

Reap What You Sow vs. Revenge

“Reap what you sow” is also different from revenge. God says in Romans 12:19 that vengeance is in His hands and He will be the one to repay. It may not be the way we wanted, but we can trust that He is a just God. We should never take vengeance into our own hands, for we will also suffer the consequence of our bad decisions. Just as He is gracious and forgiving to us, so should we offer grace and forgiveness to others. It’s a tall order, but it is what God teaches us and what He expects us to obey (Ephesians 4:32).

Reap What You Sow Isn’t About Having Multiple Lives

This concept of multiple lives, like what karma teaches, is not what “reap what you sow” is about. James 4:14 reminds us that our life is but a vapor, here on earth for a little while, and can vanish instantly. It is why the Bible teaches us to live our lives worthy of God’s calling (Ephesians 4:1). And to live our lives wisely, making the most of every chance that the Lord gives us (Ephesians 5:15-16). 

The Fruit of the Spirit

The fruit of the spirit is what we are to harvest when we follow the Bible’s concept of “reap what you sow.” Galatians 5:22-23 says that the fruit of the Holy Spirit produces many gifts in us such as joy, love, endurance, goodness, compassion, peace, meekness, faithfulness, and self-control. Notice that it says “fruit” of the spirit and not “fruits.” It’s because the gifts may be many, but it’s only considered collectively as one. Meaning, God is expecting that all of these gifts to be evident in us once we become followers of Christ. We cannot just choose one and discard the others. 

What the Bible Teaches Us About “Reap What You Sow”

Will a man reaps what he sows? We’ve established that the concept of “reap what you sow” originates from the Scripture (Galatians 6:7), which goes without saying it is biblical. Let’s delve into some of the Bible’s teachings about reaping and sowing. 

Choosing what seed to sow

If we want to harvest lemons, we need to plant the seeds of a lemon tree. We cannot expect a rose to bloom if we had planted a sunflower. Same way, if we live our lives in a way that only satisfies our own selfish and sinful desires, we cannot expect that we will reap eternal life with Christ. 

But if we live a life that pleases the Spirit, we can rest in the assurance of eternal life from the Spirit. It is why we are urged and encouraged not to grow weary of doing what pleases God because, at the right time, we will harvest the blessing of what we had sown if we persevere (Galatians 6:7-9). 

Knowing how much to sow

In 2 Corinthians 9:6, as we previously mentioned, we are taught that whoever plants seeds sparsely will also harvest a small crop. But the person who sows abundantly can also expect a bountiful harvest. The Bible encourages us not to hold back when we plant seeds of the Spirit, for, in due time, we will also reap eternal life with our harvested crops. 

Also, God’s concern here is not the amount but the condition of our hearts when we give. Remember that it states in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that God loves a cheerful giver. So even if we have given little, but that was our best, and we gave it so willingly, this is already a significant amount in God’s eyes (Luke 21:2-3).  

Knowing where to sow

Jesus Christ, Himself, taught us the parable of the sower, and we can find this in these books and verses: Matthew 13:1–23, Mark 4:1–20, and Luke 8:4–15

In this parable, the farmer had thrown the seeds, and they fell to different places. One fell on the road where people had stepped on and crushed it, and then it got eaten by the birds. One fell among the rocks and sprouted a bit, but it just withered and died because of lack of moisture. Another seed grew among the thorns that choked up and killed other tender plants. But one fell on the fertile soil where it grew and multiplied a hundred times more. 

Jesus here was talking about the Word of God, and the places where the seeds fell represent the heart of men. Some people are like the footpath where the enemy, can easily crush or snatch away the Good News that other people had planted. Others are like the rocks where the message of God grew for a bit but died when temptation came. Some are similar to those with thorns where pleasures of life and selfish desires killed God’s Word. And then some people are like the fertile soil. They have a genuine love for the Word of God and had multiplied a hundred-fold. 

The question to us is, we have good seeds to plant but are our hearts an excellent place to be grown? Will they take root, and the crop multiply if we plant the seeds of God’s Spirit there?

Why should we expect toil and hard work while sowing

The process of planting and harvesting requires much effort and hard work. The Bible tells us that sowing in faith involves work (James 2:17). And then there’s the waiting. Because of our sinful nature, it is easier for us to sow seeds of our cares, desires, and pleasures. We’d instead do this than obey and heed the instructions of the Scriptures. Even more so, when we get entangled in a hopeless situation, our prayers seem unanswered, and getting our way appears to be the more practical thing to do. 

But here is where God expects us to plant the seeds of the Spirit. Are we going to follow our instinct, or will we surrender to Christ’s lordship? Here is where the battle of the flesh and the Spirit happens. Here is where we should make that critical decision: act as the world acts and reap destruction or decide as God had instructed us to do. 

The solution is God’s Word

That is why Joshua 1:8 also teaches us to meditate on God’s Word day and night for us to be able to keep the Lord’s commands. God wants us to trust Him, draw near Him, and wait on Him as we reap eternal life with God. Just like Matthew 6:33 says, seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness, and everything else will just follow. 

The role of God’s grace in reaping and sowing

Praise God for His amazing grace! There is so much grace involved when one sows and another reaps meaning there are lessons that we can learn in both the good and the bad. There is much wisdom that can come out both in our victories and stumbling moments. Sometimes sowing can involve weeping, but God promises us that when we sow in tears, we will harvest in rejoicing (Psalm 126:5). 

While sowing good works can provide many benefits, I know I can also get them even if I am not deserving. That is God’s grace in action. We have our limitations, lack many aspects of our lives, and cannot control everything. God is aware of our limits and thresholds, and this is what He tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:9 His grace is enough. 

He even goes on to say that His power is made perfect in our weakness. We can sow and put in the hard work that wherever we are lacking and can’t control, God can do His mighty work and produce a bountiful harvest for us.

How do We Apply “Reap What You Sow” In Our Lives?

“Reap what you sow” should be applied in our regular routines and our own lives. As we had mentioned earlier in this article, even small decisions can change our course. As it says in 1 Corinthians 10:31, whatever it is that we do, whether eating or drinking, we are to do it for the glory of the Lord. 

How do we glorify the Lord? By submitting to His lordship and His will. We are reminded in Romans 12:2 to no longer think nor act as the world does but let us renew our minds and allow God to transform us. And in doing so, we will know the pleasing and perfect will of God in our lives.

In Summary

We may find that “reap what you sow” intimidating at first. But when we understand how God only wants the best for us (Jeremiah 29:11), we can rest in the comfort that our efforts will not be in vain. And so, we persevere and continue to plant good seeds no matter how tiring it can be because we know that in God’s perfect time and according to His will, we will reap a bountiful harvest and live a life of eternity with Him.

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Alex Shute
Alex Shute, MBA
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow.

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