The Work of Sowing and Reaping

“For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor” (vv. 37–38).

- John 4:35–38

Because we are physical creatures, we require physical food and drink to sustain our bodies. Though we need material sustenance in order to live, there is one thing that is more needful for us, namely, to live by the Word of God so that we can do His will (Deut. 8:3). This singular purpose drove our Savior, for the only food that could truly satisfy Him was to do the will of His Father and to accomplish the work for which He was sent (John 4:34).

In today’s passage, Jesus expands on the nature of the work for which He was sent. Drawing on agricultural imagery, our Savior speaks of the work of sowing and reaping the fruit of eternal life (v. 36). Although there is ordinarily a time gap between the sowing of seed and the gathering of the harvest, in Jesus’ ministry both occur together. This was most evident in the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well. In conversing with her, our Lord sowed the seed of the gospel, calling the woman to turn to Him for the living water that she so desperately needed. And in turn, He reaped a harvest as she believed in Him as the Messiah and bore witness to Him among her neighbors (vv. 1–30). Amos 9:13 looks forward to the abundant sowing and reaping of the messianic age, and in the work of Jesus the harvest is planted and harvested.

Of course, Jesus fully accomplished His work of atonement two thousand years ago, but His work of sowing and reaping continues. The disciples participated in this work during our Lord’s earthly ministry, and by extension, all of Jesus’ followers will participate in this mission until the end of the age (vv. 36–38; see Matt. 28:18–20). In fact, the church is the primary means through which Jesus plants the seed of the gospel—through preaching and teaching the Word—and harvests spiritual fruit—as people are called to repent and believe in Him alone for salvation. Within the array of callings and gifts represented by the church, some focus on sowing and some on reaping, but all faithful servants of Christ join in these kingdom labors in some capacity (John 4:37–38).

Importantly, both sowers and reapers are necessary for the full kingdom harvest. We should not despise the gifts of others or envy those with different callings; rather, we must work together to fulfill God’s mission for the church. In the end, Matthew Henry comments, “both they that sowed and they that reaped shall rejoice together; and the great Lord of the harvest shall have the glory of all.”

Coram Deo

What is your place in the work of the kingdom? Even now, Christ is working through His church to plant spiritual seed and reap spiritual fruit, and all of us are called to participate in this work by exercising our gifts for the sake of the advance of the gospel. What can you do this day to encourage the proclamation of the gospel and the calling of people to faith in your local community?

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 126
Hosea 10:12
Galatians 6:6–10
1 Corinthians 3

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.