Kind hearts are the gardens,
Kind thoughts are the roots,
Kind words are the flowers,
Kind deeds are the fruits,
Take care of your garden
And keep out the weeds,
Fill it with sunshine,
Kind words and kind deeds.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow1,2 —
Born in Leominster, Massachusetts on September 26, 1774, John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, became one of America’s best known folk heroes.
He moved to Ohio at the beginning of the 19th century, bringing seeds from Pennsylvania cider presses with him and planting them along the way.…Chapman planted orchards along the pioneers’ routes, staying ahead of other orchardist competition since his nomadic, unmarried lifestyle allowed him to cover more ground. He would then trade his seedlings with new settlers in the area so that they could grow apples for their new homes.3
Johnny Appleseed’s life and work are remembered and celebrated even today.4 While just about anyone can look at an apple tree and see apples, John Chapman was one of those special individuals who could look at an apple and see trees. Perhaps this is one reason he is so well loved in American folklore and history.
Actually, this is the kind of insight we as Christians are called upon to exercise. Despite the challenges and difficulties involved, we’re not only to believe trees can come forth but also to work to cultivate them so they can flourish. The trees of which I speak here aren’t literal trees, but the intangible results of good works.
To be clear, we don’t perform good works to be saved, but because we already have been saved. In Ephesians 2:8-9, the apostle Paul affirmed that salvation comes only “by grace…through faith…not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Then he wrote, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
As we perform good works in the power of God’s Spirit, God uses our deeds to impact lives and to promote righteousness and the cause of Christ. In Galatians 6:9, Paul said, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Let’s examine several elements of this important verse.
- We note first that we are not to “grow weary.” In other words, we must not become exhausted or spiritless.5 The Greek word represented by the English words grow weary appears five other times in the New Testament, and in every case it is presented with a negative modifier (see Luke 18:1; 2 Cor. 4:1,16; Eph. 3:13; 2 Thess. 3:13).
- Second, we must persevere in our efforts to do good. The word translated good in Galatians 6:9 is used just over 100 times in the New Testament. It carries these meanings: “genuine, approved, noble, praiseworthy, precious, competent.”6 Consider this verse where the word appears twice: Paul wrote to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12).
- Third, we will get to reap the harvest our good works produce if we persevere. The word translated reap means just that, although it also can refer to sowing.7 Moreover, while it is clear from verse 9 alone that Paul was speaking in terms of reaping in a spiritual sense, the previous verse, Galatians 6:8, makes this assertion undeniable. Paul wrote, “For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”
- Fourth, the timing of the harvest will be “in due season.” Just as crops do not ripen overnight, our good works often do not bear immediate fruit—but they will bear fruit eventually. We must be patient—obviously another reason why Paul emphasizes the theme of perseverance more than once in Galatians 6:9.
- Finally, we are to not to “lose heart” or faint. The Greek term means “to weaken or relax, to grow weak or to be tired out.”8 Certainly it also carries the idea of giving up, a concept employed by the translators of the New International Version and the translators of the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
It is clear that anyone reaping a harvest of good works has great cause to celebrate, but it also is evident that cultivating this kind of crop can be very costly. For examples, we need only turn to brothers and sisters in Christ like Kelvin Cochran, who was fired from his position as Atlanta Fire Chief simply because he expressed his belief in biblical marriage on his own time.9,10 Or we could turn to Kim Davis, county clerk for Rowan County in Kentucky, Cynthia and Robert Gifford, Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman, David and Jason Benham, or Aaron and Melissa Klein, to name a few of many.11 Moreover, it isn’t just Christians’ livelihoods that are threatened, it’s their very lives. Many believers worldwide are paying the ultimate price to remain true to their faith.12
Thus, to produce the crop that results when good works are sown and cultivated, we may have to sacrifice a great deal. Often these sacrifices come because unbelievers misunderstand our faith and want to force us to betray our God. We would not minimize the pain of any of these sacrifices. Even so, in the end, if we remain faithful, what we gain will far outweigh everything we lose.
A Norwegian family lived on the shore, their home located very close to the lighthouse. Frequently the fisherman father would take his two teenage sons with him to catch fish. On one expedition they started out early in the morning, but by mid-day the sky had grown black and the sea rough. Conditions rapidly grew even worse, and their tiny boat was tossed unmercifully by the strong, relentless waves, which rose higher and higher with each passing minute.
In fact, the storm was so violent that it doused the light in the lighthouse. This left the man and his sons relying only on their best guess as to where steer the ship. It seemed they would perish. After some time, when the fisherman and his sons were drained of almost all their strength, they spotted a light on the shore! It grew brighter and brighter, making it possible for the captain and his two-man crew to direct their boat toward the shore at just the right time. Much to the relief of all three, when the onshore light began to dim, they’d made enough progress to ensure their safe arrival, even as the storm began to wane.
As they walked to their home, the man and his sons saw that it now was a charred, smoldering shell. The wife and mother ran to meet them and gave them the sad news that a fire had broken out she hadn’t been able to contain. Their home, along with all their possessions, had been lost. Seeing that her husband was taking the news in an almost lighthearted manner, she cried, “Karl, didn’t you hear me? We’ve lost everything!”
“But Ingrid, don’t you see?” Karl replied, “The light in the lighthouse was out because of the storm, and the same storm was battering our boat. We were groping in the dark! We surely would have perished had it not been for the light we saw onshore coming from the fire. The same fire that took our house saved our lives!”13
In the grand scheme of things, this family had a great deal more to celebrate than to grieve. So it is with us as we sow, cultivate, and tend to a crop of good works performed in the strength of God’s Holy Spirit. Despite the sacrifices we are called upon to make, if we remain faithful, then “in due season we shall reap” a bountiful harvest for God’s glory.
Copyright © 2015 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2Even Longfellow, who apparently was not a Christian, understood the need to cultivate a garden yielding kind words and deeds.
13Swindoll, Charles R. (2006-01-29). The Darkness and the Dawn (pp. 312-313). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition. Swindoll’s source: Charles A. Allen, You Are Never Alone (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1978), pp. 126– 127.