In the 1st century, farming was all the rage. What can we say? They loved organic produce. So when Paul talks about reaping and sowing, his audience would have totally understood what he meant. But even if you've never set foot on a farm, Shmoop's gonna bet you have (metaphorically) reaped what you've sown every now and then.
Of course, our readers only reap good thingsâ¦but we digress.
Don't Fear the Reaper
One of Paul's most quoted images is from these letters:
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:7-9)
For those of us who aren't up to speed on our 1st-century agricultural terms, sowing basically refers to planting seeds in the ground. Reaping means that you collect the crops once they've grown. You plant corn seeds in your field, they grow into corn, and you cut them down to eat them.
Here, the image applies to how we live our lives. Basically, whatever you put into life, you get back out. So if you constantly act like a jerk to your best friend, that person won't be your best friend for long. And no one will feel sorry for you because, hey, you reap what you sow.
For Paul, the image applies to how Christians live their lives. If they stay focused on the Holy Spirit and living good Christian lives, they'll be very happy when God declares that it's harvest time. But if they spend all their time worrying about silly concerns (like whether or not to get circumcised), things won't work out well for them.
This whole what-goes-around-comes-around idea isn't unique to Paul. It occurs a couple other places in the Bible. The Book of Job says, "those who plow inequity and sow trouble reap the same" (Job 4:8). Proverbs tells us that "whoever sows injustice will reap calamity" (Proverbs 22:8). The meaning is the same, but Paul's way of putting it is by far the most popular.