A Man Reaps What He Sows

How many Christians have prayed and prayed about something and felt like they never got an answer from God? No doubt there have been millions. There are many reasons that people do not get answers to prayer. One of them that is not discussed much is that God expects us to obey Him and use wisdom in our daily lives. God is certainly loving, kind, and “rich in mercy,” but on the other hand, He is not a dispenser of “cheap grace,” always responsible to rescue us from the problems we cause for ourselves.

God’s Word tells us that God is not mocked, and what a person sows, he will reap.

Galatians 6:7
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

We will now embark on a study of some of the basics in God’s Word as to how each of us can “reap” a life that is more satisfying, fulfilled, powerful, and peaceful. Much of this study will come out of the book of Proverbs. God tells us the purpose of Proverbs in the opening chapter. It helps us attain wisdom, insight, and discipline, whether we are young and inexperienced, or older and more experienced. The information in Proverbs helps us do what is right and fair in the eyes of God. It gives us guidance in life (Prov. 1:2-6).

To appreciate the proverbs in the book of Proverbs, it is helpful to know that the Hebrew word translated “Proverbs” is mashal, and it means “proverb,” “proverbial saying,” or “sentences of ethical wisdom.” [1] The Greeks translated it into paroimia in the Septuagint, and it was brought into the Latin Vulgate as proverbia, which is why our English Bibles have “Proverbs.” The real key to understanding Proverbs, however, is given in The Companion Bible by E. W. Bullinger. He points out that the Hebrew root mashal means “to rule,” (see Gen. 1:18, 24:2; Exod. 21:8, etc.), and points out that proverbs are words given by God for ruling our lives.

God’s Wisdom

The book of Proverbs does not consist of man’s wisdom that just happened to be recorded by Solomon and other wise men and then passed down as helpful sayings. Like the rest of the Bible, the proverbs in Proverbs are the God-breathed Word (2 Tim. 3:16). While it is likely true that some of them were spoken by wise people and then passed on in the culture (such as our English, “A penny saved is a penny earned”), God gave many of them directly to Solomon. In any case, as recorded in Scripture they are God’s words and God’s wisdom, lovingly given to man to rule his life. God’s proverbs are generally different from His commands. To break a command is sin, while to ignore a proverb is stupidity. It only ends in disappointment, disgrace, and destruction.

It is unfortunate that some Christians today act as if they can “sow” foolishness by ignoring or disobeying God’s rules for living life, and still think they can “reap” an abundant life. Of course they would never say that, but they act that way, because they ignore God’s rules but expect Him to rescue them from problems. Sadly, much of this foolishness comes from teaching about “faith” from an unbalanced perspective. Turn on Christian radio or television and you will hear sermon after sermon on faith, and how faith will solve people’s problems. It is taught that people will get money by faith, get healed by faith, or get what they want in life by faith. And while some people do, many do not. Of course, when someone is not rescued “by faith,” it is easy to point a finger and say, “He did not have enough faith,” but is that really true? While it is certainly true in some cases, is lack of faith the only reason so many people have problems and unanswered prayers? Could there be other factors we should also consider? Biblically, there is no reason to limit faith as the only factor involved. Scripture presents several other factors that play into why prayers sometimes go unanswered; for example, the factors of human and angelic free will, the spiritual battle, the Fall, sin, and God’s will. And as we will see, it seems clear that our ignoring wisdom is also one of the reasons people have unanswered prayers.

True Faith

In order to understand why a lack of “faith” is not always the answer to people’s not getting what they pray for, we must understand “faith.” We of Spirit & Truth Fellowship International have a lot of articles about faith, and for that reason we will limit our discussion in this article. “Faith” is “trust.” Hebrews chapter 11 has many examples of people who had great faith, great trust in God. What is absolutely vital to understand about faith, however, is that there must be something to have “faith” in. We can have faith that we will be saved through Jesus because God promised we could be. We can have faith that we will get new bodies at the Rapture because God promised we would. Noah built an ark “by faith” because God made promises about the coming flood and the ark, and Noah trusted what God said (Heb. 11:7; Gen. 6:13-17). Joseph could have faith about the Exodus from Egypt even though he never lived to see it, because he trusted God’s promise that Israel would leave Egypt (Heb. 11:22; Gen. 15:13 and 14).

Rich in Mercy

In contrast to having faith in something God has promised, it is impossible to have “faith” that the moon is made of cheese, the sun is actually cool to the touch, or the Devil will be saved. Why? Because God never made promises about those things, so there is nothing to have “faith” in; there is nothing to trust in. When it comes to God’s Word, if God says we will reap what we sow, can we have faith that His Word is not true? No, we cannot. Yet God does miracles of healing and gives divine help to many people who have sowed into fleshly pleasures and have reaped problems and disease. Why is that? The answer is that God is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4) and His grace can overflow to us (2 Cor. 9:8). “Mercy” is God’s withholding a judgment or punishment that we deserve, and “grace” is special favor we do not deserve. We rejoice that God gives mercy and grace, but as we see in the world around us, not everyone who asks for God’s grace and mercy receives it in the form of a miracle. Many people’s problems continue on.

God’s mercy and grace have limits, and are meant for special situations. For example, the general truth in God’s Word is that lazy people are poor while hardworking people have what they need: “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Prov. 10:4). Can a person who has been lazy repent, ask God for abundance, and receive it? Yes, it can happen, but that is not the general pattern of life we see in the world around us, or else God would not be true to His own Word. Interestingly, the only reference to God’s mercy in Proverbs is that if we sin, we can confess our sin and receive mercy (Prov. 28:13). This makes sense because receiving forgiveness for sin, as an act of God’s mercy, is a principle of the Word that we find from Genesis through Revelation. It should not be lost on us, however, that if ignoring God’s wise advice and then trying to force God’s mercy “by faith” was a standard way to succeed with God, then we should see God’s mercy mentioned many times in Proverbs, not just once. The situation is similar with grace. The only time God’s grace is mentioned in Proverbs is that God gives grace to those who are humble (Prov. 3:34).

Example in Scripture

We do not understand all the reasons some people seem to get special grace and mercy while others do not. [2] Nevertheless, that is what happens, even in Hebrews 11, the chapter on faith. For example, Hebrews 11 refers to Daniel, who was divinely protected in the lion’s den (Dan. 6:16-22), and to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who God saved alive inside Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace (Heb. 11:34; Dan. 3). But Hebrews 11 also refers to people who were mocked, imprisoned, tortured, whipped, and killed. Yet both those who were divinely rescued and those who were not were “commended for their faith” (Heb. 11:32-39). [3]

It is common to hear television evangelists say that if a person has faith, God will bring him material abundance. Does that fit with the Word? James contradicts that “prosperity” teaching.

James 2:5 (ESV) [4]
Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?

The reason television evangelists can stay in business is that many poor people who listen to a “faith” teaching begin to pray diligently and take action to get abundance, and God works to answer their prayer. However, many other people never seem to have their prayer for financial assistance answered. That does not necessarily mean they lack faith. As James says, many poor people are rich in faith.

Consider the Ant

Some poor people are poor because they have foolishly ignored God’s “rules for life” in Proverbs and elsewhere. We cannot sow foolishness and expect to reap abundance, even if we have faith. God will not ignore His Word, even if we do. For example, a person who never sows any money toward his retirement ignores God’s wise proverb to store up in the good times when he can work, so he will have what he needs in the bad times, when he cannot.

Proverbs 6:6-11
(6) Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!
(7) It has no commander, no overseer or ruler,
(8) yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.
(9) How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?
(10) A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—
(11) and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.

God says to learn from the ant, which stores up food in the summer, i.e., when food is available to gather. Furthermore, God points out that if we are lazy and do not work hard, then poverty will come upon us “like a bandit,” meaning it will come quickly and overpower us. Do we see that in life? Certainly. Many people who could save money never do. They spend everything they make and live beyond their means year after year. Furthermore, where they could save money by doing things themselves, they hire others to mow their yards, clean their windows, wash their cars, etc. That is well and good if their financial plans allow for it, but too many people do not have enough money because they make foolish decisions.

Sadly, many people who foolishly ignored God’s advice year after year then listen to a “faith preacher” say that God will give them financial abundance if they will just have faith. So they pray and “try to have faith,” but what are they going to have faith in? That God will give them money even though they ignored His advice? That does not make any sense. By God’s mercy and grace, God does get money to many people who have ignored Him, and that gives us hope and is a reason to pray diligently for God’s help, but we cannot ignore the fact that some people who have lived foolishly pray for help and do not seem to get their prayers answered. Thankfully, the Christian world is waking up to the need for wisdom in our finances, and now there are a number of Christian teachers who specialize in teaching on financial wisdom.

Teaching that “faith” is the answer to all our problems only leads to doubt and confusion. After all, when a Christian loves God and prays without seeing significant results, it can be confusing, and even emotionally devastating. We end up doubting God and ourselves. If we are ever going to have the truth of the Word, be set free in our hearts and minds about this life, and be in the place where we do not blame God for what happens to us, the whole Word must fit together. “Lack of faith” is not the only reason that Christians have significant problems in life. Proverbs are God’s rules for living life, and yet “faith” is never mentioned, not even once. In contrast, “wisdom” occurs more than 50 times, and “wise” more than 60 times. [5] God is telling us in a very strong way that wisdom is one of the dominant reasons people succeed in life, and foolishness is one of the main reasons people have trouble. He is also making it clear that “faith” is not always a way out of the problems we cause ourselves.

Today’s Culture

It is not popular in today’s culture to speak about living wisely. We live in a society that is demanding and impatient. We want what we want, and we want it “right now.” Most people are very undisciplined in the way they live. Their spending habits, eating habits, sexual behavior, use of time, and much more, show a profound lack of wisdom. In contrast, God tells us to be disciplined in our lives (“…get wisdom, discipline and understanding,” Prov. 23:23). Furthermore, He tells us that “…fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Prov. 1:7), and “He who ignores discipline despises himself…” and “…comes to poverty and shame…” (Prov. 15:32, 13:18). Also, He says, “The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him…He will die for lack of discipline…” (Prov. 5:22 and 23).

God tells us to have discipline and self-control, and not living a disciplined life is a major reason why God does not deliver some people from their problems by “faith.” We cannot ignore God’s advice for ruling our lives and then expect Him to deliver us because this goes against His spiritual laws of sowing and reaping and His principles of stewardship. This may sound hard and harsh to our modern ears, because many people today think God should help us if we ask Him, no matter how we behave. However, God never changes, and He certainly does not change His immutable nature to accommodate our soft and undisciplined society.

If a person has health problems because he is completely undisciplined in his eating habits, never exercises, and is very overweight, will God miraculously take weight off him or help his health problem by “faith”? Thankfully, sometimes, in His great grace, He does. However, often He does not. Let us be clear about this: God is not responsible to get us out of a problem we have brought upon ourselves because we ignored or disobeyed Him. We seem to understand this when it comes to many “ordinary” problems of life. If we do not use wisdom and plan ahead for time to clean our house and do our laundry, God will not do it for us by faith. If we do not put gas in our car, we do not expect to be able to pray and have God fill our tank for us. If we do not go to the grocery store before guests arrive at our house, we do not expect God will put food in our refrigerator for them by faith.

In spite of the fact that most of us understand the clear examples above, we sometimes get confused if the situation is more complex. For example, someone may ignore wisdom and make the foolish choice to drive over the speed limit in unsafe road conditions, eventually wrecking his car and ending up in the hospital. If people from the church come over and pray with him but he is not healed, both he and they may think he was not healed because he lacked faith. However, it is just as likely that he was not healed because he had ignored God’s advice: “A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it” (Prov. 22:3). If we suffer because we ignored the Word and were not prudent, is it God’s responsibility to heal us anyway? Furthermore, if He did, what would be the point of His wise advice? Was it just a “suggestion” we can freely ignore if we have faith, while people with less faith must be obedient? That cannot be the truth.

Blaming God

God is easy to blame when we do not get what we feel He should give us. But God tells us that if we ignore wisdom, when calamity comes upon us, we will not always be divinely rescued from the trouble. Should God ignore His own Word to fix the problems we cause ourselves? By the figure of speech Personification, God brings Wisdom to life and has her speak to us:

Proverbs 1:20-31 (abbreviated)
Wisdom calls aloud in the street, “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways…and fools hate knowledge? If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you….But since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you— when…distress and trouble overwhelm you. Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me. Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways…

These words are God’s Word. They seem harsh when we read them, but they fit with what we so often see in the world around us. For example, many Christians who ignored God’s advice about sexual purity have sexually transmitted diseases and have not been healed “by faith.” There are Christians in jail because they ignored God’s advice about hanging out with evil people, and God does not get them out “by faith” (Prov. 1:10-19). Many Christians ignore God’s wise advice that a gossip will betray a confidence (Prov. 11:13), and foolishly tell a secret to someone they know has loose lips. Will God restore their reputation “by faith” when the gossip spreads the news all over town? Usually not. We need to look around us and see all the Christians who have problems that they have caused themselves by lack of wisdom. God is speaking loudly! Could it be that all these Christians simply lack the faith to get God to deliver them? We know that is not the case. Remember what Wisdom told us? We will eat the fruit of our ways if we ignore God’s advice (Prov. 1:31).

No Verse Stands on its Own

This brings us to another point we must be aware of if we are to understand God, the Bible, and life, and especially if we are going to live our lives without being angry at God. In our impatient, undisciplined Christian culture, some people treat the Bible as if it is a book of individual helpful sayings, with each verse standing on its own. They act as if the Bible is one of those books of unconnected wise sayings that some people have on their coffee table. The truth is that no verse stands on its own. Every verse is interconnected with every other verse and with the general theme of the Bible. That means to really understand life we have to pay attention to how the verses relate to each other, which means we have to study the entire Bible. But that is not what our “we want what we want and we want it now” culture wants to do.

What is typical in our culture is to take a verse such as Philippians 4:19 (“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus”), and then try to “claim” it, and force God to give us abundance “by faith.” But what about the many verses that say if we are undisciplined, or lazy, we will be poor (Prov. 10:4, 13:18, 14:23, 20:13, 21:15 and 17, 23:21, 24:33 and 34, 28:19)? These verses are God’s Word too. Can we reap what we have not sown? Can we reap abundance when we have sown foolishness? As we have already seen, thankfully, sometimes God can move powerfully in grace and mercy to help, but often the Word comes to pass and we reap what we sow and eat the fruit of our ways. Sadly, many people do not see things that way, and blame themselves for not having enough faith, or blame God for not being loving.

Healing by Faith

Another verse people often try to “claim” by faith is that they are healed in Christ. Yet how many sick Christians do not get divinely healed? Can it be all of them have no faith, or are there other reasons? How many people ignore God’s wisdom about health? The Bible contains good advice about the foods we should eat, and it tells us to avoid extremes (“…The man who fears God will avoid all extremes” Eccles. 7:18). Furthermore, in the biblical culture people walked everywhere, so everyone got plenty of exercise. Also, God warns us about anxiety (Prov. 12:25; Phil. 4:6), and commands us to be peaceful (Prov. 14:30; Phil. 4:7; Col. 3:15). Can we sow poor eating, exercise, and mental habits, and then reap health “by faith”? Let us recognize that God is merciful and sometimes can heal us even though we have ignored Him, but He cannot do it all the time—He cannot break His own Word.

God wants us to live lives that are truly blessed. To do that, we need to be wise, which is why God tells us, “Get wisdom, get understanding…” (Prov. 4:5). God also tells us to gain the discipline to carry out what we know to do. When we are ignoring God’s advice we are being proud and selfish, but when we are doing all we can to obey God, then we are being humble before Him. The proud cannot expect God’s special help, but the humble can: “…God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5; Prov. 3:34). This is, by the way, why so many people who have problems caused by their foolishness do get divine help— if they humbly come before God and repent of their foolishness, He can give grace.

God wants us to be blessed in every way. That means we will have to obey His rules about wisdom and discipline as much as His rules about faith. That is not easy to do in our culture. In fact, it requires some discipline to get more discipline. Nevertheless, let us work hard to be obedient. It is a choice to turn on the television if we have not read the Bible that day. It is a choice to sleep late and then be in so much of a hurry we do not have time to pray. As God’s children, let us redouble our efforts to be humble and wise, and avoid the pain of foolishness. Also, let us not be so foolish or spiritually blind that we blame God for the pain we have in life. God is only love, only good, and only helpful. Our pain comes from the Devil and his demonic fallen world, and from the pain we have caused ourselves. Let us obey God’s direction: “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Prov. 4:7).


[1] The New Brown, Driver, and Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Francis Brown, Editor, Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., Lafayette, IN, reprinted 1981).
[2] We do know the spiritual battle between good and evil is part of the reason.
[3] “Faith” teachers will say that while all the people in Hebrews 11 had faith in God, only the ones rescued had faith to be rescued while the others did not. However, that is an assumption based on the theology of faith they already hold. There is no verse that supports this claim.
[4] We shifted to the ESV for this verse because the NIV says, “…poor in the eyes of the world…” instead of the more literal, “poor in the world.” This verse is speaking of poor people, people without much material means of support. Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
[5] Tally was taken from the KJV.

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