In America at least, there are a growing number of churches and preachers who are saying that faith is a means to get the riches and pleasures of this world. But Jesus calls those things a threat to the fruitfulness of God’s word in your life.You cannot pursue wealth without great spiritual danger.

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Matthew #42 . Matthew 13:18-23

This week, we will look at the parable of the sower, primarily using Jesus’ explanation of it. I want to begin, however, with a few more words about parables. A parable is a story told to illustrate one or more basic points. A parable says “the truth I am telling you is like this…” The point is not usually the face-value of the story, but in explaining a different truth. For instance, in the parable of the sower, Jesus is not saying that the word of God is literally seeds, and people are actually soil. He is saying, “the concept is similar, in these particular ways, to what happens when a farmer plants seeds.”

In addition, it is important not to over-analyze parables. Not every little thing in a parable means something important. For instance, in the parable of the sowers, the birds come down and eat the seeds off the path. Jesus says this is an illustration of how the evil one snatches the word of God away from some people. But it would be wrong to say, “this means that birds are evil. They are agents of the devil.” That is putting too much on the parable. With this in mind, let’s look at how Jesus explains the parable of the sower:

“You, then, listen to the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one sown along the path. And the one sown on rocky ground — this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. Yet he has no root in himself, but is short-lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now the one sown among the thorns — this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. But the one sown on the good ground — this is one who hears and understands the word, who does bear fruit and yields: some 100, some 60, some 30 times what was sown.” (Matt 13:18-23, HCSB)

Remember, the ongoing theme of this section of Matthew is spiritual receptivity. That is what this parable is all about. Jesus describes four kinds of people, four different responses when people hear the word of God. I have struggled a little bit with this parable, because I’m not sure if this is just the way it is, or if Jesus tells it because we may be able to change our level of spiritual receptivity. Jesus doesn’t really make that clear in this text. However, I think as we look at the entire Bible, it does become clear that when we encounter the word of God, the Holy Spirit enables us to say yes, and to receive it, and we have within us also the choice to reject it. In other words, I think our own choices do have a say in how spiritually receptive we are. I think the Holy Spirit gives us an opportunity to become “good soil.” The Lord also allows us freely to choose to reject him, because without that choice our love for him could never be real.

So first, it appears that the word “bounces off” some people. They don’t even really get it in the first place, and the devil snatches it away. You might say that their choice in this situation is to be basically uninterested. This allows the devil an opportunity to simply snatch it away.

Another group of people receives the word with joy, but develops no “roots.” As Bible commentator Matthew Henry writes:

They receive it with joy. Note, There are many that are very glad to hear a good sermon, that yet do not profit by it; they may be pleased with the word, and yet not changed and ruled by it; the heart may melt under the word, and yet not be melted down by the word, much less into it, as into a mould

We may find many people like this in various churches. They are happy enough to go along with Christianity as long as they are not challenged in their lifestyle or priorities, or as long as no sacrifice is required on their part. But when it gets hard to follow Jesus, when difficult choices have to be made, there is no real spiritual substance in them to stick to the word of God. These are the Christians who change their beliefs in order to fit in with the culture, even abandoning Christianity altogether if necessary. It may be helpful to remember that for a time at least, these people are actually calling themselves Christians. Many of them presumably go to church. Perhaps this is one reason the world gets so disillusioned with the church.

Next, Jesus describes a third group. These are people who also appeared to receive the word with joy. They may not bow to cultural pressures like the group that came before them, but other types of strains get in the way of truly receiving the word of God and letting it rule their lives. They find they’re too busy dealing with the stresses and cares of life. They don’t have time to let God’s word rule their lives. It isn’t practical. In addition, Jesus notes not only cares, but “the delight in riches” often chokes out the word. Luke’s version names the “cares, riches and pleasures” of this life as things that choke out the word of God.

I want to dwell on this one for just a minute, because I think these things are some of the biggest threats to true faith for those who live in developed countries around the world. In America at least, there are a growing number of churches and preachers who are even saying that faith is a means to get the riches and pleasures of this world. But Jesus calls those things a threat to the fruitfulness of God’s word in your life. Let’s look at some other bible passages about wealth and pleasures:

From these come envy, quarreling, slander, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement among people whose minds are depraved and deprived of the truth, who imagine that godliness is a way to material gain.

But godliness with contentment is a great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

But you, man of God, run from these things, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the faith; take hold of eternal life that you were called to and have made a good confession about in the presence of many witnesses. (1Tim 6:4-12, HCSB)

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1Tim 6:17-19, ESV2011)

Don’t wear yourself out to get rich; stop giving your attention to it. As soon as your eyes fly to it, it disappears, for it makes wings for itself and flies like an eagle to the sky. (Prov 23:4-5, HCSB)

Two things I ask of You; don’t deny them to me before I die: Keep falsehood and deceitful words far from me. Give me neither poverty nor wealth; feed me with the food I need. Otherwise, I might have too much and deny You, saying, “Who is the LORD? ” or I might have nothing and steal, profaning the name of my God. (Prov 30:7-9, HCSB)

Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure with turmoil. (Prov 15:16, HCSB)

Clear enough for you? Obviously, the scripture shows balance. While trusting God for everything, we should also work to support ourselves, if possible (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12). However, the desire for, and pursuit of, wealth beyond what we need is a great spiritual danger. It chokes out the word of God. That doesn’t mean that a wealthy person cannot be a Christian. But it does mean that we should not pursue wealth as a goal, and that if we are wealthy, we should use that wealth to share generously, do good works and to support the work of spreading God’s word. You cannot pursue wealth without great spiritual danger.

I want to also talk about cares. Jesus says that not only wealth, but “the cares of this life” choke out the word of God. In this context, I think he means anything that you give priority to above God. You get caught up in worries and stresses and trying to deal with them. But the Lord invites us to unload our cares upon him:

“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30, HCSB)

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you. (1Pet 5:6-7, HCSB)

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7, HCSB)

When we try to handle our burdens and cares own our own, it gets in the way of the work God wants to do in and through us. Instead, we are to give it all to him, trusting him with our cares, as we let his word become more important in our lives than dealing with burdens or the pursuit of riches.

There is an interesting thing I notice here. In this parable, three out of four types of people end up turning away from God. Now, again, we can’t take too much detail out of a parable, but there is something comforting for me in that. I get disappointed so often when non-Christians persist in rejecting Jesus. I am saddened by those who call themselves Christians but who compromise and go along with the culture, or choose their own sins over the painful path of repentance. I am disheartened by those who become distracted by wealth, the cares of this life, or both. I don’t know if we can say that three out of four people will do such things, but in any case, Jesus knew, thousands of years ago, that at least some people would reject his word in those ways. I am not happy about that, and I don’t imagine he is either, but it brings me comfort in two ways. First, when I feel all alone, as if no one else is following Jesus the way I am, I can see that such a feeling should probably be expected from time to time. Second, when I feel like my efforts to show the truth and love of Jesus to others are failing, it helps to remember that Jesus expected that; not everyone chooses to receive the word and let it take root.

There is a final group that Jesus names: those who receive the word of God, allow it to take root and grow, and produce fruit. This is what Jesus wants from his disciples – from us.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. (John 15:1-5, HCSB)

Producing fruit isn’t the result of our striving or goodness, but of Jesus’ work and goodness, flowing through us. All we have to do is continue to trust him, continue to receive his word and submit to what he says. His word will be powerfully effective in and through our lives, if we let it.

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  1. Karen McIntyre

    I have to admit, this parable as well as Jesus’ purpose in using parables as in Matthew 13:12; “For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him”, has always baffled me and struck me as a little unfair. (OK, very unfair) Why can’t God give to us equally? Why couldn’t God make me more receptive to His Word and Spirit? And then it struck me; I’m thinking like a liberal, haha.
    I just want to share a revelation which God is giving me with the help of a book I have just started reading, Switch On Your Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf. I say, “giving” because it is just starting to formulate in my brain and I think it deserves much more attention on my part.
    This book explain the neuroscience behind “free will”. As Dr. Leaf points out, to every human being, at birth, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind.” So what happened? Free will; choices. According to her (as I understand it), every choice, every thought we have, establishes pathways in the brain that become more and more pronounced as we continue to make them, even to the point of actually altering our DNA. So if you consider the neuroscience in light of Scripture, the more we choose to trust, “fear not”, “fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Phil 4:8; the more pathways we build that lead in these directions. Therefore we “are given more and will have in abundance” as well as becoming the one “who hears and understands the word, who does bear fruit and yields: some 100, some 60, some 30 times what was sown.”
    Conversely, if we think or act on things that are not of God; anxiety, fear, anger, hatred, etc.; these also build up pathways, making it more difficult to let go of those ways.
    So if we “take every thought captive” and “renew our minds”. as Scripture admonishes us; we can reverse the bad and strengthen the good. This always seemed a daunting task to me. But it now seems that every single good choice of thought and deed, begins the building process. With every choice, it becomes easier, all leading back to the way God intends for us to be; powerful, loving and sound of mind, which leads to peace, joy and freedom. Therefore, the more we have of the former, the greater abundance we receive of the latter.
    I certainly hope this makes sense outside my own head. Sometime, with me, a paradigm shift moves a glacial speed. I think I have more studying to do.

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