The parables Jesus told are interesting stories which His listeners could easily relate to. He told them to illustrate spiritual truths. However, they are not always easy to interpret. Sometimes Jesus gave the specific meaning of the details of a parable. For instance, the Lord identified Himself as the sower in the parable of the tares (Mt. 13:24-29, 36-43). But in the parable of the sower (Mt. 13:3-23) He left the sower unidentified, thereby indicating that the sower could be any of His servants.
This parable describes the results we observe when the “seed” we sow falls on a variety of “soils” – that is, on the ears of a variety of hearers. It must be emphasized that the purpose of this parable is not to teach us theology about “eternal security,” but to teach us about what we will observe when we sow the seed.
What Is The Seed?
Matthew calls the seed “the word of the kingdom” (Mt. 13:19 NASB) and hence it is not quite identical with the Scriptures. According to J. A. Savage, in his book The Kingdom Of God And Of Heaven (G. Norrish, p. 17), there are many “errors that are made with respect to the kingdom … chiefly due to a misapplication of the various references to it.” We will apply the word “seed” both to the gospel and to the practical teaching of Scripture. It is good, productive seed and the differences in the results arise out of the nature of the “soils” on which it is sown.
The Lord said, “The sower went out to sow his seed … Some fell beside the road; and it was trampled under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it” (Lk. 8:5). He explains that this hardened soil represents unbelievers who hear the gospel, reject it, and then have it taken away by the devil, “so that they may not believe and be saved” (Lk. 8:12). The Lord is teaching us that some hearers will ridicule and reject the gospel no matter how well it is presented. He Himself observed His own teaching being trampled under foot (Mt. 7:6).
Some seeds fell where “they had no depth of soil.” They germinated, but when the plants came up, because they “had no root, they withered away” (Mt. 13:5-6). These, says the Lord, “are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy … believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away” (Lk. 8:13). The Lord is simply preparing us for what we will in fact observe.
The gospel is indeed a wonderful story of the Father’s love and the Son’s self-sacrifice for us. We will, therefore, see some unsaved people respond with joy and believe. However, the Lord wants us to know that those whose belief is shallow-rooted may wither away when challenges to their faith arise. A withered plant is dead – that is, the person was never really saved.
We cannot tell, by simply looking, who is shallow-rooted. Therefore, we should avoid doing anything which may cause the shallow-rooted to wither, to stumble. We are to be careful not to “do anything by which your brother stumbles” (Rom. 14:21). Young believers are especially susceptible to stumbling, and the Lord tells us that anyone who causes “little ones who believe to stumble” would be better off if we drowned him (Mk. 9:42)!
There are a number of ways in which strong, deep-rooted believers can cause shallow-rooted ones to stumble. One way is to exhibit a pharisaical, critical attitude toward their behavior. Of course, we are to kindly and gently correct and reprove (2 Tim. 3:16). But we are acting destructively when we impose our cherished ideas as requisite for spiritual living, when those ideas are really just legalism. Pharisaical attitudes, like leaven, will spread silently through the whole church, ultimately producing a biting and devouring of one another (Gal. 5:15).
We can also cause young believers to stumble by pressuring them to accept interpretations of Scripture which they question and which are not essential to salvation. Young believers – to whom God has given inquiring, thinking minds – will pose challenging questions. If they are met with angry, authoritarian, illogical answers – instead of humility, thoughtfulness, and understanding – they will be turned off and look elsewhere for answers. And anti-Christians lie in wait, ready to provide wrong, seemingly reasonable, faith-destroying answers.
Our treatment of miracles can also cause some believers to stumble. Instead of humbly saying, “We don’t know” many believers tend to offer unacceptable, seemingly unreasonable explanations that raise more questions for the thinking person than they answer. It is better to say, “A God who can create all that is in the universe can certainly cause things to happen that we cannot now explain.”
“Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it, and choked it out” (Lk. 8:7). The Lord explains that “these are the ones who have heard the word and the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches … choke the word and it becomes unfruitful” (Mk. 4:18-19).
The word can be choked out by the “pleasures of this life” (Lk. 8:14), but also, in the lives of many believers, by things other than “worldliness” – even by things the Lord gives us, such as the normal “cares” of this life (Lk. 8:14). He expects us to earn a living and provide for our families, but we can become so occupied with these things that they crowd out what we should be doing for Him, thereby stunting our spiritual growth.
There is a cure for the weed-infested garden: pull out the weeds! We do that either by spontaneous self-judgment or by self-judgment after a kindly word of counsel from another believer. Weeding is a never-ending job! And if we do not judge ourselves, the Lord will eventually painfully pull out the weeds for us.
We will observe those, says the Lord, who “hear the word and accept it,” who “understand it” and then “bear fruit with perseverance” (Mk. 4:20; Mt. 13:23; Lk. 8:15) – “some a hundred-fold, some sixty and some thirty” (Mt. 13:23). These people, the “saved,” will seek to apply the Scripture “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” so that they may be “adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16).
And they will produce good works. Some will be more fruitful than others, as the Lord teaches in the parables of the talents and the minas. The parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14-30) teaches us that some believers have more abilities than others, while the parable of the minas (Lk. 19:12-27) teaches us that, given the same ability, some will be more productive than others because of greater diligence. But every believer is to be productive!
There are also believers who produce only worthless works (1 Cor. 3:13-15). But it is not our responsibility to pass judgment on the worth of their works, and on the basis of that judgment decide whether or not they are saved. “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim. 2:19). Our responsibility is to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).
We are all to be sowers of the Word, and that includes more than what is traditionally called “the gospel.” The Word will be trampled under foot, a wonderful message will be forgotten, the responsibilities of life may crowd it out, but we are not to be discouraged. There will be fruit for the Lord! He assures us of this saying, “My word … shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). God will bring about the results!
By Alan H. Crosby
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.