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The whole Bible is the inspired Word of God (1 Tim 3:16). The Holy Spirit saw to it that this Book was written and the content was selected the way it was, and in the order things were put in there, for whatever reason He saw fit.
I’m not a big fan of lifting things out of context and I try not to do it, but we all do it by accident or sometimes by faulty memory when recollecting nuggets or quotes from Scripture. That’s why I read and meditate the Word of God in chapters at a time, if not whole books, and when I stumble across individual verses, I back up and move forward and give careful thought to stuff surrounding it.
So I’m going to camp right here in Matthew 13 for a little while because there’s a LOT to unpack in it. There are many commonalities in the parables and stories here, and not only that, but they are all placed in this same chapter for a reason. Many of us might not have ever realized they tie together or realized off the top of our head they were all in succession in the same chapter in both Matthew, and some of them in Mark 4.
And not only that, but Jesus explains very few of His parables in the New Testament, but gives explanations to two of them in this chapter, so I think it’s worthy of careful study.
Parable of the Sower
“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Matthew 18:3-9,18-23 English Standard Version
We begin with the parable of the sower. In Mark’s account of this, it’s implied that understanding this parable is the key to understanding any parable (Mark 4:14). Jesus tells them “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Matt 13:11)
My paraphrase: knowledge is reserved for those who want it.
That said, it’s necessary to have at least some preliminary familiarity with this parable.
Jesus shares this parable in the first portion of the chapter and in verse 10 His disciples come up to Him asking about this teaching. They wanted to know why He speaks in parables. Jesus doesn’t do it because He wants to be mystical or keep knowledge away from people all the while looking like some spooky-spiritual guru.
The opposite is true.
He does things in such a way where we need to take initiative and seek. Knowledge is reserved for those who want it, not for people who want to be spoon-fed the mysteries of the Kingdom. God doesn’t reveal the mysteries of His deep to just any passerby circumventing intimacy with Him.
In this parable, no matter the result of each instance of dispensing the seed (the Word of God), it becomes apparent that it’s always necessary for the soil (heart) to be properly cultivated for the desired results and fruitfulness.
The Cares of This Life Choke The Word
The first instance mentioned has the seed landing above the ground or on the surface, and the birds of the air come and snatch it away easily (v.4). In Jesus’ explanation, He says the birds of the air are snatching away what was sown in the person’s heart (v.19). This throws a wrench in some “once-saved, always-saved” teachings I’ve read and heard explained that the only person to get saved in this parable is the fourth one in the end that bears fruit.
Not so. At least, at the very most I will concede this is not the best portion of Scripture for proponents of that doctrine to base their teaching on. Each of the four ‘soils of heart’ in this parable RECEIVED the word in their heart. It went in.
The second person hears it but has no root or depth in that soil because the soil is rocky (v.5-6). In our spiritual growth we need both depth and the ability to branch out & grow upward and outward, and can’t have one without the other. We need both the opportunity to deepen and mature in the things of God, as well as the occasions to put into practice what we learn, along have fruitfulness—depth AND application.
As one of my team leaders in Holland used to say “you can’t give what you don’t have.”
The natural result of shallowness of soil is that this seed doesn’t spring forth or grow beyond its initial ‘sprout’. In Jesus’ explanation, this person immediately receives it and looks on the surface like they’re a solid enthusiastic Christian per se, maybe even “on fire for Jesus”, but trials and tribulations because of the Word choke out and hinder this person from enduring for very long (v.20-21).
It’s interesting to note that 1 Peter 1:6-9 indicates that trials and tests purify a person’s genuine faith.
You Can’t Serve God AND Money
The third person–and the main one I want to show you something you might not have noticed before–is representative of soil that itself was fine, but that the seed was growing next to other things that drained the resources in the soil and prevented the good seed from obtaining life and vitality (v.7). Jesus says that the weeds that choked out the life of this seed were the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches.
Interesting that Jesus specifies riches (money) as a ‘strangler’ of the good Word. This would probably explain how some ministers of the Gospel throughout the ages wind up becoming heavily engrossed with prosperity ‘name it and claim it’ Gospels.
Or other people who can’t pursue the call of God on their life out of fear of trusting God for where the finances will come from. All sorts of people bow to money instead of the God who owns a thousand cattle on a thousand hills because of the cares of this life choking out the good Word.
Notice, it DOES NOT say in this account that this seed dies—it says the weeds (cares of this life and distraction of riches), choke the Word—which I always used to assume meant it was killed. But from just reading the text, we see that that’s not necessarily true.
This ‘Word” stays alive, but is unfruitful because the nutrients and minerals in the soil that would’ve given life to it not getting up through the stem or branches, because it’s being sucked out of the ground by these other cares, and giving “fruitfulness” to the weeds instead.
The nutrients in the soil of this heart are being wasted on other pursuits in this believer’s life.
Have you ever thought of that before—that you can’t serve God AND money?
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matt 6:24)
Put that in your Bible and read it!
If you think I’m reading into the text, then follow along next time when we examine the next parable Jesus shares in this chapter—on the wheat and the tares. Consider how the seeds that fell on good soil in this passage bear fruit—the individuals who hear the good word and do it and are fruitful. It’s typically understood then that they didn’t have these same “soil issues” as the seeds in the previous three examples.
Not so with the wheat and tares.
More on that in the next chance I have to post an entry.
Who Are You Serving?
I find it interesting that some teachers out there can teach very well, and money doesn’t snare them become their focus. Gary Carpenter is a minister I believe this to be true of, and I highly recommend his series on “Stewarding the Pound”, and other such teachings found on his website (he totally corrects a lot of the false teaching on what we know as “the Prosperity Gospel”, but if you don’t stick around and listen to enough of his messages, you’ll accidentally assume he is one of them)
But without mentioning names, some of you reading immediately had thoughts of certain preachers where they teach and preach more on money and such–with what seems like an anointing–but hardly talk about the cross of Jesus Christ, or repentance from dead works or other essentials of the faith. It’s because the nutrients in the soil cannot support both the good word AND the cares of this life, including riches.
Jesus taught in other portions of the Gospels that the cares of this life can distract us from true faith and trust in God. To close off this entry, why not keep in mind what He taught in the sermon on the mount concerning the cares of this life and anxiety over them:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:25-33, ESV, emphasis mine.
In the parable of the sower, notice that the cares choke the good word. But if we seek FIRST after the kingdom of God, then there is room for both the kingdom of God manifested and bearing fruit in the believer’s life, AND the needs of the believer being taken care of and provided for.
And THAT kind of prosperity message is Biblical.