I. The Story (Luke 8:4-8)
II. The Sting (Luke 8:9-10)
III. The Soils (Luke 8:11-15)
In Isaiah 5, God compares the people of Israel to a vineyard. He says that He as the vinedresser, and they were the field. He came and he tilled the ground, he plucked out the stones, and planted the best grapevine possible. He built watchtowers and fences to keep the animals and enemies at bay, and He tended and cared for that vineyard expecting it to bring forth good grapes. But despite all His hard work and labor, the field only brought forth wild, small, bitter grapes.
And so God lets His vineyard be destroyed. He takes down the hedges. He allows the vine to be burned. He tears down the wall, and allows the field to be trampled underfoot. He does not prune the vine, nor does He till the ground. He allows the briars and thorns to grow up and choke the vine, and He keeps the rain from watering it. The vineyard becomes wasteland.
This picture from Isaiah 5 is picked up by Jesus in Luke 8 with the parable of the four soils. Everybody who has gardens or fields knows that there is good soil and bad soil in every garden and in every field. But the best gardens, the best fields, are those with the best soil.
And this is ever farmer’s goal – to get the best soil into his field. If he has a field with bad soil, it requires a lot of work and effort to make it good soil. One of you was telling me just last week about all the work you have put into your garden to make it suitable for planting. If the ground is hard and packed down, you have to till it. If it is rocky, you have to get those rocks out of there. If it is filled with weeds, you have to pull them or kill them. The goal for your garden, or your field, is to get that dark, rich earth that all farmers dream of. Such soil is so fertile and full of nutrients you can smell it. I even heard of one gardener who used to taste his soil. I hope he didn’t mix manure into it.
In the parable of Luke 8:4-15, Jesus likens the soils of a field to the different kind of people on this earth. Everybody falls into one of these four categories. You fall into at least one of these four soils.
I. The Story (Luke 8:4-8)
Luke 8:4-8. And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
The sower tosses his seed, and it lands on four different kinds of soil. This is a bit of humor here by Christ, for this is one careless seed sower. The picture is of a sower just tossing seed to the wind, willy-nilly here and there, not really caring where it lands. This is not a good way to sow seed. It seems very wasteful.
The way they would sow seed back then is very similar to the way we sow grass seed today. You get a big bag of seed, and then spread it all over where you want the seed to grow. Today, we use spreaders, but back then, they would sling a bag of grain over their shoulder, and then grab handfuls of the seed at a time and toss it around on the ground. But just as you don’t go spreading grass seed on your driveway and the gravel road, so also back then, most seed sowers were relatively careful about where they tossed their seed. Most didn’t just toss it onto the beaten path and among the rocks and thorns. They want it to grow. So Jesus is making a bit of a joke here about this seemingly silly sower of seed. When we understand who the sower is, and what the seed is, the joke will make more sense.
But notice for now that this sower spreads the seed on four soils. The first is the beaten path soil. The ground is hard and well-traveled, and the birds come and eat it up. The second soil, in Luke 8:6, is the rocky soil. It is that soil right next to the beaten path, or on the edge of the field which contains a lot of rocks and stones. Plants can grow there, but they are always sickly and stunted because the numerous rocks do not allow the soil to soak up the rain. Water just runs through it like a sieve. The third soil is thorny soil. We could call it weed-infested. You all know how difficult it is for any kind of good and healthy plan to grow among thorns and thistles and weeds. For some reason, thorns and weeds seem to grow ten times faster than the plants we want to grow. They suck up all the moisture and nutrients in the soil before anything else can get them, and sometimes, the weeds are so noxious that they kill everything around them.
When Wendy and I lived in Montana, we had a certain weed in our lawn which drove me insane. I am certain it could grow two to three inches every day with no rain whatsoever. It was expensive to water our lawn, and so as the summer went on, the grass got brown and prickly. But these weeds seemed to flourish no matter what. They grew green and tall no matter what I did, and I noticed that they secreted some sort of chemical which killed the grass around them for about half an inch in all directions.
Mowing over them just seemed to make them spread, and after a while, I noticed that when I mowed them, the pulp they left behind killed the grass. Weed-n-Feed didn’t seem to work either. I sometimes wondered if the name “Weed-n-Feed” meant “plant weeds and feed them.” Finally, I had to resort to pulling out each weed in our entire lawn by hand, one at a time. I easily filled two or three garbage cans with these weeds. Of course, I soon learned in pulling them that I needed to use gloves, because they were covered with these little thorns which would embed into my skin and cause it to itch and burn for a day or two. It was a nasty little weed. And when Jesus describes seed thrown among the thorns, that is the weed I imagine.
It was not weeds however that Jesus is referring to, but thorns. There was a wide variety of thorns in Israel, and all of them were nastier than our weeds in our gardens and lawns. The thorns Jesus was referring to are large bushes or brambles filled with long, wickedly sharp thorns. If pricked by one, they would cause oozing sores and festering wounds. Even if seed were able to take root and grow among the thorns, no farmer in their right mind would try to harvest it, because the thorns would keep him at bay. But Jesus says that this sower threw seeds among the thorns as well, and not surprisingly, the thorns choked the seed out, and the seed could not grow properly.
The fourth soil of Luke 8:8 is the good soil. Good, dark, rich soil, well-watered, and full of nutrients. The seed that is spread on it not only grows, but produces one hundred times as much at the harvest. The abundance of the harvest is a testimony to the richness of the soil. I don’t know what kind of seed is being planted here, but let’s say it is wheat or barley. Wheat normally gets about 25 to 30 grains per head, and barley can have as many as 50. Barley normally has about two stalks per seed, and wheat can have as many as four. So basically, a hundredfold harvest is about the best you can hope for from wheat or barley. And that is what this fourth soil produces – the best harvest possible. Those are the four soils – the wayside soil, the rocky soil, the thorny soil, and the fertile soil.
At the end of Luke 8:8, Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Do you have ears to hear? Do you know what Jesus is talking about? Do you understand this parable? Do you see and understand the spiritual truth behind this parable? Most people think they understand this parable, but I am convinced that most do not. Most people think that this parable is a description of how to know who has eternal life and who isn’t. This is a very common view among pastors and teachers. Such teachers argue that if you want to know whether a person has eternal life or not, all you have to do is look at how much fruit they produce.
One prominent author, pastor and radio Bible teacher says that “Fruit bearing…is the ultimate test of salvation. …Fruit, not foliage, is the mark of true salvation.” Another well-known pastor and author writes similarly that “the proof of salvation is not listening to the Word, or having a quick emotional response to the Word, or even cultivating the Word so that it grows into life. The proof of salvation is fruit.” Again, another pastor and author put it this way: “It is only the open heart [of the fourth soil] that receives the benefit of the preaching of the gospel and is saved.” Those who understanding this parable in such a way go around trying to look at people’s lives to determine if they are truly Christians or not. They become professional fruit inspectors, with their checklist and guidelines for how truly true Christians will behave. If the person doesn’t behave that way, then they must not be the fourth soil, and so must not have eternal life.
Jesus said in Luke 8:9, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” I am afraid that those who hold to the understanding of this parable I have just mentioned do not have ears to hear. They have not heard what Jesus said. They should be like the disciples in Luke 8:9 and come to Jesus for an explanation. I think Luke 8:9-10 are the key to understanding this parable. Luke puts these two verses in the middle of this parable because these two verses contain the point of the parable. If parables have a sting in the tale, Luke 8:9-10 contain the sting.
II. The Sting (Luke 8:9-10)
Luke 8:9. Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”
And this is the question we are asking. Rather than going to our preconceived ideas about what this parable means, or rather than trying to make it fit our theological system, we throw all that out, and come humbly to Jesus, saying that we want to hear; we want to understand. Jesus, what does this parable mean? And although Jesus does not really begin to explain the parable until Luke 8:11, the key is Luke 8:10.
Luke 8:10. And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that
‘Seeing they may not see,
And hearing they may not understand.’
The point of this parable (and all the parables) is twofold. First, there are some who will see and hear, but they will not truly see or understand what Jesus is talking about. They may praise Him for His creativity in preaching. They may be amazed at His signs and wonders. They may laugh at His jokes and stories. But they do not ever really “get it.” Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 6:9-10 where God tells Isaiah to do the same thing Jesus is doing here. The people who claim to follow God have become calloused and hard of heart. Isaiah and Jesus preached the Word of God to them, but the people did not hear, and did not repent, and did not change, and did not obey God’s Word. In Isaiah 6:11-13, God says that the result will be punishment. The people will be carried off into captivity and the land will be laid waste. However, a remnant, one-tenth of the people, will be allowed to remain, and will continue to be the recipients of God’s promises.
This is almost exactly the same thing Jesus is saying here in Luke 8:10. He, like Isaiah, is preaching and teaching to a people who have become calloused and hard of heart, so that they see, but don’t see; they hear, but don’t understand. And it is this principle, this prophecy, that is elaborated on in the parable of the four soils. We have four soils, and four different responses to the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. Some do not respond at all. But others respond in one of three ways, with a total of four possible responses.
Notice that in those faulty interpretations I quoted earlier, there are only three kinds of people. The hard soil represents those who do not have eternal life. The good soil represents those who do have eternal life. And the middle two soils represent those who claim to be Christians, and act like Christians for a while, but really are not Christians. This faulty interpretation has bunched together the middle two soils into one group. That alone should be a hint that their interpretation is wrong. Jesus is talking about four groups; not three. There are four soils representing four responses; not three.
And this parable is not at all about how to determine who is a Christian and who isn’t. This parable is about four different responses to the Word of God. Every teacher of Scripture has seen all four of these in different people at different times, whether they are Christians or not. This parable does not give us guidelines for deciding who the true Christians are. It’s about categories for people and their response to the Word of God whether they are Christians or not. We all agree that the Bible contains wonderful truths and great advice for all people. Whether a person is a Christian or not, the Bible has advice on parenting, family, work, finances and general health. The most important piece of advice, if it can even be called advice, is what God says about how to have eternal life. The Bible is full of God speaking out on various issues. And no matter what the topic is, different people respond in different ways. You will see all four responses in non-Christians, and you will see all four responses in Christians.
Now, having said that, there is a bit of a sliding scale. If we were to group all people in the entire world in the four soils mentioned in Luke 8:11-15, most non-Christians would fall under soil number one, most new Christians and nominal Christians would fall under soils two and three, and most mature Christians would fall under soil number four. That’s just the way it works out. But I don’t think that’s the purpose of the parable. God wants you to look at these four soils, and the various areas of life to see what kind of soil you are. If you are like me, your life is going to be like a field. Some of it is the hardened first soil, some of it is the rocky soil, some of it is the thorny soil, and some of it is good soil. The goal is the till the hardened soil, clear away the rocks, and burn out the thorns so that our entire field becomes good, fertile soil.
With that in mind, let’s look at each of the four soils in Luke 8:11-15. We looked at Luke 8:9-10 previously, and while they are important for helping us understand this parable, let’s skip down to Luke 8:11-15 where Jesus explains the imagery of the four soils. The seed is explained first in Luke 8:11.
III. The Soils (Luke 8:11-15)
Luke 8:11. Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
Before we look at the soils, we need to recognize that the seed is the Word of God. It is the seed of the Word that is scattered here and there and everywhere. Jesus doesn’t say who exactly the sower of the seed is, but it is obvious. The sower of seed is anyone who teaches God’s Word. In this case, it is Jesus Himself. But I am a sower of the Word any time I preach and teach it. You are a sower of the Word any time you teach it to others. The Holy Spirit is a sower of the Word when you read Scripture and pray for understanding and illumination.
Jesus explains in Luke 8:12-15 that when the Word of God is taught, there are four basic responses, represented by four soils. And the fact that the seed is spread all over the place, without regard to where it lands is typical of the way God spreads His Word around the world. Have you ever noticed that? God does not really care where His seed lands. He just wants to spread it around wherever He can. It’s always on the radio for anybody who wants to turn a dial and hear it. It’s on television for those who want to press a button. It’s in every hotel room for those who want to open a drawer.
The Word of God is not like a laser beam, directed only at a few people whom God knows are ready to receive it. No, the Word of God is scattered willy-nilly, here and there. You see, God doesn’t have to buy the seed. It’s free. He’s got an infinite supply. So He might as well cover the whole earth with it. Who cares what kind of ground it falls on? And I’ve talked with some Christians who object to this sort of free for all seed scattering procedure. I talked with one man in Denver when I was there, who tries to make sure, to the best of his ability, that the person he speaks the Word of God to, or the person He shares the Gospel with is ready, willing and able to receive it. This was a new concept to me, so I asked him why he did this.
The reason, I was told, was because Jesus told us not to case our pearls before swine. I didn’t know then what I know now about that being a gross misunderstanding of Matthew 7:6. But regardless, I asked how he knew who was ready to receive the Word and who wasn’t, and he said he looked at their lives for the necessary fruit. The fruit, he said, was an indication of God at work in their life, and so if God was at work, then that person must be ready to receive God’s Word. But that is not what I see Jesus explaining here in this parable. Jesus wants the Word of God sown on all sorts of soil, and that is what He does. He teaches the disciples, and He teaches the multitudes. He teaches the Pharisees and the tax collectors. He doesn’t try to determine who is ready and who isn’t, He just teaches. He scatters the seed all over the place.
And it seems to be an inefficient way of doing things, but that is why Paul says the world thinks preaching is foolishness (1 Cor 1:18-25). The world says, “Who wants to go listen to some guy talk about the Bible for forty-five minutes, let alone come back on Sunday night and Wednesday night for more of the same? And what’s up with taking half an hour out of every day to read the Bible? What a colossal waste of time that is! I’ve heard sermons before, and they just go in one ear and out the other. They’ve never done me a bit of good.” But that is exactly Jesus’ point. You see, when the world says something like that, they have just described themselves and identified themselves as the first soil. The first soil is the wayside soil.
Luke 8:12. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.
Back up in Luke 8:8, it was the birds of the air who come and devour the seed. Here in Luke 8:12, it is the devil who comes and takes away the Word. The birds represent the devil. When the Word is preached, the devil does his best to keep people from hearing it and understanding it. He does his best to keep people from understanding and responding to it.
Jesus says that the devil takes away the Word, lest they should believe and be saved.
The word “saved” is what makes many people think this parable is about how to determine who has eternal life and who does not. But if you recall, the word “saved” in the Bible never refers to having eternal life. It is probably the most misunderstood word in the Bible. It is also one of the words I look at in my “Bible Dictionary” course. But if you recall what I have said before about the word “saved” in the Bible, whenever you see the word “saved” in the Bible, you should stop, substitute in the word “delivered,” and then look in the context to see what the deliverance is from, and what the conditions for this deliverance are.
As you know, eternal life is a free gift of God to anyone and everyone who simply believes in Jesus for it (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47). But here in Luke 8, the salvation that Jesus is talking about has numerous other conditions. This should tell us right away that the word “saved” here does not refer to eternal life at all. Instead, the word “saved” means the same thing it meant by in Luke 7:50. The word “saved” in Luke is closely related to participating with God in the Kingdom of God, which means, allowing God to rule and reign in your life. When Luke uses the word “saved,” he is not referring to receiving eternal life, but is referring instead to receiving and acting upon God’s rule and reign in our life. The Kingdom of God is the government of God, the policies of God, When we are “saved” we follow God’s rules for our lives so that we can avoid the devastating and disastrous consequences of sin in our lives and instead experience the position, power, and privilege of living the way God wants our lives to be lived.
So with all of this in mind, we must recognize that Luke 8 is not talking about who is a Christian and who is not. It is instead talking about how the Word of God is preached and proclaimed, and there are four basic responses to the Word of God. All people, whether they are Christians or not, can have one of these responses to the Word of God.
Now, of course, one of the truths of the Word of God is the truth that people can receive eternal life through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, so in this sense, the parable of the four soils does apply to those who hear the truth about how they can receive eternal life. Very often, when people hear the truth that God gives eternal life to anyone who believes in Jesus for it, this truth goes in one ear and out the other, just as we see happen with this first soil.
My grandma is not a Christian. My family and I have been witnessing to her for years. A while back I preached a sermon in which the Gospel was presented clearly. I preached that Jesus gives eternal life to anyone who believes in Him for it. In that sermon, I also mentioned something about the people who lived in the time of Noah living to be hundreds of years old. I sent her the sermon thinking that maybe she would listen to it. I got a letter a few weeks later from her saying “Thank you for the nice sermon. You are turning out to be a good speaker. I don’t believe all that stuff about people living to be hundreds of years old though.” And that was it. Not a word about Jesus or His offer of eternal life. The one thing she latched on to was an insignificant point I only mentioned in passing.
But of course, Christians who have eternal life can also fall into the category of this first soil.
When I was a pastor in a church, I counseled a man who had problems with alcohol and lust. As I talked to him one afternoon, he kept saying that He just wanted God to hit him over the head with a 2×4. He was tired of the struggle against sin, and wanted God to just knock him out with a 2×4. I almost went and got a 2×4 and hit the man over the head. I didn’t, but I wonder what would have happened if I had. But instead we just kept talking about what the Bible said regarding this man’s struggles. The only thing is that he didn’t want to hear what the Bible said. Instead, he just kept saying that it would be easier if God hit him with a 2×4.
This is what happens to the firs toil. When any truth from the Word of God is proclaimed, Satan does his best to keep it from being understood and believed. He snatches it from the heart of the wayside soil before it can take root in the heart and bring about change.
So the first soil represents those people who do not respond to the Word at all. If they hear it, it goes in one ear and out the other. This often happens to non-Christians, but it also happens to Christians when we tune out during the sermon or read the Bible and then do nothing about what it says. If we were to listen to what Scripture teaches, believe it, and then act upon it, we would be saved, or delivered, from whatever the Bible is warning us about. But if we just go away without hearing, understanding, believing, or acting upon the truth of the Word of God, this means that the devil is stealing the Word from you heart.
If you find that happening to you, don’t let him steal the Word of God from you any longer. Engage in practices that will help the seeds of the Word of God take root in your life. How? Well, this is what the next three soils are all about.
The second soil is the rocky soil. Jesus explains it in Luke 8:13.
Luke 8:13. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.
Notice that this soil initially receives the Word with joy. The text very clearly that they believed. Now again, this is not talking about eternal life. It is talking about all the truths of Scripture, whatever they may be. Just as both Christians and non-Christians can hear the Word of God and then ignore it as with the first soil, so also with this second soil, both Christians and non-Christians can hear the Word of God, and then initially believe and act upon it, but then stop a short while later.
This second soil hears the Word, and says, “Yes! This is what I’ve been looking for! This is the instruction I need! This is helpful advice.” And they begin to do what God’s Word says. But Luke 8:13 says that because of the rocks in their lives, they develop only little roots, and wither away amongst the rocks. And what are the rocks? Luke 8:13 says the rocks are the temptations of life. The rocks are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). This second soil represents the life under spiritual pressure. Pressure to sin especially. Pressure to stop believing what they initially received with gladness.
I had a friend in high school who was a solid Christian. She was very smart. She could read books faster than anyone I have ever met, and remember with great accuracy almost everything she read. When she graduated from high school, she went to Harvard. As you may know, all the ivy league schools put great pressure on Christian students who attend there to reject their faith in God and the Bible. I thought she would be able to handle the pressure, but a few summers later, I was back home and she was back home, and I found out that in just a few years, she had become an agnostic. She doubted that there was a God. She doubted that the Bible was God’s Word. She doubted that Jesus Christ was God’s Son. She doubted that there was a heaven and a hell. I do not know where she is now, or what finally happened to her, but she represents this second soil exactly. She had a faith on the rocks. Under intense intellectual pressure, she rejected most of the basic tenants of Christianity.
Other people face intense spiritual pressure to sin. Sexual pressure is a big rock today. So is alcohol and drugs is another big boulder. Then there is the pressure to succeed and gain lots of material possessions. The numerous temptations that surround us are the rocks that crowd out spiritual life, health and growth.
Sin is serious. Yes, on the cross, Jesus paid for all of our sin, past, present and future. Yes, in Christ, we are secure forever. But this doesn’t mean we should just go sin all we want (We CAN, but we shouldn’t.) Sin and temptation choke the life out of us. While temptation itself is not sin, if we knowingly, willingly, and repeatedly put ourselves in tempting situations, it will not be long before we find ourselves sinning, and our faith being choked out.
Are you facing the rocks of temptation? You must pick them up and toss them over the fence line. If you don’t, pretty soon you will find yourself not reading Scripture, not hanging out with other believers, not following the ways of God, and not having any spiritual input into your life. The seed that sprang up within you will soon wither away. There are so many Christians this has happened to. It is tragic to see a person believe in Jesus, and begin to make progress in their Christian life, but then, because they don’t deal with the sin issues in their lives, and the things that continue to lead them after the world instead of into the Word, they end up falling away in times of temptation.
Very often, the people who are this second soil look very promising to begin with, but since they do not take care of the sin issues in their lives, they fall away, and eventually end up addicted to sin and destroying their life, their health, and their relationships. Don’t let this happen to you. Get these rocks out of the field of your life. How? Here’s what the Bible says.
First, pray that you will not face temptation (Luke 11:4; 22:40, 46). We all will be tempted because we are in this world, and we still reside in the flesh, and Satan prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. But we need to pray that God will protect us from frequent times of temptation.
Second, and this will help answer your prayer, don’t put yourself in tempting situations. Flee temptation and places where know you will be weak (1 Cor 10:14; 1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 2:22). If you have a trouble with alcohol, don’t go the bar with your buddies after work. If you have impure thoughts about women, don’t watch movies where there are suggestive scenes. Stay away from tempting situations.
Third, when you do face temptation, look for the way of escape that God has promised (1 Cor 10:13). Handle temptation the same way Christ did. Do not argue with Satan; you will lose every time (Matthew 4). Instead, depend on Scriptural promises to defeat the temptation. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
Fourth, spend more time, not less, around positive spiritual influences. When you are tempted, you need more time in the Word, not less. You need more time among Christians, not less.
Get those rocks out of your life, so that you will not face the danger of the second soil. But even then, there are the thorns of the third soil to watch out for as well. This soil is explained in Luke 8:14.
Luke 8:14. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.
The first soil were those people who never received the instruction of the Word in the first place. They either chose to never hear it, or they heard it and promptly forgot it. The second soil represents those who heard, received, and believed the Word, and initially began to act upon it, but then temptation to sin caused them to go back to their old way of living. This third soil is the most dangerous of all, and in my opinion, the one where most Christians get snared. This third soil is the thorny soil, and according to Jesus, the thorns are the cares, riches and pleasures of life.
Whereas the second soil was caught up in sin, this third soil is not doing anything sinful. They are just enjoying life. And life is enjoyable, isn’t it? God has given us many wonderful blessings to enjoy in life. There is tasty food to eat, beautiful sights to see, wonderful places to visit. We go on enjoyable outings with friends, spend our days pursuing the many recreational opportunities that surround us – hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, skiing, shopping, movie watching, gardening, reading, relaxing, sleeping, playing games, going on vacation, and too many other things to list. These things fight for our time. They are not sinful. God made all these things and gave them to us for our enjoyment. But when they take over our lives, and take the place of God in our lives, they are thorns that choke out the Word. They stunt the growth of what God wants to see happen in our lives.
There are some Christians who act like Christians, talk like Christians, and even behave like Christians – they don’t have any serious, evident patterns of sin in their lives. But these true and genuine Christians are so busy with life, that they have very little time for the things of God. They are always on some vacation, or always have some project going at home. They rarely make it to church, or if they do, they only come on Sunday mornings for the service, and don’t have any time of personal Bible reading and prayer at home. They want to, but they are just too busy with life. And so what happens? Jesus says they bring forth no fruit to maturity. They grow, but their growth is stunted. They may even produce fruit, but nothing edible. Just small, sour, bitter, undeveloped, worthless fruit.
Remember how I told you that the parables sting? This third soil stings. If I had to guess, I would say that the majority of modern American Christians (pastors included) fall into this third soil. If a person is a Christian and they are not even attending church, they are in that second soil. But most church going Christians fall into this third soil. We go to church because we know we should. We read the Bible when we can. But for the most part, our lives are consumed with cares, riches and pleasures of life. We spend our money on ourselves. We use our time in the pursuit of happiness. We spend more time in front of the television, or at the lake, or on the phone, or reading magazines than we do in the Word. An hour and half in church on Sunday morning is more than enough for us. The things we spend our time on are not sinful, so we feel they are not harming us. But in reality, they are choking our growth, stunting our development. Recreation and entertainment, rest and relaxation, these are the thorns of life. A little is okay, but they must be in their proper balance.
What is the balance? I don’t know. I do know that all of us, myself included, are way short of the Biblical balance. In the early church, they were meeting every day in people’s homes for the apostle’s teaching, for fellowship and for prayer. Every day. Were they going overboard with that whole Christianity thing? The opening chapters of Acts indicates that yes, they did go overboard for Christ, and that is why they turned the world upside down. They produced much fruit.
Don’t think you can produce fruit on one spiritual meal a week. You need to feed on the Word of God every single day. What can you do to move in that direction? How can you get rid of the thorns in your life?
First, pray. Just as with the rocky soil, the first step is to pray. Pray about your cares, your riches, and your pleasures. Thank God for them, but ask Him to help you keep them in balance. If you find yourself spending too much time in some morally neutral pleasure, pray about it. Ask God to change you. Why spend an inordinate amount of time watching TV, boating, golfing, fishing, or shopping? If you find you are distracted by various cares, pray about it. God wants us to cast our cares upon Him, for He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). If you find money is distracting you, pray about it. We are all rich in comparison the majority of the world. If we aren’t careful, our riches can distract us and keep us from maximizing our lives for Christ.
Once you have prayed about it, then secondly, set your heart on heavenly treasure (Matthew 6:19-21). Most of us are far too easily pleased with the pleasures and riches that this world has to offer, not realizing that what we really long for are the pleasures and riches of heaven. But Scripture is clear that the pleasures and riches of heaven are reserved for those who work for them. Entrance into heaven itself is freely given to all who believe in Jesus for eternal life, but the rewards and riches of heaven are reserved for faithful Christians who put heavenly riches above earthly pleasures.
Third, in our materialistic society, one thing you can resolve to do is give away a lot of what you make and have (2 Corinthians 9:6-9; Acts 20:35). Be generous with your money, possessions and time. Money is not evil, but it is the root of all kinds of evil. And money will either control you, or you will control money. And the only way to show you have mastery over your money is to give it away.
These are just a few suggestions. But be very careful that the pleasures of life are not crowding out the abundant and fruitful life God has in mind for you.
The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18–20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.
[The things that will choke you] are your basic meat and potatoes and coffee and gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and TV-watching and Internet-surfing and shopping and exercising and collecting and talking. And all of them can become deadly substitutes for God.
Don’t let the thorns of life choke you. If you get rid of the stones of temptation and the thorns of earthly pursuits, you will become the fourth soil, the good and fertile ground which produces much fruit. This is what we see in Luke 8:15.
Luke 8:15. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.
This fourth soil is what God wants all of us to become. But none of us become this way automatically or instantly. It takes hard work and patience. Jesus says that the two main ingredients of this kind of soil is that it hears the Word and keeps it.
First, you need to hear the Word. If you are not hearing the Word, you will never bear fruit. If you are not feeding daily on Scripture, and listening to Biblically based sermons as often as you can, and attending Bible studies, and then, living out what God teaches you from His Word, you will never produce an abundant harvest.
This is why I spend so much time studying during the week and why we spend half of our service in teaching the Word. I want you to leave here on Sunday morning having received a good spiritual meal. One pastor puts it this way:
Though ever Christian should read, study and meditate upon Scripture, God uses Bible exposition for the optimal enhancement of his spiritual growth. It is not overstating the case that preaching should be the chief means of dispensing strengthening grace in a believer’s life.
Another pastor writes similarly:
Preaching is one of God’s chief means of sowing seed and helping fruit grow; it is a way of watering and fertilizing the crop. But you must break up the hard clods that have formed in your soul over the week, turn under the weeds, and prepare the good soil to receive the good seed.
Of course, having heard the Word, you must then keep it. You must obey what it says in order to produce fruit. This fourth soil produces a crop that is one hundred times more abundant than what was sown. Do you want to be effective in your service for God? Do you want to hear Jesus say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant”? If so, you must hear the Word as much as possible, and keep it to the best of your ability. Read, study and meditate on Scripture every day, and make sure you get as much good, solid, Biblical teaching as you can during the week.
The kind of Christian which pleases the heart of God is not one which makes a dramatic start and then dies out, nor one whose commitment to Christ is slowly choked out by worldly desires. The kind of Christian which pleases God is that one which thoughtfully hears the gospel, understands its implications, and then consistently grows and matures, and which bears fruit as a result.
This parable describes four soils. They represent all of those who heard the Word of God. The first soil immediately rejected it. The second soil quickly accepted it, but soon fell back into old patterns of sin. The third soil grew, but the pleasures of life stunted their fruitfulness. It is only the fourth soil that bore much fruit. All of you are one of these four soils. Where on the field of life are you?
If you fear you are not the fourth soil, take heart. The Word of God instructs you how to become the fourth soil. To move past the first soil, you must believe that God’s Word contains instructions for life and Godliness. To move past the second soil, you must get rid of the besetting sins that wither away your spiritual vitality. To move past the third soil, you must exchange physical and worldly pursuits for spiritual. Only then will you become the fertile soil, able to produce much fruit.