I’ve probably heard/read the “Parable of the Sower and the Seed” about 1,000 times in my life, and I only just realized that I was reading a large part of it incorrectly. I’ll skip retelling you the parable, instead just give you Jesus’ explanation of the parable in Mark.
“Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”” Mark 4:13-20
Go ahead and reread the line I bolded.
Now, before we get into this, how is this line recorded in the other gospels?
“The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Matthew 13:22
Matthew and Mark both say the same thing: the seed is choked, which makes it unfruitful. Luke, however, only mentions the plant being choked, but since that same word is used in the other as the cause of unfruitfulness, I think that we can assume that the effect of unfruitfulness is implied in Luke. (This parable wasn’t recorded in John.)
So, what’s issue here? I’d always taken this passage to imply that the plant died, but that’s not what is being indicated here. Jesus is making it clear that the concerns of this life didn’t kill the plant; they made it unfruitful, keeping it from reproducing.
That doesn’t sound that serious, but then again, what point does a plant serve except to produce other plants? If a plant isn’t reproducing, it’s worthless.
So, in this parable, who are the plants? We are.
Christianity Requires Reproduction
Jesus is clear in Scripture that disciples should produce more disciples. There is no room for fruitlessness. Truthfully, Jesus, whom we all associate, rightly, with mercy and love, has some fairly strong words for fruitless disciples:
Then [Jesus] told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-8
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” John 15:1-4
Fruitless disciples, disciples who don’t reproduce, who don’t make more disciples, who aren’t doing their job. Are you a fruitless disciple? Are you doing your job? I’m not trying to condemn, just enlighten. This is truth that I’m working through myself. Like many, I had assumed that so long as I was alive, so long as “the plant” was still growing, I was doing pretty good. The apostle Paul, however, had a different way of thinking about it:
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” 1 Corinthians 3:11-15
“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.” 2 Timothy 2:3-6
My strategy before—not necessarily a conscious strategy, though—was to just make sure that my spirit was safe, good to go…to Heaven. I was the guy hoping to escape through the flames. Not really a good, nor godly, plan.
You see, the truth is that God expects more. He’s empowered us for more. He’s not demanding what we can’t deliver; He’s expecting us to do for other what was done for us—preach, teach, and disciple. It makes sense, now, why so many of our prayers for outsiders to come to our churches and be saved seem to go unanswered—it’s because we wouldn’t take care of them. Why would God give us new converts, spiritual babies who’ve been freshly “born again,” knowing that we would essentially orphan them? God gives children to churches who will parent, nurture, teach, and invest into them.
Let’s make sure that our churches are those churches. Let’s make sure that we’re the kind of disciples who make more disciples. Let’s be fruitful.