The Kingdom Parables Series: The Parable of the Soils (Matt 13:1-9, 18-23)
The Parable of the Soils
On that day after Jesus went out of the house, he sat by the lake. And such a large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat to sit while the whole crowd stood on the shore. He told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! 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. They sprang up quickly because the soil was not deep. But when the sun came up, they were scorched, and because they did not have sufficient root, they withered. Other seeds fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked them. But other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty. The one who has ears had better listen! … So listen to the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches what was sown in his heart; this is the seed sown along the path. The seed sown on rocky ground is the person who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. But he has no root in himself and does not endure; when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the person who hears the word, but worldly cares and the seductiveness of wealth choke the word, so it produces nothing. But as for the seed sown on good soil, this is the person who hears the word and understands. He bears fruit, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 (NET)
What is the kingdom of God like in this age? In Matthew 13, Christ shares the parables of the kingdom. In this chapter, there are seven parables and six of them start with “the kingdom of heaven is like,” with the exception being the Parable of the Soils. The Old Testament prophesied how the kingdom of God would come in a cataclysmic fashion by destroying all the other kingdoms. This was specifically prophesied in book of Daniel (2:44-45, 7:23-27). There would be four major kingdoms ruling over the ancient world—Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome—however, during the rule of the final kingdom, the kingdom of God would come and crush all the kingdoms and spread throughout the earth. Therefore, the Jews were expecting the messiah to come and conquer Rome, who was ruling over them, and set them free from oppression. The messiah would be a deliverer like Moses and the judges that came after him. The deliverers set Israel free from foreign oppression. But, in Matthew 13:11, Christ calls the parables the “secrets” (NET) or “mysteries” (NASB) of the kingdom. Mysteries refers to something not fully explained in the Old Testament but made known in the New Testament. The kingdom of God would first come in spiritual form; it includes all who profess submission to God’s rule. In this interim season, the kingdom is full of true believers and false ones. It includes a mix of good and evil until the final stage of the kingdom, when Christ returns to rule literally on the earth. Throughout the parables, Christ taught his disciples this, so they would be faithful during this interim season. The kingdom in a sense is present and not yet. This is why in the Lord’s Prayer, Christ taught we should pray daily for the kingdom to come on this earth (Matt 6:10).
With all that said, Christ gave the parables to not only reveal truths about the kingdom to his disciples but also to conceal the truths from others. In Matthew 13:11-13, after the disciples questioned why Christ was now teaching in parables, he responded:
You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but they have not. For whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. For this reason I speak to them in parables: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand.
He spoke in parables to hide truth from those who had rejected the kingdom or were not truly interested in it. In the previous chapter, Matthew 12, the Jewish leaders rejected Christ by declaring that he was performing miracles through the devil, and in response, Christ declared that they had committed the unforgiveable sin—the blasphemy of the Spirit (Matt 12:22-32). This refers to a continual resisting of God by those who profess to follow him, which eventually hardens their hearts. Because of this, Christ warned the disciples to be careful of how they listened, for those who have will be given more but those who do not have, even what they have will be taken away (Mk 4:24-25). The disciples had good hearts, and therefore, even though they did not originally understand many of the parables, they asked Christ questions and he explained the parables to them. However, Christ left the passive hearers and those who had rejected him in blindness. They saw the miracles and heard the truth but because of their hard and lazy hearts, they never understood. Consequently, their hearts were becoming hardened to truths, and they were becoming increasingly antagonistic to them. The truths they understood were even being taken away; so much so, they eventually crucified their King (Matt 13:12-13).
Since we will be studying the Parable of the Soils and other parables after that, we will briefly consider principles for interpreting parables. Certainly, for the most part, these principles are true for interpreting Scripture in general. (1) First, we must hear the story as the original audience would. How would the original audience understand the wayward son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son asking for his inheritance before the father was dead? For them, it would be like the son wishing the father was, in fact, dead. How would the audience understand a Samaritan helping out a wounded man in the Parable of the Good Samaritan? It would have shocked and potentially angered a first century Jew since Samaritans were despised, and Christ was essentially saying they should be like the good Samaritan. Again, this principle is key for interpreting not only parables but Scripture in general. We must ask, “How would the original audience hear the message?” (2) Secondly, we must understand that parables typically challenge us to focus on one main point or no more than a few points. A parable is not an allegory. Allegories typically have hidden meanings behind each detail. However, if we try to make every aspect of a parable reveal hidden truths, we will quickly misinterpret the parable. When considering a parable, we must ask, “What is the main idea or ideas Christ is seeking to get across?” (3) Finally, we must use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Sometimes, Christ explains the parables, but at other times, we must use other Scriptures to determine what they mean. In fact, to gain understanding, we will often have to consider how Christ explains the details of other parables. For instance, in the Parable of the Mustard Seed, after the seed grows into a big tree, the birds of the air begin to nest in the tree (Matt 13:31-32). The birds are not explained; however, in the Parable of the Soils, they represent Satan stealing the Word of God (Matt 13:4, 18). Also, in the Parable of Yeast, the yeast is never explained; but, throughout Scripture, including in Jesus’ teachings, it typically refers to evil (cf. Matt 16:6, 1 Cor 5:6-8). Therefore, to properly interpret parables, we must seek to hear them as the original audience would (first century Jews), find the main point or points, and compare Scripture with Scripture to find the meaning. As we consider the Parable of the Soils, which apparently is Christ’s first parable, we must use these same principles of interpretation.
In the Parable of the Soils, we learn about the ministry of the gospel and that of the Word of God in general, during this interim period of the kingdom—the time between Christ’s first coming and his second. During this age, the gospel, represented by seed, is being spread to four types of hearers represented by four soils—the hard path, rocky ground, thorny ground, and good soil. There is disagreement amongst Bible students about which of the soils represent those who are truly saved. All believe the seed upon the path is not. Some believe the seeds sown upon the rocks and thorns represent true believers, or at least those who were true believers, because they received the Word of God. However, it seems best to only view the last soil—the good soil—as representing true believers. We will consider why and also applications from this parable.
Big Question: What do the four soils represent in the Parable of the Soils and what principles can we gain from them to apply to the church and our spiritual lives?
The Hard Heart—The Seed Sown Upon the Path
He told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them… “So listen to the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches what was sown in his heart; this is the seed sown along the path.
Matthew 13:3-4, 18-19
The first seed is sown upon the path. The person sowing the seed represents anybody sowing the seed of the gospel. Christ calls it the “word about the kingdom” in verse 19. It’s the good news of Christ being the prophesied king. However, as the hearers will soon find out, he is like no other king. Instead of serving himself primarily, he dies to save his people from the consequences of their sins and resurrects himself. This is good news for those who will submit to him as Lord and be saved. But, it is also bad news because those who will not accept him as Lord and Savior will be judged by him. The word of the kingdom is a call for people to submit to Christ’s rule. This message is commonly sown at church from the pulpit, at home by a parent into a child’s heart, at work with co-worker, or even at school with a classmate. However, some hear the word, don’t understand it, and therefore reject it.
There are numerous reasons why some don’t understand it and therefore reject it. (1) For many, they struggle with a God who will judge sin. For them, God is only a God of love and therefore, he would never judge a person eternally in hell. (2) Others believe that they are really good people, and that God will overlook their sinful deeds and instead focus on their good works, so they will get into heaven. (3) Others reject the gospel because they have accepted some other type of false doctrine or religion, which contradicts the gospel. There are many reasons why some don’t understand it and reject it.
Bondage of Sin
With that said, it must be understood that this rejection is not just because of intellectual reasons but primarily because of sin. Sin hardens people’s hearts and causes them to misunderstand the gospel, twist it, become angry at it, and ultimately reject their King. It makes them not want to submit to his rule. Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness.” It’s because of our desire for unrighteousness that we suppress the truth. Romans 8:7 (ESV) says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” Sinful, selfish desires—wanting to go our own way, live our own life, and do our own thing apart from God makes us suppress the truth of God as Creator, King, Judge, and Savior.
But there is more, Satan is too wise to allow the seed of God’s Word to simply lay around in people’s consciouses; therefore, he steals the Word before it can take root and bring true life. Second Corinthians 4:3-4 says,
But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God.
(1) Sometimes Satan continually contradicts the gospel by questioning it, saying things like, “What about this?” “What about that?” and “That’s not possible!” (2) Or, he simply distracts them with other lesser pursuits like job, school, entertainment, and relationships. (3) Sometimes, he overemphasizes the cost of following Christ and deemphasizes the benefits. Soon enough, the person who heard the gospel message is content to no longer think on spiritual things, becomes comfortable listening with no real desire to obey, or becomes extremely antagonistic to the message. Either way, the person wants nothing to hinder or change his present state.
With that said, it must be known that the seed sown on the path is not always somebody outside the church; they are also within. They may be at church because their spouse wants them there. They may be there because their parents force them. They may be there because they think it’s good for their children to have a little religion to aid in their moral education. They may be there because they believe it is part of a balanced life. “Everybody needs a little religion, as long they don’t go too far with it,” they say. Because their hearts hard, what they hear never takes root and saves them. They are the seed sown upon the hard path.
Application Question: What is your experience with evangelism? How have you experienced people who received the seed upon the hard path? What are some of their common reasons for rejecting the gospel? How should we respond to those rejections, or should we even try at all?
The Uncommitted Heart: The Seed Sown Upon Rocky Ground
Other seeds fell on rocky ground where they did not have much soil. They sprang up quickly because the soil was not deep. But when the sun came up, they were scorched, and because they did not have sufficient root, they withered … The seed sown on rocky ground is the person who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. But he has no root in himself and does not endure; when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away.
Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21
This second seed is sown upon rocky soil. The rocky soil isn’t a layer of dirt mixed with rocks but one with a layer of rock a few inches below the surface. Because the sprouting seed has no room to develop a deep root system, when the sun shines upon it, it quickly withers away. Christ said this represents someone who quickly and joyfully received the gospel. Because of his enthusiastic faith, this person is probably often asked to share his testimony and maybe even put into leadership. However, this person’s faith is shallow. Christ said, “when trouble or persecution comes because of the Word,” he immediately falls away (v. 21). Maybe, this person believed that following Christ was the answer to all his problems and therefore would make life easier and more enjoyable. He may have reasoned if life was good before he came to God, certainly it would be better now that he had found Jesus. However, at some point, life takes an unexpected twist. Maybe, this person had a bout with cancer, his wife left him, or he lost his job. Because following God and his Word came with hardship, he quickly fell away.
Satan’s Strategy: Trial and Conflict over the Word
Certainly, we must be clear that this is one of Satan’s strategies with those who profess Christ. With Job, he tempted him through economic problems, the death of his children, physical ailments, and difficulty in his marriage, with the hope that Job would curse God. We see this happen all the time. For many when God allows something tragic, including conflict with another church member or the fall of their pastor, they first get mad at the church, then start to doubt the God of the church, and soon stumble away from God altogether.
With others, it is not trouble alone that causes them to stumble, it is specifically persecution over the Word. For these, as the world becomes more antagonistic towards biblical values such as: the exclusivity of Christ being the only way to heaven, God miraculously creating the heavens and earth, abortion being called murder, marriage being originally designed for only a man and a woman, there only being two genders—male and female—etc., the more inclined they will be to fall away from the faith. For some, instead of fully falling away outwardly, they will compromise by adopting a form of Christianity that is more welcoming to secular views—however, they must misinterpret and abuse Scripture to do so. Twisting Scripture to fit our worldview and that of the world is dangerous. In John 8:31, Christ said this to the Jews who believed in him, “If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples.” Christ understood that not all who professed to believe in him would continue in his Words. As mentioned, they might twist them to fit their desires or that of the world or ultimately reject them. Only those who continue in his teachings are his disciples. Unfortunately, many of those sown among rocky soil are in the church, but only trials and persecution over the Word reveal their true nature.
With all that said, some believe the person who receives the seed on rocky ground represents a true believer who eventually loses his salvation. However, it seems best to view the rocky ground as someone who was never a true believer at all. They simply responded positively to the message for a season but when trials came or conflict over God’s Word, they eventually proved that they lacked true faith. The reason this is a more likely interpretation is that the overwhelming witness of Scripture is that God keeps the faith of a true believer, and because of that, they will persevere to the end (i.e. “the perseverance of the saints”). How do we see this?
In Romans 8:28-30, Paul said this:
And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.
In describing God’s relationship with the saved, Paul said that everything works for their good to conform them to the image of Christ. Then, he describes the process of their salvation. They were foreknown (known in a saving relationship, cf. Matt 7:23), predestined (pre-planned for salvation, Eph 1:4-5), called (when they accepted the gospel), justified (when God made them as though they never sinned), and glorified (as they one day will have perfect bodies and perfects spirits like Christ). There is an unbroken chain in this list. Those who were foreknown and predestined to salvation will one day be glorified. In Romans 8:31-39, Paul later argues how trials, Satan, persecution, death, etc., cannot separate believers from the love of God. The true believer is kept for salvation because of God’s love. Certainly, there is a mystery in considering God’s sovereignty in salvation and our responsibility to believe and follow Christ to the end, but the Bible teaches both, so we must accept both.
In addition, Christ said it was God’s will for Christ to save and keep the elect. John 6:37-39 says
Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. Now this is the will of the one who sent me—that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day.
Also, in John 10:27-30, Christ said this:
My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.
Once a person has truly responded to Christ and become part of his sheep, Christ and the Father keep them in their hands so that they will never perish. Scripture also teaches that the Holy Spirit keeps the believer by sealing him at salvation. Ephesians 4:30 says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Furthermore, Paul and Christ taught that true believers not only have momentary faith but persevering faith. In Matthew 24:13, after describing how in the end times believers will be persecuted, false teachers and antichrists will arise in droves, and sin will increase, Christ said this: “But the person who endures to the end will be saved.” Only those who don’t fall away are truly saved. In Colossians 1:22-23, Paul said it this way:
but now he has reconciled you by his physical body through death to present you holy, without blemish, and blameless before him—if indeed you remain in the faith, established and firm, without shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard. This gospel has also been preached in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become its servant.
These believers had been reconciled to Christ only “if” they remained in the faith. True believers remain. Those on stony ground were not true believers. They followed God to enjoy his blessings but when following God led to trouble or hardship, they became angry at God, doubted his goodness, and eventually fell away. David Platt’s brief story about George Whitfield is helpful in considering how true faith remains. He said:
George Whitfield, the passionate and powerful preacher of the First Great Awakening, used to preach to massive crowds numbering in the thousands, and people were greatly affected by his evangelistic message. When Whitfield was asked how many people were saved, he would say, "We'll see in a few years." The point is not that people needed to earn their salvation, but rather that it would take time for true salvation to be demonstrated. This is a very different approach than we hear of today, where the number of decisions is often touted boldly. We need to be careful in light of Jesus' clear teaching on the superficial heart.
Another helpful illustration is giving by Douglas O’Donnell, as he describes Martin Lloyd Jones’ response to an unbeliever:
Years ago I remember hearing a story about Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the great preachers of the last century. One day after Lloyd-Jones preached a powerful sermon, an unbeliever came up to him and said, “Dr. Lloyd-Jones, I must tell you that if you would have given an altar call at the end of your message I certainly would have come forward. I would have believed.” Lloyd-Jones replied, “If you don’t want Jesus five minutes after the service is over, then I assure you that you didn’t truly want him at any point during my sermon.”
Truth faith is not temporary; it is eternal. And the reason it is eternal is because Scripture teaches that true faith is a gift of God to believers. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Philippians 1:29 says, “For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him.” God gives believers faith, and he protects it. Therefore, those who fall away are not saved. John taught the same thing in his epistle. First John 2:19 says this as well: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us, because if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But they went out from us to demonstrate that all of them do not belong to us.” Those who do not remain in the faith were never truly part of the faith. Their faith was spurious.
Unfortunately, as this parable predicts, the church is full of those with shallow faith. This is probably a greater problem in prosperous countries where Christians are not openly persecuted. But, as is happening now, as persecution grows over Christian beliefs, many are deconstructing from the faith and falling away. Scripture would say their faith was never genuine (cf. Matt 7:23), though it temporarily showed great signs of life.
Certainly, in light of this, we must test our faith by considering our typical response to trials. Do trials push us away from God—including making us doubt him, become angry at him and his church? Or do they ultimately draw us closer to him—increasing our trust and confidence in him, inclining us deeper in the Word, prayer, and church fellowship? We must make sure we have a committed heart that will remain in the faith and not an uncommitted one that will eventually fall away.
Application Question: In what ways is persecution growing toward believers and Christian beliefs? How have you seen or experienced many professed believers compromising the beliefs of Scripture with secular worldviews or even deconstructing, falling away from the faith they once professed? How can we strengthen and protect our churches, including our children and young believers, who are most vulnerable to compromise and fall away?
The Divided Heart: The Seed Sown Among Thorns
Other seeds fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked them … The seed sown among thorns is the person who hears the word, but worldly cares and the seductiveness of wealth choke the word, so it produces nothing.
Matthew 13:7, 22
The next ground is the thorny ground. When the farmer sowed seeds, some fell among thorns. They grew up and choked the seeds. Christ said the thorns represent two hindrances to the gospel (and God’s Word in general) and that is “worldly cares,” which can also be translated the “worries of this life” (NIV) and the “seductiveness of wealth,” also translated “the deceitfulness of wealth” (NIV).
Certainly, this person can be found outside the church, like the rich man who refused to give up his riches to follow Christ. But he also is inside the church. This person listens to the Word of God every Sunday but cares little for his soul because he cares so much for wealth and the things of the world. John MacArthur said it this way:
A person who comes to church but never becomes committed to serving, who is continually preoccupied with money, career, fashions, sports, and everything but the Lord’s work is a person with a weed-infested heart. A person who claims to love Christ but who cannot remain faithful in marriage has a weedy heart. The person who refuses to let go of his worldliness is a person in whom the seed of God’s saving gospel has not found root and is in danger of being choked out altogether.
We must remember what Scripture says about the world and wealth. First John 2:15-17 says,
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.
Also, in Matthew 6:24, Christ it this way: “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.”
Interpretation Question: What is the seductiveness of wealth?
It must be noticed that wealth or riches in itself is not a thorn. Wealth is neutral. It’s the deceitfulness or seductiveness of wealth that is the problem. In what ways does wealth seduce people and potentially keep them from salvation? (1) Wealth is seductive in that it can easily become the object of one’s affection and devotion. This is why Christ said a person can only have one master—God or money (Matt 6:24). For many, even amongst professing Christians, they are really living for money. Money directs what school they will go to. Which one? The one which will lead to making the most money. Money directs which job they will pursue. Which one? The one that will make the most money. Money directs who they will marry. Which one? The one who will help them obtain the most comfortable lifestyle? Money is deceptive. It can become a person’s god. The problem with this is in order for a person to be saved, they must take Christ as Lord, not just Savior. Commitment is mandated. They cannot take Christ and Buddha or Christ and Allah, nor can they take Christ and family, or even Christ and money. In Luke 14:26-27, Christ said this:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
But wealth is seductive in another way. (2) Wealth tends to make us prideful and independent where we exalt ourselves, look down on others, and see little need for God. For many in the church, they would never say they don’t need God. However, they live like it. Because they have enough in the bank or because they have achieved so much, they rarely pray or read God’s Word. They have been deceived by their accumulation of wealth. However, in order to be saved, Christ said we must become like a child in Matthew 18:1-4. The word “child” used in that passage is used of an infant or a toddler—a child who was totally dependent. Christ told the disciples, if they did not become like this child, they would not enter the kingdom of heaven. Likewise, many hearers of God’s Word are kept out of the kingdom because of pride induced by wealth and success. It makes them feel independent, like they don’t need God or others. In 1 Timothy 6:9-10, Paul said this:
Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains.
Interpretation Question: Is the thorny ground a true believer?
As mentioned, some think so. They would say the thorny ground is just a worldly believer in the church. However, the primary reason this soil doesn’t seem to represent a true believer is because it never bears any fruit. The only soil that does among the four is the good ground which we will cover next. Certainly, all believers are tempted by worldliness, comfort, and money; however, it is clear in Scripture that there is a type of worldliness that proves one is not truly saved (cf. 1 John 2:15-17, 5:13).
As a case study, let’s consider the rich man that approached Christ about how to have eternal life in Matthew 19:16-21. If the rich man would have come to any evangelical church today, they would have quickly taken him through the Romans Road or the Four Spiritual Laws, and he would have accepted Christ, been baptized, and placed into membership. Because he was moral (as he had kept the Mosaic law since his youth, Matt 19:20) and financially successful, he would soon be placed into leadership, possibly leading a small group or ministry, or even become a treasurer or an elder. However, Christ was never Lord of this man’s life—money was. That is why Christ told him to leave his god first—money—and then follow him so he could be saved (Matt 19:21).
Unfortunately, the church is littered with believers like this. Again, 1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” All believers are tempted by the world but there is a type of affection (love) which will keep a person from truly loving God. This person lives more the world and the things of the world than God, which proves his faith is spurious. Again, Christ said we can only have one Master, not two—God and not the world or money (Matt 6:24).
Application Question: What is the difference between a wealthy believer like Abraham, Daniel, or Joseph and someone who wants to be saved like the rich man but is kept from true salvation because of his love for wealth? What types of disciplines should we use to guard ourselves from the love of wealth and other worldly things which can hinder our spiritual growth (Matt 6:19-21, 1 Cor 7:30-31)?
The Good Heart: The Seed Sown on Good Soil
But other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty … But as for the seed sown on good soil, this is the person who hears the word and understands. He bears fruit, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.
Matthew 13:8, 23
The final soil is the good soil. This person hears the Word of God, understands, accepts it, and then produces fruit—hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. This fruit consists of a change in character, including the gradually growing fruits of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Fruit also represents good works like worshiping God, leading others to Christ, discipling believers, serving the less fortunate, giving generously, and much more. Ultimately, fruitfulness can be summed up by obedience to God’s commands, which are encapsulated by loving God and others.
The good soil often does not grow as fast as the rocky soil, but that’s because it grows down before it grows up. The roots of this person tap into the Word of God, prayer, intimacy with God, and fellowship others. Often instead of just accepting what they hear or passively receiving it, they ask questions to gain understanding. They pray for God to teach them his Word and seek mentorship from mature believers. Because of their work and the grace of God in their lives, their roots grow deep, so they can grow wide and tall, producing much fruit.
It’s important to hear the description of the good soil the way an ancient Jew would have heard it. When we hear it, it sounds like some Christians will produce a little fruit and some will produce a lot. However, that’s not how they heard it. The average yield in ancient Israel was typically less than eight to one , so even receiving a ten-fold return was a lot. However, this soil receives thirty, sixty, and hundredfold return. They are all ridiculously fruitful! This is true of every genuine believer. True believers will always produce abundant fruit that proves their salvation. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come!” In John 15:8, Christ said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” Fruit bearing is proof of being a true disciple and therefore saved. This is confirmed by other texts which say that those who outwardly profess Christ but do not produce fruit will be thrown into the fire—suffering eternal judgment because they were never truly born again. John 15:1-2, 5-6 says,
I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit … I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up.
Likewise, in Matthew 7:19-20, Christ said, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.” In Matthew 3:8-10, John the Baptist said this to the Jews listening to him:
Therefore produce fruit that proves your repentance, and don’t think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones! Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
All true believers will produce fruit—representing good works that demonstrate that they have truly been born again. If they are without these, they are not saved. In James 2:17, James said it this way, “So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself.”
As with the rocky and thorny soil, it is possible to seem like one has life, including doing good works but never experiencing an inward change. In Matthew 7:21-23, Christ described how many will call him, “Lord, Lord,” in the last days and boast in their prophesying, casting out demons, and miracles; however, he will say to them, “I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!” They were never born again. Unfortunately, many who preach, teach, and minister in seemingly effective ways demonstrate by a life of iniquity that they were never truly born again. They lack genuine fruit, which is both internal character traits and external good works.
Differences in Fruitfulness
Interpretation Question: Why is there a difference in the amount of fruit of genuine believers—thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold?
In short, this does not have to do with one’s gifts. Everybody can produce 100-fold fruit with the gifts God has given them. It has to do with one’s commitment to obedience, willingness to sacrifice, and faith. In 1 Corinthians 15:9-10, Paul said this about his ministry:
For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been in vain. In fact, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God with me.
Though he considered himself least of the apostles because of his sinful past, he worked harder than all the other apostles. This does not deny God’s grace over his life, but it does recognize that God’s grace was not in vain. This implies that God’s grace over a believer’s life can be in vain. Though God gives gifts, believers may not faithfully use them because of fear, including insecurities, laziness, or even just plain disobedience. Some may hide their gifts in the ground. Some may allow thorns to choke out their fruit. They will live for God but also at times be choked by worldly cares and the deceitfulness of riches. Because of the overall state of their lives is fruit bearing, they are a good soil, but they don’t maximize their fruitfulness for various reasons. In contrast, other believers work hard at studying and obeying God’s Word, seeking to be discipled and discipling others, and therefore bear sixty or 100-fold fruit.
This aspect of the parable is often overlooked to focus on those who are not saved. However, Christ certainly shared the various levels of fruitfulness to challenge all believers to maximum fruit bearing. Titus 2:14 (ESV) says how Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Christ is purifying a people who are zealous to change inwardly—growing in patience, self-control, gentleness, honesty, and love for others. But they also zealous to bear fruit outwardly by serving God and others, which is a proof of their salvation.
Application Question: What types of disciplines lead to maximum fruit bearing and what are some distractions that hinder maximum fruitfulness? How is God calling you to pursue maximum fruitfulness and help your friends, family, and church members do so as well?
Application Question: What are some other applications we should take from the Parable of the Soils?
Here are four applications to consider:
1. We must diligently study God’s Word to understand it.
Again, the parables were given to reveal God’s Word to the true disciples but also to conceal it from the casual hearer and the rebellious. Christ commonly ended his parables and teachings with, “The one who has ears had better listen!” (Matt 13:9). However, even the disciples had to ask Christ questions to gain understanding of many of the parables and his teachings. Likewise, in our study of Scripture, sometimes the understanding of a text will be apparent, but many times, it will not be. Proof that we have ears to hear is often demonstrated in our diligence to pursue understanding. Second Timothy 2:15 (KJV) says, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Therefore, we should not quickly skip over confusing or troubling texts in our reading. We should ask questions to those more spiritually mature than us. We should research them using commentaries and reference books, which have been put together by those asking the same questions.
Do we have ears to hear? Our diligent study of Scripture or lack of it often demonstrates what type of hearts we have. Are we simply casual hearers or true disciples who seek to understand, obey, and share our Master’s Words with others?
2. We must faithfully sow the seed of God’s Word, even in the midst of many discouragements.
No doubt, one of the main reasons Christ shared the Parable of the Soils and the other parables of the kingdom was to teach the disciples to not be discouraged in their ministry. During this stage of the kingdom, there will be many discouragements. Often the people we share the gospel with and teach God’s Word to will mentally affirm it but do nothing with it or reject it altogether. Some might even attack us. With others, we will invest greatly in them, and they will seemingly receive it with great joy only to eventually fall away—opting to instead adopt secular worldviews and ambitions. Others will teach us and invest in our lives only to eventually go the way of Demas (2 Tim 4:10)—turning away from God because they loved this present world. Because of all these discouragements, some will become angry at the church and turn away from it. Others will emotionally give up, though faithfully attending church. However, even with all these imperfections in the church, we must remember Christ loves this imperfect church, died for her, and is eternally devoted to her; therefore, we must love her, faithfully serve her, and be eternally devoted to her as well, regardless of the discouragements we encounter.
3. We must be careful of growth killers—Satan, worries of this life, and the deceitfulness of riches.
Though the first three soils represent people’s ultimate rejection of the gospel, the temptations they experience we will be tempted with as true believers. We still encounter spiritual warfare when hearing, studying, or teaching God’s Word. Satan does not want us to understand, obey, and therefore bear fruit, and he doesn’t want others to either. Therefore, we should not be surprised when we experience the birds attacking us, trying to discourage us, and steal our joy. It’s the nature of ministry in this season of the kingdom.
In addition, we must be careful of the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of riches choking the Word and making it unfruitful. Worry about our present, past, and future can hinder our spiritual understanding, growth, and ability to affect others. Worry ultimately says, “God, you are not in control!” or “God, I don’t trust you.” If we don’t trust God, how can we receive his Word with a good heart and be transformed by it? Also, if we don’t really trust God, as demonstrated by a life of worry and complaining, how can we have power when sowing a Word, we don’t ultimately trust and obey, into the lives of others? Therefore, we must guard our hearts from worry by living both in prayer and thanksgiving. When we do that, God promises to give us his peace. In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul said:
Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
In addition, we must be careful of the deceitfulness of riches. The pursuit of wealth and things will choke the Word of God in our lives. We can only have one master. Therefore, we must be disciplined with treasures and the things of this world because they have a tendency to steal our hearts from God. It’s easy for entertainment, including social media, Youtube, or even news to consume us. It’s easy for career or other relationships to become our god. Therefore, we must always guard our hearts by being disciplined with what God gives us. Sometimes, like the rich man, it might be wise for us to give certain treasures up altogether or fast for a season to protect our hearts from being consumed with them (Matt 6:19-21).
4. We must confirm that we are truly born again because not everyone who professes and serves Christ truly is.
As mentioned, three of the four soils represent the hearts of the unregenerate—those who hear God’s Word but are not changed by it in a saving manner. Their responses to God’s Word demonstrate the type of hearts they have. Therefore, we must ask ourselves, “Do we simply hear but not seek to understand? Do we understand and not seek to obey because of focusing on other endeavors? Did we previously hear and obey with great devotion but eventually fell away and have yet returned?” These are responses of those sown along the path, rocky, and thorny soil. Only persevering in our study and obedience to God’s Word is proof of true salvation.
Again, in Matthew 3:8-10, John the Baptist said this:
Therefore produce fruit that proves your repentance, and don’t think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones! Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Second Corinthians 13:5 says, “Put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize regarding yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you—unless, indeed, you fail the test!” Second Peter 1:10 says, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to be sure of your calling and election. For by doing this you will never stumble into sin.” Let us also make sure of our calling and election by not simply professing Christ with our lips but obeying inwardly with our attitudes and outwardly with our actions.
What is the kingdom of God like in this season? It’s like a person sowing the seed of the gospel upon various soils—the hard path, the rocky ground, the thorny ground, and the good soil. All of these soils exist within the church. Sin, Satan, shallow commitment, and various temptations from the world keep the seed of the gospel from ever truly taking root and transforming many people’s lives. However, though the state of the church is sad and full of many discouragements because of the unfruitfulness of most of its members, it is also exciting and full of potential. Each true believer has a tremendous capacity for fruitfulness—affecting untold numbers, many of which they may never meet. Certainly, Christ meant to encourage us through the parable to not give up in ministry when encountering various disappointments in this stage of the kingdom and also to guard and cultivate the soil of our hearts so we can have maximum productivity. Whoever delights and meditates on God’s Word will be like a tree that produces fruit in season, everything that he does will prosper (Ps 1:2-3). Whoever abides in Christ through prayer, worship, time in God’s Word, and service, likewise will not only bear fruit but much fruit for the kingdom and thereby prove they are true disciples (John 15:1-8). Lord, help us to be abundantly fruitful for your name’s sake!
Application Question: What stood out most in the text/sermon and why? What questions or applications did you take from the text/sermon?
• Pray for those who don’t know Christ, that God would set them free from spiritual blindness and the bondage of sin, so they can hear the gospel and be saved—pray for friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances.
• Pray that God would continue to protect his saints and their faith as the world becomes more antagonistic to biblical truths—pray that God would especially protect our children and young believers from the onslaught of the enemy and the world.
• Pray that God would deliver us from worry and the deceitfulness of riches and any other seeds that choke our understanding of God’s Word and obedience to it.
• Pray that God would give us good hearts, including a greater desire to study, understand, and share the Word—pray that God would show us wonderful things from his law and transform us.
• Pray that God would anoint and empower us to bear fruit—training and equipping us, imparting new gifts and strengthening old ones, and opening news doors to reach people for his glory, also pray that the seeds we’ve already sown would bear fruit with friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, and even strangers we have encountered.