“Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one that sows to please his sinful nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life.”Paul, Galatians 6:7, 8
God created me – and you – to live with a single, all-embracing, all-transforming passion – namely, a passion to glorify God by enjoying and displaying his supreme excellence in all spheres of life. The Bible is crystal-clear: God created us for his glory. We waste our lives when we do not pray and think and dream and plan and work toward magnifying God in all spheres of life.
– John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life
1After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
4While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. 6Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
9His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
” ‘though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.’
11“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.Luke 8:1-16
Our first long-form parable in Luke today and Jesus gives us another lens to look at our lives. We see Jesus is on the road again, “traveling from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.”
Note the reference to the three women – Mary, Joanna and Susanna (and many other women) – that are accompanying Jesus and his disciples. The passage says that each of these women had been healed by Jesus of diseases and evil spirits; as in past encounters, we see that those who are healed by Jesus naturally want to follow him. These women were helping support Jesus and his disciples “out of their own means.” While the religious leaders of the day considered women to be inferior to men and having no role in “ministry,” some of Jesus’ most critical backers and devoted followers are women. Long before Apple appropriated it as a marketing slogan, Jesus “Thinks Different.”
Jesus tells a parable of a farmer sowing seed with four outcomes. After telling the parable, he calls out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” When the disciples ask him what the parable meant, Jesus tells them that not all who hear the parables have had “the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God” given to them; those without this knowledge will not see or understand what the parables mean. Note that Jesus loved to creatively use vivid analogy – we saw in our last encounter how he used the two forgiven debtors (50/500 denarii) to teach Simon the Pharisee the correlation between the depth of forgiveness and intensity of love.
Jesus then goes on to explain the parable to his disciples. The seed is the word of God, the four different soils are those that receive the seed. The first soil (the path where the seed is trampled on or snatched by birds) is like those who hear the word, but the devil snatches the word from their hearts. The second soil (rocky) is like those who receive the word, but it does not take root, so they fall away. The third soil (infested with thorns) is like those who hear, but then are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures. The fourth soil (good soil) is like those with a good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. The crop the fourth soil yields can be 100 times the seed sown, but we note that the three other soils ultimately yield no fruit.
The life Jesus offers us is the expansive interaction of the seed and fourth soil, with his own life as the benchmark (though you could say the return on Jesus’ life has been infinite). Note the characteristics of the person that represents the fourth soil – they hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
Of the three unfruitful soil possibilities, I have experienced being most at risk of being the third soil. For those of us who, by God’s grace, have embraced Jesus and seek to follow him, I believe this scenario presents the biggest danger, particularly given our modern cultural conditioning and expectations – being choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures.
Jesus describes the American condition 2,000 years ago: anxiety over all the usual stuff, materialism and the distraction of wealth and dissipation through unbridled pursuit of pleasure; chasing everything and getting nothing; rushing everywhere and getting nowhere. Jesus suggests that the “choking” of these influences results in an unfruitful life. Knowing how easy it is to have my own heart and mind consumed by these things, crowding out the existence of tangible fruit, Jesus’ words ring true.
In contrast, the life that is marked by hearing the word (need to be in it to hear it), retaining the word (meditating on it, discussing it, understanding it) and persevering in practicing what the word teaches has the potential for huge fruitfulness – 100X. The women serving as Jesus’ venture backers must have understood and appreciated this payoff structure.
The agricultural analogies Jesus likes to use indicate that the path to fruitfulness requires time, nutrients, cultivation and perseverance. While we know that we can produce no fruit without Christ (vine and branches), there are disciplines required on our end if we seek a life characterized by persistent, growing and multiplying fruitfulness.
We are at risk of deluding ourselves in pursuing the apparent immediate gratification that comes from the money, status and pleasures that choke the third seed; these things provide, at best, a transient and illusory fix. Our small self-obsessed world ultimately collapses into itself. Jesus invites us into his kingdom of graceful love and the potential for huge, soul-filling and God-glorifying fruitfulness. If we desire the fruitful life of the fourth soil, our priorities must be to hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice, while being acutely aware of, and on guard against, the risks to fruitfulness that Jesus outlines. Let us challenge and encourage each other towards this life.
Lord, may your Spirit be at work in us, cultivating fruitfulness to your glory. Protect us each day from temptation to succumb to our own selfish desires and worry.
“When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy. Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed. A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.”Proverbs 11:10-13
“In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. Turn your ear to me and come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth.”Psalm 31:1-5