How many times have you or someone you know planted a tree in anticipation of harvesting fresh, juicy apples or pears in your own backyard? Home fruit production can be both rewarding and troublesome. One of the most common questions is why trees fail to bear fruit or only have fruit every other year. Likewise, how many times have pastors and other church leaders planted seeds of the gospel and discipled others in anticipation of the person producing fruit and sharing with others what they’ve learned? Witnessing and making disciples is both rewarding and troublesome, even heart breaking at times. One of the most common questions among church leaders is why are there so many people who have heard the word of God who fail to bear fruit?
Please observe the following from reading Matthew 13:18-23 below which is Jesus’ explanation of the parable in Mathew 13:1-9: There are 4 types of soils that describe the condition of the heart. The seed represents the gospel message. The sower represents Jesus broadcasting the seeds of the gospel but now it is our responsibility (Acts 1:8). The sower casts seed on every type of soil without discrimination representing that fact that everyone described in this parable heard the word of the kingdom but only one bears fruit.
MT 13:18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
The four conditions of the heart are represented by the four types of soil which are hardened heart (hardpan walkway), superficial heart (rocky soil), divided heart (permeated by thorns) and a receptive heart (bears fruit).
First, is the hardened heart. MT 13:18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.” This person hears the word but does not understand it, actually chooses not to understand. As a result, the seed does not take root and it does not germinate. It just lay on the path and the birds come and eat the seed. As such, many people hear the word, choose not to understand it because their hearts are hard like the walking path and the seed of the gospel never takes root. It gets snatched away by the devil. The devil lies and deceives and lures and entices so that those with a hardened heart never received the seed of the gospel.
Second, is the superficial heart. MT13:20 “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.”
As I’ve already explained, the sower spreads the seed without discrimination. The seed lands on soils of many kinds. In this case, it lands on rocky soil. The soil is shallow as the rocks are mixed heavily in the soil (you might picture a thin layer of soil on top of the rock). The seed germinates and begins to grow. Things appear to be good at this point. However, there is not enough soil for the plant to establish a strong root (only endures for a while). This describes a person who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. But this person cannot withstand the cost of commitment to Jesus when the cost is tribulation or persecution on account of the word (quickly defects, distancing himself from the word or message). He falls away. This person’s commitment is shallow not having a faith that is deeply rooted. Initially, there is joyful acceptance as the circumstances are favorable. Early on, the cost of commitment is not yet obvious to them. You might liken this person as one who cancels their membership when payment comes due. There are happy until it costs them something. The cost of commitment to Jesus often comes in the form of tribulation and persecution that come because of believing the word and obeying the word. As quickly as this individual committed, just as quickly he defected, distancing himself from the word or message to avoid the sting of persecution. This person has a superficial heart.
Third, is the divided heart. MT 13:22 “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” Again, as the sower casts the seed without bias, some of the seed lands among the thorns. The thorns, of course, steal the moisture and nutrients necessary for the new plant to bear fruit. It takes root, it germinates, but proves too weak to produce fruit. This describes the person who hears the word, but the cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches choke the word and they prove unfruitful.
The influence which draws this person away from a deep desire for God and His kingdom work is competing “gods”—the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth. Rather than being driven from the truth by hardship like the one with a superficial heart, this person is drawn and lured away from the truth by promises of something better. Of course, these promises will never be fulfilled because these competing gods or masters are an illusion.
1 JN 2:15 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. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
A person with a divided heart is simply too much in love with this world. They care too much for their careers, their prestige, their sinful pleasures, earthly ambitions, their recreation and sport and their pursuit for riches. They care to such a degree that it eventually chokes out the word and causes the person to be unfruitful.
Allow me to clarify. Having fun isn’t the issue. There is time for fun in the sun. However, the issue becomes your priority, desire and love for the fun and the corresponding lack of interest for worship, serving others, giving, sharing the gospel and making disciples. In other words, when you’d rather be camping or fishing or playing ball or watching the races instead of worshiping and serving the most high God, you have a divided heart and you are proving to be unfruitful.
When you allow the thorns to grow, their roots spread, making it more difficult for you to pull them out without damaging the roots of the good plants. Also, the larger a weed gets, the more nutrients it will steal from your plants. Unfortunately, there is no cure-all for making weeds disappear for good. All you can do is tend to your garden and pull the weeds out when you see them growing.
So how do properly garden your heart by removing the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches that choke the word?
- Worship is a lifestyle (Romans 12:1) Quote: “If you will not worship God seven days a week, you will not worship Him on one day a week” ~A.W. Tozer
- Bible reading is a daily regime (Romans 12:2)
- Practicing what you read and hear in the word of God is routine (James 1:22)
- Prayer is constantly on your lips (1 Thes 5:17)
- Giving thanks in all circumstances is in the front of your mind (1 Thes 5:18)
- Sharing your faith gushes from the overflow of your heart (Acts 1:8, 1 Peter 3:15)
- Relational discipleship is intentional and common (become a disciple who is being discipled and who disciple others) (2 Tim 2:2)
Fourth and last is the receptive heart. MT 13:23 “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” The good soil bears fruit with an exponential yield. This describes the person who hears the word and understands it. How do you know when you understand the word of the Kingdom? You bear fruit and the yield is plentiful (100, 60, 30 from 1 seed).
Does a farmer expect a yield when he plants soybean seeds? Yes. What kind of yield can he expect? I did some research. A farmer can typically count on 30 pods per plant and 3 beans to the pod which is 90 beans per plant, and 100,000 plants to the acre so that’s 9 million beans to the acres. There is 3,200 beans to the pound so that’s 2,812 pounds of beans or 47 bushel beans per acre. The average bushel of soybeans to the acre in Iowa is 50 for the last several years. If only we were soybeans, right?
Does God expect a yield from the Christian? Of course, the answer is yes. However, the average American Christian isn’t yielding fruit. How do I know. Please review the research by Barna, LifeWay, Pew and others. On average Christians attend worship 2 or less times per month, they give 2 ½ percent of their income to support the ministry of the local church, only 2% of them have shared their faith with another in the last 6 months, and only 10 percent of them serve on a consistent basis.
What is it? A hard heart? A superficial heart? A divided heart? Whichever one it is, the local church is permeated with a heart problem.
In contrast, a Christian with a receptive heart (good soil) chooses to understand and accept the truth, also accepting Jesus who is truth (John 14:6). None of the other soils bore fruit, but the good soil yielded much fruit. There is genuine evidence of faith in the work of a person who has a receptive heart. This principle is all through Jesus’ teachings, that a tree is known by its fruit. There may be many who profess Christ, but ultimately, they are known by their fruit, what they produce, just like the tree. When your heart is receptive, you will hear the word and understand it and bear fruit.
You might ask, what does the fruit that a Christian produces so prolifically look like? “(1) a Christlike character, (2) a life characterized by good works, (3) a faithful witness, (4) lips that praise God, and (5) a generous giving of one’s money.” ~Charles C. Ryrie, So Great Salvation, (USA: Victor Books, a Division of Scripture Press, 1989), pp. 49-50
In summary, the four conditions of the heart are represented by the four types of soil which are hardened heart (hardpan walkway), superficial heart (rocky soil), divided heart (permeated by thorns) and a receptive heart (bears fruit). After all, a seed sown in good soil bears fruit. So then, what does the evidence reveal about the condition of your heart?
A Work in Progress,