The Simplicity Series #7

The Sower and the Botanist

“Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed … fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a
hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Mat 13:3b–4a, 8–9
From Theology to Botany
This passage, from Mat 13:3–9, has become a fierce battleground from two primary, opposing theological positions. The controversy is centered on the question: Which soils represent believers?
This question results in two main positions: First, that all but the “wayside” soil are believers, because they all “received the seed.” The other is that only the “good ground” represents true believers, because it alone brings forth fruit. As with all debates (or at least most), this one gets quite acrimonious and leads to anger, exaggeration, and condemnation. Since the debate is along theoretical instead of practical lines, no lives are changed! It seems that we have become botanists, evaluating the germination process, the health of the plant, and comparative outcomes of sowing seed. I think we are asking the wrong question.
The Good Farmer
Imagine sharing this story with a farmer. After you have finished, you ask him this question: “Which kind of soil would you prefer to plant seed in?” Is there any doubt what his response would be? Furthermore, imagine having two believers—each on opposite sides of the debate mentioned above—and you were to ask them these question: “Which response would you most like to see in your own life?” or “Which response would you most like to represent your ministry?” Is there any doubt what both would answer? Suddenly, by simply asking the right question, we have two strongly opposed positions in full and hearty agreement. Not only that, but the conclusion reached, mixed with faith, results in lives being changed. I think this is the very thing that Jesus is getting at.
Jesus’ closing statement is worth considering first. When He says, “He who has ears … let him hear,” it is a challenge to action, not discussion. There is something He wants us to do in light of the lesson He has given. In the Hebrew culture, “to hear” meant “to obey.” To a Hebrew thinker, “to hear” is “to understand and obey.” The most famous of all Hebrew passages, Deu 6:4–5 (called “The Great Shema”) begins, “Hear [shema], O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” The word translated “hear” is the Hebrew word shema. The interesting point is that the majority of times our English Bibles use the word “obey” in the Old Testament, it is from the root word, shama.
When Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” it is because He wants us to respond with right thinking and right action. Later, in Mat 13:37, Jesus says, “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.” Even today, though we labor to spread God’s Word, it can only take root because the Lord Jesus Christ—through His Spirit—is behind the sowing. What then is the response He wants from us? What is the obedient action we should take?
Notice in Mat 13:18–23, as He explains the parable to His disciples, four times we find the phrase “he who received seed.” This is the action of the hearer. The one who hears the Word of God is accountable for the condition of his “soil,” that is, his soul. It is this kind of repetition that often makes the point clear.
First of all, which kind of soil am I? What is the true condition of my soul? Of what value is it for me—as a pastor and missionary—to enter into the debate with righteous fury, if my life is characterized by the fruitless soil? What if it is even characterized by the “thirty-fold” soil? Of what value is it to attempt to win a theological argument, if I myself am not “hearing” as I should?
Furthermore, if I am laboring to “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col 1:28), what kind of soil will I strive to prepare? Will I be content with anything less than soils (souls) that produce increasing fruit (Joh 15:5)? My conviction is that we need to stop pretending to be spiritual botanists and, instead, become “hardworking farmers” (1Ti 2:6).
I remember hearing a message by Ravi Zacharias, in which he said that after his lectures, Christians often ask him, “How many people do you think came to Christ?” He then said, “I think they are asking the wrong question.” I remember when I heard him say this I thought, “What other question could there be?”
He then went on to say, “The more pertinent question is how many have come a little closer to faith? How many have a few less obstacles to believing?” You see, he was not only thinking of planting the seed of the Gospel, but also of preparing the soil for a future hearing, and a future harvest.
The Power of Hearing
In the parallel passage in Mark, after telling this same parable (Mar 4:13–20), Jesus says to His disciples, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given” (Mar 4:24). If we realize that “hearing” means not only understanding, but also obedience to what is heard, then this statement becomes very powerful. The “measure” of production, “thirtyfold … sixty … hundred[fold] (Mar 4:20), depends on the “measure” of hearing/obeying.
Jesus made it clear that deeper insight into divine truth comes from a greater commitment to obey what we know. “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” (Joh 7:17). The question in the minds of the people was: How could a simple carpenter get such wisdom? Jesus declared that He spoke the wisdom of the Father, and that only those desiring to do the will of God could understand His revelation. The seed was good, but what of the soil?
We not only have a choice about what we choose to listen to, but also what we choose to do about it. The ultimate in “hearing” is the Word of God, which carries within its “seed” the power to bring forth faith (see Rom 10:17).
We ought to not only be careful what we hear, but also pay close attention to the condition of the soil, which is our own soul. If I could choose (and this is the main point of the parable) which kind of soil I would be, it would be the good soil that brings forth a harvest. And since the condition of the soil is my responsibility, I ought not to be content until the harvest increases from thirty to sixty, and from sixty to one hundred-fold.
I do not know of any rewards promised in the Scriptures for being a good botanist. But there are many for being a fruitful field, or a fruitful branch (Joh 15:1–9; Heb 6:7). “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” I would rather be a good farmer than a good botanist!


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