Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spiritual Growth Is Not an Option, But a Necessity


Jesus explains concerning the kingdom of God by teaching a parable concerning a sower and seed (Matthew 13:1ff). There are some important matters to consider before we actually come to the parable itself. One is that the reason Jesus spoke in parables; it was because of the spiritual malaise of people. I believe the mid-section of the passage has to do with the primary context of His audience…that being the Jews. This seems to be the case, especially in light of His Isaiah quote (vv.14-15). Those who were going to seek Him and understand Him were going to find Him...but, those who did not long to understand Him, "feed on His words," were not going to understand Him. A second thing to understand is that Jesus seems to indicate that only in one in four cases is the seed going to truly grow and ultimately bear fruit. He knew that many of the people following Him were not going to be true disciples, but were fair-weather followers. I do not believe that Jesus is not describing a place, people or a time where there is going to be a “great harvest” where 75-100% of the people listening, respond. In fact, most are going to reject the Word of God, as described in “wide and narrow gates” (Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:13-14).

When it comes down to the message itself, many of Jesus’ parables start with the expression, “the kingdom of God is like…” This is not the case here. He is describing the beginning of the kingdom. It begins with the sharing of the message of God…this is the seed. The seed is planted in the hearts of people…and the various soils represent different kinds of hearts. The various responses represent the different responses that people have to the Word of God. What is interesting is that Jesus provides an explanation for this parable, so there could be no mistaking the meaning. He wanted his disciples to understand what happens when people are exposed to the message of God in the Word. But why does Jesus compare God’s Word to a seed? Like a seed, the Word of God is inert until it is planted. Just as a seed has to planted in the ground in order to come alive…so, the Word of God must be planted in the hearts of men and women in order to germinate and grow. This doesn’t mean that the Word of God isn’t powerful on its own…but its true purpose is that it was given in order to change lives of those who would come into contact with it. It is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12)…the Holy Spirit brings God’s message to life in us. If the Word does germinate and start growing, it must also be cultivated with prayer, worship, fellowship wrapped in love and other virtues, practices. The ultimate outcome is to be -- fruit. This is the proof of growth in the above areas…disciplining our lives for the Lord. As Jesus says, some are flatly going to reject this message; they are represented by the hard pan. Nothing of a true spiritual nature is going to penetrate their hearts until their soil gets softened up. Religious people can be represented by this today, just as they did during the time of Christ. Church attendance doesn't necessarily mean everyone is tuned in to Jesus...or even that they know Him at all. The scorching sun in the parable represents persecution or temptation. The sun is that which tests believers to see whether or not their faith will sustain them. Believers with shallow roots, who have not invested in spiritual development, are going to wither away. The thorns represent the cares of the world that poke and bleed the spiritual life out of younger believers. Their priorities keep them from spiritual growth and development. We have great opportunities afforded us by the Lord. It seems like many in our current culture are content with enough growth to “get by,” but not enough to make a significant difference for Jesus…and this is unfortunate. Still, there are others who grow and prosper!

When we consider the story of Elijah from 1 Kings 17, he predicts a drought upon the land that would last for three-and-a-half years. Without rain the crops were not going to grow and soon there would be a famine. The famine represented the dryness of spirit in God’s people at that time. As James says, because of Elijah’s faithfulness, God answered his prayers three-and-a-half years later and the rains came (James 5:17-18). We certainly don’t have to look very hard or go very far to see the effects of drought upon our own land over the past few years (although the recent rains have certainly been welcome). I am not certain if a spiritual parallel can be drawn to the faithfulness of the people of the land in this time or not, but there are certainly some who would surmise such. What I do know is that each and every one of us has ultimate control over whether our spiritual lives our growing and producing fruit or drying up…and it because of our choices. This kingdom parable pretty much tells the story. There is no hiding it…the results will be known for each of us…and they will be good or poor. I hope and pray that your desire is to among those are producing good fruit for the Lord. I close with this thought, “The fatal metaphor of progress, which means leaving things behind us, has utterly obscured the real idea of growth, which means leaving things inside us.” - G.K. Chesterton

Blessings, Don

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