Thorny ground.

July 31, 2016.

There are four types of soil that Jesus talks about in His famous parable of the sower. I’ve heard this story many times, as you may have as well, as it is almost the textbook example to teach what a parable is and how to interpret them, since Jesus explicitly does this for His disciples. You have probably heard many lessons on the different soil, and perhaps this one will be nothing new. I would ask that you stick with me for a few minutes, however, as I try to bring a new perspective to the story, one that I’m not sure I’ve really focused on in the past until recently. Instead of going through the different types of soil and what each part of the parable represents (hear the words of Jesus for this, as His words are much better than mine), I want to focus on just one type of soil. I believe that this soil is the one that is overlooked the most, probably because it is the one that professing Christians are in the most danger of being. Let’s dwell on the thorny ground for a few moments that we may head Jesus’ implicit warning here.

“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.”
(Matthew 13:22)

Aside from Matthew 13, we find this parable in Mark 4 and Luke 8. Jesus likens His kingdom to a sower who when out to sow grain. The grain falls on four types of soil, three that are ultimately unfruitful, and one that flourishes. It is interesting to see that right off the bat, there are three different types of soil that fail. The first doesn’t ever give the good news a chance, whereas the second has much initial fervor and energy, but falls away quickly when he or she sees that the gospel often brings persecution. This second soil fails because of fear and/or social pressure. I feel as though in practice, these are the two types of soil we are most concerned about, perhaps because these are the soils that fail quickly. These two types of soil have an obvious end.

But then Jesus continues on with the third type. In the thorny ground, the seed takes root and even grows as expected. Note how in the rocky soil, there is an emphasis on the plant’s immediate or very soon failure. Not so with the thorny ground. In fact, I posit that in thorny ground, the plant can grow almost fully as expect, save for one crucial element: the thorns choke the plant so that it does not bear fruit. Actually, in Luke’s account, he records Jesus’ parable saying “their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:14). Perhaps there is even some semblance of fruit. Yet it never matures. You’ve probably seen this in a garden before. Why do we have to weed? Because if not, the weeds will overtake the garden and cause our plants not to produce fruit.

So what does all this talk of fruit have to do with us?

The reason why I think we should take a closer look at the thorny ground is because the thorny ground could be any one of us. It could be us without our awareness of the situation. In protestant circles, we talk a lot about being saved without works and through grace (for good reason), but sometimes I think we overlook many of the teachings of Jesus (along with other writers of the NT) on this issue, as they might make us uncomfortable.It is clear in the parable of the sower, Jesus expects good ground to produce good fruit. Every ground that was not good, did not produce fruit, even if the plant itself grew. This is crucial to our understanding of what good soil is.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and remember what the soil is in the first place. The soil is ultimately our heart/ourselves. The path are those who would not receive salvation, those whose hearts were hard towards the message of the gospel. The rocky ground are those who are not well rooted, those whose hearts are shallow, perhaps not even grasping the full implications and meaning of the gospel. But the thorny hearts are hearts that received the seed, but do not hold the message of the gospel as top priority. Sure, thorny hearts can grow a plant. But the plant is choked by those things that the heart views as more important. The thorny heart would rather have the pleasures of this life than the fruit of the next.

So why is this so important? Because it can be hard to detect thorny soil. I believe that there are many professing Christians in this world who are actually thorny soil. Thorny soil produces a plant. It has semblance of Christianity. But it bears no fruit.

I say that this soil is hard to detect, but really it’s only hard to detect because we live in a culture and time in which detecting thorny soil is taboo. We are told time and again that we cannot judge the hearts of others. There is certainly some truth in this statement, at least in certain situations. However, the fact of the matter is, Jesus basically said the opposite.

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
(Luke 6:43-45)

You actually can judge a person’s heart based on the fruits they produce. Now, let me make a disclaimer here that I think you must judge by the totality of fruits, as sometimes even good bushes have certain bad fruits (i.e. a strawberry bush may produce hundreds of good strawberries and yet have a few that don’t mature as they should). Nevertheless, you can indeed judge the heart by the fruits it produces.

Or lack thereof.

The thing is, we are not saved by works. However, we are not saved without works. Perhaps the NT writer that puts this most clearly is James:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
(James 2:14-26)

I’ve heard this passage over and over in my life to hammer down on the message of “faith only,” but I think something deeper is being said here. James is saying that you cannot be saved if you don’t have works. No, works in no way earn our salvation. Nor do we only have works because we are happy that we are saved. If we are saved, we will have works. We will produce fruit. There is no option, for the Holy Spirit produces the fruits of the Spirit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
(Galatians 2:22-26)

There is no such thing as good soil that does not produce fruit. So, the question could be then, why are their Christians that seemingly do not produce fruit? Now, certainly not all fruit is seen, and just because we don’t see fruit doesn’t necessarily mean there is none. However, I do not believe that this is the case for most Christians who seemingly do not have fruit. So what happens?

Let’s simply go back to what Jesus says about the thorny soil:

“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.”
(Matthew 13:22)

Remember that the soil is our hearts. The fruit of the gospel is choked from our lives when we decide that other things are more important than the Kingdom. Our fruit is choked out when we pursue the cares of the world instead of the peace of God. Paul tells the Thessalonians, “Do not quench the Spirit” (I Thessalonians 5:19), yet in many cases I’m afraid we have done just that. It is our heart that chokes out the word in the case of the thorny ground.

Perhaps we all go through times where out hearts are thorny. I know I’ve gone through seasons where I wasn’t producing fruit. Faith is a journey, one with mountains and valleys. However, the danger comes when we ignore the fact that we are not producing fruit. It does us no good to look the other way, or to justify our failing plants in one way or another. We must recognize that a barren field is not good soil, and when we recognize this in ourselves, we must do something to refresh the soil (think fertilizer!). For we are indeed expected to produce fruit. And none of us are saved if we are not producing fruit.

Let us take the words of Jesus seriously. Let us hear the warning of James as it was intended- for self inspection. Let us examine our fruits, to see if we are found wanting. And if we are not producing fruit, Let us find a way to fertilize our hearts. We are here to help one another.

I pray that we are fruitful.

Suggested reading: Matthew 13, Luke 8, James 2.

Ask someone who knows you well if they can see your fruit.

-Walter

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