My pastor recently preached upon the Parable of the Sower and I’ve come back to it a handful of times in further reflection since then. Parables were designed to conceal the truth from those whom Isaiah prophesied of (Is. 6:9-10), yet then were revealed to Christ’s disciples (and us vicariously). In this particular example, the text speaks not primarily of the sower—but of the soils upon which the seed fell. The seed represents the Word of God and the soils, of course, represent different responses to the Word of God that different types of people have. In essence, the Parable of the Sower is fundamentally rooted in drawing out what we worship and what we love; the soils reveal the state of our hearts as the Word of God is brought to bear. Another element found within the Parable of the Sower is what is invariably revealed through trials and temptations. While there are numerous ways one can undergo a “testing” of faith, the teaching of Christ here reveals the outcome: the soil we are reveals whether or not we truly are in the faith to begin with. While one might balk at this statement, this is truly at the heart of what the Parable of the Sower teaches (Matt. 13:3-9, 18-23). Whatever soil one finds themselves described as discloses the object of their affections.
All one must do to understand the Parable of the Sower in Matt. 13:3-9 is to read Christ’s explanation of it in vv. 18-23. Christ makes clear that the seed that fell upon the path is immediately snatched by Satan, so the Word never takes root. The way the expression is used here, the idea is that not even seconds after sowing the seed, the enemy has come in and undone any work that was just accomplished. What is rather alarming to think about is how Satan actually has the ability to snatch away that which was “sown in” a person’s heart (Matt. 13:19). These are the types of people you might preach the gospel to time and again, yet the look on their face is reminiscent of a doe caught in headlights. They are invariably what we might refer to as the hard-hearted individual who gives no thoughts to the things of God, nor do they care when they are faced with such things. Instead, they are preoccupied with nearly everything else they can be; there is little doubt whether or not the preaching of the Word fell on deaf ears because Satan is at work in their hearts (2 Cor. 4:4).
The seed that fell upon the rocky ground refers to someone who hears the Word with joy, yet they never establish roots in the faith because the rocks under the surface prevent anything but a very shallow growth. They burst forth with beautiful fervor and growth upon a new profession of faith, only for the inevitable time to come that whisks them away from what they once professed. The expression “an inch deep and a mile wide” is apropos for them; when any sort of hardship or persecution comes on account of the Word, they quickly fall away. We must be quick to notice that this type of affliction comes on account of, or because of, the Word itself. The two terms here used for hardship and persecution speak more broadly than we typically might define them, as they do not explicitly refer to a physical persecution. Instead, they focus on the idea of both internal and external factors, of which physical persecution may be a part, but it could just as easily be a form of harassment and internal conflict (i.e. the struggle one might face over being seen as “backwards” or “homophobic” for affirming biblical sexuality). These are the people who never sincerely counted the cost of following Jesus, so when the going gets tough and suffering comes, they simply stop going (Lk. 14:25-35).
The seed that fell among the thorns and was choked out refers to those who find themselves caught up in the concerns of this world and the prospect of riches. This section immediately brings to mind Matt. 6:19-34, where Christ addresses a love of Mammon and the general anxiousness unbelievers have (one might also think of the Parable of the Rich Fool in Lk. 12:13-21). The idea in both of these things being that the Gentiles order their lives in such a way that they are ruled by the false sense of security and control. In the case of a love for money, Christ reveals no servant can have two masters (Matt. 6:24). It is in light of this truth that He then moves on to speak towards the anxiety the general world has to ensure they have provisions. Both the lure of wealth and the anxiety produced from worrying hits at our core understanding of worship, as these thing reveal whether or not our trust in truly in the Sovereign One. Yet beyond this, the cares and concerns of this world go far deeper than money and provisions; they involve those aspects of our desires and longings that take precedence over Christ. In Matt. 13 then these themes come up again, bringing the logical end of such worship to its natural conclusion: unfruitfulness and unbelief. What appeared to be growth was choked out, invariably, by the things they truly love and worship.
The final soil one finds then is radically different than all the rest; they are the one who hears the Word and understands it—and they understand it in such a way that it challenges the way they think and live. From this an abundant amount of fruitfulness is exhibited, and vicariously, the assumption in the text is that they are unlike all the other soils the seed fell upon. They are not those who Satan keeps in the blindness of unbelief, they do not flee when hardships come as a result of being found faithful to the Word, and they are not consumed by a love of money nor an anxiousness over their basic necessities. Instead, they are ones who trust in God, not only for their salvation, but for every aspect of their lives. In other words, their worship is pure and fixated upon the Object of their faith, which is Christ. Likewise, their affections are preoccupied by Christ Himself; they do not love this world nor the things in it, as Christ has taken the preeminent spot in their hearts.
As we understand the Parable of the Sower then, it ought to be mentioned that the “good soil” is not free from some of the same trials and temptations that the other soils experience. In fact, it seems to be quite the opposite; those who genuinely love Christ often face a barrage of trials and temptations that no unbeliever faces. Those who are genuine Christians still experience adversity from their adversary, hardship and persecution on account of the Word, and the very real temptation to place their trust in Mammon—yet they will invariably not succumb to these things as an unbeliever will because they are the soil that has been prepared to take the seed. Christ Himself has tilled the ground to prepare the soil so that the Word of God takes root and nothing will spoil the growth thereof. These trials and temptations then become tests of faith, ones which the genuine Christian will overcome because they are the “good soil” that will bear much fruit as they remain within the True Vine (Jn. 15:1-8). They are not “good soil” on account of anything within them, but solely on account of the One that keeps them. They are “good soil” because Christ Himself has done the work to remove their heart of stone and put in a heart of flesh, that they might receive the Word in earnestness and worship their Creator.
The concept of the “good soil” then is not one wherein there is a complete freedom from any such hardships, but in reality, a focus on the object of our faith. More clearly, the Parable of the Sower itself draws out the fact that all men are worshipers—whether they worship themselves, their reputation, their possessions, or the one true God. It does not take into consideration if one believes that to be the case. Thus, the atheist is every bit of a worshiper as the Christian. The fundamental difference one finds then is in the object of their worship. For the unbeliever, Scripture simply states that whether or not they are aware of it—they pay homage to Satan in their entrapment, and carry out his will (2 Tim. 2:25-26).
The one who is “good soil” simply proves to be the one who worships Christ in earnestness. When the time comes for affliction, they trust that Christ will be the One to rescue them. When temptations arise, their love for Christ outshines their desire for sin. They don’t commit themselves to the deeds of the flesh, which are obvious; they commit themselves to bearing the fruit of the Spirit. When money problems arise or anxiety looms, they commit themselves to trust in the One who provides for them, in spite of their circumstances. They trust that God truly ordains all that comes to pass. In all things, the one who is the “good soil” is the one who orders his life entirely around a proper expression of worshiping Christ. They preach the gospel to themselves, holding out on faith in the kindness and generosity of the living God. In other words: their demeanor is one that as a result of taking the medicine of the gospel has, as Charles Spurgeon said, “…learned to kiss the waves that throw [them] up against the Rock of Ages.” Their ultimate hope, time and again, is Christ Himself. It is only natural to state then that if we are not a people found to place our hope in Christ in all things, we must call into question our allegiances by confirming our calling and election.
We tend to desire to soften the blows of a passage like this and affirm everyone’s struggles, yet the reality is that we do the hard words of Christ a disservice if we are not willing to hear them. What this passage is to invoke in us is introspection; we ought to ask, “What soil am I?” If we are the good soil who hears and understands the Word as it comes, again, it produces a challenge—a confrontation if you will. That confrontation is with the affections of our heart, or more clearly, the object of our worship. Do we love Christ and worship Him above all other things, to the point where we truly have submitted our goals, desires, possessions, finances, families, hobbies, etc., under His Lordship? Is loving Him enough for us, even in the midst of losing everything? Or, do we yet treasure something more than we do the Master we claim? If the latter is true, it must be known: no servant can serve two masters. Invariably, such false worship will be exposed one day as what appears to have been good soil reveals itself as something altogether different. If your worship has proven false, do not delay your repentance until the day the soil is revealed before all and it is too late; if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9). If you suffer the pangs of conscience this day, do not harden your heart toward them, but yield your spirit to correction, and endure His discipline, for He does not discipline you to condemnation, but to restoration.