Posts Tagged ‘Christian life’

We are looking at Jesus’ parable of the sower this morning. I want us to focus on the central theme of the parable by asking the question, ‘What kind of dirt are you?’

I will be using Mark’s version in chapter 4, but will be bringing in Matthew 13 and Luke 8 as well. We will look at both the parable itself in vs. 2-9 and the interpretation of the parable given by Jesus in vs. 14-20.

Some basics 

The seed is “the word” (v. 14). In Matthew 13:19 it is the “word of the kingdom,” so we’re talking here about the gospel that Jesus proclaimed.

As we learn in Mark 1:15 Jesus preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus is saying that with his coming, all the promises and purposes of God are coming to completion for the salvation of the world and of all who will receive the word with repentance and faith. [In Luke it is “the word of God.” This may simply refer to the gospel as from God, or it may refer to reading all of Scripture in light of the coming of Jesus and the kingdom.]

This seed/gospel can produce this life/salvation in our lives. As it says in Luke 8:12 the purpose of sowing the seed is that people may “believe and be saved” (also v. 13) So there is no salvation without the gospel and the life it gives. We are just dirt in the imagery of this parable. But we do have to receive and hold onto the word through faith and repentance.

In this life, salvation is pictured as the seed growing in us. And at the resurrection it is pictured as the seed bearing fruit on the day of harvest, a common image for the final day.

The point of the parable is that not everyone who hears the word, receives it and holds onto it until the final day. And it’s not because there is something wrong with the seed or the sower that some don’t receive it. The only difference in each case is the dirt, or the people who hear it. Some dirt is receptive and some is not. 

So this parable teaches us how to be the right kind of dirt – that can receive and hold onto the gospel so that we have life and salvation both now and into eternity.

If you will pardon the pun, let’s dig deeper into this by looking at-

Three wrong kinds of dirt

These may characterize different people throughout the course of their lives, or it may characterize each of us at different times in our lives. In either case these are three obstacles to receiving and holding onto the life and salvation that the gospel brings.

1. The dirt along the path. From the parable we learn that the seed lands on a walking path next to, or through a field. As the phrase “trampled underfoot” in Luke 8:5 indicates, there is a lot of walking here. So the soil is packed down and hard. The seed can’t get into the dirt. It lays on top of the ground, gets walked on and the birds eventually eat it.

From the interpretation Jesus gives, we learn that these are people whose hearts (Matthew 13: 19; Luke 8:12) are hardened to the gospel. They aren’t interested in God. They might be religious, but they aren’t open to hearing God’s word concerning the kingdom.

Because their hearts are hard, the seed of the gospel can’t penetrate. As Matthew says, they don’t understand the word (Matthew 13:19; 23). It gains no entrance into their minds and hearts. The result is that Satan takes away the seed, so that they “may not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12).

So here there is no germination. There is no belief and thus no salvation.

2. The rocky dirt. From the parable we learn that this soil is too shallow (“it did not have much soil” – v. 5). The idea seems to be some dirt laying on top of a large rock in the ground. (Luke has “on the rock” – 8:6). The seed can germinate quickly because it doesn’t have a lot of dirt to break through. But it can’t sustain itself because the soil is not deep enough for roots. (Luke has “it had no moisture” 8:6 that is, from a lack of roots.)  When the sun comes out it withers away.

From the interpretation we learn that these are people who “immediately receive the word with joy” – 4:16. As Luke puts it “they believe” the gospel – 8:13.

But there’s a problem. They have “no root in themselves” (Mark 4:17). The gospel doesn’t penetrate deep into their lives; it doesn’t become deeply rooted in the heart. And so when testing and persecution come they fall away from their faith. As Luke puts it, “they believe for a while, and in a time of testing fall away” – 8:13.

So here there is genuine faith and there is germination and life, but only for a time.

3. The thorny dirt. From the parable we learn that this soil is productive because the seed grows. But there are other seeds/plants in the soil that grow to choke out the good seed so that there is no fruit.

From the interpretation we learn that these people believe and grow for a time, but other concerns and pursuits “enter in” (4:19) to their lives. These are “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things.” These are the thorns.

The result is that these worldly concerns choke the new life of the gospel in their lives and no fruit is produced. 

So here there is real faith, there is germination and life, but the life is cut short so that there is no ultimate salvation at the time of harvest.

Notice the progression here, from no germination, to a sprout that quickly dies, to a growing plant that eventually withers away. Only the last soil actually bears fruit.

So then let’s look at –

How we can be good dirt

In contrast to the hardened dirt along the path, we need to receive the word into our lives. All the soils hear the word. But the word must be “accepted” (4:20) into our hearts and lives. The receiving here refers to accepting it in faith (Luke 8:12). It has to do with “understanding it (Matthew 13:23). Letting it penetrate into our minds and hearts. Luke says we have to “hold it fast in an honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15).

In contrast to the shallow soil, we need to let the word go deep into us. The word has to have roots within us. We can’t just receive it and that’s it. We have to nurture it; cultivate it. We need to learn it, study it, meditate on it. Then we can endure in times of testing because the word has gone deep within. It is well rooted and grounded in us.

In contrast to the thorny dirt, we need to weed our lives. The word may well be in us and growing, but if we allow other seeds in they will grow and choke out the word.

We must beware of “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (4:19). Luke has it this way, “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (8:14). If these enter in they will take over and kill our life with God.

Jesus is talking about getting caught up in maintaining our earthly lives with all the business and going in all directions at once that this involves. He is talking about seeking security and comfort in getting more and more wealth. And he is talking about pursuing the pleasures of this life – the good things of life, entertainment, leisure. All these things come in and distract and overwhelm us so that our commitment is no longer solely focused on the Gospel and the Christian life.

We need to get these weeds out of our hearts, or whatever life and transformation we have will not last to bear fruit on the final day.

Let me end by asking –

What kind of dirt are you?

  •  Is your heart open and responsive to receive God’s word?
  • Do you let God’s word go deep into your life so that is firmly rooted by learning it; by studying it?
  • Are you putting the kingdom of God above all of this life’s activities and concerns and pleasures?

As Jesus says at the end of parable, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” – v. 9. We must listen to what he is saying! Be the dirt that receives and holds onto the word and the life it brings at all costs. Is there anything more important? And then you will bear fruit – “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

William Higgins


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Series: Paul to the Thessalonians

We’re starting a series on Paul to the Thessalonians. Not sure yet if we will go on into 2 Thessalonians or not. For now I want us to look at 1 Thessalonians and break it down to see what it says, and see what we can learn from it to help us in our understanding and walk with God.

As we go through this I encourage you to read and meditate on this letter in your own times of study and prayer. Let’s begin with some background.

The city of Thessalonica

 – still exists today. It’s the second largest city in Greece. In Paul’s day it was also a very important city. It was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia, a free city which gave it various political privileges and it was prosperous, with a good sea port, on the main east-west trade route and also on a north-south highway. Here’s a map:

As we’ll see most of the Thessalonians came out of idolatry, which was everywhere, as it was in all Gentile cities. They worshipped Aphrodite, Apollo, Kabirus, Zeus, Isis – just to name a few. And they were quite devoted to the worship of Roman emperors as gods.

Paul’s visit to Thessalonica

 – was a part of his second missionary journey chronicled in Acts 17. He traveled from Antioch in Syria, to the Galatian churches, to Troas and then over to Macedonia, to Philippi and then Thessalonica.

After he established a church, a great conflict broke out and persecution, so Paul had to leave quickly. He went on to Berea, Athens and then to Corinth. This caused real anxiety for two reasons. First, these new believers were left facing persecution alone, and second he wasn’t done teaching them all that they needed to know before he had to leave (3: 2,10).

So he sent Timothy back to check on them (3:2), and when he reported back to Paul at Corinth with good news (3:6), Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians as a response.

He wrote it around 50 AD, about 20 years after Jesus’ death. This was Paul’s second letter. And as such it is the second oldest New Testament document, after Galatians.

Let’s go through this a bit at a time.

The greeting – v. 1

“1Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.” This letter is actually from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy. “We” language is prevalent throughout. But at several points “I” language comes out and it is clear that Paul is the one speaking (2:18, 3:5, 5:26).

[Silvanus (known as Silas in Acts) was from the Jerusalem church. He went with Paul after Paul and Barnabas separated. Timothy was a disciple from the Galatian city of Lystra that Paul picked up near the beginning of this mission trip. Timothy, of course, came to work with Paul long term.

The word “church” means “a gathering of people” – specifically of the people of God, modeled on the assembly of the congregation of Israel in the wilderness. Here Paul specifies that he is addressing the gathering in Thessalonica  – “in God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This in contrast to other gatherings, for instance the political gathering under Rome in Thessalonica.]

He begins by wishing them grace or God’s favor (an adaptation of the Greek “greetings”) and peace or wellbeing from God (from the typical Jewish greeting “shalom”).

The rest of chapter one is focused on –

Thanksgiving to God – vs. 2-10

“2We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers . . .” All of Paul’s letters, except Galatians, have a thanksgiving section. In this case Paul is really thankful because they are hanging in there with their faith. He wasn’t sure what was going on. His thanksgiving even spills over into chapters 2 and 3 as well.

He says that he gives thanks for them “always” and prays for them “constantly.” Now I would submit to you that this is not some super spiritual ability to give thanks and pray always even while you do other things. It is rather a reference to his daily prayers – as was the common Jewish tradition. He is simply saying that each morning and evening he mentions them in prayer to God.

He gives thanks specifically for their Christian lives. “3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ . . .”

“Faith, love and hope” is a common triad in Paul and it functions here as a summary of their Christian life. And it can for us too:

  • Faith has to do with what we believe and our trust in God for salvation
  • Love has to do with living the Christian life day in and day out
  • Hope has to do with what we look forward to when Jesus returns.

Paul is saying that their faith is producing works, their love labors and their hope steadfastness. They are doing well. And so he gives thanks for this.

He also gives thanks for God’s transforming work in them. “4knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

He notes God’s love for them and tells them that they are chosen, that is, they are a part of the people of God (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). They have been cut off from family and friends because they have turned away from their old lives, and they are being persecuted.

But they are “brothers and sisters” now; a part of a new group, a new family – the church.

How does he know this? Because God’s Spirit was really at work when he ministered to them, empowering Paul’s preaching and working in their hearts to bring them to full conviction of the truth. “Power” here most likely includes miracles. (Galatians 5:3, 2 Corinthians 12:12f, Romans 15:18-19)

Paul also gives thanks for their faithfulness in suffering. “5You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”

Paul is saying that they had just come from Philippi, having suffered for their faith and they were under threat in Thessalonica. And now the Thessalonians have imitated this example of faithful suffering for their faith.

There is actually a chain of imitation here: Jesus suffered for his faithfulness, Paul followed his example, the Thessalonians have now followed both Paul and Jesus, and now they are an example to others in Greece.

But not only did they suffer, they experienced “the joy of the Holy Spirit” in their suffering. Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you . . . Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Even in suffering you can rejoice because of the knowledge that you will be blessed and because of the work of God in you by the Spirit.

Finally, Paul gives thanks for their witness. “8For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”

The story of what God did among them and their faith has  spread throughout Greece (Macedonia and Achaia). And even beyond – “everywhere.” Everybody is hearing about their story.

“9For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Paul is hearing from others about what happened in Thessalonica. Perhaps others from Philippi and Berea came along with Timothy to report to him at Corinth.

And again we have a description of their Christian lives:

  • They turned to God from idols
  • They now they serve the living and true God
  • And now they wait for Jesus to return

And Paul is thankful for this.

As Paul gives thanks for all these things, several things stand out for us to reflect on.

How are you doing in your daily prayers?

What do you give thanks for without ceasing? Who do you pray for constantly? Just as Paul was an example for them (and us) in the area of faithfulness in suffering, so he is a model for us of disciplined prayer. How are you doing?

The gospel message

What Paul preached comes out clearly in just a few words in vs. 9-10. “. . . how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Let me highlight some things from these verses: 1) It has to do with a person named Jesus; 2) he is the Son of God; 3) he died and has been resurrected; 4) he was exalted to heaven; 5) we are to wait for his return; 6) final judgment or “wrath” is coming. This is God’s just judgment on human sin; 7) but Jesus is our deliverer.

The same question that confronted the Thessalonians when they heard this gospel still confronts us. Are we going to receive God’s mercy to us by putting our faith in Jesus – who delivers us from judgment for our sin?

We also get a picture of what –

A true Gospel transformation

– looks like. Think about your own life as we go through this. 1) The Spirit moved in their hearts – v. 5. There is not coming to God without God first coming to us and working in us. 2) They turned from idols to God, which speaks to true repentance – v. 9. 3) They serve God with their lives – v. 9.  4)  Their faith is producing works – v. 3.   5) Their love for others is evident in their behavior – v. 3. 6) They have steadfast hope as they wait for Jesus – vs. 3-10. And 7) they do all this while suffering for their faith with joy – v. 6.

God aims through his gospel to transform every part of us in just these ways. What does your Christian life look like? If this isn’t a picture of your Christian life, I encourage you now to renew your faith in Jesus and to invite the Holy Spirit into your life to transform you.

William Higgins

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