One of the most interesting parables Jesus told reveals the spiritual condition of every person in the world. It is known as the Parable of the Sower and is related in Matthew 13. The parable describes four different kinds of soil upon which seed is sown. The productivity of the seed is directly related to the condition of the soil in which it is sown. The seed represents the word of God (Lk. 8:11) and the soil represents the heart of man. Usually the parable is applied to the non-Christian and his response to the gospel. It also has merit in its application to Christians. Let’s examine the parable noting the reception given the gospel.
The WAYSIDE soil represents those who are so hardened by sin that the seed of God’s word cannot penetrate (Matt. 13:4, 19). The human heart can be so hardened by pride, prejudice, inactivity, lethargy, mental laziness, or mental arrogance that the gospel is not allowed to bear fruit. Christians who fall away from God can even become so hardened they cannot any longer be touched by the compassion of God or the appeal of the gospel (Heb. 6:6). At one time in their life, they were moved by the saving message of the gospel and obeyed it. Over time, they have allowed sin to so desensitize them that they cannot be reached (Heb. 3:13). How sad!
The ROCKY soil represents the superficial hearer who lacks spiritual depth (Matt. 13:5-6, 20-21). A tree with a vast root system pulls moisture from the soil. The spiritual root system of a Christian is developed in private Bible study, prayer, and faithful attendance to the worship assemblies. Some Christians fail to make these activities a part of their life and, thus, fail to develop spiritually. Like the Galatians (Gal. 5:7), they started out well, full of excitement for the cause of Christ, but they did not grow and develop. They are spiritually malnourished.
The THORNY soil represents the crowded heart, that is the heart that has become so concerned about the things of the world that the word of God has been relegated to the background in life (Matt. 13:7, 22). If you have ever raised a garden or planted a crop, you know that it is not necessary to cultivate weeds. They grow without any attention being given to them. In fact, you constantly have to be pulling or hoeing them to prevent them from taking over. In his application of this parable, Jesus mentions a trio of antagonists that will take over a person’s life if attention is not given to preventing their development. (1) “The worry of the world” refers to a score of interests which are legitimate in themselves, but which are allowed to dominate life to the exclusion of God. Participation in sports activities, hobbies, and career advancement are among them. (2) “The deceitfulness of riches” squelches the spiritual appetite of many. Materialism is, indeed, deceitful. It entices one to believe that the accumulation of material things in life will produce happiness, a reduction in worry, and a generally care-free life, but it most often produces unhappiness and greater stress. It crowds out spiritual pursuits and leaves a vast emptiness behind. (3) Luke’s account of this parable adds a third antagonist, “The pleasures of life” (Luke 8:14). There are many things in life that are pleasurable, but that doesn’t mean they are righteous. Simply because something may make a person feel good does not mean that it is the right thing to do. This is not to say that serving God is not a pleasurable experience. It is the most pleasant and joyful thing a person can do. However, pursuing the pleasures of life can dull spiritual sensitivity and crowd God out. Christ warns his disciples of the dangers these “weeds” present.
The GOOD soil represents those who receive the gospel, continue to grow and produce spiritual fruit in their lives (Matt. 13:8, 23). These are the people who have committed themselves to the Lord and do not look back (Lk. 9:62). They steadily pursue developing those attributes that will make them fruitful in the service of God: virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Pet. 1:5-8).
The Samaritan woman in Sychar (John 4) illustrates all four kinds of soil. At first, she was antagonistic to Christ (vs. 9). The shallowness of her spiritual understanding becomes evident in verse 15. Her crowded heart (vs. 19-20) grew into a good heart when she acknowledged faith in Christ (vs. 25). She bore much fruit by telling her fellow citizens about Christ (vs. 29-30). As a result, many of them became disciples of Jesus (vs. 39-42).
At different times in our lives we may be represented by any one of these types of soil, but we can change. Where do you fit in the story? Where are you, spiritually? Is it where you want to stay?