A significant part of Jesus’ ministry on earth was teaching people, and one of His favorite ways to do that was the use of parables. Some of Jesus’ parables are harder to understand than others, and in fact, Jesus indicates that He used parables specifically because they were confusing to some of those He taught (cf. Matthew 13.13).
Occasionally though, Jesus shares a parable and then specifically lets His disciples know what the parable meant. One case where this happens occurs in Matthew 13, where Jesus relates the story of a sower who goes out to sow and scatters his seed across four different types of soil, but only one of the four types actually bears fruit.
Based on this parable, some people will make the point that, as Christians, our job is to be sowers of the word rather than testers of soil. And that is certainly true: we have no right to decide ahead of time how people will respond to the good news of Christ; our job is to share the message regardless of how likely it seems that they will respond positively.
Others will emphasize that one takeaway from this parable is that, unfortunately, when we share our faith with other people, the majority will not accept it. And I think this is a good reminder that helps us avoid becoming discouraged when we don’t always succeed. After all, Jesus Himself was rejected by many of the people who heard Him.
However, neither of these two truths means that we, as sowers of the word, bear no responsibility in doing as good of a job as possible in sowing the seed. And based on the different types of unproductive soil Jesus talks about, I think there are three specific things we need to do when sharing the gospel with others.
First, it is essential that we make the gospel understandable. Some of the seed is sown along the road, and is devoured by birds. This represents those who hear the word of the kingdom but do not understand it, and the evil one snatches away what has been sown in their hearts (Matthew 13.4, 19).
Especially in our increasingly post-Christian society, we cannot make the assumption that people understand who Jesus was and what He demands from us. Neither can we assume that the religious terminology we learned in church from a young age is at all familiar to the average person on the street.
We must be faithful to present the message of Christ faithfully, but we must also meet people where they are and present the message in a way they can understand.
Second, it is essential that we present the gospel with depth. Some of the seed is sown on the rocky ground where there was not much soil. This led to plants that sprung up quickly, but because there was no depth of soil, they developed no root system and they were scorched by the sun and withered away. This represents those who hear the word and receive it joyfully, but have no root, and therefore fall away when tribulation or persecution arises (Matthew 13.5-6, 20-21).
Those who have worked long in congregational ministry are too aware of how frequently people come to Christ with joy and excitement, but ultimately fall away because they never developed a deep, rooted faith that could survive the difficult times. Oftentimes, we in the church are partially responsible, because we have not done what is needed to help these immature Christians grow in the faith. Just because we need to make the gospel understandable (see above) does not mean that we need to dumb it down, or that we do not need to help new Christians deepen their understanding as they go along.
In addition to teaching people about salvation, we must teach them about sanctification. In addition to teaching people what they are saved from, we must teach them what they are saved for. In addition to teaching people what it looks like to become a part of the church, we must teach them what it looks like to be the church for the rest of their lives.
Third, it is essential that we present the gospel’s transformed worldview. Some of the seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up along with the plants and choked them out. This represents those who hear the word, but the concerns of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke it out and it fails to bear fruit (Matthew 13.7, 22).
Jesus makes it clear over and over again that His kingdom is not of this world, that His kingdom is more important than this world, and that would-be citizens of His kingdom cannot serve both Him and this world. Christianity is not just another piece to the puzzle of life; it is not an additional priority to add to an already jumbled list of priorities; it is not an add-on to the American Dream.
We must teach people, up front, that Jesus demands a transformed worldview from His followers in which the worries and wealth of this world do not occupy a place of importance in our lives.
Even when we have followed these steps, the sad truth is that many people will still decide not to follow Jesus. But by all means, let us do all that we can to ensure that that tragic decision is not made because the gospel message was carelessly shared by you or me.
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