The word literal is complicated. According to one of the first definitions in the dictionary, literal means: “adhering...to the ordinary construction of primary meaning of a term or expression.” In other words, being literal can just mean saying what you mean to say, giving primary importance in the moment to...
Maybe you are a small group leader. Six months in, you discover that some are more committed than others. A few are always engaged. One or two seem disconnected. You begin to wonder, What am I doing wrong? It’s not what I expected.
Or maybe you are a Christian parent. You determine that you will sow the Word of God in the lives of your children. Early on you establish prayers and a pattern of reading the Bible, but they are not equally responsive.
While one child drinks it in, another has very little interest. As a parent you become concerned, My son seems disconnected from the Word of God. He does not relate to it. He has no interest in it. What am I to do?
These are the real issues of life and ministry, and I want you to see today that they are precisely what our Lord speaks about in the parable of the sower. When you sow the Word. it will have different effects in the lives of different people. Here are some responses:
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. (Matthew 13:19)
Some people who hear the Word will be unresponsive. If you are a sower of God’s Word, you know how hard and discouraging this can be. You are trying to teach the Word of God. You break it down to make it as simple as you possibly can, but your son or daughter, or a member of your small group just doesn’t get it.
When this happens, you need to remember that this happened for Jesus too. This is the whole point of the parable of the sower. Jesus is telling us not to be surprised or unduly discouraged when people we love and pray for hear the Word but really have no interest in it or understanding of it.
If that was the experience of Jesus, it will certainly be the experience of Sunday school teachers and of parents and of pastors and of church planters and of cross-cultural missionaries, however well they are prepared or how simply they teach.
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. (Matthew 13:20-21)
Here is a person who hears the Word and receives it. More than that, this person receives the Word with joy! And notice that this person makes an early response. They “immediately” receive it with joy. They could hardly be more different from the unresponsive person.
But this joyful receiving of the Word does not last. Trouble comes, and the person who once professed faith so brightly falls away. This second response is perhaps the most discouraging of all for the sower of the Word.
Jesus makes it clear that if you are a sower of the seed, you will know the disappointment of professions of faith that seem very bright, but prove not to be genuine because they do not last. You must not be surprised or unduly discouraged by this. It happened even in the ministry of Jesus.
Jesus did not affirm every profession of faith. When he performed his first miracle in Cana by turning water into wine, many “believed in his name,” but “Jesus… did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people… He himself knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25).
We cannot see the heart like Jesus did. We cannot finally tell who is genuinely converted from the one and who is merely manifesting a passing enthusiasm. But this teaching of Jesus surely reminds us that as parents and as Christian leaders, we should be very careful before affirming that a person is a Christian in advance of seeing evidence in their life.
Telling a person that he or she is a Christian when they do not love, trust, or serve Jesus Christ is one of the most spiritually damaging things a parent or leader could do.
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)
Here is a person who hears and receives the Word. The seed gets into the soil, and it begins to grow.
We know this because our Lord says, ‘the thorns grew up’ (13:7). The thorns were not visible at the time when the seed was sown. The problem was that under the soil there were large root systems from old thorn bushes that had never been dug from the ground. They are just covered over. So when the seed began to grow the thorns outgrew it and choked it.
Jesus does not say that this person ‘falls away.’ The distracted person remains in the church and would say that he (or she) is a Christian. But he is unfruitful. The ground of his life is so crowded that his profession of faith is barren.  It doesn’t produce fruit.
He would say, “Yes, I am a Christian.” But the power of godliness has been eaten out from the inside. It has been crowded out. Archbishop Trench says, “The profession of a spiritual life is retained… but the power of godliness is by degrees eaten out and has departed.”  This person is Christian name only.
The rich young ruler is a perfect example in the ministry of Jesus of this third response: “I want everything in this life and I want heaven as well.” And when he goes away, he is sorrowful. Why? Because the root system of his life is made up of thorns.
As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. (Matthew 13:23)
Here are people who hear the Word and understand it. They see that it speaks to them and God lays claim to their lives. The Word of God goes into their lives and it bears fruit in them!
The harvest that the Word brings in these people’s lives is abundant: “In one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
The degree of fruitfulness will vary among believers, but the distinguishing mark of every true believer is that the Word of God bears fruit in your life. What is the fruit? The Word bears the fruit of repentance, faith, hope, love, service, perseverance, obedience, humility, and a long, long list of things in the New Testament.
Here is the great encouragement for sowers: The living seed of the Word of God will produce an abundant harvest. Understand, as you give yourself to a lifetime of service, that there will be frustrations. There will be setbacks. But God’s Word, faithfully sown, will raise a harvest of lives lived under the blessing of the rule of God.
This article was adapted from Pastor Colin’s sermon, “Expectations,” from his series Ministry Matters.
Photo Credit: Unsplash
 Richard C. Trench, Notes on the Parables of Our Lord, p. 76, BiblioBazaar, 2009.