The Parable of the Sower - Mark 4:14-25
|I recently became aware of an important
aspect of the parable of the sower. What I saw is the
statement made in verse 24. Jesus said. "Take
care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it
shall be measured to you." I believe the entire
meaning of this parable for us hinges on this one verse.
We know the parable is concerned not with planting of
seeds, but the word of God as it is heard by people.
Before getting to verse 24 and just what it can mean to
us, let us first develop the verses preceding it. The
parable actually is spoken by Jesus in verses 3 - 8. Then
explained those closest to him starting with verse 14.
Verse 14: "The sower sows the word." This verse tells us the parable is concerned with the Word of God. That is what this parable is about. We know we cannot use parables to decide doctrine, for they are earthly stories with a heavenly meaning. We need not wonder about the meaning of this parable, because Jesus gives us here in these verses the spiritual explanation of the parable. The church need not worry about what the "heavenly meaning" of this story is, because it is put forth in plain language. The parable in colorful language and comparison relates the word or words of God to seeds that are sown and the end result of the landing of each seed after it goes forth from the one who sows it. Jesus explains that as the word is heard by men, it has different results according to the different standards each person uses to judge or measure the word. It will not have the same results in each hearer.
Verse 15: "And these are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them."
Verse 15 tells of what happens to the seed in verse 4 which fell beside the road on very hard ground. The seed were exposed and easy for the birds to spot and take devour. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us the devil is the devourer, "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." Matthew 4:10-11 tells us he must be resisted, "Then Jesus said to him, "Begone, Satan! For it is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'" Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him." Verse 15 applies to unbelievers and believers. The unbelievers here do not really hear the words. There is an admonition from the Lord that who ever has ears let him hear. Some who exposed to the words of God do not actually hear it and it is quickly whisked away much like the birds ate the seeds which fell on hard packed dirt. The believers represented in this verse do not really hear because they are victims of a closed mind. That mind may be closed for many reasons. One of these reasons may be what they have always been taught. Or because they are carnally minded as the believers in 1 Corinthians 3:1, "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ." The believers who hear the words of God and let it be stolen away by Satan are destined to remain carnally minded and not produce fruit in their lives.
Verse 16 and 17 "And in a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17: and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away." These verses tell of people who are like the rocky ground which the seed fell on in verses 5 and 6. They receive it immediately. Notice it sprouts but does not take root. It produces no roots and therefore can not therefore produce a changed life, which is fruit. If the word is falling on an unbeliever, the persecution may be in the persons mind as they consider the implications of following Jesus if they are converted. What changes would he have to make to follow Jesus. They may incorrectly believe they will have to "clean up their lives" before they can be saved and therefore are discouraged. The words of salvation sounded so sweet, but the perceived requirements are too great. Satan may be the one who persecutes one here with lies and deception causing the word to die before it produces in a persons life. The person here may already be a believer and a child of God, but after he receives the word with joy, like wise also begins to consider the problems if he accepts and acts on the words he has heard. Never mind that they are the Words of God. He begins to be persecuted mentally and as the word sprouts and starts to produce a plant that plant soon dies. He has not nourished it. It may be up to him to see that the plant is healthy and fruitful. We have a say-so. Just as Jesus resisted Satan when he was tempted we also have a responsibility to do the same. We are resist the flesh because it is always set against the Spirit. Galatians 5:17 tells us, "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please." The believer must consider their own flesh as one who will persecute them and cause them to doubt what the words of God "seem" to say. Man died spiritually when Adam sinned. One who is dead spiritually can only receive that which is evident to the five senses. Every believer must battle this because he still lives in a body of flesh and receives things from his five senses. He can also receive things of the spirit because he is born again in the likeness of God, but the flesh is always opposed to the things of the Spirit realm and will keep them from becoming mature to bear fruit if it can.
Verse 18 and 19 say, "And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19: and the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful". It seems that the desires for the things of the world have always been what has controlled the lives of much of mankind. These verses also speak of unbelievers and believers alike. They face different consequences, but both face the danger of the word being choked out of their lives by the call of riches and selfish desires. The conforming to the worldly attitudes around him is a plague that prevents a child of God from operating in the spiritual realm. Romans 12:2 says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect". Conforming to the world prevents the words of God from renewing and changing the believers mind from the carnal to the spiritual. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:2 that we once had no choice but to act like the world acts. It says, "In which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience". In Ephesians 6:12 we are told, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places". Although verses 18 and 19 are talking about things which are of the flesh, we also the adversary takes advantage of this weakness in man to bring about the goals of the powers of darkness. It is here that our battle lies. The unbeliever is somewhat helpless here as fighting the powers of darkness on ones own strength is a much harder thing than it is for the child of God. It is however no easy task for the believer either. Riches and the love of money is a problem for many. The Spirit had Paul tell us so in 1 Timothy 6:9-10; "But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10: For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang." There are some who become rich and successfully face the temptations that come. But most do not and are not able to function as spiritual men and receive the words of God for them.
Verses 20 says, "And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it, and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold". There are some people to which the word comes with great success. God told the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 1 verse 12 that His words were true because, "I am watching over My word to perform it." God's word is sent out to people to accomplish God's purpose. It will accomplish it. In Isaiah 55:11, God told the prophet, "So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it." This last group of seed represents the people in which the word of God matures into a plant and produces fruit, so to speak. The unbelievers accept the words and they produce the fruit of salvation and righteousness in their lives. This happen because of their faith in the words they heard. They believe that the words are true and are true for them. The children of God who hear the word and accept it also bear fruit. John 15:2-4 says, "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me." God by His word and His Spirit wants to produce fruit in the lives of His children. We are told what the fruit of the Spirit is in Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." If we abide in the vine we will produce like fruit. That fruit is a spiritual being who is like Jesus, or at least more like Jesus than before. Jesus was to be "the first-born among many brethren" we are told in Romans 8:29. Brethren who are more like him than the other people in the world. Luke 8:17 tells us the same thing very clearly, "For nothing is hidden that shall not become evident, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light." All of the mysteries and secrets of the Kingdom of God have been revealed. Some will not be revealed until the end of this age. God wants to reveal some to us today, if we will accept the word and let it produce much fruit in our lives. Just as God had to drive Adam from the garden after he sinned and was controlled by his new nature, the nature of death and darkness, least he partake of the "Tree of Life". We do not know what kind of being Adam would have become if he being under control of Satan had been allowed to eat of the tree of life, but we know God could not let that be. In the same way God can not reveal some mysteries and secrets to men who are not enough like Jesus to respond to them. Over the years some men have been fertile soil for the word and it has produced much fruit in their lives. Many men have functioned in a power in the kingdom that others could not grasp nor imitate.
Verses 21 and 22 say, "And He was saying to them, "A lamp is not brought to be put under a peck-measure, is it, or under a bed? Is it not brought to be put on the lampstand? "For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it should come to light." John said of Jesus that He was the light of men and he shined in the darkness. Jesus tells us the light of God's words was not to be put under a basket or bed, but to be put up on a stand so that it gives light to all. So that all can hear the word. One of the purposes of the word is to bring things to light or into the light and there by revealing the things of the Kingdom of God which are hidden. According to Jesus, things which are secret and not known will be revealed. One of the things which is very apparent to us is the gospel of salvation and the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross to save man and to bring him out of the realm of spiritual death and into life and the spiritual realm. This is apparent to us, but was a secret and a mystery to the Jews of Jesus day. It was contrary to their way of thinking and therefore the word telling of it had trouble taking root.
In verse 24: "And He was saying to them, "Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it shall be measured to you; and more shall be given you besides." This verse is applied to many things. We know that what ever standard we use to judge it is often by that standard that we will also be judged. I believe there is a much deeper meaning to this phrase. Jesus said that what ever standard we use to judge or measure the word of God when we hear it, by that measure the word will produce in us, or be measured unto us. What does it mean by standard of measure we use? The King James says what ever measure you meet. This literally says what ever measure you measure with. I believe most of us have a standard we use to measure the word. We all like to say that the Bible doesn't just contain the "Word of God", that it is "The Word of God." This sounds very spiritual and even though we believe it, I believe we still sometimes use a "standard of measure" to hear the word. There are many standards people might use to measure the word.
One standard of measure is used by those who on a path. We could call this standard the "path standard". In the parable the seed fell on or beside a road or a hard packed path. That path might be a sect, a cult, or even an orthodox belief. If a group believes they must keep the dietary laws or worship on Saturday, then is the word says something different it is not allowed to sink in. If the group believes they must "witness" to so many house holds to be saved, then the word concerning the free gift of salvation and the total sufficiency of Jesus sacrifice is not received and Satan quickly steals it away. If the group no longer believes in miracles, manifestations of the Spirit, or the power of God change things today, then the word concerning these things does not register and is quickly stolen away. Those who use this standard of measure to measure the Word of God can only receive according to the standard of measure they use. God does not determine this standard, but the hearer or reader does. If one does not believe miracles are for today, and uses that standard with which to measure the Word of God, then that person would have a difficult time believing God still heals people today. It would be hard for such a person to pray and believe God would in some way help them get well. For how much faith could they have that the Word says God is willing to do so if the path they are on sets a standard contrary. And when they encounter a scripture which seems to indicate that God is still the same today as he has always been, that word is not accepted at face value. It can be explained away quickly or not even considered. Sometimes the path standard can be a valid standard can it not? We would all like to believe the denomination or group to which we belong believes correctly. After all, are not the elders of the belief learned and spiritual men who have considered much to believe as they do? And do we not seek to align ourselves with those who believe as we do. So to some degree the standard of "the path" is valid. We can not quickly assassinate our beliefs on the basis of one tenth of one verse of scripture. Each word of God's word must taken as part of the whole, and this is where this standard can be of some value. No mater how much faith we may put in those who are over us, it is our responsibility to see that what they teaches lines up with what the Word of God says. But as you can easily see, they can be wrong. Blind allegiance causes people who are in cults to be easily kept there. A closed mind can not receive anything from God. We must judge the Word carefully and with an open spiritual mind. Who is held accountable for my understanding of the Word? It is me, is it not?
Another standard we can call the "what if standard." There are people who accept the word, but like the seed which fell on rocky ground, it has no root. What if persecution comes, then what they have believed the Word says will quickly be doubted and discarded. The persecution may be in their mind. One might ask himself, what if I accept this salvation, become a Christian and change my lifestyle, what will become of my friends. What if I can not do the things I used to do any longer. The persecution may be real. It may be from a family member or a friend. The word to us may be about promises made to us as believers. What if the promises are not be accepted by those Christians we are around and we may be persecuted for accepting them. If the word has no root, then we will quickly doubt or "un-believe" what we believed the word said to us. This may never be a valid standard which we can use to measure the word. Never-the-less, if we use it, then according to it will the word and its power be measured to us.
The standard of "personal gain" is one which many people are unfortunately guilty of using to measure the words of God. From ancient times until today, man is concerned with personal consequences concerning accepting the Word of God. Like the seed which fell among thorns and weeds, they sprouted took hold and began to grow, but were choked. How many times do people hear the word and believe the promises in the word, but when it begins to change them they begin to consider the consequences. What will it cost me? Will I have to deal with people differently if I become a Christian? If I accept the fact that God is a miracle working God, what will it cost me. As one considers personal gain concerning the word, he quickly puts the word an its promises secondary in his life. The promises will not work for him. Once again what ever standard he uses to measure the word, it is according to it that the word will be true for him. Zaccheus was not concerned with personal gain any longer when he heard the words of Jesus. We are told salvation came to him. Wisdom must be present when we use our worldly goods for God's work. God probably does not want us to give all that we have away, but use it continually to support our families and his work in the world. Riches may be one of the main hindrances to the spread of the gospel and the rest of God's promises. The desire for material gain and a self centered attitude toward what they already possess has influenced many people in their relationship with God. It is almost never a positive influence. If we use the standard of "personal gain" to measure the words of God, then we are sure to be locked in to a carnal nature and way of life. For it is according to our measure that the word and promises of God will be for us. The carnal man can not receive the spiritual things of the kingdom of God.
This phrase in verse 23, "If any man has ears to hear, let him hear", occurs eight times in the three gospels. Each time that Jesus used it he was talking about the kingdom of God. In Luke 8:8 we are given the impression that he used it to call attention to what he was saying. It says, "As He said these things, He would call out, He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Then a similar phrase occurs in the Revelation also eight times. It is, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Jesus is telling the hearers if they have an ear then hear. Don't listen with our fingers in our ears. The fingers of a limited or limiting standard of measure with which to measure and judge what the words of God say and keep us from hearing the Word. Jesus wanted those listening to hear and would call out pleading for them to listen. Calling out for all hear what was being said. But most did not hear. Most do not hear today. They judged the Words by their standard of measure and we judge it by ours. The prophet Isaiah described those who would not hear and accept the word for full face value in 43:8, "Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes, And the deaf, even though they have ears." There are many reasons people do not hear the word. When people do not hear it is basically rebellion. Ezekiel tells of these people in 12:2, "Son of man, you live in the midst of the rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear; for they are a rebellious house." The flesh is rebellious against the things of the spirit.
The saying in verse 25 has always been difficult for us to explain and accept. It says, "For whoever has, to him shall more be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him." We often use carnal reasoning to explain things we find in the Word and when we use that reasoning here it is difficult to explain this verse. It is not fair when explained according to the flesh. Much like the story of the labors who were hired at various times during the day. Some morning, some mid-day, and some afternoon, but all were paid the same. This is not fair. Those who did more were worthy of more and should have been paid more than the ones who did much less work. Our carnal reasoning says things must be fair. That God is fair. Is it fair to take from one who has little and give more to him who has much already? Luke 8:18 is clearer to us, "Therefore take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him shall more be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him." It says even what he thinks he has shall be taken away. What is of the flesh and of the world will not be for long. It will be soon gone. Our time in the flesh is so short compared to eternity. What we think we have ends so soon. But to those who receive the things of the kingdom of God, more shall be given. These things last forever. Take care what you hear. Listen to what the Spirit says to the church. God's purpose will be accomplished and his promises fulfilled and claimed. His word is will accomplish what he desires. It never goes out void of results. God and all his power is in his word. Jeremiah 1:12 says, "Then the LORD said to me, You have seen well, for I am watching over My word to perform it". God's words will come true. But when they come true in the life of one who will not hear them, will it be a good thing? Or will what he thinks he has be taken away? The real question is not is God fair or what fair is. But the question is, are our standards for what is fair and just the same as those of God? No, they are not the same. God rewards his children not with what is fair according to what we deserve, but according to what grace says we deserve. That is what God counts as fair. And that is always so much more than what is fair.
Written by: Aaron Bruce, August, 1999
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