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Spiritual Development

Cultivating a True Disciple

Author: Charles Hegwood

Think of your favorite story. Now consider how that story may have a meaning hidden within. Jesus often used short stories called parables to teach deep truths about God and His Kingdom. Perhaps you have a favorite parable. Or perhaps you find some parables easier to understand than others. For me, one of my favorite parables is found in Matthew 13, the Sower and the Seed. It is one of the only parables that Jesus plainly explained to his disciples. Often parables can be difficult for a modern audience to understand. We have to remove the layers of culture that have piled up over the centuries.  

As we cultivate the proper interpretation for this parable, we must consider that Jesus spoke to an agricultural audience. They knew and understood agriculture in a way that many of us today are removed from. For the past few years I had the privilege to work as a landscaper while I went through seminary. So the parable of the Sower really speaks to me as I have seen it played out year and year while planting grass seed. The meaning of this parable is that only the person who hears the Word of God and bears fruit is a true disciple. Let us look more closely at this meaning.  

The Word  

Jesus clearly teaches us that the seed that is being cast is the word of God. As Jesus finished this parable He said, “He who has ears, let him hear.”  As the word of God is proclaimed it requires a response. It requires fruit. What does this mean? It means the gospel is not meant to be distributed without response. I did not spread grass seed expecting nothing in return. I expected growth. The gospel goes out with the intention of growth, just like the seed. As we look at the different situations in which the word of God will be spread, we see that the word, or seed, is not the problem. If the seed does not grow this is not the fault of the seed, but of the soil and environment. This is important because God’s word is not deficient just because it does not grow. We each bear responsibility to how we respond. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  

The Enemy and the World 

Jesus is clear in His explanation of the parable that there is a real enemy. This is emphasized in the next parable of the Wheat and Tares. While the hard path is not good soil in general, it is the bird or as Jesus described it, the evil one that eats the seed. There is an enemy to the Sower and the Word of God. This enemy’s goals are to make sure the word does not grow.  

The World is also a hindrance. Whether the rocks in the rocky soil or the thorns, this life has distractions that may pull people away from a response to the gospel. The rocks cause someone to have no roots in the gospel. Any response soon dies off. The thorns which represent the pleasures of this life choke out the gospel. Both our active spiritual enemy and the things of this world stand in the way of gospel growth. These are barriers to the gospel that we will all face.  

 The Soils   

No one really questions the first soil. The seeds never even had time to grow. But what are we to do with the rocky soil and the soil with thorns? I mean there is growth. Are they Christians who backslide? As I stated in my introduction only the soil that bears fruit is representative of true disciples. I have seen this truth played out in landscaping as well as in ministry. Seed comes up and then dies. I have seen people make professions of faith and get excited about the gospel. Then never come back to church and never show any signs of gospel roots. I am sure you have seen this too. What do we make of this? I think again, Jesus has the answer.  

Yes there is excitement toward the gospel, but it has no root. When the person in question is faced with spiritual adversity they bear no fruit and in fact, they spiritually die. They never truly believed. For if they did they would not have fallen away. I have seen people who looked like they believed but then got distracted with the many pleasures of this life. The church and God become distant memories. The problem is again, they have borne no fruit. There is excitement in both examples at the idea of the gospel, but it never truly matures. In fact, maturity is the key to understanding what a true disciple is.  

Finally, we come to the good soil. The seed falls on it just like the other soils. There is growth. Not just growth, but there is maturity as well. A plant that has matured is the one that, as you may have guessed by now, bears fruit. Bearing fruit is a major theme throughout Jesus’ teachings. Perhaps especially here. And notice there are different volumes of fruit. Not every believer will bear the same amount of fruit. The point is not the certain amount of fruit but the presence of fruit. The hearer who truly understands bears good fruit. 

The Fruit   

Jesus does not specify what the fruit is. So here we must be careful not to make too much of an analogy. I think we are on firm theological ground to say that the fruit is a life that is rooted in Christ. As Paul puts it in Colossians, “deeply rooted in Christ.” When trials come we will stand strong because our faith is not in circumstance but in Christ.  The real world example is someone who is growing in their knowledge and love of Christ even in difficult times. The other way to gauge fruit within the context of this passage is, it is fruit that does not get choked out by the distractions of life. We will all have temptations and times of distraction. But the true disciple will not be choked out by the distraction and will instead grow and mature. Such Christians hear God’s word and understand it. Throughout the rest of Matthew you will see the crowds hear but not understand, be excited but not mature and bear fruit. They fall away. A Christ follower matures and continues to grow in their faith.  

Conclusion  

So what do we do with this parable? We share the gospel and continue to be rooted in Jesus. We endure and mature in our knowledge and love of Jesus especially in times of trial.  Let us be sowers of the gospel, sharing the gospel to all and helping young believers to mature in their faith so they too can bear much fruit. “Let he who has ears hear and understand.”  

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