A Christ Teaching on Growing and Flourishing in God
Christ uses the parable of the Sower to explain that God grants opportunities to every person to know him and grow, flourish, and bear fruit in him. Furthermore, he uses the parable to warn that a person may fail to accomplish the goal of flourishing and bearing fruit in God because of personal habits and environmental influence.
He identifies three potential causes of failure as poor understanding and assimilation of the message, inadequate connection to spiritual nourishment, and inability to withstand enemy competition. In this discussion of the parable of the Sower, we focus on the approach to guarding against and rising above the potential causes of failure. We discuss our understanding of the potential failures and identify various things we can do to avoid them, in order to attain maturity in God and live the life that he created in us. Also, we recall information from previous bible studies to discuss the meaning of bearing fruit in God.
Parable of the Sower
In the parable, Christ describes a farmer that sows seeds by broadcasting. Some of the seed fell on good soil, where it grew, flourished, and “produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” [Matthew 13:8].
In contrast, the other seed did not mature to produce the intended harvest because of falling in circumstances that prevented it from germinating, developing strong roots after germinating, or growing freely to maturity. Christ uses the parable to describe two categories of people based on what we do with opportunities to know God and grow and flourish in him. The opportunities provide exposure to the message of God, in the form of either hearing or reading the word or encountering Godliness through various types of human interaction.
GOOD HARVEST The first category consists of people that understand and assimilate the message, grow in God, and mature into living the life that God created in them (represented by seed that “fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” [Matthew 13:8]). This category of people develop into a good harvest for the farmer.
FAILED HARVEST The second category consists of people that fail to attain the fruitful life that God intended even after coming in contact with the message. He identifies three potential causes of failure: poor understanding or assimilation of the message (represented by seed that “fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up” [Matthew 13:4]); poor connection to spiritual nourishment (represented by seed that “fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil” [Matthew 13:5]); or inability to withstand enemy competition (represented by seed that “fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants” [Matthew 13:7]). This category of people do not develop into the harvest intended by the farmer.
GOOD SOIL AND HARVEST Our discussion focuses on the path to joining the first category of people. We discuss the three potential causes of failure to understand things we can do to avoid such failure, in order to flourish and bear fruit as the seed that was “sowed on good soil.”
Understanding and Assimilating the Message
A person can be exposed to God’s message anywhere that the word of God is spoken or available, such as in church, radio or television programs, several types of Christian gatherings, the bible, several forms of Christian literature available in print or through the internet, or interactions with other people. Generally, opportunities abound for exposure to the message. The opportunities, however, often occur among competing distractions. Even the church is not immune to the distractions, because people may attend with electronic gadgets such as cellphone or notepad that could increase the effectiveness of their exposure to the message but also could be a source of distraction from the message. A person needs to do the following to benefit from the opportunities:
- Invest a deliberate amount of time. A casual listening or glance at the word is not enough. Choose a time and actually spend the time on listening to the word of God and reading the word personally.
- Stay focused and avoid distractions during the time. If you permit distractions, then you are really not investing the time.
- Read and listen with an intent to understand the message and apply it in your life. Reading or listening with intent to understand and use God’s message amounts to an invitation to the Holy Spirit because God has promised to fill every “hunger and thirst for righteousness” [Matthew 5:6]. He will find a way to satisfy your desire to know him better. If you devote the time and stay focused because you desire to understand the message and how to apply it in your life, God will fulfill his promise to fill your hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Developing and Maintaining Meaningful Connections
The analogy to a plant and its roots clearly illustrates the importance of developing and maintaining connections to spiritual nourishment. A plant develops roots into the underlying soil as it grows, sustains itself by drawing nourishment from the soil through the roots, and extends its roots far and wide into the soil for as long as it lives. Connections to sources of spiritual nourishment are important to a Christian as roots are to a plant. Such connections can be developed by interacting closely with people, and participating in activities, that provide opportunities to learn and share understanding of the word of God. Staying connected means developing and maintaining the connections: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…” [Hebrews 10:24–25].
Resisting Enemy Competition
Christ describes this potential cause of failure in terms of someone that understands the message and attempts to grow in it, “but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful” [Matthew 13:22]. This describes a potential failure due to external influence that may attempt to severe or weaken a person’s connection to spiritual nourishment. The temptation may be presented as an alternative to a person’s chosen way of life: to redirect their resources, seek alternative forms of human interaction, or do something different. A person will be better able to deal with such temptations by forming a habit of applying the image of God test to every contemplated action. How will the contemplated action convey the image of God to the affected and observers? Also, it is important to avoid circumstances that throw a negative influence: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful” [Psalms 1:1, NKJV].
EXAMPLE FROM SOLOMON The experience of Solomon, king of Israel after David, presents a compelling example. As we discussed in a previous bible study at This_Link, Solomon abandoned his core belief in God and drifted into idolatry despite his great wisdom and closeness to God? Did his extraordinary wisdom and wealth drive him to seek additional social distinction? Did he believe such distinction could result from marrying into every royal family he could find? He married seven hundred wives of royal birth, several from countries God forbid to Israel because they worshiped idols. Each of the wives likely arrived with a different religious agenda and presented unrelenting temptation to Solomon. Did he succumb to the temptations in small increments, each time believing his faith in God to be invincible even as he indulged in apparently harmless episodes of idol worship? In that case, his turning away from God would be gradual and almost imperceptible.
IMAGE OF GOD TEST Many of us today will likely not be tempted with multiple marriages like Solomon. However, extraordinary wealth; knowledge; eloquence in preaching, teaching, or prayer; or other qualities could draw admiration to someone in a way that makes the person feel almost universally superior and infallible. The person may gradually turn away from God by slowly weakening his/her connections to spiritual nourishment. The image of God test, if applied consistently, offers a way to recognize contemplated actions that may contribute to turning away from God. Evaluate every contemplated action to determine if and how it will convey the image of God. If you cannot convince yourself, then stop. The action will not convey the image of God. If you convince yourself, then query your evaluation a few times before proceeding.
Bearing fruit in God means living and interacting with people for the purpose of representing God in everything and accomplishing the objectives that he places on our paths. God creates every person to represent him among other living and non-living inhabitants of the earth, such that every person conveys his image and is potentially a channel for his compassion to others in every human interaction. As we discussed in a previous bible study at This_Link, Christ presents this message in the Sermon on the Mount and several other teaching. Through the parable of the Sower, he explains his intention for people to understand God’s purpose for us, grow and flourish in the understanding, and bear fruits by living according to the purpose. He also uses the parable to highlight potential causes of failure that may prevent a person developing to yield the intended harvest.
INTENDED HARVEST The intended harvest is for every person to radiate positive impact to others. Just as people light a lamp and place it on its stand so “it gives light to everyone in the house,” every person that has received and understood Christ’s message is expected to radiate positive impact to others.
Let your Godliness radiate impact to others that “they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” [Matthew 5:15–16]. Light radiates from a source as positive impact radiates from a person’s Godliness. Through his teaching, Christ calls on every person to participate in every situation they find themselves, so their Godliness will be felt by others. How a person chooses to participate depends on their assessment of what is needed from them in a given situation. God assigns every person a role in every situation, such that performing the role is the very reason that he places the person in the situation. Finding your purpose and working to fulfill it is how you produce a crop, “yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” [Matthew 13:23]. Therefore, every person should find what God has placed in his/her path for a given situation and do what he/she can to accomplish it. Perform your role so that others may be impacted by your Godliness.
QUALITY OF FRUIT Apostle Peter describes the intended harvest as follows [2 Peter 1:5–7]: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love;” for you will be effective and productive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ if you possess these qualities in increasing measure.
Summary of What We Learned
God grants opportunities to every person to know him and grow, flourish, and bear fruit in him. However, personal habits and environmental influence may prevent a person developing to bear the intended fruit: because of poor understanding or assimilation of God’s message; inadequate connection to spiritual nourishment; or inability to withstand enemy competition. This bible study discusses various ways to guard against the potential causes of failure: to know God as he intended, grow and flourish in the knowledge, and yield the intended harvest. God intends for every person to know him, grow and flourish in him, and bear fruits by living in his image; such that every person conveys the image of God and is potentially a channel for his compassion to others in every human interaction.