This article is part of a series from Colin Smith, the author of Momentum: Pursuing God’s Blessings Through The Beatitudes, which will be available to order in December 2016 at lifeway.com/momentumstudy. Read part one and part two.
As he sowed, some seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed feel among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” —Mark 4:4-9
There are four different soils, and each one represents a different kind of person. Jesus is describing people who hear the Word. What we have here is Christ’s assessment of the church, His report about what’s going on inside people who hear the Word of God.
According to Jesus, the effect of the Word in people’s lives depends on the condition of their hearts. The Word comes to four kinds of people. These folks are present wherever the Word of God is communicated (including your small group!).
1. Some people are hard.
Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.” —Mark 4:15
Some people are like hard ground. The seed never penetrates this soil. You might ask, “Why are some people hard?” One answer is that the path is hard because people have been walking all over it. Maybe that has been your experience.
When people have been trampled many times, they develop a hard shell to protect themselves. Hardness will affect every area of their life. The hard ground resists any seed, not just the Word of God. Can anything be done about this?
2. Some people are shallow.
Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” —Mark 4:16-17
Some people are like stony ground where the seed has only a temporary effect in the soil. These people are full of joy and enthusiasm, but they have no depth. They don’t think deeply or feel deeply. They have no root. So they wither like cut flowers.
Shallowness affects every area of life. If you are a shallow person, you will always be making grand new starts only to find that they wither in disappointment. We could talk about why this happens, but the real question is: what can be done about it?
3. Some people are preoccupied.
Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” —Mark 4:18-19
Some people are like ground covered with weeds. Jesus identifies the weeds that most often choke the Word of God—worry, wealth, and the desire for other things. People who are preoccupied with these things have choked marriages, careers, and friendships—a choked life—and the feeling that there isn’t enough room for everything they want to accomplish. What can be done about this? Anything?
4. Some people will become fruitful.
Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop–thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.” —Mark 4:20
In this soil, the seed breaks down and it produces a great harvest!
You discover the condition of your own heart by looking at the effect of the Word in your life. Are you joyfully submitting yourself to the rule of God in your life and bearing fruit? Or has that kind of fruitfulness been choked in your life? Was it there once, but not now? Maybe it has never been there at all.
If you come to the conclusion that you are hard, or shallow, or preoccupied, what can you do? The soil cannot change its own condition! So what hope is there for you?
Thank God for the farmer! The good news is that God can break up the hardest ground. God can dig out the largest stones. God can pull out the most stubborn weeds.
You don’t have the capacity to change your heart, but God does, and that’s His promise in the gospel: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26).
Come to Christ and ask Him to give you a heart that will receive the gospel.
Colin Smith (MPhil, London School of Theology) is Senior Pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church, a multi-campus church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, and his ministry extends through his radio program Unlocking the Bible. He is also committed to mentoring next-generation pastors, missionaries, and church-planters through The Orchard Network. Colin and his wife, Karen, have two married sons and four grand-daughters.