Only one of the four type of ground produces what we could really call a successful outcome.
And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.”
While we shouldn’t automatically assume that seventy five percent of the seed went to waste (we don’t know the relative percentages that fell on each of the four types of soil), nonetheless Jesus’ application of the story teaches that among the various ways people listen to the word, only one is ultimately fruitful. As J.C. Ryle pointed out, “there are four ways in which we may hear, and of these four only one is right.”
The successful outcome is when the word is received in what Jesus describes as ‘an honest and good heart.’ These are people who hear without quitting. They allow the word to get into the depth of their being and they persevere in listening and obeying until their lives produce fruit.
It is fruitfulness that God is seeking. He is not just looking for people who make a spur of the moment decision because they want their sins forgiven or because they want to know that they will be guaranteed to make it to heaven. God wants to change our lives. Spiritual fruit is the evidence that God is at work in and through a person’s life.
Fruitfulness is an important theme through the Bible.
For example, Psalm 1, with its warm invitation to stand out from the crowd and allow regular meditation on the law (word) of God to shape our lives, compares the person who delights in that word to a tree that is planted by streams of water: it bears its fruit in the proper season.
Later in the Old Testament, the whole nation of Judah is like a vineyard. The vineyard owner worked hard to prepare the ground and put everything in place for the day when he would be able to enjoy the wine from his vineyard. Despite all that the vineyard had in its favour, when the owner came to harvest the grapes, all he found were wild grapes. There was fruit, but it was the wrong kind of fruit. Instead of justice and righteousness, the nation was producing violence and bloodshed.
It is because of the Old Testament background of the failed vine that Jesus’ teaching in John 15 is so significant. In place of the failed vine, with its bitter grapes, Jesus is the True Vine. More than that, as his disciples remain in close relationship with him, his life will flow through them and they will bear fruit.
So when God brings his word of the gospel to us, it is so that we will be fruitful, not just that our sins will be forgiven and we will have assurance of life in the age to come (important as those things are).
As the word takes root in a ‘good and honest heart’ there will be signs that God is at work. Our own lives will begin increasingly to display the character of Jesus (that is really what the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 amounts to). Our involvement in the lives of other people will increasingly carry the signs of God working through us.
It does not all happen overnight. A wheat farmer will not expect to harvest his grain the day after planting. A vineyard owner will not expect to enjoy the fruits of his work the week after planting his vines. It takes time and you need patience. Even though you may not notice, growth quietly takes place. Eventually there will be a harvest.
What does it take to have a good, honest heart?
I think we can learn from the negative examples that Jesus gives in the parable.
A good, honest heart is not hard. Our hearts become that little bit harder every time we resist what God says to us. They become harder when we say no to his promptings. When we shut out the convicting voice of the Spirit. When we wilfully set ourselves to disobey what is clearly written. Eventually our east become deaf and the message washes over us. Every time you say no to God makes it more difficult to say yes the next time he speaks.
A good, honest heart is not shallow and superficial. Psalm 1 talks about the person who meditates day and night on God’s word. This person takes time. He turns the word over and over in his mind. A good, honest heart takes time to look closely and think deeply about what God is saying. How does this apply to my life in terms of how I think, in terms of how I act and in terms of how I speak?
And a good, honest heart is one that has learned how to deal with distractions. It’s a person who has worked out what really matters in life. She knows her priorities and has got rid of the clutter. Even the legitimate concerns and issues of life are subordinated to the importance of allowing God’s word to go deep and be fruitful.
When you have cultivated a good, honest heart you hold on tightly to what you have heard and you never tire of coming back for more. You allow it to become part of you. You allow it to shape you from the inside out. With time, fruit will be evident.
What kind of hearer are you?
The sowing of the same seed produced four different results. There was no difference in the seed; the only difference lay in the nature and quality of the soil.
So it is that the same gospel produces different results. The difference lies only in the condition of the heart of the listener. Which kind of listener are you?