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Understanding the parable of the sower

Feb 18, 2014

Because the gospels tell us that crowds gathered to hear Jesus speak, we often assume that His words resulted in faith. Certainly, they believed the miracles that the saw. However, most of us have not been taught the difference between faith and persuasion. Men may be persuaded in their minds without having genuine faith that comes by hearing. Most people do not know the difference.

We have two minds, a “natural” mind, which is carnal, and a spiritual mind which is supernatural. Most of the Greeks believed that the nature of man came in two parts, material and spiritual. The body was material, and the soul was spiritual. Others were materialists (such as the Epicureans), believing that even the soul was material.

But Scripture presents us with a third option—that of a tripartite being that consisted of spirit, soul, and body. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:23,

23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul had studied Greek philosophy and knew the difference between Greek wisdom and divine revelation. He discusses this thoroughly in the second chapter of First Corinthians. There he tells the church that their faith should not rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God. God’s wisdom comes by revelation through a person’s spirit, whereas the wisdom of men comes by teaching the soul’s mind—that is, the “natural” mind.

Insofar as belief is concerned, the soul may be persuaded through one’s physical ears, but true faith comes by hearing the revelation of God with the inner ear of the spirit (heart, not head). Paul personifies the soul and spirit, not only giving them “ears,” but actually referring to them as men. The “old man” is the natural, soulish, man that we received from Adam (Romans 6:6). The “new man” (Colossians 3:10) is the Christ within, that is, the spiritual man that we received when we were begotten by the Holy Spirit.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:14,

14 But a natural [psukikos, “soulish”] man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no [natural] man.

Paul was not speaking of men as we see them, but of the inner man and the distinction between the soul and spirit. The soul-man lacks the capacity to accept (by faith) divine revelation, because it cannot “appraise” it. The Emphatic Diaglott renders it “examine.” In other words, the soul does not have the tools to do a forensic examination to understand divine revelation. Yet the spirit-man within can examine all things, although the soul-man cannot even understand this Christ-man living in one’s spirit.

Hence, Paul tells his Greek readers that they must think in a new paradigm. Their culture had taught them to think with their soulish minds, thinking that the soul was spiritual. Paul tells them to think with the mind of Christ—that is, the mind of the spirit within them that alone is capable of hearing, examining, and understanding divine revelation. One’s spirit, then, must take the lead in one’s life, once it has been seeded with Christ.

The parable of the sower was a parable illustrating this very principle. Luke 8:4-8 says,

4 And when a great multitude were coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable: 5 “The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road; and it was trampled under foot, and the birds of the air ate it up. 6 And other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. 8 And other seed fell into good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He would call out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

It is plain that Jesus did not expect the majority of the crowd to “hear” what He was saying. Luke gives the impression that Jesus repeatedly made the statement, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Perhaps He said this with each example of where the seed fell from the hand of the sower.

Even Jesus’ disciples did not yet understand, for the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon them to beget in them the Spiritual Man who could examine and understand this revelation. Luke 8:9, 10 says,

9 And His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable might be. 10 And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries [secrets] of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, in order that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”

At the moment, the disciples did not understand, but Jesus then explained the parable to them in the same manner as revelation ought to be explained to us by the Christ in us. Matthew’s account gives greater detail, saying in Matthew 13:16,

16 But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.

In other words, Jesus was developing their spiritual ears to hear and understand divine revelation. As for the rest of the people, He began to speak in parables, acknowledging that most of the people were blind and deaf. Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:9, 10, which says,

9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand.’ 10 Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.”

The opposition, rude treatment, and unbelief of Simon the Pharisee seems to have marked a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. In that sense he was a prophetic type of the blind and deaf nation itself, as prophesied by Isaiah. Jesus saw him as a metaphor for the nation, a microcosm of the national condition. Simon means “hearing,” but Simon the Pharisee did not have spiritual ears to hear. Simon Peter, on the other hand, did have ears to hear, although he still needed time to develop his inner ears.

As for the parable itself, Jesus explains it plainly not only for the twelve disciples but for us as well. Luke 8:11 begins, saying,

11 “Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God.”

The word is preached to all, scattering this “seed” wherever men are found. The seed had within it all the power of life and the potential of a hundred-fold harvest. Thus, the Word itself has an innate power to accomplish something, to change conditions, and to bring forth life. The harvest, however, does not depend on the quality of this seed, but upon the soil on which it falls.

12 “And those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they may not believe and be saved.”

Jesus met many along the road, scattering seed in their direction. Many had responded favorably until “the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart.” The word “devil” is from the Greek word diabolos, “slanderer, accuser.” The outward evidence of this is seen in those who slandered and accused Jesus—men such as Simon the Pharisee, who had probably convinced his friends and followers that Jesus was a false prophet.

Luke 8:13 continues,

13 “And those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation [pierasmos, “trial or testing”] fall away.”

In the corresponding passage in Matthew 13:21, he says “when affliction [thlipsis, “pressure, stress”] or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.” Such people lack depth, because they do not have the desire or ability to search the Scriptures. Thus, they come to hear opinions and good ideas from a man, but those ideas are not digested properly by prayer and meditation—that is, by “chewing the cud” according to the food laws in Leviticus 11:3.

It is one thing to “eat” the word, but we must act like “clean” animals by standing on a cloven hoof (double witness) and meditating on the word in order to transform the word into usable nutrition. This is what gives the seed “roots” that can withstand the pressure, stress, and persecution that often arises in opposition to the revelation of God.

Luke 8:14 continues,

14 And the seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.

In other words, such people have other priorities in life. Nurturing the revelation of God is not on the top of their list of important matters. They simply have no time to pursue God, or spiritual development, or an understanding of the word. Entertainment competes with the important things in life, resulting in no maturity and thus no harvest.

In the church world, many believe that all they must do is “get saved” at some point in life before they die. Once they have purchased their “ticket to heaven,” they are free to live as they please with no thought of coming to maturity. They do not see maturity as necessary for “harvest.” They have been taught that there are only two categories of people: saved and unsaved. They are taught little or nothing about mature and immature believers.

And so, at the First Resurrection harvest, the immature will be bypassed and will have to wait until the general resurrection of the dead at the end before receiving their reward of life (John 5:28, 29). They do not realize that “getting saved,” as they put it, is only a Passover experience. In order to come to maturity, everyone must experience Pentecost and be led by the Spirit in order to be ripe for harvest when the feast of Tabernacles is fulfilled. Those who do not mature in this age will have to undergo a maturing process in the age to come.

Luke 8:15 continues,

15 And the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance [hupmone, “sustaining, patience, endurance”].

The good soil is in the heart of the overcomers. They hear the word with “an honest and good heart,” because they have an open mind to hear the revelation of God. Their fear of religious persecution is outweighed by their desire to know God and the truth.

They study and meditate upon the word, so that what they hear is actually digested and becomes part of their very being.

They are led by the Spirit, not by the church or any man. They come to maturity by experience and by the trials in the wilderness. And in the end, because of their perseverance, they bear the fruit that God has desired from the beginning.


This is part 38 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Luke


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Category: Teachings

Dr. Stephen Jones


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