Interpreting the parable of the sower as simply about coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus is missing its full significance. The familiarity of the story can cause you to switch off to an interpretation that is relevant to both the new and the experienced Christian. In part 4 of this series, we explore the thorny ground.
Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. (Mark 4:7).
And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Mark4:18-19)
Previously we looked at the rocky ground. There the crop withered away because of the sun burning down, referring to pressure and challenge from the outside. Here, the weeds and thorns are things that grow up with your permission on the inside taking up the space and choking the word.
In Luke’s account of the parable, it says the rocky soil ‘brings no fruit to maturity’ (Luke 8:14). I find this a very challenging phrase. It’s growing, but it’s not growing to maturity. So there’s some life there. There’s some progress being made, but you still don’t see your marriage, finances, attitude, lack of anxiety really changing. It doesn’t quite grow to maturity. Why not? Because there’s other stuff that’s growing there as well. Theres other stuff that demands your attention, attracts your emotion and draws you away.
Paul said this; “one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead’ (Philippians 3:13). He’s focused and intentional. This is what we’re being invited to. This means we have to make some very serious choices. Things have to change. Some things have to be embraced and other things have to go.
So what are these things that compete with the promises God’s made and choke the word? They’re not gross evils, they’re simple phrases. The first is the worries of this world.
Jesus repeatedly said, ‘don’t take anxious thought’. We have to see this as a command. The Bible says ‘don’t steal’, so most of us don’t. It says ‘don’t worry’. Do most of us not worry? We have to be ruthless with ourselves. Paul says ‘be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:6-7). That’s supernatural seed that comes into a world full of anxieties and tensions.
There’s always so much to worry about; what’s happening to the world? What’s happening to the economy? What’s happening to jobs? What’s happening to pensions? A lot of this is the conversation of the world. We can even be in church, worshipping and praising Him and then step out of church and into the workplace, only to join in a conversation with ‘yes it’s terrible isn’t it, I don’t know what’s happening to the world!’ Whereas, there should be something about us which demonstrates a peace. We should be the ones in the office who aren’t troubled about the threat of losing our jobs, because we know God has our lives in His hands. And it’s not just language, or jargon we’ve learnt. No, there’s fruit growing inside. The word has done something. It’s changing the way we see life because we’re living by His word. And those who live by His word are like a tree planted by a stream, bearing fruit, prospering in all that they do (Psalm 1:3) Why? because they’re not letting the worries of this world in.
This isn’t to say there won’t be things to worry about. Paul says ‘by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving’. This isn’t praying about it for five minutes and remaining as worried as you were when you started. Why pray when you can worry!? We need our praying to break the power of our worries. With thanksgiving we come to God and we really believe. It’s not the power of positive thinking, it’s receiving a word. Discipleship is not a how to do it yourself job. There is power in the word of God. It’s our responsibility to make sure that other stuff does not affect the power of a word that can change us. Are we giving it space? Are we letting it speak? Are we letting it have the impact it can have?
Money, money, money
The next thing that Jesus says can choke the word is the deceitfulness of riches. The Bible calls money ‘Mammon’. It’s like a false god looking for your worship. It actually offers you what God offers you; security, freedom, ‘you’ll be ok, I’ll look after you, just worship me’. It wants to assume the position of authority in you life, in the decisions you make and the way you live. But Jesus says you can’t worship God and Mammon. It will choke the promises of God and make you double minded. So winning this battle with money is a big thing for the believer. Jesus says more about money than virtually anything else.
Notice the phrase ‘deceitfulness’ because riches don’t actually have the answer. Thinking it’s ok because the money’s in the bank isn’t so good when the bank collapses. Mammon is deceitful. It makes promises it can’t keep.
So we need to be aware of the danger of putting our trust in money. It’s a false god that it stops the seed growing. It stops the supernatural energy factor. This wonderful supernatural reality, that the God of heaven makes promises that He will stand by, which have power to reproduce one hundredfold in you. The word has got energy and power. But the deceitfulness of riches stops the word growing.
The last thing that Jesus said can choke the seed is ‘the desire for other things’. We sometimes sing songs like ‘you’re all I want, you’re all I’ve ever needed’. I always think that’s a very brave song to sing. It takes faith to honestly say that, because we desire lots of things. Let’s be realistic. There are lots of things that are quite right and appropriate to desire. We’re not all meant to be ascetics. When you become a Christian, you don’t become a monk and give up everything. That’s not what the Bible teaches. The Bible says God is rich in mercy and ‘supplies us with all things to enjoy’ (1 Timothy 6:17).
What Jesus is talking about here is not just desire. It’s a Greek word with epi at the beginning which is stronger than desire. It means craving; that attitude of not being able to live without something. You can see little children with this attitude; ‘I want it and I must have it now’. We can be like that; ‘if I don’t get that I can’t get him/her/this job/this house’. A craving can become so important to us that it chokes the word. A word that could change us, free us, make us whole, peaceful, secure and happy in God brings no fruit to maturity because we’re craving other things.
You may know Jesus, sing the songs, but feel you really get your kicks out there, looking for fulfilment elsewhere. When this is the case, you find you never really meet fulfilment. Jesus can totally meet every need. You may feel like you love the Lord, but you’re a bit of an intellect, and when you really want to satisfy your intellect you go elsewhere. But again, you can miss the challenge and excitement of digging in and finding that God really does meet your needs.
Ask yourself, are there other things choking and preventing anything growing to maturity in your life?
This post is adapted from a sermon preached at King’s Church Kingston called “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear”