The Word for the World

Confidence in the Word

Further Help & Thought

Hearing & Receiving the Word

In Isaiah 55:10-11 we read these words from the Lord:

"The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it."

God's Word will indeed accomplish the purpose for which he sends it out, since it has a dynamic power of its own, in the same way as a seed contains a kernel of life within itself. But as our Lord Jesus Christ makes clear in his Parable of the Sower, just as the quality of the soil in which the seed is sown determines the extent of the crop, so our response to God's Word is crucial. The way we both hear and receive the Bible's message has an important bearing upon its effectiveness in our lives.

(Before proceeding further on this page you may wish to remind yourself of what we said about parables in A User-friendly Book.)

The Parable

The Parable of the Sower (sometimes called the Parable of the Soils) is related, with some variations, by three of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke (Matthew 13:1-9, Mark 4:1-9 and Luke 8:4-8). The following retelling, based on the NLT, attempts to combine (or harmonise) the three versions of Jesus' story.

Jesus left the house in which he had been teaching and went down to the lakeside, where he resumed his teaching. People had come from many of the surrounding towns to hear him. Such a large crowd had gathered that Jesus got into a boat, sat down in it, and taught from there as the people listened on the shore. This is one of the many stories he told:

'The Sower' window by Ward & Hughes (1869) based on 13th century originals (Lincoln Cathedral)


"A farmer went out to plant some seed.

"As he scattered it across his field, some fell on a footpath, where it was trampled underfoot, and birds came and ate it up.

"Other seed fell on shallow soil that had a hard layer of rock underneath. Here, the plants grew up quickly, but they soon withered and died in the hot sun because the roots could find no moisture or nourishment in the shallow soil.

"Other seed fell among thorns that shot up and choked the tender blades, so they failed to produce any grain.

But still other seed fell on fertile soil, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted."

Then Jesus called out to the crowd: "Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand!"

(The illustration accompanying this section is used by kind permission of Peter Fairweather, author of the Churchmouse website, which may be visited via our Links to Other Websites.)

The Meaning of the Parable

Jesus' own interpretation of his parable is found in Matthew 13:18-23, Mark 4:14-20 and Luke 8:11-15. We again offer a harmony of the three accounts.

"Now here is the explanation of the story I told about the farmer sowing grain.

A Word for Spiritual Farmers

Do you recognise yourself in the parable as one who sows the seed of God's Word? If so, you have a vital responsibility to discharge which calls for the utmost diligence and integrity. The apostle Paul likened the message he preached to a fragrance perceived differently by those being saved and by those perishing. To the former it was a sweet perfume, but to the latter a fearful stench! Who is adequate for such a task? he asks. Only those who preach God's message with sincerity and Christ's authority (2 Corinthians 2:14-17).

For this reason we would exhort you to Do you best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV)). Only in this way will you prove yourself worthy of the task entrusted to you.

"The farmer is the one who brings God's message to others. The seed is the message.

"The seed that fell on the hard path represents those who hear the message of the Good News about the Kingdom but don't understand it. At once Satan, the thief, is able to come and snatch the seed away from their hearts so they are prevented from believing and being saved. The rocky soil represents those who hear the message and receive it with joy.

"But, like young plants in such soil, their roots don't go very deep. At first they get along fine, believing while all goes well, but they wilt as soon as the hot winds of testing problems begin to blow or they are persecuted because they believe the word.

"The thorny ground represents those who hear and accept the message of the Good News, but it is all too quickly crowded-out by the cares and pleasures of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for nice things. As a result, they never grow to maturity, so no crop is produced.

"The good soil, though, represents the good, honest hearts of those who truly accept God's message, hold fast to it, and steadily produce a huge harvest - thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted."

The Question Posed by the Parable

The Parable of the Sower contains a message that is relevant to everyone who reads or hears the Scriptures, for it offers a basic lesson in the matter of spiritual growth.

Permit us to enquire, What kind of soil are you? How do you receive the precious seed of God's Word?

Does it, like the seed that fell on the hard footpath, merely rest on the surface of your mind, and never really penetrate your heart and soul, and therefore fails to have any real influence on your attitudes and actions? Perhaps you even understand and agree with what the Bible says intellectually, but fail to take any action as a result. The upshot is that you may just as well never have heard the Word at all.

Jesus makes it clear that something more than mental assent is required for God's Word to do its proper work in us. Are you like a servant for whom mere words are not enough, and for whom discipline is required? For though the words are understood, the servant fails to heed them (see Proverbs 29:19).

Or did you receive the Scriptures initially with interest and enthusiasm but, like the seed that fell on the shallow soil and withered for lack of nourishment, you never allowed it really to take root and establish itself in your heart and mind, so that you forgot all about it as soon as you encountered the first difficulty or opposition?

Or, like the seed that fell among the thorns, have you allowed the Word of God to be crowded-out by other apparently more pressing concerns? Do you start almost every day with every intention to read and reflect on the Scriptures, but find that somehow other things seem to be so much more urgent or important, or (dare we suggest it?) more attractive?

Or have you, like the seed that fell on the fertile soil, really taken to heart what you have read in the Bible, and allowed it to guide and govern all you think and do, so that you bear a rich harvest of the fruit of a beautiful character for the Lord (see Galatians 5:22-23)? This is so important if we are to develop into the people the Lord wants his servants to be, and who also have a deep, settled Confidence in the Word. For, as we see God's Word bearing fruit in our lives we shall gain greater confidence in its truth and our ability to apply it to ourselves.

If you recognise yourself in one of first three illustrations we plead with you to take to heart our Lord's most challenging words, "Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand!" Our natural ears may hear many sounds, and our eyes see many sights, but there is a deeper hearing and seeing of God's Word that does not depend on physical hearing or seeing, nor on our intellectual ability, and which results in spiritual understanding and fruitfulness. It is not purely a mental process, though this is involved to a certain extent, but rather it is a spiritual process. This brings us back to what we said on a previous page about the very nature of the Bible. Whatever else it may be by way of being a book of history or biography, it is first and foremost a spiritual book, containing a spiritual message for spiritual people (1 Corinthians 2:13 (footnote)).

On this page we have sought to emphasise the importance of how we hear and receive the Word of God - the Bible.

But so many fail to hear God's Word at all, either through choice or neglect! Although this is especially true of the 21st century, it is by no means confined to the present day. It was the same situation that a godly minister addressed in the seventeenth century, with remarkable results, as we relate in the first section of our next page, Challenge, Promise & Prayer.

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