The Four Soils – An Evaluation Tool for Disciples of Jesus – Luke 8:1-15

15 Jul

Was Jesus trying to confuse his audience?  Possibly, but I suspect he really wanted them to avidly seek the meaning of his Gardening 101 parable.  Maybe some did.  Luke tells us that the disciples asked him what it meant, and he told them.  What we hear is a powerful evaluation tool that all Christians should apply to their lives.  Want to know if you are living how Jesus wants his to disciples to be living?  Even if the analysis is not what we want to hear, we would do well to submit ourselves to the evaluation.

Basically Jesus says that people who hear his word (the seed in the parable) are like four different kinds of soils.  Read the description and evaluate yourselves:

Soil #1 – The Hard Path – The seed is never planted, never takes root. This kind of person does not believe in Jesus. More and more people in our nation are in this category. Statisticians call them the NONES. Not NUNS, but NONES, people who claim to have no religion. Recent polls are showing that 20% of Americans are in the None category. They just don’t care about religion, church, Jesus. They might be atheist. In America, this kind of person most likely has very comfortable life, filled with the many entertainment and enjoyments that America has to offer. Church? Jesus? They say, “Not for me.”

Soil #2 – Rocky – In this soil, the seed is planted, but it takes no root, as the soil is shallow. This kind of person believes, Jesus says, but in the time of testing they fall away. This person seems to be a believer, but there is not enough depth in their relationship with the Lord to survive hard times. Think about what it takes for faith to grow so strong that it can survive challenges like losing a job, losing a loved one?

Soil #3 – Thorny Weeds – Once again, the seed is planted, but the weeds choke it out. This kind of person believes, but they are distracted by life’s worries, riches and pleasures.  Further, Jesus tells, and this is key, they do not mature.  Some have said that this is the bane of American Christianity, and the same would be likely in any wealthy culture.

Soil #4 – Fertile – Here the seed is planted, matures, and produces a crop. This kind of person is described five ways:

  1. Those with a noble and good heart.
  2. Hear the word
  3. Retain it
  4. Persevere
  5. Produce a crop

I see this in action in my backyard garden right now with our cherry tomato plants. We did not plant any tomatoes this year. We did not need to. They grew up all by themselves. Last year we planted a couple of them, and they produced a massive harvest. I couldn’t keep up with the harvest. But even with picking those tomatoes and giving them away and eating a lot myself, there were some that I missed. They fell to the ground and eventually their seeds survived the winter and this spring they started growing a new tomato plant! In fact so many plants came up this year that I had to thin them out. I didn’t want 20 cherry tomato plants, especially not ones that were growing right on top of each other!

Fertile ground produces a crop that produces a crop that produces a crop. In the Kingdom of God, this means that people who are good soil hear God’s word and do what it says. They produce a crop of more disciples. When Jesus was with the fisherman, he used a story that would speak to them. He said “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Those goal of following Jesus, in other words, was for those fisherman to become the kind of people who would help more people to follow Jesus.

Now he is speaking to gardeners and farmers. He says “be fertile soil that produces a crop”. Become the kind of people who help more people to follow Jesus.

The word we use for this is disciple-making.   We are disciples of Jesus, we follow him, learning from him how to live, and much of that is personal, related to us. For example, we should be filled with the fruit of the Spirit. We should be living what he called the abundant life, which was actually his life, the way he lived. Filled with crazy amounts of joy and love and kindness even in the midst of difficulty. But as we are learning from him how to live, we do what he did. He was the ultimate fertile ground, producing an amazing crop. One of the most important patterns of life that Jesus practiced himself and that he wants us to practice in our lives is to be disciple-makers. Fishers of men. Fertile ground that produces a crop.

Simply put, we invest in the lives of people who are not followers of Jesus, loving them, praying for them, leading them to become followers of Jesus.

As we look at the various gifts of the Spirit, there is no disciple-making gift. When Jesus said to his disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations” he was saying that this is the task for every single one of his followers. There is no other way to look at Jesus’ concept of fertile ground. Fertile ground produces a crop.

So there you have four soils. Which soil are you? Did you identify with any of those soils?

If you had to rank which one you most identify with, what would it be?

Maybe it would be more accurate to put percentages to them.

It seems to me most likely that we have a mixture of these soils simultaneously in our lives. You might say, “I think I’m 75% fertile soil, but I know I’m struggling with some weeds in my life.”

The parable could be a great evaluation tool. How much are you like the soil of the hardened path, where you are simply not allowing God’s Word in your life?

How much are you like the rocky soil where you have allowed the trials and tragedies of life to steal your faith, hinder your growth?

How much are you like the weedy/thorny soil where you have become distracted by things of this world like work, hobbies, TV shows, food, the comforts of our wealthy culture?

How much are you like the fertile soil, hearing God’s word, letting it take root, growing mature in Christ and producing a crop?

Followers of Jesus hear his word, grow mature, and produce a crop. There is no other option.   He doesn’t have a plan B. The first three soils are not what he wants us to be. He only wants us to be fertile soil.

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