What Kind of Soil are You?
Mark 4 presents what we call the parable of the sower. To refresh our thinking on this, hear, again, the parable:
“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:3-9, ESV)
We generally think of this parable as a catalyst for evangelistic efforts. We need to sow the seed. That is, we need to spread the word of God, and this needs to be done on all types of soil. We know that many will not receive the message. Some will initially receive it then fall away. Others will receive and produce the fruits of conversion. This makes perfect sense when we see ourselves as sowers. But I want to think of another perspective. To do that, I would encourage you to read through the whole chapter of Mark 4.
What strikes me is how the entire chapter stays with the same essential point concerning the power of God’s word. Here are a few thoughts:
1. While we do need to sow the seed (God’s word), I believe the larger point of the parable is not whether we are sowing the seed as much as asking ourselves what kind of soil we are. It’s one thing to see myself as a sower of the seed, but I first need to ask how I am as the soil. I see this emphasized when Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Are we hearing as we should and bearing the fruit of being the good soil? I cannot sow very well until I can answer that question.
2. The emphasis on proper hearing continues as Jesus quotes from Isaiah 6:9-10, a passage that is referenced multiple times in the New Testament. Isaiah had just been forgiven after seeing God’s glory and realizing how sinful he was. Now that he was ready to go for the Lord, he was told he would be preaching a message that many would not be hearing. Next, in Mark 4, Jesus explains the parable and talks about the types of soil. We really need to emphasize our own hearing in light of this. What type of soil am I? Do I hear but not perceive? Or do I hear with the intent of bearing fruit?
3. Though Jesus changes the figure to that of a light and basket (vv. 21-25), the point is essentially the same. “For to the one who has, more will be given…” parallels those “who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (v. 20). If we are the soil that hears, accepts, and bears fruit, then “more will be given” as we seek to bear that fruit for God. The Lord will give us work to do for which we are responsible, and more fruit will grow to the glory of God.
4. The growing seed also emphasizes the idea of bearing fruit and growing upon hearing the word of God (vv. 30-32). The emphasis comes back to the power of the word of God. I cannot grow without the word. I cannot bear fruit unless I am anchored to the word. Because the word of God is living and powerful, and tied to God Himself (Heb 4:12-13), He will empower us to bear the fruit for Him. But we must never turn away from the word.
5. The sower, in this context, is really Jesus. We can learn lessons about sowing, but we need to see that the Lord Himself is the One who sows His word. Notice what the text says: “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it” (v. 33). The seed is the word, and Jesus was speaking the word as they could hear it (i.e.., what kind of soil are they?). This emphasizes how much we need to be listening to Jesus, the Word of God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14).
6. In the text of Mark 4, what happens next is that Jesus calms a storm with the power of His word. There is an interesting potential contrast here. As strong as nature is, it listens to the word of God. Only people will stubbornly refuse to hear. The storms obey. Do we? Again, the text is emphasizing the power of the word of God and the effect it can have on those who listen and accept it.
This brings us back to the primary question: What kind of soil are you?