The parable of the sower is found in Matthew 13:3b-9, and the meaning of the parable is found in Matthew 13:11-23 (cf. Mark 4:3-20 and Luke 8:5-15). In the parable of the sower, an earthly farmer’s seed-planting method is being compared to the heavenly farmer’s “good” seed-scattering method. Since Israel, in the time of Jesus the Christ, understood the farming principle of sowing and reaping, the Lord, then, is “laying one thing down by another,” which is what the term “parable” means. Jesus the Christ, then, is placing right beside the Hebrews’ very familiar work of sowing natural seeds, God’s very foreign work of sowing a spiritual seed.
Since the term “sowing” means to scatter seeds upon the earth in order to produce growth, it is apparent that Jesus the Christ is illustrating how an earthly farmer’s natural seed-sowing process is analogous to the heavenly farmer’s spiritual seed-sowing method. That is to say, earthly farmers make sure that they plant, water, and cultivate their seeds in the right season(s), at the correct temperature, and in the best soil so that their seeds will produce, for example, mature wheat or rye. Likewise, the heavenly farmer makes sure that He plants, waters, and cultivates His spiritual seed in the right seasons (every spring, summer, fall, and winter), at the correct temperature (fire of the Holy Spirit), and into the best soil (born again human spirits) so that His seed will produce spiritually mature children of God who are holy, righteous, loving, joyful, tranquil, patient, kind, respectable, faithful, humble, and self-controlled. Furthermore, by comparing the earthly farmer with the heavenly farmer, Jesus the Christ paints a vivid picture about the conditions that will determine productivity within the earthly and heavenly farmers’ fields. It is obvious that the great harvest for either of these sowers will depend on the farmers, the seeds, and the soils into which those seeds are planted.
Metaphorically speaking, the sower in the parable is Jesus the Christ (and/or His ministers). The Gospel of Christ (Word of God) is the spiritual seed that is being sown. Moreover, this spiritual seed, like a seed of grain, not only produces life, but also is life—has life within itself—which would mean that the spiritual seed also symbolizes eternal life. The field in which the spiritual seed is scattered is mankind. Lastly, mankind’s different soils into which the spiritual seed is sown are: (1) a footpath (unbelievers); (2) shallow soil with underlying rock (hypocrites); (3) thorny ground (fence straddlers); and (4) fertile ground (genuine believers).
Furthermore, while this parable about a sower is plain (easily comprehended), understanding why God’s “good seed” (preached Word of God) falls into different spiritual soils is not so easily discerned. For sure, spiritually discerning why the same Word of God doesn’t produce the same spiritual fruit can cause confusion, especially when most of these confused individuals do not comprehend the spiritual importance of being the kind of spiritual “soil” (possessing the godly kind of character in the human spirit) that could affect the appropriate response to the preached Gospel that God expects. These puzzled people also are the ones who find it hard to comprehend how their human spirit could keep them out of the Kingdom of God. In essence, they find it hard to see their true selves as being humans who lack the necessary inner “qualities.” Most people are so focused on their own external appearance that they never comprehend the importance of searching their inner selves to see why God is more concerned about their internal qualities, which He determines by the character traits that exist in people’s “hearts” (human spirits). That is why, unless God reveals to an individual that he or she really has the human spirit that is fertile ground, rather than the human spirit that is a footpath, or shallow soil, or thorny ground, no one really can know for certain what kind of soil he or she has!
For this reason, in the parable of the sower, Jesus the Christ absolutely makes the soil distinctions clear. He teaches that once the sower’s “good seed” (Word of God) is scattered (preached), it affects four specific hearers who each have been given the capacity to comprehend the preached Word of God. However, because of certain very detrimental hindrances, three of these four hearers will not be able to benefit from the preached Good News.
The first kind of hearer possesses a careless, indifferent human spirit. Because the Kingdom of God preached to this hearer is not received with any concern—the Word of God does not make an impression in this unbeliever’s human spirit—the “good seed” falls on a footpath. This individual, thus, never comes to realize the priceless value of God’s Word. As a result, he or she does not take care to protect the “good seed” so that it can remain within and grow inside of him or her, which also means that it now is easy for the Devil to steal the “good seed” out of this hearer’s human spirit. Once this hearer no longer has the “good seed” in him or her (the Word of God that would give this person’s human spirit life), this hearer’s soul also cannot be enlightened. Consequently, this person swiftly stumbles and permanently falls back into the world of sin (darkness).
The second kind of hearer possesses a hypocritical human spirit. The Kingdom of God preached to this hearer is received immediately. Indeed, this hearer not only is eager to be busy for the Lord but also sprouts leaves very early in his or her Christian walk—leaves that suggest he or she is doing Kingdom of God work, when in reality this person has no depth (no deep conviction), because the “good seed” in him or her has not taken root. As a result, this hearer’s Christian walk is so superficial that when the Word of God does not stop trials and tribulations (stones) from coming into this person’s life, or he or she sees that a sinful advantage can be gained (gives in to another kind of stone—temptation), this hypocrite will use the Word of God as an excuse for sinning. Moreover, because this person experiences trials, tribulations and temptations, he or she eventually either walks away from Christianity, or behaves like an undercover Christian. An undercover Christian is a hypocrite—someone who pretends to know how “true” Christians should behave, yet often acts contrary to God’s way whenever he or she has the opportunity to do the “right” thing.
The hearer who has a covetous human spirit (thorny soil) is the third type of Word of God hearer mentioned in the “good seed” sower parable. Since this fence straddler’s human spirit has been deceived by his or her own desires to obtain worldly riches, this person begins to believe that mammon can satisfy the needs that the cares of this life create. As a result, the Kingdom of God message that has been preached and received (understood) takes a second or third place in this person’s life. In fact, the cares of life and this person’s covetousness become so entangled that they end up choking the blossoming life that begins to grow from the “good seed’s” root that is in this individual’s human spirit. The reason why this hearer often is described as a world-serving believer who has one foot in the world and one foot in the CHURCH is because he or she is more concerned about pleasing him or herself (or other humans), much more than he or she is concerned about pleasing God. Consequently, the Word of God cannot benefit this hearer, and, just like it is with the first and second hearers, this person also cannot produce any spiritual fruit!
The only soil in which the “good seed” can produce a fruitful spiritual life is the fertile ground that is found in a genuine believer. In the person who has a pure and honest human spirit, this individual not only hears, understands, and retains the Word of God, but also this person gratefully accepts the Word of God, carefully protects the Word of God, and gladly lets the Gospel develop deep roots so that this person’s soil (human spirit) can be nourished by the Living Water and the Bread of Life nutrients that saturate the roots. Moreover, unlike the hypocrites and covetous hearers, this hearer does not let any rocks or thorns keep the Word of God’s benefits from being a blessing to him or her. In this person’s fertile soil, the “good seed” not only produces new life, but also this new life from “good seed” ripens and matures into a crop that is either thirty, or sixty, or hundred times larger than the seed from which this new life came.
Finally, Christ says, “Any one who is willing to hear should listen and understand” (Matthew 13:9, NLT)! By this statement, Jesus the Christ means that it is the hearer’s responsibility to pay attention to what he or she hears. According to Jesus the Christ, it also is the hearer’s duty to put into practice the Divine Truth that He has taught by way of the parable of the sower so that the new understanding about the Kingdom of God will not go to waste. In particular, Christ is telling His hearers that if they have the faculties of comprehension and knowledge and are willing to understand and know that the kind of human spirit they possess is not the same as the kind of human spirit they need to have, they then should do whatever is necessary to ensure that their human spirit becomes fertile soil. To guarantee that their human spirit is fertile ground from which will come much spiritual fruit, they need a sower who is concerned about sowing a “good seed.” They need Jesus the Christ as their Lord and personal Savior, and they need the Word of God. Once the sower sows that “good seed” (Word of God), then the hearers will need to be receptive to, thankful for, faithful and obedient to, and cheerful, good stewards of the heard Divine Truth.