Parable of the Sower

In November I attended a two-day seminar on Christian Finance titled “Business by the Book Conference”, hosted by Life Impact Trust. The speakers ranged from world-renowned business leaders to professional advisers, from a Bible College director to a pastor (Dr. Phil Pringle from Sydney). Throughout the seminar the principle of “Sowing and Reaping” seemed to become the theme of the conference, yet it obviously wasn’t planned as a common theme.The scene was set on the first morning when the chief speaker, Jean Berdou, a practising barrister from South Africa and a regular speaker to churches and leadership conferences around the world, delivered a memorable statement. He said:

The economy of the world is based on “Buying and Selling”.

The economy of the Kingdom of God is based on “Sowing and Reaping”.

The parable of the sower begins in Matthew 13 v 3. I had always understood that here Jesus was encouraging the disciples to widespread evangelism everywhere. He seemed to be saying, “Don’t worry if some falls on stony ground, or some falls on people who embrace salvation for a time and then the weeds of sinful pleasure grow up and choke God’s word in their hearts. This is to be expected. There will always be some that falls on good ground and produce a hundredfold or more, so be encouraged.After all, doesn’t Scripture say “My word shall not return empty?” - No it doesn’t. That is an incomplete quote of Isaiah 55 v 11. The passage refers to “My word which goes out from My mouth” – not from ours.

The meaning of the parable is actually the exact opposite. Jesus is really saying: “Don’t waste valuable seed. Spend effort preparing the ground before sowing seed, and then you’ll reap a bountiful harvest.” The parable is repeated by the New Testament writers in Mark chapter 4 v 3 and Luke chapter 8 v 5. In each we find that the reference to multiplication occurs only in the last verse. Jesus deliberately chose to spend most of His parable teaching on the need for patient preparation of the soil.

If the farmer wants a bountiful harvest he has to put in the  effort to prepare the soil. Seed is precious (Ps 126 v 5-6). Don’t waste it. Every farmer had to carefully store his precious seed over the winter, no matter whether his family had enough food to eat or not, and protect it against vermin. Seed for planting was absolutely essential. Every one of Jesus’ listeners knew this. What did the farmer have to do before he sowed? Perhaps he would fence the land to protect it. Then till it so that the young plants could grow and obtain nourishment from the soil. And of course it required water (prayer) to obtain the nutrients. (How much prayer do we put in?) And talking of nutrients, the ground needed fertiliser, and weeding, before planting.

And of course there was the matter of ownership of the land in the first place. He either had to own it or lease it. Should we ask God for the right to use the land? We could claim that all land is His (1 Timothy 6:7).  Therefore we have the right to use it in his service without asking Him because He commanded us to “go into all the world and preach the gospel.” 

However I would rather ask the owner for His permission and blessing first. Although God owns everything, Satan is the “prince of this world” (Jn 14 v 30). It could be that the “spiritual” owner of that land is Satan. Have you thought about that? We may have to first bind the strongman. The farmer wouldn’t plant in someone else’s field. Do we? First we must pray. Then remove the stone trees etc. before we can plough. How often do we rush into sowing (evangelism) without first paying the price of preparing the ground?

Jesus’ real message here is that the measure of response is directly determined by the quality of the soil. We need to memorise this important principle taught by Jesus if we are going to have any success in evangelism. Preparation requires much prayer and tedious labour. If there is little prayer or follow-up, if there is no local church available for nurture and fellowship, if there are no Scriptures in the first language of the people, then it is difficult for the seed to put down roots and young plants will die in the heat. The better we prepare before we sow the greater will be the harvest.

Kelvin Deal

Chairman, Liberty Trust