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STUDY FIFTEEN: A CHALLENGE TO PERSISTENCE AND PATIENCE

© Rosemary Bardsley 2012

A. THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER [Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23; Mark 4:2-20; Luke 8:5-15]

A.1 The meaning of the parable

Reflection: Read the explanations of the four seeds/soils given by Jesus. Answer these questions about each:   [1] What are the key characteristics of the response of the people represented by each soil type?

[2] What was it that exposed the true nature of their ‘faith’?

[3] What was the true nature of their ‘faith’?

Read the other scriptures. How do they confirm Jesus’ teaching?

The symbol

The meaning Jesus gave

Other scriptures

The seed on the road

Matthew 13:19; Mark 4:15; Luke 8:12

[1]

 

 

[2]

 

 

[3]

 

Acts 13:45-46; 17:32a; 26:24;

2Corinthians 4:4

The seed among rocks

Matthew 13:20-21; Mark 4:16,17; Luke 8:13

[1]

 

 

[2]

 

 [3]

 

John 2:23-24; 6:60-71; 1John 2:19;

The seed among weeds

Matthew 13:22; Mark 4:18-19; Luke 8:14

[1]

  

[2] 

 

[3]

 

Matthew 8:19,20; 19:16-24; 2Timothy 4:10

The seed in good soil

Matthew 13:23; Mark 4:20; Luke 8:15

[1]

  

[2]

  

[3]

 

Matthew 7:16-21; Galatians 5:22-23

 

Comments about the ‘path people’
William Hendriksen: ‘Verse 19a (Matthew 13) speaks about the unresponsive, insensible, callous heart, the heart of the person who by persistent refusal to walk in the light has become accustomed hardly even to listen to the message as it is being proclaimed. Under the influence of the devil whatever it is that this man hears he immediately thrusts away from himself as if for him at least it contained nothing of importance. … he does not bother to reflect or meditate upon the meaning of the message. Therefore he does not grasp it.’ [p559, The Gospel of Matthew]

Leon Morris: ‘this person hears what is said, indeed, but without any comprehension … The hearer knows that there is some spiritual truth here intended for his profit, but since he does not act on it, he soon finds that what he heard is lost. The failure to attend to the message and to find out what it means results in total loss, first of the message and ultimately of the hearer.’ [p346, The Gospel According to Matthew]

Helmut Thielicke: ‘In our hearts there are still many other thoughts and desires which keep pulling us into their wake and prevent us from pausing to hear God’s call. In every one of us there are definite thought forces which are seeking to dominate us and making a tremendously vigorous totalitarian claim upon our hearts. I am thinking, for example, of our ambition, of everything connected with the word “sex”, our urge to power, our desire for recognition and prestige. … The devout of all times have been aware of these sources of domineering appeal and have therefore mobilized other forces against them. Above all, they meditated upon the Scriptures and prayed. But how the great ones in the kingdom of God did that! For them every reading of the Bible was a battle and every prayer a sword stroke. … [ p54,55, The Waiting Father]

Comments on the ‘rocky people’
William Hendriksen:  ‘’Immediately, impulsively, gladly, he as it were jumps up to accept the message. He is thrilled and enthused, may even be sufficiently affected to shed a tear. Once the spell has subsided he seems to have forgotten all about it and returns to his former sinful life. As the … twin causes of such defection Jesus speaks of affliction, meaning pressure …and persecution, actual suffering brought about by the enemy, all on account of the message. By devices such as these the fair-weather adherent is led to apostatize. … The erstwhile adherent, never a genuine follower at all, for his confession did not spring from inner conviction, had failed to consider that true discipleship implies self-surrender, self-denial, sacrifice, service, and suffering. [p560,561 ibid]

Leon Morris: ‘… despite the joy and the initial growth the end result of this piece of sowing is tragic. … The lack of root points to the real problem: like seed in a place that lacks depth of soil, this superficial hearer lacks depth. … When trouble … comes to the shallow enthusiast, the pretty bubble is burst and the profession of loyalty is exposed for the sham it is. Immediately, the same word as that used for the joyful reception of the word in verse 20, signifies that the test shows the person up straight-away; he is no more than a fair weather adherent. Most translations say that he “falls away” … but there is something more than falling. He takes offence. That is to say, he comes to regard adherence to Christ as something of a trap; if it means persecution he wants nothing to do with it. He is repelled. The time of trial means the end of this person’s adherence to Christ. [p346-7 ibid] [The Greek word translated ‘he falls away’ is skandalizetai from which our word ‘scandalize’ is derived.]

John Calvin: ‘We see too many of this class in our own day, who eagerly embrace the Gospel, and shortly afterwards fall off for they have not the lively affection that is necessary to give them firmness and perseverance… Let every one then examine himself thoroughly … for if the word does not fully penetrate the whole heart, and strike its roots deep, faith will want the supply of moisture that is necessary for perseverance. …Such persons, according to Matthew and Mark, are temporary, not only because, having professed, for a time, that they are the disciples of Christ, they afterwards fall away through temptation, but because they imagine that they have true faith. According to Luke, Christ says that they believe for a time; because that honour which they render to the Gospel resembles faith. … In a word, let us learn that none are partakers of true faith, except those who are sealed with the Spirit of adoption, and who sincerely call on God as their Father; and as that Spirit is never extinguished, so it is impossible that the faith, which he has once engraven on the hearts of the godly, shall pass away or be destroyed. [p258-9, Cavin's Commentaries, Volume 7]

Helmut Thielicke: ‘At first when they receive the Word they are enthusiastic. They are not just bare rocks; there is at least a thin layer of soil in which the Word germinates…. These people have been touched; perhaps they even talk about being “converted” … In most such cases it was a kind of emotional Christianity … there is nothing more disintegrating than people who have been merely “brushed” by Christianity, people who have been sown with a thousand seeds but in whose lives there is no depth and no rootage. Therefore, they fall when the first whirlwind comes along. It is the half-Christians who always flop in the face of the first catastrophe that happens, because their dry intellectuality and their superficial emotionalism do not stand the test. So even that which they think they have is taken away from them. This is the wood from which anti-christians too are cut. They are almost always former half-Christians.’ [p57, ibid]

Comments on the ‘thorny’ people
William Hendriksen: ‘… a heart filled with worry with respect to the workaday world and beclouded by dreams about riches thwarts any influence for good that might otherwise proceed from the entrance of the kingdom message. Such a heart is preoccupied. It has no room for calm and earnest meditation on the word of the Lord. Should any serious study and reflection nevertheless attempt to gain entrance, it would immediately be choked off.’ [p561, ibid]

Leon Morris: ‘He is no hardened rejector, nor a man given to shallow enthusiasm. But his attention to the word has to be understood in the light of the other truth that he is caught up in the affairs of this life. … It is possible to be so taken up with the contemplation of the threats and opportunities of life that the word from God that we receive and welcome does not get sufficient attention. … One life can hold only so many things, and he is referring to a life that is so full of worry that there is no room for serious attention to the word of God. … riches also bring problems. [p347, ibid]

John Calvin: ‘He places in the third class, those who would have been disposed to receive the seed within, if they had not permitter other things to corrupt and render it degenerate. … the sinful affections of the flesh prevail over the hearts of men, and overcome faith, and thus destroy the force of the heavenly doctrine, before it has reached maturity. … Each of us ought to endeavour to tear the thorns out of his heart, if we do not choose that the word of God should be choked; for there is not one of us whose heart is not filled with a vast quantity … a thick forest, of thorns. [p259, ibid]

Helmut Thielicke: ‘When we cannot believe, there is something in the background of our life which is not in order. And it is to this background that Jesus points when he speaks of ‘the cares and riches and pleasures of life.” All three indicate that I am not prepared to part with some very definite things and that these dependencies then obscure my vision … The chain of doubt and faithlessness to which we are shackled consists of many links. But these links are not intellectual reasons, but sins, dependencies, and secret bondages. These are what prevent us from finding peace and block full surrender. These are the thorns that prevent the seed from producing fruit.’ [p58]

Comments on the ‘good soil’ people
Leon Morris: ‘This is not a careless and unheeding person, nor one whose life is distracted by other considerations. The person receives the word with intelligent appreciation and acts on it. [p347 ibid]

John Calvin: ‘ the word of God … overcomes every obstacle that would prevent it from yielding fruit. … Christ does not speak of the perfection of faith, but only points out those in whom the word of God yields fruit. Though the produce may not be great, yet everyone who does not fall off from the sincere worship of God is reckoned a good and fertile soil. [p259, ibid]

Helmut Thielicke: ‘These are the people who not only “hear” but also “hold fast” to the Word. Hearing is easy. But to hold on to the Word and budget one’s life upon it, this is the great test. … Never will I get into the clear with God and never will I have peace, if I only hear and go on hearing, if I reflect and do nothing but go on reflecting upon it. God must be obeyed if he is to be understood. I must reckon with God – reckon with him and his promises in utter realism – if you want to bring him into your life. God is known only when the chips are down. You think, you can “cerebrate,” about God only on your knees. Anybody who shies away from repentance, from bowing down, from dying, is slamming the door upon God.’ [p58-59, ibid]

A.2 Implications and application of the Parable of the Sower

Reflection and response: Discuss and identify the significance of each of the following points: [the Bible references will help]

Job 1:8-12, 20-22

Job 2:3-6, 9-11

Job 13:15a

Job 23:10

Matthew 10:22;

Matthew 24:12-13

John 10:28-29

Romans 5:3-5

Philippians 1:6

Philippians 4:10-13

2Timothy 1:12

Hebrews 10:32-39

Hebrews 12:1-12

1Peter 1:3-9

 

The endurance of true faith

 

  

Our attitude to God’s word

 

 

Our attitude to trouble and persecution

 

  

Our attitude to the cares and business of life

 

 

The importance of really understanding and submitting to God’s word

 

 

 

This parable of the sower challenges us personally to persistence and patience: if our belief in Jesus Christ is genuine in a Biblical sense, our faith will persevere:

• It will not ignore God’s word or treat it lightly
• It will not be put off by trouble and persecution in a final way
• It will not be displaced by focus on the things of this life
• It will understand and submit to God’s word.

This faith that persists and survives despite all odds is the challenge of this parable. The opposition to faith is great. The destructive forces of unbelief, wrong belief and fake belief not only surround us, but are also within us, constantly luring us away from faith that is fixed on God and depends on him and his word alone.
 

B. THE PARABLE OF THE WEEDS IN THE FIELD [Matthew 13:24-30, 37-43]

The Parable of the Sower challenged us to persistence and patience in our own personal faith, with the emphasis on persistence. The Parable of the Weeds

[1] reminds us of the persistence and patience of God towards us in the weakness of our faith, and
[2] challenges us to persistence and patience in our attitude to other believers, with the emphasis on patience.

The Parable of the Sower alerted us to the existence of unbelief and sham belief. The Parable of the Weeds challenges us about our attitudes in the presence of unbelief and sham belief.

B.1 The meaning of the parable
Comments from Helmut Thielicke:
‘This parable speaks of a dark menace, a mysterious power that is everywhere at work … In this very moment in which the Word of God sounds from the pulpit that sinister power is also sowing its toxic seed among the furrows … another figure, spectral and shadowy, a demonic double, follows the divine Sower, scattering seeds of negation and destruction. …  Always during the night that dark figure has gone through God’s fields, and the next morning something altogether different comes up. Alongside of the Word of God something else grows up high. From a distance it looks very much like the Word, just as the weeds look like real grain from afar. … And what is true about the content of the message is true also of the people who have gathered around it. There is Judas in the midst of the apostles, here are real disciples alongside of merely nominal church members, here are martyrs and apostates, orthodoxists and heretics, people with haloes and sham saints … all mixed together. How in the world can we ever distinguish between them? How can we refrain from crying out: Get rid of the weeds! Or ever: This Christianity is a dreadful mess!’ [p72-72, ibid]

True believers - ‘the good seed’, the ‘sons of the kingdom’ – live in the midst of the world, intermingled with those who are obviously not believers and those who are false believers. Because the visible church – the tangible, physical gathering together of God’s people – is physically part of the world, this mixed nature also characterizes the church. In this context, where the ‘weeds’ mingle with the ‘good seed’ in the place where only the ‘good seed’  really belong, Christ challenges us to patience and persistence, and encourages us in this patience by teaching us of the patience and persistence of God.

God did not ‘plant’ the pseudo believers. But he knows they are there, right within the walls of the church, mixed in among the true believers. He also knows that the difference between the two is not always obvious. There are ‘weeds’ that look like ‘wheat’, and ‘wheat’ that looks like ‘weeds’, and only time will reveal to us the difference that he discerns all along. In our impatience for a ‘pure’ church we would root out the ‘wheat’ with the ‘weeds’. In his patience God bears with us. In his patience he allows both to grow and exist together. In his patience and persistence he shoulders the criticism and the misunderstanding of passers-by who look at his field, the church, and shake their heads over its faults and failures. He does not want the true believers to be disturbed and threatened by the removal of the false. To this same patience in the presence of false belief, and towards those of true belief, he challenges us.

 

B.2 Implications and application of the parable of the weeds
What does this mean in practice? Are we to allow false belief to enter the church? No. For we have just seen in Study 6 that Christ commands a radical discernment that does not and cannot tolerate false teaching and false teachers. And the Scriptures teach elsewhere that the church is to practice church discipline when a professing believer is guilty of gross unrepentant sin. Jesus is not saying that we should leave such people alone and have patience with their sinfulness. He is not talking about such obviously sinful or heretical people at all. He is talking about our attitude towards people who actually look like the real thing, but are not.

Reflection: How should this parable impact us as we live as the disciples of Jesus Christ in the presence of those who appear to be Christians but are not? Consider the following to arrive at your answer.

For three years Jesus related to Judas the same as he did to the other disciples. Nobody except Jesus knew his faith was fake.

 

 

 

The prophet Isaiah said about Jesus: ‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.’ [42:3]

2 Peter 3:9 states: ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise … he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’

 

 

 

The task of removing ‘weeds’ from the kingdom is not ours; it will be done at the end of the age at Christ’s command [see Revelation 14-14-20]

 

The parable of the weeds is a challenge to patience:

 • Patience that deals gently with others, even if they are known to be unbelievers, just as Jesus did with Judas. Unlike the physical ‘weeds’ these spiritual ‘weeds’ might one day become ‘wheat’.
• Patience that deals gently with weak believers who look very much like unbelievers, because in our minimal knowledge we might root them out along with the real ‘weeds’.
• Patience that reflects the patience of God with which he bears with our own imperfections, and with which he gave us time and opportunity to repent and believe.
• Patience with the program of God, who has his time of harvest, and who will, at that time and with his perfect knowledge, remove the ‘weeds’.

 

C. ASSORTED BRIEF PARABLES

Jesus presents his challenge to persistence and patience in a number of other parables. As you study the parables in the table below consider persistence and patience in relation to the following factors:

• The certainty of the growth of God’s kingdom
• The apparent smallness and insignificance of God’s kingdom
• The hiddenness of God’s kingdom
• The practice of prayer

Reflection and response: Discuss what they teach about persistence and patience and record your conclusions, including reference to the dot points above as appropriate. [Class option: Allocate a parable to each student to research, then report back to class.]

The Parable of the Mustard Seed [Matthew 13:31-32;]

 

 

The Parable of the Yeast [Matthew 13:33]

 

 

 

D. COMPARISON WITH THE CONTEMPORARY MINDSET

Patience and persistence do not characterise contemporary society. The concept of ‘waiting’ for something, or ‘enduring’ unpleasant or undesirable circumstances is far from contemporary minds both in and outside the church. For example:

• People do not want to delay sexual intimacy until marriage
• People do not want to patiently work through marriage difficulties, preferring the instant solution of divorce to the long haul of making the marriage work
• Christians want the blessings of the new heaven and the new earth in the here and now, and twist the Scriptures to support their impatience
• Christians want instant spirituality and ‘sanctification’, instead of the long, slow process of gradual transformation described in the scripture

Reflection and response: In the box below make a list of evidence of the ‘instant’ gratification pursued by contemporary secular society, and of the lack of long term commitment in various areas of secular life

Desire for ‘instant’ gratification

Lack of long term commitment

 

 

 

 

Now make similar lists for evidence of this lack of patience and persistence in the contemporary Christian mindset

Desire for ‘instant’ gratification

Lack of long term commitment

 

  

 

 

 

E. REVIEW AND CHALLENGE 

The parables of Jesus have challenged us to persistence and patience in various areas of our lives:

• Persistence and patience in hearing and responding to the Word of God
• Persistence and patience in the presence of trouble generated by our allegiance to Christ
• Persistent and patient faith despite the complexity and busyness of life
• Patience with others in the kingdom, whether true or pretend believers
• Persistence and patience in waiting for the end of the age when Christ will sort things out
• Persistence and patience in the faith despite the smallness and insignificance of the kingdom
• Persistence and patience in the faith despite the slow growth of the kingdom
• Persistence and patience in the faith despite the hiddenness of the kingdom
• Persistence and patience in prayer

Personal challenge: In what ways has this study on Christ’s call to radical persistence and patience challenged you personally?

 

Areas where repentance or improvement is needed:

 

 

 

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