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
Comments about the ‘path people’
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’
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
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
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
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
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
 reminds us of the persistence and patience of God towards us in the weakness of our faith, and
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
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
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’.
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
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
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
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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