This is the second post in a series leading us to a strategy for mission in Geita, Tanzania. In the first post, church planting: mistakes in missions, I stressed a desire to trust God himself to draw men to him, save them, assemble them, and mature them. These tasks are not my job; so I want to ensure that I’m not attempting to steal away God’s role in church planting, and that I’m not expected by others to do so. I also want to adopt as simple a method for church planting as is possible.
Fruit is the natural result
of a transformed
and obedient life in Christ.
The first parable given in the book of Matthew is that of the “Sower and the Soils” in 13:1-23. And this parable, appropriately enough, serves as both an introduction to parables and instruction on how to hear them. Jesus describes the good news of his kingdom in terms of seed that is sown in four different types of soil — mankind is the soil, and there are given four possible ways to receive kingdom principles. I think we’re often much too quick when reading this parable to assume that Christians are the fourth, and good, soil. Let’s look at the soils:
1. The seed that falls on the path is quickly stolen away by Satan. This soil hears the gospel, but is unable to respond, because it has not understood its meaning. This person never becomes a Christian.
2. The seed that falls on the rocky soil is able to grow quickly, because the shallow soil above the hardpan rock is rich and full of nutrients. But the plant’s roots cannot go deep into the ground, and so it soon dies. This soil hears and understands to an extent, but doesn’t let the gospel take firm hold in his life, and so when hard times or temptations come, the once vibrant plant dies. This person becomes a Christian, but isn’t standing firm in Christ, and therefore eventually falls away.
3. The seed that falls in thorny soil is able to grow, and even to form roots deep into the ground. But it is surrounded by thorns that steal away needed nutrients, and the plant never becomes fruitful. This soil hears and understands the word, but allows non-Christian worries and a desire for possessions to choke it, preventing it from being what God intended. It’s important to note that this individual becomes a Christian, and as far as the parable tells us, never falls away, but rather remains unfruitful. I would suggest most modern-day Christians fall into this category. We’ve heard the gospel, understood it, responded to it, but are not willing to give our lives fully over to God; there seems to be an obedience issue here. And as a result, we will not experience the fruit of the Spirit in our lives as God intended, nor will we be successful in bringing others to Christ. And even if we were “successful,” we’d likely only convert people over to the same unfruitful form of “Christianity” we ascribe to — one in which worldly concerns are chief. [And a version of religion in which we’re in danger of being cut off from Christ and burned, John 15.]
4. The seed that falls on good soil grows to maturity and produces fruit — more than would ever be expected or even imagined. This person hears the gospel, understands it, and apparently applies it in such a way that he experiences life just as God intended.
For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them. Matthew 13:15
Understanding the gospel in its fullest sense nurtures and requires obedience. It also produces fruit in the lives of Christians… and naturally. I remember preaching on this text in one congregation, and one of the shepherds told me after services that I was right, we need to be more fruitful in our evangelistic efforts. And so he intended to come up with some kind of program that would help the church to do so. I didn’t tell him that he’d missed the point completely. Trees don’t plan activities and develop programs in order to bear fruit. Fruit is the natural result of a transformed and obedient life in Christ.
There are two ways in which I want to apply this text to our strategy for mission. The first of these is that, until we are good soil, there can be no successful “strategy” for mission in our churches. Until God’s purposes are more important to us than our possessions and worldly concerns, we’ll never be a fruitful people. Until we can hear the gospel and understand it in such a way that we’re obedient to it, we’ll never experience life as God intended. Until understanding the gospel means more to us than grasping the concepts and gaining knowledge about them, we won’t live transformed lives that bring glory to God. Good soil produces healthy trees, healthy trees produce healthy fruit, and healthy fruit in good soil repeats the process.
The second application of this text will be the next post in this series, in which we’ll discuss a Bible study method that promotes and encourages hearing the gospel, understanding it, and being obedient to it.