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The Thorny Heart
We have been reviewing the parable of the sower and the heart soils for two weeks now and have arrived today at the Thorny heart.
You remember that this parable is of course about the message of the Kingdom of God.
The application of this parable is regarding cultivating good heart soil for the reception and prosperity of the message of the Kingdom (the seed sown). It is also about the pitfalls to avoid.
This parable in scripture is offered with an explanation of its meaning as well. So as we have done up until now we will continue to do. We will read what the parable said in regard to this particular heart soil and then its later explanation as offered by Jesus Himself.
Remember that each account begins and ends with a charge TO LISTEN, and so I will include those words in these excerpts from the gospels.
So without further preamble let’s dive right in. Beginning in Matthew…
Matthew 13:7 & 9 “Consider the sower who went out to sow. As he was sowing, some seeds fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked them. The one who has ears had better listen!”
Luke’s account is found in Luke 8:5,
“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some seed fell among the thorns, and they grew upwith it and choked it. As He said this, He called out, “The one who has ears to hear had better listen!”
Finally Mark’s account of this parable.
Mark 4:3,4&9, “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked it, and it did not produce grain. And He said, “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!”
Matthew 13:22, “Now the one sown among the thorns–this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the seduction of wealthchoke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”
Luke 8:14, “As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit.”
Mark 4:18-19, “Others are sown among thorns; these are the ones who hear the word, but the worries of this age, the seduction of wealth, and the desires for other thingsenter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”
So let’s examine these accounts.
- Thorns were already present BEFORE the message of the Kingdom arrived.
- Those with this type of heart DID honestly HEAR the message
- The thorns win out and choke the message of the Kingdom
- This resulted in the seed bringing nothing to harvest.
What are the Thorns?
- In the parable they appear to be invasive plants with defensive, piercing thorns.
- In the description they are described as cares, riches & other things.
Let’s look at these!
- Cares – meaning Anxieties and cares that brings disruption to the personality and the mind
- Seduction of wealth – meaning material goods (myself as example) . The word “deceitfulness” means both deceit and delusion. In the passive sense spoken of anything which is deceptive or seducing.
- Lust – for things not of the Kingdom
Now as I have already pointed out, an interesting observation is that these things are already in the heart BEFORE the Good News of the Kingdom arrived there.
None of these things mentioned are unusual things to be in a human heart. In fact, no doubt they have made their presence known in all of these hearts soils in one way or another.
Yet, despite there having already been in the heart before the Word arrived, at the end of Jesus’ statement these are said to “enter in” and do their “choking” work.
The words “enter in” are used metaphorically and mean to arise, to spring up in the mind.
So before the word regarding the kingdom entered, these cares, anxieties, desires for wealth & lust for other things were there… but when the message arrived these things stirred to greater activity and attacked the message, seeking to silence it and its effects.
God is NOT the ONLY sower!
You remember how with the first heart… the hard, wayside heart, the devil was able to step in unchallenged and snatch away the message of the Kingdom. However, even though he does not make a mentioned appearance in any of the other hearts, we know he is at work.
Jesus told us that satan comes to kill, steal and destroy. He uses various methods and plans of attack to gain advantage and he is constantly on the prowl. He looks for someone in a weakened or unguarded moment to devour them.
So it is both natural and somewhat right to set forth our first culprit as being our advisary… the devil.
Now, things can only grow in the heart when we lend them our attention and trust, so it is useless to Blame the thorns or their choking work on the devil. His are but suggestions offered to us. He too is sowing seed which he desires to take root in our hearts and bear fruit unto his kingdom.
Like the example Steven likes to offer from time to time of The Two Wolves, which actually has prior roots in a Christian telling of the story about two dogs. In either case the story tells the same tale. The earlier Christian version says it this way,
“A man traveling through the mountains came upon an old mountaineer who had two dogs. Both dogs were the same size, and they fought continually. The visitor asked the mountaineer which dog usually won. The old fellow studied for a moment, spat over the fence, and said, ‘The one I feed the most.’”
Even further back still we have Paul who tells us in Galatians 5:17,
“For the cravings of the lower nature are opposed to those of the Spirit, and the cravings of the Spirit are opposed to those of the lower nature; because these are antagonistic to each other, so that you cannot do everything to which you are inclined.”
Both cannot cohabitate long in the same heart. One will ALWAYS choke out the other, which is the word Jesus uses in this parable.
Choke as used here means – to throttle and thus suffocate. It is used figuratively as meaning to overpower.
The result is that it BECOMES unfruitful.
This is through no failing of the message itself, but rather due to the heart environment being hostile to the word. These “other things” begin the process of choking out the word so that it becomes unfruitful.
This heart is, I believe, the one most Christians contend with as Paul indicated in our earlier quote from Galatians.
As I was considering this heart, I found that it reminded me of aspects of the first commandments God gave Israel.
The 10 commandments
Have you ever wondered why Jesus said that if we would love God and love our brother, then we would keep all the commandments?
While His words are true if they stand alone, the context He stated them in places the commandments into two groups.
The first are the top 4 which regard man’s relationship to God as Creator.
The second are the bottom 6 which regard man’s relationship to man.
But let’s focus on the first four…
#1 No other Gods before me
Though it has some bleed over with the second command, this is primarily about honoring God as the ONLY Creator, Owner and Judge of all.
Furthermore this includes not looking to ANYTHING other than God as the source from which your needs are met.
#2 No Idol worship
This is a command to not worship anything but God alone. The word worship essentially has the meaning of adoring and revering. So one might say love God and fear Him.
#3 Don’t take God’s name to no avail
As we have covered before, this command is not solely about misusing God’s holy name as a curse word, to swear by or handle lightly. Though that is certainly included, it more importantly means to not take on or assume His name and then not honor him.
Both Jesus and Peter sum up the greater meaning of this in these ways.
“Because it stands written, “YOU ARE TO BE HOLY, BECAUSE I AM HOLY.” And if you address as your Father Him who judges impartially in accordance with each man’s actions, then spend in fear the time of your stay here on earth, knowing, as you do, that it was not with a ransom of perishable wealth, such as silver or gold, that you were set free from your frivolous habits of life which had been handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ–as of an unblemished and spotless lamb.” – 1Peter 1:16-19
And Jesus said,
“Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say?” – Luke 6:46
#4 Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy
This in many ways is a summary of the first three. A way, if you will, to keep them. Because God is God, Creator, Owner and Judge we are to do as He does. He rested from His labor on the 7th day so you do the same. Do not seek to meet your needs on this day, but rest and delight in Him.
This was illustrated with the Mana in the Wilderness. God provided twice as much on Friday – the 6th day, so that on Sabbath, they could rest and eat from His provisions for them.
He not only provided it, but He sustained it if you remember.
We have commands from God throughout the scriptures regarding these commands.
The things which choke out the word are cares about the necessities in this life.
Of course that phrase reminds me of the song from The Jungle Book called “The Bear Necessities”. So I looked it up and except for its failure to mention God in favor of mother nature, it had some decent advice.
“Wherever I wander, wherever I roam
I couldn’t be fonder of my big home
The bees are buzzin’ in the tree
To make some honey just for me
Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
That’s why a bear can rest at ease
With just the bare necessities of life
If you act like that bee acts, uh uh
You’re working too hard
And don’t spend your time lookin’ around
For something you want that can’t be found.
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin’ about it
I’ll tell you something true
The bare necessities of life will come to you
They’ll come to you!”
This is a silly but good example. We are commanded to not worry.
The passage so often promoted as a simple encouragement to pacify us, is really a command to possess and exhibit trust in God.
It does not begin with worry but with worship!
Paul said in Phil. 4:4-9,
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near!
Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
I like the Wuest translation here, it places emphasis where it belongs.
“Stop perpetually worrying about even one thing, but in everything, by prayer whose essence is that of worship and devotion, and by supplication which is a cry for your personal needs, let your requests with thanksgiving for the things asked for be made known in the presence of God, and the peace of God which surpasses all power of comprehension, shall mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
It goes on to say…
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, take all of these thoughts together and come to the conclusion that you will occupy yourself with thoughts of these things.
And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.”
The WHOLE idea here is a heart focused upon the true worship of the God Who cares for you.
The words DON’T WORRY are quite emphatic!
It is anything but a request. It is actually a commandment required of Christians.
The rest of the verse explains why.
The words “but in everything, through prayer…” carry with them an implication which is much more discernible in the Greek and is not translated in virtually any way into the English. It implies that God is immediately present. He is, if you will, the atmosphere in which the believer lives, and it is just inappropriate to worry or be anxious in His presence.
So, when we worry… we do so as being CONTINUALLY in His presence. We are bringing something into God’s presence which does not belong there and which is in fact an affront to Him!
To guard your heart from being THIS heart you need to be constantly aware that all anxiety, concern and worry are violent against God and hostile to your trust.
As I said, this is often presented as a pacifying statement to Christians in order to encourage a lighter heart. They degrade this passage by making the sense of it and the purpose of it ALL ABOUT THEM and HOW THEY FEEL.
Phil. 4 is not saying “Don’t worry” as to pacify us, but DON’T WORRY as to correct us!
Worry is irreverent!
Another interesting direction this word “cares” points which I think is perhaps even more pervasive and common than the worry is, but carries the meaning of “distractions”.
These are caused more by an undisciplined mind than by an unguarded mind.
Our society is LOADED with distractions and they have breed a tendency in us to be unsettled with the common – calling it mundane and boring.
This creates a fertile soil for distractions to do their choking work!
Both worries and distractions are further addressed in other familiar passages.
We are told to…
- Seek 1st (of primary importance) the kingdom and right standing with the king and ALL OF THESE THINGS will be added to you.
This is the SAME kingdom this parable is ABOUT!
- Jesus told Martha who was worried about many things, especially being an attentive host at the meeting where Jesus was teaching in their home, that in reality ONLY ONE THING IS TRULY NECESSARY and Mary who had chosen to sit and listen attentively to Jesus and the Word had chosen that BETTER PART which will not be taken from her!
- The crowd following Jesus for the second day asked Him,
“What can we do to perform the works of God?” they asked. Jesus replied, “This is the work of God: that you believe in the One He has sent.” – John 6:28-29
- In the wisdom literature of Solomon as he looked back over his life and what he had learned said,
“Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion – this is the WHOLE DUTY OF MAN – Fear God and keep His commandments For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”– Ecclessiastes 12:13,14
Out of the three things Jesus addressed we have only looked at the first. The anxieties of this life.
The other two were:
- seduction of wealth
- pleasures of life or desires for other things
We will address these next week.