“The ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.”
So often the Parable of the Sower is interpreted in a way that puts the onus on the hearer to “do something” with God’s Word. If the first three seeds were warnings about how not to hear God’s Word, the final seed must be encouragement about what we should do with God’s Word.
But this sort of goes against the entire metaphor of the parable, doesn’t it? What does a seed do to grow? What does good ground do to cause the seed to grow? Perhaps Jesus isn’t issuing tasks for us to do, but describing how people hear God’s Word, so that we understand why some people don’t hear, some hear but fall away during difficult times, some hear but fall away because of hedonism, and a final group actually hears and bears fruit. Perhaps He’s prepping His apostles for what to expect!
Still, He does use two descriptors which inculcate what we might call “passive virtues” of the noble and good heart, these are to “keep it” and to “bear fruit with patience.”
The word here for “keep” is not the same as other times we run into “keep,” which can be a translation of the Greek word for “to guard” or even “to treasure.” While that is true, the “keep” we run into here means simply “to have or hold as ones own possession.”
This is an extremely powerful concept. Like the ground, if we simply hold the seed in our bosom, we can trust it will do its work. We simply have to hold it there. God’s Word will do the work.
There are lots of words God teaches us; there are lots of facets to the Gospel; there are deep, deep levels of goodness and righteousness to Christ’s teaching and example we could aspire to. At any given time we could say, “Enough of this. I’m not suited for the Gospel.” The fourth seed says, “No, just hold on. Take possession of each Word of Christ no matter what it does to you. Don’t let your love of pleasure reject it. Don’t let its difficulty drive you away. And don’t just reject it because it doesn’t fit your preconceived ideology about how the world should run, which usually has something to do with us seeking out and doing something for God. Hold on to it. It will do its work, as God has promised. It will drive you to His forgiveness; it will drive you to deeper understandings; it will drive you to what its purpose for you is.
And it will bear fruit.
Here again, people often run to good works when contemplating the fruits born by God’s Word, as if God’s Word were a self-improvement program devoid of Christ. By this reckoning, the “fruits of faith” are seen in someone who is nice, loving, kind, giving or whatever the standard of “a good person” is at any given societal moment. Yet, those are not fruits of faith. Lots of religions have those fruits, and I challenge anyone to show comparatively that dedicated Christians are nicer or kinder or more virtuous than the finest of Jews, Hindus, or Muslims.
To contemplate what the fruits of faith are, we have to remember what faith is. That’s simple. It’s “Whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
Faith is belief in Jesus! To spell it out and summarize all the important New Testament texts succinctly, we should believe that Jesus is the Christ, our Lord, how has come in the flesh, who was crucified for our sins according to the Scriptures, and rose again the third day.
A fruit of that faith would be what arises or results from that faith. And what is that? What is the one thing that Christians do that no other person on the planet does. It’s worship, worship of Christ, confession of Christ and the Holy Trinity; it’s offering thanksgiving in His name, praising it, confessing it, and calling upon it in mercy. It’s the divine liturgy. None other but Christians do that. None.
That is the fruit of faith, as Hebrews 13: 15-16 says, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”
Fruits have derivative blessings, all the fruits of the Holy Spirit for instance, but if we take out the confessional, worship link, we end up with a definition of fruits that makes us no different than any other religion. Christianity becomes reduced to a religion of us working our path to God – the very path that bore no fruit!
Finally, Jesus adds that the fourth seed bore fruit “with patience.” Faith without patience is not faith. Patience is the key ingredient that indicates whether faith was in a projected God of our own making – the Reward God, the Kingdom-of-God-Now God, the Your-Best-Life Now God – or whether it was in the true God. Our faith promises life everlasting with Christ, and all the joys of the world to come. Any fulfillment of this now would render faith fulfilled, and therefore end faith. On the flip side, any non-fulfillment of this of faith in this world would have the same effect.
Patience is what puts faith over the finish line, keeping it focused on what our prize actually is, not what we want it to be.