The Greatest Peril for Bible Churches?

perilMark’s all-action Gospel is interrupted twice by blocks of teaching from Jesus.  The first, in chapter 4, feels so familiar.  A man went out to sow.  (Yes, we know that one.)  One type of seed, four types of soil, most unfruitful, only good soil really gives life, etc.  It is a familiar passage.  It is both a comforting and a discomforting passage.  But perhaps its greatest treasure for many of us is the warning it sets up.

It is comforting to know that even though a lot of seed sowing ministry feels very unfruitful, this is what Jesus anticipated (and demonstrated).  He was the perfect evangelist, but he didn’t seem particularly good at Public Relations (if 100% followership was the goal).  While it is God’s prerogative and not ours to prepare the soil, or harden the already resistant heart, we can rest in the reality that a significant proportion of the soils ultimately don’t bare fruit.  Not a cause for complacency, but an encouragement when ministry results don’t always match our prayers.

It is discomforting to notice that the first two soils are “immediately” snatched or withering, but the third takes time to be choked.  It is possible for a stalk to grow and fight for its position, standing tall and looking impressive, but ultimately to be useless because there is no true life in it.  It would be nice to be able to spot that instantly, but the choking effects of the cares of this world and desires for other things take time.  If all three of the disappointing soils were immediately disappointing, we might grow complacent since we have been around longer than “immediately.”  The implicit warning of the third soil becomes overt soon after.

Here’s potentially the greatest peril for Bible Churches.  Right after the parable is explained, Jesus goes on to the next parable, but notice verse 23, 24… At the end of the parable Jesus finished an apparently obvious observation with a cryptic comment about whoever has ears to hear (v9).  Throughout the explanation he underlines the issue of hearing.  Then in this postscript, a blitz of hearing references set up his warning, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Not a random comment about charitable giving, but a targeted warning about the state of our hearts and how we listen to God’s Word.  Hear well and abundance comes (like a 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold crop).  Don’t hear well and even the lively looking stalk will be ripped away.  There is no standing still with God’s Word.

I remember talking with an acquaintance a couple of years ago.  He had been one of the brightest and best students at Bible School, but had then turned his back and gone in other directions in life.  I was amazed by the questions he was asking just a couple of years later.  There didn’t seem to be much of a residue of Bible awareness and God awareness in his conversation.  He asked questions, but sounded like he knew almost nothing.  Frightening how fast it can all slip away.  Not that knowledge is the issue.  But knowing God is.

And if we ever grow complacent in our heart response to God’s Word, whatever our background, whatever the label over our church, whatever vibrancy we may think we have . . . well, we cannot stand still.  Let’s be sure that we continue to live in the reality of responding to God’s Word.  Let’s pray for ourselves and those around us to be good hearers, to have hearts hungry to hear from God.  What is the state of your heart, and mine, in respect to how we hear?  How are we when we listen to others preach?  How are we when the conversation goes to biblical things?  How are we in our own conversation with God?  Are we hearing well?

May Mark 4:1-25 do its work in us, and maybe if we need convincing, take a look at Psalm 1 as back-up . . . after all, we are not self-determined closed beings, but people made to live responsively to what we hear.

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6 Responses to The Greatest Peril for Bible Churches?

  1. Gretchen October 9, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    Thanks for this, Peter. It reminded me of a post you did a few years back regarding Bible reading. Here’s the link for anyone who wants to read it:

    That post talked about how, when we don’t desire to read our Bibles, it should serve as a warning light and draw us to pray that our hearts will be transformed. And as you point out here, we need to take the condition of our hearts seriously and be praying for others and for ourselves that our hearts will be responsive to God’s Word, whether through reading or hearing.

    I’m just now in the Psalms in my current read-through, so I appreciated the reference to Psalm 1! May our hearts always delight in God’s Word!

  2. Tony Thomas October 9, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

    Whilst a little away from your main point. Whilst we must not loose heart that our witness to ‘infertile soil’ appears to produce no fruit, neither should we give up too readily. Developing the gardening analogy, a good gardener will not give up on infertile ground to readily. Neither then, should we give up on those whom appear not to respond to our witness.

    This analogy is presented by Jesus in Luke 13:8-9 when the gardener asks for a little more time to feed the ground to try and produce the required fruit.

    As far as I can see, in the Bible no-one comes to Christ in an instant. Even Saul’s road to Damascus conversion was not instantaneous as some suggest. He would have heard the gospel from those he persecuted, we know he was there to hear Stephen’s witness, and it was another three days until the “scales fell from his eyes”

    As with many things Biblical there is another teaching which has to be held in tension.

  3. Peter Mead October 9, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    Thanks Tony, absolutely!

  4. Peter Mead October 9, 2014 at 4:05 pm #

    Thanks for the helpful comment, Gretchen

  5. Daniel Evers December 23, 2015 at 6:20 pm #

    I love this parable. Thanks for the reminder that it’s so important that we take responsibility to hear the word. So many people drift off and even fall asleep in church. It’s so, sad since there is so much heavenly wisdom we can learn from God’s word that builds us up and enriches our lives.

    Ditto on Tony Thomas’s comment above.

  6. Peter Mead December 23, 2015 at 10:56 pm #

    Thanks Daniel, and I hope you have a great Christmas!

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