“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.”
Wynton Marsalis, the Pulitzer prize winning jazz trumpeter, once said of his role as a teacher at Juilliard, “If you want to learn, I can’t stop you. If you don’t want to learn, I can’t teach you.” This hits on the uncomfortable and mysterious Biblical truth of spiritual blindness. As much as we might like to believe otherwise, Scripture teaches there are some people who simply cannot see the truth for what it is.
Jesus said, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Mt. 13:13) Jesus wasn’t speaking in parables to hide the truth from certain people. He spoke in parables “because” the truth wasn’t getting through to them in the first place. In fact, parabolic teaching is an effective way to increase learning but, fittingly, only to those who want to learn.
Quintilian, a great Roman teacher of oratory said of some of his scholars, “They would no doubt be excellent students if they were not already convinced of their own knowledge… Blessed is the man who has the humility to know his own ignorance, his own weakness, and his own need.”
Behind all fruitful learning are both the desire to learn and an attitude of humility (Mt. 5:3, 6). Being a student (or “disciple”) requires acknowledging there are things we don’t know. Most people see themselves as enlightened and perceptive but may have no clue to the spiritual reality of the condition of their soul or the nature of God’s kingdom or the identity of Christ.
Their minds are already made up. Even when they read the Scriptures, they see what they want to see in them and not what is there. This blindness is not due to any lack of intelligence or ability to reason. It is a result of a heart that has “grown dull” (Mt. 13:15). There forms a kind of spiritual callous over the heart that keeps the truth from penetrating (Eph. 4:18-19).
God has given us charge over our heart (Prov. 4:23; Mt. 6:21; 12:35). Therefore, if we allow our heart to “grow dull” to God’s word we have no one to blame for this condition but ourselves. Jesus told a parable explaining the different attitudes disciples would encounter when sharing the gospel. (Mt. 13:18-23)
It is important to note that he called it “the parable of the sower” and not “the parable of the soils”. In other words, the parable is primarily meant to prepare disciples to expect to encounter a wide range of attitudes. The gospel will be received in different ways and the reception of the message may not always be tied to one’s delivery, it might just be heart of the audience.
With that being said, we’re all listeners too and need to examine the condition of the soil of our own hearts. When we listen to this parable, we are going to find ourselves in one of four categories.
Perhaps you know of someone who lacks spiritual perception and you have been praying for them to see and embrace the truth. Don’t lose hope for that person. The fact is, we don’t know if they are ‘locked in’ to that condition. There does come a point when God will allow a person to fall away from Him (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28; 2 Cor. 4:3-4; 2 Thess. 2:11-12) but let’s not forget that He can also give sight to the blind (Lk. 4:18-19).
Part of the preacher’s job is to make personal application from God’s word to the listening audience. His job is not merely to present the information accurately (Titus 1:9; 2:1) but also to persuade, challenge and inspire the hearers to grow. (Acts 18:4)
Many preachers become intoxicated with the ascetic pleasures of gaining Biblical knowledge and mistake it for spiritual growth. They assume everyone who comes to worship and grow is vitally interested in who the Jebusites were. It’s easy to fall into the trap of presenting a bunch of information and calling it preaching.
Paul commanded Timothy “to reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:2) You get the sense that Timothy’s heart was to be fully invested, not only in his study of God’s word, but also in his delivery of it to the church.
This requires making application, showing the audience how to apply God’s word in their lives. The preacher who ends the sermon with, “May the Spirit of God apply this to all our hearts, Amen!” probably doesn’t have a clue how to apply the text himself. But it’s much easier to simply present information than it is to present information persuasively. This is because preaching persuasively requires wounding the audience a bit.
This is why persuasive sermons are both draining for the preacher to present and draining for the listener to hear. Because the goal is not merely the acquisition of Bible knowledge but to produce a real change in behavior and attitude, it takes listening with all your mind, heart and soul to truly benefit. (Jn. 16:8)
Knowledge alone makes arrogant (1 Cor. 8:1). For knowledge to be fruitful, it must be enjoined with active faith and love (Gal. 5:6; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:4; 1 Thess. 1:3; Jas. 2:18-22). The end of knowledge is a transformed character: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
One man said the job of the preacher is to “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Someone else once said the job of the preacher is to “break the hard heart and heal the broken heart.” The prophet Jeremiah’s task was to “pluck up and to break down, to overthrow and to destroy” but also “to build and to plant.” (Jer. 1:10) To wound and to heal. To sting and to sing.
This challenging balance between wounding and healing sets the preacher apart from the false prophets who preach “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace. This false hope, God says, “healed the wound of my people lightly” and “misled my people” (Jer. 6:14; Ezek. 13:10). There are many Zedekiah’s of our day who prophesy only good concerning others (1 Kgs. 22). Jesus once warned, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets the same way.” (Lk. 6:26) A preacher’s great popularity is usually purchased at the expense of God’s word.
A preacher’s job may involve confronting false teaching. Most false teaching is safely ignored but sometimes an influential man can persuade the weak to lose their faith (2 Pet. 2:18; Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Tim. 1:19; 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 2:17-18; 4:3-4). Paul, speaking from experience, said such false teachers “must be silenced” (Titus 1:10-11; cf. Gal. 2:11). There is a time and place for calling down error but it is not every Sunday.
It is easy for preachers to lose the delicate, Biblical balance of wounding and healing. We may wound well but never heal; believing faithfulness in the kingdom is measured by the hostility and fervor with which we point our finger at others. But this kind of one-dimensional, negative preaching leaves a congregation starving and paranoid. The problem with calling out everything Jesus is against is that we never learn what Jesus is for.
The opposite problem can exist as well. It is easy for preachers to heal but never wound. This preaching is so shallow and syrupy it leaves a congregation starving and sick to their stomachs. It feels good to go to church every week but inside, the soul is atrophied and feeble, not “being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). These Christians are one tragedy away from giving up on the Lord because their faith is not built on a solid foundation.
A Biblical balance must be struck between wounding and healing. It is the burden of the preacher to learn how to wield “the sword of the Spirit” not only with accuracy but also with wisdom and love so as to both wound and heal, sting and sing, with God’s word (Acts 2:37-38; 3:19).
“Come, let us return to the LORD;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.”
These two words changed everything, quite literally. They were written by the apostle Paul to the Ephesian church about 2000 years ago. What makes this word-pair so powerful is the context in which it was used. Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians explaining God’s eternal plan that was coming to fruition in Jesus (Eph. 3:10-11).
In chapter 1, Paul pointed out both WHERE God is completing His plan (“in Christ”) and WHY God is completing His plan (“for the praise of His glory”). In chapter 2, he begins to answer HOW God is going about fulfilling His eternal purpose in Christ.
It begins with regular people like you and me (“you” 2:1).
- Walking in sin
- Following the prince of the power of the air
- Living in the passions of your flesh
- By nature children of wrath
- Separated from Christ
- Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel
- Strangers to the covenants of promise
- Without God
- Without hope
- Is rich in mercy
- Loved us with great love
- Made us alive together with Christ
- Saved us by His grace
- Raised us up with Christ
- Seated us with Christ in heavenly places
- Recreated us in Christ for good works
- Made us part of His eternal plan
- Made us His spiritual masterpiece
- You have been brought near to God by Christ’s blood
- You have been given access to the Father’s grace
- You have been given access to the Father’s power
- You are a member of God’s household
- You are at peace with other Christians
- You are at peace with God
- You are being built into a holy temple for God’s glory
“But God.” These two words changed everything. Whoever you are, “but God” gives you the right perspective. Wherever you are, “but God” defines your purpose. Whatever you face, “but God” gives you hope.
In Ephesians 2, Paul demonstrates our hopeless and lifeless situation to emphasize God’s unmerited initiative, favor, love and power toward us who believe. Because of “but God” we who were children of wrath are children of obedient faith. Because of “but God” we who were dead are now living in Him. Because of “but God” we who were languishing in the spiritual gutter are raised up with Christ to rule in heavenly places! You are now God’s masterpiece!
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord… Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church…
(Ephesians 6:4; 5:25a)
Spiritual war rages. The dangers are innumerable and subtle. Brothers, God has given us charge over our families. We must fight tooth and nail against the cosmic powers of this darkness that would threaten our homes. We need valiant warriors equipped not with swords and spears but with spiritual weapons of discernment, courage, integrity, wisdom, faith, hope and love.
PRAY FOR YOU WIFE & CHILDREN EVERY DAY – Without fail, you must pray for the spiritual wellbeing of your family every single day, over and over again. Name every member of the family. Pray that God may protect them from the evil one, that God would lead them in paths of righteousness, that God would make them strong against temptation. Our job is to call down blessing from God, hour by hour, upon the family. Headship begins with constant prayer for the family (Job 1:5).
SET STANDARDS FOR YOUR WIFE & CHILDREN – Work out the standards with your wife first. Your wife does not want you to dominate the family nor does she want to run the show. She is eager for you to take initiative and responsibility for the moral direction of the family. Using Biblical principles, decisions must be made concerning how the children dress, how they are entertained, where they go and what they do. The Bible emphasizes guidance, not control, of children (Prov. 22:6). With that being said, fathers who allow their children to dictate the family’s standards of morality are failing in their responsibility.
DON’T LET YOUR FAMILY GO TO BED ANGRY – (Eph. 4:29) How does the devil infiltrate a teenager’s bedroom? When dad takes no steps toward reconciliation he is leaving the door wide open for the devil to tear his family to shreds. Anger can wreak havoc on a soul, on a marriage and on an entire family if left unchecked. Dad, headship of the family means you must initiate reconciliation no matter whose fault it is, how grievious the sin is or how often the sin occurs (Eph. 5:25). You simply do not have the luxury to be unmerciful (Mt. 18:21ff).
CONFESS YOUR SINS AND ASK FOR FORGIVENESS – Not many things can break a teenager but the soft heart of his grown father confessing his faults and asking for forgiveness just might. The sincerity of a repentant father and husband might be the healing balm for your family because it is evidence that the gospel is at work in you. When they see repentance in you it may soften their heart. Obviously, peace is a two-way street but the burden of responsibility lies with you dad: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Rom. 12:18)
Fathers, your daughters need to hear straight talk from you about modesty and your sons need to hear straight talk from you about integrity. Husbands, your wife desperately needs you to lovingly lead the family to heaven. Follow Jesus’s lead!
Make room in your hearts for us…
(2 Corinthians 7:2)
Have you ever been searching for a parking spot in a busy lot? You drive around in circles hoping to catch someone just pulling out. Then there is that magical moment when you see a person walking to their car, keys in hand. You position your car to make your claim on the spot clear to all your fellow drivers. They open the door. They enter the car. The seatbelt is fastened. The tail lights light up and the exhaust gases begin to putter. You wait for what seems like a reasonable amount of time for them to back out. But they just sit there.
There was a study done with hundreds of drivers that proved we take longer to leave a parking space if we know someone is waiting! The study also showed evidence that if the waiting car honks their horn or signals their rush, drivers made them wait four times longer. Experts call this phenomenon “territorialism” and it can be witnessed in any crowded space. At the DMV, the doctor’s office, in traffic and at restaurants, the longer the line or bigger the crowd, the longer we linger.
It is easy to become selfishly territorial and refuse to make space for others but nowhere is this more dangerous than in our relationship with God. Our lives are filled with so many interests, pursuits and obligations that we sometimes struggle to find space for the most important things and people.
If you think of your life as a house and the things in that house represent your pursuits, interests and obligations, how would you describe it? Would it look like one of those crazy houses on “Hoarders”? Perhaps you’ve said “Yes” to so many unnecessary things that there is no room to sleep in your bed or eat at the kitchen table or work at the desk.
You may feel like introducing any additional spiritual activity in your life, like worship or prayer or study, feels like adding to an already crushing burden. An overcrowded life will actually pervert our priorities and our values turning spiritual pursuits into obligatory checklists. (Hag. 1:2-6; Amos 8:5)
If you feel spiritually drained, bitter or just overloaded, God can help you. Jesus lived the fullest, freest life possible and He did so by using one special word very carefully and deliberately: No.
“No” is a powerful word in Scripture. Joseph was an expert on the word “No” (Gen. 39:8, 12) as were Daniel and his three friends in Babylon (Dan. 1:8; 3:18; 6:13). When Nehemiah was helping to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem the enemies of God tried to pull him away and interrupt this important work. “And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner.” (Neh. 6:3-4)
If we wield this one powerful and liberating word according to God’s wisdom, “No” can become the scalpel to reshape our lives and make room for the most important things. (Lk. 4:1-13)