The Parable of the Sower stands as the quintessential parable of our Lord. It has been recorded in each of the first three Gospel accounts (Mt. 13:3-9; Mk. 4:2-9; Lk. 8:4-8). It is one of only two parables for which the Lord provided an interpretation. The other is the Parable of the Tares. The Parable of the Sower, which is sometimes called the Parable of the Soils, was given an interpretation to serve as a guide to understanding the other parables; Jesus said, “Know ye not this parable? And how then will ye know all parables?” (Mk. 4:13).
While the primary force of this parable is to emphasize that the results of preaching the Gospel depend upon the hearts of the hearers, lessons abound in this rich passage. We want to examine ten of these lessons, especially as they pertain to personal evangelism. Let us begin with examining the responsibilities of the evangelist and the hearer.
As the sower sowed, the evangelist is responsible for sowing the Word (2 Ti. 4:2), and as the ground received the seed, the hearer is to receive the Word (Ac. 2:41). The evangelist is not responsible for the results. It is God who provides the increase (1 Co. 3:6). If we preach the Truth clearly, then we do our part. If none visibly respond to the Lord’s invitation or a personal Bible study ends without a baptism, that does not mean we have failed. God’s Truth has been declared, and that is all God requires of us. There is always a response when the Gospel is preached, and God’s preaching never returns void, accomplishing exactly what God pleases (Is. 55:11).
Additionally, the hearer has a responsibility to obey the Truth. Jesus often refrained as He did at the end of the Sower, “Who hath an ears to hear, let him hear” (Mt. 13:9). In other words, if one has the capacity to understand and obey the Gospel, he has a responsibility to submit to the Gospel. The evangelist is not obligated for the hearer’s obligation to obey but only to speak and encourage the obedience of the Truth.
Second, we see that the sower went out to sow (Mt. 13:3). The evangelist must go (Mk. 16:15). If he never went out to sow, he would not be much of a sower. Likewise, an evangelist is not an evangelist, a good-news teller, if he does not go and evangelize. A farmer cannot produce a crop staying inside the comforts of home; he must get out in the elements. Likewise, we cannot convert the world from our couch or behind our computers.
Third, the sower sowed the Word (Mk. 4:14). Luke called it the “word of God” (Lk. 8:11), while Matthew “the word of the kingdom” (Mt. 13:19). God requires that we plant His Word into the hearts and minds of the lost. Only the Gospel is God’s power to salvation (Ro. 1:16). Only the Gospel can answer the world’s greatest problem, sin. Only the Gospel can produce the kingdom of God, the Lord’s church. Therefore, let us dispense with testimonials and storytelling, and preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth.
Fourth, the sower is broadcasting seed. There are different ways to broadcast seed. You could use a large spreader, an handheld spreader, or your own hands. In the same way, there are different ways to broadcast the Word of God, such as radio and TV programs, weekly worship services, tracts, and newsletters sent to the community. The public preaching of God’s Word is a tremendous weapon in our arsenal (Ti. 1:3).
We may not think of the weekly sermons and Bible classes as personal evangelism, but they certainly can be if members are actively inviting people to worship with us. Unbelievers visited Corinth’s worship services, and the preaching needed to be understandable, so they could believe (1 Co. 14:16, 23-25). Individuals who visit our worship services, especially more than once, are our best contacts. Hearing the Gospel preached sometimes has a softening effect on the hearer. He may not respond immediately, but he may be ripe for a personal study that will eventually lead to a conversion.
Fifth, we should remember that soil does not always remain the same. Once fertile soil can become wayside. Wayside soil can become fertile. Fertile soil can be covered in thorns. Jeremiah wrote, “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Je. 23:29). Hosea also recognized this point when he urged his audience, “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, Reap in mercy; Break up your fallow ground: For it is time to seek the Lord, Till he come and rain righteousness upon you. Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity; Ye have eaten the fruit of lies: Because thou didst trust in thy way, In the multitude of thy mighty men” (Ho. 10:12–13).
Hard hearts can soften, and soft hearts can harden. When we preach to someone and their heart is hardened against the Truth, that is not necessarily the final chapter. They may respond in time. So, we sow seeds, and we may reap sheaves years later. Many of us could name individuals who heard the Gospel, rejected it, and years later obeyed it.
Sixth, the wayside heart failed to grow and produce fruit because Satan snatched the seed away from this heart. However, Matthew’s account includes an additional detail. He states that this individual “understandeth it not” (Mt. 13:19). People do not understand the Gospel for a number of reasons.
Some simply do not want to understand. They have seen enough to understand that obeying the Gospel means they must submit their wills (which may include continuing a wicked lifestyle or desiring to remain in a false religious group) to the will of Christ, and this is totally unacceptable for these individuals. If one is able to engage one like this in a study, this person may try to quibble with the personal evangelist over the significance of baptism or instrumental music. On the other hand, he may just listen quietly to the instruction not asking many questions, while anxiously awaiting the evangelist’s departure or his departure. Both situations can be equally frustrating as they both produce the same results: nothing.
Other accountable persons do not understand the “word of the kingdom” because sadly they cannot understand it. Some have waited too late, being in such a physical condition that prevents their acceptance of the Gospel. This person could be on his deathbed or an individual who has suffered some tragedy that hinders him from obeying. Others have so damaged their minds through drug use that their capacities to comprehend the simple facts and commands of the Gospel is totally lacking. Frankly, their minds have literally been blown-away. Not all drug abusers will be in that situation, but some do irreparable harm to their minds. While all cases of non-conversion are sad, these cases are especially sad. The personal evangelist will find himself thinking, “If only I could have had the opportunity before such and such took place.”
Seventh, others do not understand the Gospel because of the presentation of the Gospel has been unclear. While the personal evangelist is not responsible for the bedrock underneath the soil nor the thorns choking the Gospel nor the birds waiting to snatch the Gospel, he is responsible for presenting the Gospel clearly. Our teaching must be done logically. Sermons must be clear, orderly, and applicable expositions of Scripture and not muddled, disjointed irrelevant opinions. When we our having personal Bible studies, we need a system.
Many methods for teaching the lost have been produced by faithful brethren over the years. Find one that works for you. You may need to find a few. Sometimes a video series works well, but for others working through a worksheet would be better. Fishermen use the lure that is catching fish, and personal evangelists need to use the method that will catch men. Whenever one does not use a method, there is a tendency to go everywhere preaching and arguing the Word with the prospect. This accomplishes very little. Leave questions for after the study. Many times a prospect’s question will be answered as the study progresses.
Eighth, both the stony and thorny ground received the seed, but these could not ultimately handle outside forces. When we have the privilege of assisting someone in his obedience to Christ, we need to be ready to help this new convert deal with the trials and temptations that will come his way. Hopefully, we have helped this individual count the cost prior to his baptism. Afterwards, we cannot leave this babe in Christ to figure things out on his own. Paul wrote that we fulfill the law of Christ when we share one another’s heavy burdens (Ga. 6:2).
While becoming a Christian is not a heavy burden (Mt. 11:28-30), dealing with ongoing consequences from one’s old life and the reaction of friends and family to one’s new life in Christ can be. We need to assist the young Christian by helping them become better acquainted with others in the congregation. Perhaps some in the congregation have dealt with similar issues when they became Christians and can be a source of great encouragement.
Ninth, when we study with an individual, we may see the potential dangers that lie ahead if this individual becomes a Christian. We may see the thorns already creeping in to choke the Word. If that is the case, try to help the individual see what obstacles he will need to face. The thorns are the “cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in” (Mk. 4:19). These items may not necessarily be sinful but have been given the wrong emphasis. It may be a work situation, where they have a choice about working overtime during services to make a little extra income. Some get involved in sports leagues and civic clubs that have events during assembly times. These are some of the things that we need to help prospects see so they can continue after their conversions to be fruitful.
Finally, we are looking for the honest and good hearts (Lk. 8:15). My father, Ben Vick, Jr., when teaching on this passage will often point out that before a heart can be made good it must first be honest. It can be difficult at time to know if a person is honest. Unlike Christ, we do not know the thoughts of those with whom we study (Jn. 2:25). However, sometimes in the course of a study their honesty or dishonesty will be made known. When we learn of someone’s lack of honesty, we should move to more fertile soil.
What valuable lessons pertaining to evangelism can be found in the Parable of the Sower, but let us, as we go forth sowing the Word, not forget the primary lesson, which is that the reception of the Gospel depends upon the heart in which it is sown. Remembering this lesson will help us do as the honest and good heart does, bringing forth fruit with patience (Lk. 8:15).
Donnie preaches for the Edgewood Church of Christ in Greenville, SC.