In the parable of the soils found in the passage above, the good soil represents the kingdom of God. In this post I’m not interested in the other soils. I just want to identify the characteristics of God’s kingdom, and the people within it.
We find Part A of the answer to this question in verse 8. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Elsewhere I’ve discussed how this phrase essentially means “Listen and learn“. I expect many people in the crowd that day heard Jesus’ story of dirt and seeds and either thought he was discussing agriculture or thought he was a little bit nuts. Particularly when Jesus didn’t offer a more detailed explanation to them.
But the disciples closest to Jesus made the effort to ask that Jesus explain the meaning of his story. They wanted to learn, were willing to listen, and adopted an attitude of humility. Rather than dismiss Jesus’ story as irrelevant because the meaning wasn’t immediately clear, they conceded that the problem might be with their understanding, not his teaching. People in the kingdom of God humbly listen and learn from God. I believe this is the first concrete step in the journey from unbeliever to disciple.
“People in the kingdom of God humbly listen and learn from God.”
Listening and learning from God is a prerequisite of being good soil. By learning I mean – hearing and applying Jesus teaching to my life. Jesus wasn’t just telling the crowd to stay there and listen to him. He was telling them to learn from him and return to their villages and live transformed lives. Similarly, he’s not telling us to attend every Bible class we can and do lots of listening, he’s telling us to apply God’s will in our lives.
We find Part B of the answer in v 15. “But the seed in the good ground—these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, bear fruit.” (HCSB)
People followed Jesus for many reasons:
- the food;
- the entertainment,
- curiosity, or
- rivals trying to trip him up.
When Jesus speaks of the good dirt [the kingdom of God] receiving his teaching with an honest and good heart, he reiterates v8. He’s looking for genuine, humble, and open hearts: people willing to learn an apply. Some translations make it sound as though God’s seed only falls on people who are already “good and honest”. For instance, the NIV reads, “the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart…“. Perhaps I’m just reading it from a strange perspective, but that seems counter to the message of the word.
The whole point of the Gospel is that “all have sinned” and that no one is good or noble without God. I’ve seen many people fall into the trap of thinking they have to make themselves noble and good before they can receive the Gospel into their lives. Perhaps this makes me over-sensitive to the wording. For this reason I believe the best translations connect the state of the heart with the manner of hearing. If we won’t allow God’s word to penetrate our hearts, then we more closely resemble one of the other soils.
People in God’s kingdom hang on to God’s word with a death grip.
Next, people in God’s kingdom hang on to God’s word with a death grip. This doesn’t just mean memorize it, although that can be beneficial. Jesus expects citizens of God’s kingdom to integrate his teaching into our lives. If we want to limit his teaching to an intellectual exercise and not retain it in our lives, in our behavior, in our values and in our relationships, then we’re misunderstanding the claim He’s making on our lives.
Lastly, the good soil is persistent and patient. I like the NRSV translation that uses the term “patient enduring”. Good soil knows that good crop takes time to grow. Jesus wasn’t offering a new life by Friday. It takes time for new habits to form, for behaviours to change and for values to realign. It takes patient enduring. Remember Psalm 1 that says the righteous person/life will “yield its fruit in season”.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit brings rapid transformation in our lives, but those changes still need to last a lifetime. The good dirt is all about living lives of patient endurance that God promises will bear fruit.
I’ve said my piece, but I’d love for you to join the conversation. Please leave a comment.
- What do you find to be the greatest barriers to hearing God’s word with an open and honest heart?
- Here’s a list of different terms used at the end of this verse by various translations. Which one do you identify with the most?
- bear fruit with patient. (NRSV);
- by persevering produce a crop. (NIV);
- Through their resolve, they bear fruit. (CEB);
- They last and produce a harvest. (CEV);
- they persist until they bear fruit. (GNT);
- and bear fruit with patience. (ESV);
- by enduring, bear fruit. (HCSB);
- sticking with it until there’s a harvest. (MSG);
- bear fruit with perseverance. (NASB);
- bear fruit with steadfast endurance. (NET);
- With patient dependability, they bear good fruit. (VOICE).