The Building Blocks of Ministry: “Holding Fast to God’s Word”

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Text: Luke 8:4-8 — A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Introduction: Two weeks ago, we began a new preaching series called “The Building Blocks of Ministry”.  My hope, by the way, in each of these messages is to inspire us to find a place to serve the Lord through one of our ministries – either to the church family or the community. A couple of weeks ago, we asked people who visit our Facebook page to share how God was already using them in the lives of others for His glory. Here are some of the responses we received: (1) I love using my gifts to lead a team of volunteers who are dedicated to loving children to Christ; (2) I use my voice to help lead the congregation in singing; (3) I help lead our congregation in the worship of the Lord; (4) Through my business, I am able to step into thousands of peoples homes and love on them. I’ve been told many times there is something different about me, and that’s my opportunity to share my relationship with Jesus; (5) Through our women’s ministry we are loving women to Christ by reaching out and getting to know them; (6) I host soup nights for our neighbors; (7) (And finally by way of an update regarding Wayne and Carol Remter who last year moved to Tennessee) Wayne shared that they are both being trained in their new church for “healing ministry” to the hurting. As you can see, there are many ways to be involved in the lives of people for the cause of Christ!

Now, this morning I want to look at another building block of ministry — the ability to hold fast to God’s Word – by reviewing what Jesus taught in the Parable of the Sower. A parable is a type of illustration of an important spiritual truth given in order to explain it. What’s odd about the Parable of the Sower is that Jesus spoke to people living in a culture that was very familiar with farming, yet many were confused by His illustration. That’s why Jesus said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” For those who were blessed to comprehend what He was saying, this illustration became a wonderful tool to help them consider the condition of their own hearts. To others who failed to understand what our Lord’s teaching, it became a sign that they were under the judgment of God and unable to understand truth. When it comes to certain areas of our lives, some people seem to be able to hear better than others. Check out this story.

A Native American and his friend were in downtown New York City, walking near Times Square in Manhattan. It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people. Cars were honking their horns, sirens were wailing, and the sounds of the city were almost deafening. Suddenly, the Native American said, “I hear a cricket.” His friend said, “What? You gotta be kidding me. You couldn’t possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!” “No, I’m sure of it,” the Native American said. “I heard a cricket.” “That’s crazy,” said the friend. The Native American listened carefully for a moment and then walked across the street to a big cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes, beneath the branches, and sure enough, he located a small cricket. His friend was utterly amazed. “That’s incredible,” said his friend. “You must have super-human ears!” “No,” said the Native American. “My ears are no different from yours. It all depends on what you’re listening for.” “But that can’t be!” said the friend. “I could never hear a cricket in this noise.” “Yes, it’s true,” came the reply. “It depends on what is really important to you. Here, let me show you.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within twenty feet turn and look to see the money spread across the pavement. “See what I mean?” asked the Native American. “It all depends on what’s important to you.”

Jesus knew what was important — the eternal truth of the Word of God. And He recognized that an effective method of teaching was the use of parables, and so we have this one about a farmer sowing seed. In HIs illustration, the characteristic that distinguishes the good soil from the others is not the sower, the seed or the presence of hazards since all received the same seed from the same source and faced the same threats (i.e. the Devil, trials, the worries and the temptations of this world). What distinguishes them is their responsiveness to God’s Word (the gospel) and their ability to produce a crop/fruit! Now, let’s look at the four soils, each of which represents a person with a certain kind of heart condition. We’ll pick up the parable with Jesus’ explanation of its meaning to His listeners.

The Person with a Hard Heart (Luke 8:11-12 — Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved). Some of the seed (God’s Word) fell on the hardened soil that had been trampled underfoot. Because it had no opportunity to take root, it was left for the enemy (i.e. devil) to snatch it away in order to prevent the person from exercising saving faith. Now, this should cause us to wonder how a person’s heart becomes hardened in the first place so that he or she cannot receive the Word. The Bible gives us two answers.
·      God hardens hearts (See Exodus 4:21 where God said He would harden Pharaoh’s heart; Also, Romans 9:18 — God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden).  For reasons known to Himself, God hardens the hearts of some while others He does not. It is entirely His decision and it is never unjust!
·      Man hardens his own heart (Exodus 8:15 – But when Pharaoh saw that there was a relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron). It is interesting that God claims credit in Exodus 4 for hardening the heart of Pharaoh while this passage holds Pharaoh accountable for the hardening of his own heart! Perhaps the Lord works in cooperation with those who have no interest in hearing His word.

So, what is the effect of a hardened heart? A heart that is hardened is unable to grasp spiritual truth. Consider the case of Israel about whom we’re told in Romans 11:7 — their hearts were hardened and their minds became dull. As a result, they could not discern spiritual truth, so that sadly, when God spoke they were deaf to His words. Application:But this is what happens when someone rejects the truth. It has a way of hardening one’s hearts. Perhaps that’s why 85% of the people who receive Christ do so before the age of 18. After that, for many their hearts may be too hard to allow the Word to take root.

The Person with a Shallow Heart (Luke 8:13 — And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away). Sometimes seed was sown in shallow soil that was covering a hard layer of rock. Though it might sprout up quickly, the plant would eventually die, unable to draw water and nutrients form the soil. Jesus explained that this soil represents the kind of heart that belongs to those who, on the surface, accept the truth of the Gospel only to fall away during a time of testing. That’s the thing about the person with a shallow heart in whom the Word has not taken root. It takes a process of examination to reveal just how shallow his faith actually is. Application: I remembering arguing one time with a professor from Trinity that there has to be a better way to test students than giving exams. He patiently explained that when a teacher gives an exam it is meant to reveal how much of the information taught in class has actually been absorbed by the student. He suggested that if I had a better idea of how to achieve the same objective he was more than happy to listen. Of course, I didn’t. When Jesus examines our faith, it is meant to show us just how much of His Word we’ve actually absorbed. James says that true faith is faith that perseveres (See James 1:12). It encounters trial and testing, but rather than wither away, it is actually strengthened by it (See James 1:2-3).

The Person with a Divided Heart (Luke 8:14 — And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature). Many of us have attempted to figure out which of these “soils” represents those who are born again and which do not. This is not the purpose of the parable, however. The point isn’t to provide security for those whose hearts are not right with God, but to issue a warning that this is a dangerous place to be. The person with a divided heart is one who is distracted by the pleasures of this world. The “worries,” “riches” and “pleasures” of this world, just like weeds, prevent God’s Word from producing any lasting fruit in the life of one whose heart is divided. Jesus said that no man can serve two masters. He will hate the one and love the other (See Matthew 6:24-34). Application: This verse hits us where we all live – in a world that is consumed with the riches of life. That’s one of the reasons our offerings on Sunday mornings are so important. They keep us focused on things that really matter – God, His Word and people. When we fail to give sacrificially to the Lord of our financial resources, we are, in effect, declaring that He has little value to us. Illustration:  Elvis Presley owned a purple Cadillac, pink Cadillac, and two Stutz Blackhawks, lots of motorcycles, go-carts, golf carts, two airplanes, one with Lisa Marie, the name of his daughter, painted on the side and the other with Hound Dog II etched on its exterior. It is said that Elvis had one of his planes make a trip to Denver one night simply to get him a peanut butter sandwich. Elvis had every opportunity that money could offer. In his mansion called “Graceland,” he had a “jungle room” with some of the most bizarre-looking furniture ever seen, a poolroom, and even a racquetball court. Elvis had 18 number-one hits in his career and sold more than 1 billion records during his short lifetime! To this day, Elvis Presley continues to make more than $40,000,000 a year. The King of Rock ‘n Roll achieved more fame and fortune than anyone could ever hope to achieve, but what meaning did it add to his life? Someone once said that Elvis was like a little boy seeking approval from those around him and when he didn’t get it he would suffer from bouts of depression, self-doubt, and longings to be loved. Those battles led him into drug abuse and casual sex with adoring female fans until his death on August 16, 1977 at the young age of 42. Be careful, Christian, what you pursue. The pleasures of this world may provide you with a short season of good times, but in the end, they will rob you of life. So says the Lord Jesus Christ!

The Person with a Receptive Heart (Luke 8:15 — As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience). The last represents those with an honest and good heart. They are the ones in whom the Word takes root and ultimately produce a crop that multiplies itself a hundredfold. How do we know whose heart is characterized by good soil?
·      They hear the Word. Their hearts are not hardened. They are not exhibiting shallow faith that is abandoned during a time of testing. The things of this world do not distract them. Instead, they hear the Word as it is taught and receive it.
·      They hold fast to the Word. Not only do they hear the Word, but they vigorously hang out to it. The idea is that they are unwilling to release their grip on it. They are determined to abide in the truth because they know it to be the right way (God’s way) to live.
·      They persevere in the Word. The secret to bearing fruit is patience. A farmer sows his seed in the spring and waits for several months to harvest a crop. The same is true for us. Believers with a receptive heart are willing to patiently endure as they look forward to the harvest.

Application: How do you know if you really believe the Word? The answer is simple: Follow the fruit. If your heart is receptive to the Word, you cannot help but touch the lives of others as you persevere in serving for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Conclusion: Just be faithful and patient. A common sight in America’s southwest desert is the century plant. It has dramatic leaves that grow up to a foot wide and a trunk that can reach up to 12′ in diameter. Of course, what makes it unique is its very long reproduction cycle. For 20 to 30 years the six-foot-tall plant stands the same height and puts on no flowers. Then, one year, without warning, a new bud sprouts. The bud shoots in the sky at up to 12″ a day, eventually reaching a height of 20 to 40 feet. Then it crowns itself with several clumps of yellowish blossoms that last up to three weeks. If you wanted to grow one for yourself, you would have to become an immensely patient person, waiting for at least a generation to see the fruit of your labor. You have to take the same view when it comes to Christian ministry. Hang onto God’s Word, persevere in it and know that the fruit is coming!