Today we will be exploring the topic of vigilance and how the act of maintaining the purity of our heart and our actions requires constant vigilance and continual grooming.
Mark 4:18-19, Amplified Bible – And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries and cares of the world [the distractions of this age with its worldly pleasures], and the deceitfulness [and the false security or glamour] of wealth [or fame], and the passionate desires for all the other things creep in and choke out the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
In this parable of the sower sowing his seed, Yeshua explains that the seed represents the word of God, and he describes the conditions of the hearts of those upon whom the seed is sown.
The seed being sown among the thorns represents those individuals who receive the word of God, but their hearts are so overcrowded with worldly cares and other ambitions that the seed cannot grow to maturity; it gets choked out and cannot bear fruit.
If we are to reflect on our own lives, how much of our time and attention is spent on the thorny distractions of this age, the deceitfulness of wealth, and passionate desires for other things besides the kingdom? We need to remain vigilant that the weeds and thorns of these other concerns do not overcrowd the truly important and impactful things that surround the kingdom: hearing and understanding the word and bearing fruit.
This process of God sowing his Word in the hearts of believers is commonly misunderstood to be a one-time event. It is believed that once God’s seed is sown that work is done and the seed will either grow or not depending on the condition of the soil. However, this parable of Yeshua along with other scriptural insights teach us that if we receive the Word gladly, it is up to us to continue to sow that good seed for the harvests to grow beyond that which was just sown initially.
For a farmer to have a continual harvest throughout the year, they must be continually preparing soil and sowing the appropriate seed at the appropriate season. Even in ancient Israel there were multiple harvests throughout the year depending on the crop. First was the barley harvest which occurred at the Feast of First-fruits during the week of Unleavened Bread in the spring. Then came the first of the wheat harvest which took place at Shavuot or Pentecost at the beginning of summer. Finally, the richest and fullest harvest of the other crops took place at the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles in the autumn. Immediately after the autumn Feast of Ingathering, the work of re-plowing the fields and planting for the Spring harvest would begin. Each of these seasons indicates a different harvest for a different crop, but for that to be taking place there must constantly be new seed being sown.
Just like farmers preparing the soil in their gardens, we need to constantly churn the earth of our hearts, ensuring there is sufficient compost and nutrients to receive what is planted so the seed can successfully multiply and grow to its fullest capacity.
Galatians 6:7-8 – Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.
Sowing to the spirit means that there are choices that need to be made each day. I think it’s pretty evident how we sow to the flesh, but sowing to the spirit is all about receiving continual seed throughout each day so that we can remain focused on the kingdom and conduct our lives with integrity according to the Word of God. For us to be able to do so, then we must have a continual input of the Word throughout each day.
Consider how much time you may be spending on social media, or watching television, or being involved in worldly aspirations. In reality, none of these things are wrong in and of themselves, but they can easily become time-sucks that draw our full attention away from living in according to God’s Word. In fact, a good indicator that one of these things may be a negative activity for you would be that if you are engaged in it and lose all sense of time until you snap out of that engagement, you may be getting pulled further into the weeds that can choke out the Word.
If these are your primary interactions with others within the context of your world then you may be suffering from a lack of good and and nutritious input for your spiritual life. The digital age we live in provides us many alternatives to be in the Word throughout each day. Besides just Bible podcasts like this one, there are more significant Bible apps and audio Bibles that can help keep you in the actual Word without having to be sitting and reading or studying.
Think of how much time you might spend driving throughout the day, or exercising, or doing redundant chores around the house that don’t require a lot of concentration: things like ironing, or cleaning, or mowing the lawn. I regard these types of activities as “idling” activities, where you may be physically active but your brain is kind of sitting in an idle mode. Instead of popping on the TV or listening to the news, or scrolling through random videos, why not instead listen to an audio Bible on your device while you are doing these types of things? There are lots of free options out there with various narrators and versions of the Bible to choose from.
Perhaps you have some good, doctrinally-sound worship music that can help keep your mind focused on God and his gracious mercy towards us. Using those times to their fullest helps to keep your spirit engaged with God. I have found it becomes much easier to receive personal and private direction for challenges I may be facing when I am interacting with the Word in these various ways.
Another indication that may demonstrate getting choked among the weeds is to consider if you are primarily a consumer or a creator of digital media. As believers and image-bearers of God in this world, we have the ability to use and create informative engagements with the things and people of this world for God’s glory and the furtherance of the kingdom. Social media can help spread God’s Word through written articles and photos, and videos can be created to explain how the Bible has relevance for people today.
As a personal example, one of my goals with coreofthebible.org is to continue to build a multi-tiered approach to sharing the information in these articles in different platforms: through written articles, weekly audio podcasts, and also through videos. However, through all of this, I am having to be very selective with how I approach each of these areas, as it is dangerously easy to become consumed with editing and posting and monitoring multiple platforms in an effort to maintain effective engagement. I don’t want to get lost in the weeds of the process to where I am losing effectiveness in the content. I am just trying to keep things as simple and to-the-point as possible to maximize the value to each reader, listener, or watcher of the content.
When we consider all of the various ways we receive information input throughout each day, we need to be intentional and purposeful with the time we have so that we can maximize our spiritual growth.
Proverbs 4:23 – Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it is the source of life.
In a metaphorical manner of speaking, King Solomon as the writer of Proverbs indicates that our heart or our inmost self-awareness is the source of the quality of our life. That source is sometimes compared to a well of water.
This type of metaphor would be readily received and understood in ancient times, since life in a desert or wilderness environment is not possible without water. The quality of that water depends on how we maintain that well; is it overgrown with poisonous weeds, is it unprotected from animals that can trudge through and muddy its waters or destroy its flow? Is our heart becoming defiled through the things on which we constantly focus?
Yeshua even takes this metaphor further by saying whatever is in our heart is what spills out of our mouths:
Mark 7:20-23 – And [Yeshua] said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”
Guarding our heart, then seems to be a concern that we should not take lightly, and should prompt us to take the appropriate time to strategize how to maintain the soil our our hearts at all costs.
In our American culture at least we seem have lost a sense of just how impactful the constant bombardment of worldly information flow can be to our lives, and it seems we are even becoming addicted to always having a music playlist going or having the television on in the background. As believers, we need to ensure that the well of our heart is filled with pure and nutritious water, not the potentially poisonous and unprotected muddy water of the world. It is our individual responsibility to guard our hearts; that means to protect what we allow to influence our hearts, because whatever is in there is what will ultimately come out through our speech and our actions. It’s like the old saying, “garbage in, garbage out.” Why not instead turn that saying on its head by changing it to “purity and goodness in, purity and goodness out.”
Even saying such a thing has Pollyana-ish overtones and seems awkward and simplistic. But is it really, or is that just our natural inclination has already become so jaded that we find it difficult to identify with what is good and right about human nature and living according to the positive and kind admonitions of God’s standards?
You know an interesting bit of Bible trivia relating to textual interpretation centers on a specific New Testament verse that has had a defining impact on believers over the last two millennia. And it has to do with the name “Christian.” For some context, allow me to read a passage out of Peter’s first epistle.
1 Peter 3:8-16 – Finally, all of you be like-minded and sympathetic, love one another, and be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing. For the one who wants to love life and to see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit, and let him turn away from evil and do what is good. Let him seek peace and pursue it, because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do what is evil. Who then will harm you if you are devoted to what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be intimidated, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Yet do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that when you are accused, those who disparage your good conduct in Christ will be put to shame.
So we can see contextually that Peter is encouraging the believers to have good conduct at all times because this honors God. Now the passage with the textual consideration I mentioned previously is actually in chapter four; I’m going to read it in the YLT because even though it’s awkwardly phrased, it still brings out more of the clarity of the point I’m about to make.
1 Peter 4:15-16 – for let none of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evil-doer, or as an inspector into other men’s matters; and if as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; and let him glorify God in this respect;
Let’s look at some interesting commentary on this idea of suffering as a Christian.
(16) Yet if any man suffer as a Christian.—St. Peter purposely uses the name which was a name of derision among the heathens. It is not, as yet, one by which the believers would usually describe themselves. It only occurs twice besides in the New Testament—in Acts 11:26, where we are told of the invention of the nickname (see Note there), and in Acts 26:28, where Agrippa catches it up with the insolent scorn with which a brutal justice would have used the word “Methodist” a century ago. So contemptible was the name that, as M. Renan says (p. 37), “Well-bred people avoided pronouncing the name, or, when forced to do so, made a kind of apology.” Tacitus, for instance, says: “Those who were vulgarly known by the name of Christians.” In fact, it is quite an open question whether we ought not here (as well as in the two places of Acts above cited) to read the nickname in its barbarous form: Chrestian. The Sinaitic manuscript has that form, and the Vatican has the form Chreistian; and it is much harder to suppose that a scribe who commonly called himself a Christian would intentionally alter it into this strange form than to suppose that one who did not understand the irony of saying a Chrestian should have written the word with which he was so familiar.”
Cambridge Bible Commentary
- Yet if any man suffer as a Christian] The occurrence of a name which has played so prominent a part in the history of mankind requires a few words of notice. It did not originate with the followers of Christ themselves. They spoke of themselves as the “brethren” (Acts 14:2; Acts 15:1; Acts 15:3; Acts 15:22, &c.), as “the saints,” i.e. the holy or consecrated people (Matthew 27:52; Acts 9:13; Acts 9:32; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 6:1; Ephesians 1:1, &c.), as “those of the way,” i.e. those who took their own way, the way which they believed would lead them to eternal life (Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9; Acts 24:22). By their Jewish opponents they were commonly stigmatized as “the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5), the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the city out of which no good thing could come (John 1:46). The new name was given first at Antioch (Acts 11:26), shortly after the admission there, on a wider scale than elsewhere, of Gentile converts. Its Latin form, analogous to that of Pompeiani, Mariani, for the followers of Pompeius or Marius, indicated that the new society was attracting the attention of official persons and others at Antioch. The word naturally found acceptance. It expressed a fact, it was not offensive, and it might be used by those who, like Agrippa, though they were not believers themselves, wished to speak respectfully of those who were (Acts 26:28). Soon it came to be claimed by those believers. The question, Are you a Christian? became the crucial test of their faith. By disowning it, as in the case of the mildly repressive measures taken in these very regions by Pliny in the reign of Trajan, they might purchase safety (Pliny, Epp. x. 96). The words now before us probably did much to stamp it on the history of the Church. Men dared not disown it. They came to exult in it. Somewhat later on they came to find in it, with a pardonable play upon words, a new significance. The term Christiani (= followers of Christ) was commonly pronounced Chrestiani, and that, they urged, shewed that they were followers of Chrestus, i.e. of the good and gentle one. Their very name, they urged, through their Apologist, Tertullian (Apol. i. 3), was a witness to the falsehood of the charges brought against them.
F.F. Bruce, in his commentary on Acts adds the following:
“Xrestus (“useful, kindly”) was a common slave-name in the Graeco-Roman world. It “appears as a spelling variant for the unfamiliar Christus (Xristos). (In Greek the two words were pronounced alike.)” (F. F. Bruce, The Books of Acts, 368).
So, just for a little mental hypothesis, what if, in the great span of history, believers were being chastised and ridiculed early on, not for being “Christians” or followers of Christ (since people unfamiliar with the scriptures would not know what a “Christ” was) but instead were being ridiculed for being “Chrestians” or “do-gooders”? Non-believers could certainly identify those individuals, and believers faithful to their calling could definitely be accused of that, since they were instructed to follow the “good-doing” of their Lord and Master:
Acts 10:38 – “how God anointed Yeshua of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how he went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the devil, because God was with him.
Galatians 6:9 – Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.
2 Thessalonians 3:13 – But as for you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing good.
1 Peter 2:15 – For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good.
1 Peter 3:17 – For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
Of course I would not be dogmatic about this name identification, but it does raise an interesting concept and emphasis that may be lost in our modern understanding of that word. Christian implies that one believes a certain thing, while Chrestian implies that one does certain things. Which one would have been more derogatory? The word Chrestian would have, and indeed did, identify the early believers as do-gooders based on the fact that their Messiah was always doing good.
So what does all this side-bar about the Christian name have to do with the influence of our hearts? Well getting back to our main focus, this would mean that the content of the heart would have to have good intentions implanted there, and that believers would have to be acting out that goodness based on the overflow of their hearts, as Yeshua taught.
You see, without constant attention, the garden soil of our hearts can be quickly overrun by weeds. And when it’s overrun by weeds, it will become unfruitful; we cannot do the good things that we are called to do. It’s not about what we believe, but what we do.
We must weed the garden at all times to ensure that as the seed grows, it is clear of any other obstructions to the light and moisture that it needs. The weeds can block the light and consume the water of the rain and irrigation meant to nourish the seed for maximum growth. Removing weeds can be hard work, especially if we have neglected to review it on a regular basis.
It’s always good to remember that we need to mind the gardens of our hearts with vigilance. When we do so, we will be honoring the Master Gardener by maximizing the return he has planned for the seed that is continually being sown in us.
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