“Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.’
“This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
“Listen to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.” – Matthew 13:3-4; 13-15; 18-19.
It is true that the word of God is living and active; it is sharper than any double-edged sword such that it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. You would expect that something with such power would land on any soil and go beneath the top to the deeper parts where it would die, bring forth new life, send roots deep to any depth that water and nutrients reside, grow above ground, and bear fruit. In fact, God himself says his word is “like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces” (Jeremiah 23:29). In spite of the inherent power of God’s word, Jesus, in the parable of the sower, says the word isn’t always fruitful in the hearts of men. The first reason he advances is a lack of understanding. Hear him: “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path” (Matthew 13:19, my italics).
What is Understanding?
To understand is to grasp the meaning of something; to grasp the reasonableness of it; to accept, hold or embrace as a fact or truth. So Jesus is saying when anyone hears the word of God but does not grasp its meaning as contained in the heart of God; if it appears as unreasonable to them; if they do not accept it, cherish it or embrace it for the treasure that it is, such a person cannot bear fruit. Such a deficiency leaves the word uncovered in such a heart and opens it up to theft. And there is a thief who goes around, up and down through the earth, looking for what he might steal. He comes not but for to steal, to kill, and to destroy. That thief is the evil one, Satan. Why do two people hear the same word but one goes away and bears fruit while the other turns out like they never heard anything? One reason is a lack of understanding. In a class, understanding or the lack of it is also why some students do well in a subject and others do not.
Why do people not understand the Word of God?
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” – 2 Corinthians 4:3-4
The gospel itself has no veil over it; it is veiled to those who are perishing. Why they cannot grasp the truth of the word of God is because the god of this age blinds the eyes of their heart with which they could have understood the word and seen the beauty of Christ through the gospel.
God himself also withholds the understanding of his word to those who are obstinate and unbelieving. “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them” (Matthew 13:14-15). This was what plagued the Pharisees. Several times Jesus asked them, “Haven’t you read? . . . Have you not read?” (Matthew 12:3; 19:4; 22:31; Mark 12:26). These guys were readers, but they didn’t see. Even though they were teachers of the law, they couldn’t recognize the central message of all Scripture: Jesus. Jesus said to them, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40). What a tragedy! They diligently studied the word in search of eternal life but when the life stood before them, they couldn’t recognize him. They were blind. So diligent study in itself is not the solution if the eyes are blind and the heart cannot understand.
Understanding the Word of God
Since it is clear that understanding the word of God is essential to fruitfulness, how can one understand the word?
Illumination by the Spirit
“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” – 1 Corinthians 2:14
God is Spirit. All Scripture is God-breathed. For anyone to understand the word, they must have the Spirit of God. The man without the Spirit has at least two problems. First, he does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God because they are foolishness to him. Second, even if he wants to understand them, he lacks the capacity to do so because they are spiritually discerned. Not having the Spirit, he is unable to understand the word that is inspired by the Spirit. That is why the Greeks of Jesus’ day, with all their wisdom, couldn’t understand him. There are intelligent philosophers today as well, who do not understand Jesus for who he is because he cannot be comprehended by human reasoning; he is Spirit. For anyone to understand the word, therefore, they must have their heart illumined by the Spirit.
Paul said, “Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:15-16). This turning to the Lord first happens at conversion. Here, the veil that the god of this age uses to blind the minds of the unbelieving is removed. Such a person is now able to understand the word and see Christ as supremely beautiful. Secondly, anytime you come in contact with the word of God, you need to ‘turn to the Lord’ to have your heart opened to understand the word. This turning happens by asking in prayer for illumination concerning any word and an openness of mind to receive the word with meekness. If the heart is not rightly disposed, God will not cast the precious pearls of his word to swine.
Even to the converted, there is the need for a continuous turning to the Lord to understand his word. Following Christ’s resurrection, two brothers, who were believers, were met by Jesus on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. He rebuked them for being foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken. The Lord took it upon himself to explain the Scriptures to them (Luke 24:13-27). That same night, Jesus appeared to the band of doubting and fearful disciples in Jerusalem and did something to them: “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). They had been with Jesus for years, heard him speak, watch his life fulfill Scripture, and even did ministry with him, but they still needed to have their hearts opened by him before they could understand the Scriptures. So anytime you come in contact with the word, whether it is being scattered by preaching in a Church or in your private devotion, you will still need to have your heart opened so that you can understand the word. Why is it that you have attended a Christian meeting, heard the word, and not borne the same kind of appreciable fruit that another participant in the same meeting has borne thereafter? Check if you understood what was said. Understanding is key, and it is granted by the Lord when anyone turns to him.
To be continued…