Mark 4:13-20 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
I don’t know why I never noticed this before, but the ones sown on rocky ground fall away because of tribulation or persecution on account of the word. Believers in the USA suffer little of that. Sure, there’s occasional discrimination, and the government forces some Christian business owners and churches to violate their consciences or pay stiff fines, but actual physical punishment is extremely rare.
I’ve often wondered about Jesus’ reason for speaking in parables. Mark 4:10-12 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that,
“they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
Matthew Henry writes, “It is just with God to say of those that will not see, that they shall not see, and to hide from their eyes, who only look about them with a great deal of carelessness, and never look before them with any concern upon the things that belong to their peace.”
Though I’d love to see his reasoning translated into contemporary language, I can glean something of his meaning: It is similar to casting God’s pearls before swine. In Matthew 7:6, Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” Disingenuous listeners aren’t stupid; wanting to be part of something great, they absorb Biblical verbiage while missing or ignoring the foundational truth, and any joy they feel upon receiving it is superficial at best. I suspect much of the discord in churches originates with the “dogs” and “swine” who “turn to attack” those ministering to them.
The solution, I’m afraid, doesn’t include withholding the pearls. As all church bodies host a mix of sincere believers, spiritual babies and false brethren, preachers and teachers must serve up both meat and milk. Whether from the pulpit or personally, church elders need to confront those who are simply playing at religion, but with great discernment; some who seem genuine are just Oscar-worthy actors, while others are like church mice, just quietly taking it all in, not wanting to be conspicuous because they don’t feel worthy to speak up.
As thorny as that brier-patch seems, navigating it without hurting the weak brethren, while confronting or culling the pretenders, is absolutely essential. Only God’s Holy Spirit is qualified to weed that garden.