"The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great." As He said these things, He would call out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." (Luke 8:5-8)
When we look at the seeds as representing saints who are commissioned to bear fruit, how does that affect the response of those saints who are cast onto far less productive soil?
What if bearing fruit does not look like what we typically think of, like harvesting many souls for God? What if a saint is seemingly abandoned in a place of dishonor, their reputation is blackened and they end up emotionally and even physically destroyed? Is their fruit to be measured by their outward evidences of 'success' according to our notions of sainthood or is their fruit the attitude and spirit that they chose to maintain inwardly when all the outward evidence seems to incriminate them as failures?
In Paul's illustration of this in Romans 9 he talks about Pharoah as a vessel designed for dishonor.
So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. (Romans 9:18-24)
But what if Pharoah had chosen to cooperate with God's requests of him? Wouldn't he still have been a vessel of dishonor? Obviously he would have had to humble himself a great deal to go along with God's intent to deliver His people from bondage. But Pharoah was not really forced to resist God; his resistance only proved to the world what happens when a person chosen for a less glamorous position in God's plans fails to respond positively in the presence of the mercy of God. God felt no less mercy towards Pharoah than towards anyone else. It was Pharoah's own choices that positioned him to be hardened by mercy, not God's desire to turn him into an instrument of wickedness.
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. (John 15:7-9)
Let me ask another question. Have there ever been saints who have been destroyed? Is it possible that it is in God's plans that they be mistreated? Did they experience dishonor in the process? Were they outside of God's plan for their life because they did not 'succeed' the way we view success, that their lives were lost instead of living to win other souls to God?
Be merciful to God’s reputation. It is easy to blacken God’s character because God never answers back, He never vindicates Himself. Beware of the thought that Jesus needed sympathy in His earthly life; He refused sympathy from man because He knew far too wisely that no one on earth understood what He was after. He took sympathy from His Father only, and from the angels in heaven. (Luke 15:10.)
Notice God’s unutterable waste of saints. According to the judgment of the world, God plants His saints in the most useless places. We say—‘God intends me to be here because I am so useful.’ God puts His saints where they will glorify Him, and we are no judges at all of where that is. (My Utmost for His Highest August 10)
The sower spread his seed seemingly recklessly as he planted. He acted in an absurd manner according to the beliefs and activities of a normal farmer. What farmer in his right mind is going to throw good seed onto the highway and expect any kind of return? Why would a decent farmer throw good seed into the ditches where the weeds are so thick there is no hope of getting a good return at harvest? Why would any farmer try to plant perfectly good seeds on ground that was full of rocks where he would know perfectly well that the seed could never gain substantial root to bear much fruit?
We might argue that this is a misapplication of the parable of the sower. But is it really? Yes, I am aware of the mainstream interpretations and I am not saying they do not apply. But many if not all of God's parables and stories have multiple meanings. Notice what Jesus said right at the end of this parable. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." This should alert us to the fact that it might be easy to miss something if we are not cuing in on wisdom from the storyteller Himself.
We may be found to be judging people as less than saints because they are not bearing the kind of fruit that we believe should be seen in the life of a saint. But man looks on the outward appearance whereas the Lord looks on the heart. (1 Sam. 16:7; 2 Cor. 10:7) When the Bible talks about fruit it often is very different than when we think of fruit many times. We love to talk about harvesting many souls to the church and get very excited about large numbers of baptisms and view that as the most productive fruit. We gravitate toward these sorts of exciting stories that make the headlines, that garner the television interviews and that increase circulation of our publications.
But how does all of this attention cause someone to feel who finds themselves laboring in a land where there is little to no apparent results to their labors? How does this affect people who find themselves under the brunt of persecution and defamation, when their reputations are being smeared and there is no television crew waiting to expose the real truth about what is deep within their hearts to vindicate their reputation? What if they have been chosen by God to be vessels to be used for far less glamorous applications? What if they find themselves wasting away in a dungeon like John the Baptist with no word from Jesus that He seems to even care or even notices what is going on?
When Jesus talks about bearing much fruit, just what sort of fruit might He have been referring to?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26)
Is it possible that a vessel designated for a dishonorable function, maybe even destined for what to us looks like destruction might still choose to bear this kind of fruit as their life is spent in ways that others view as a total waste? What about when the seed is carried off and eaten by the birds? Is that life less valued in the eyes of heaven than the seed that grows to maturity and produces a rich harvest of souls in good ground? Was the seed sown in the less productive areas inferior seed or is something else going on here that may be challenging our own assumptions about how things should operate?
Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands." (Isaiah 55:6-12)
It is far more difficult to be called to function as a vessel of dishonor and even suffer physical and reputation destruction than to enjoy the glamor of being a vessel of honor. But I am starting to see here that heaven's view of things is radically different than our view of successful Christianity. It is hard for us to grasp the level of shame and intensity of despair that must have gripped the heart and mind of John the Baptist as his reputation was destroyed, his ministry slandered, his popularity wiped out and his apparent value as a human being stripped away. Not even the one whom he had declared to be his successor had even given him a nod of recognition as he languished in a squalid dungeon. Jesus was becoming more and more popular while John was losing everything that had been given him by God.
To anyone looking on in those days it would appear that John may have been almost a mistake, a fake, a flash in the pan, maybe even an impostor. The fruit that he had produced seemed to be lost and it appeared that God Himself had forsaken him. What kind of ministry or success story was this supposed to be? He was seemingly forgotten except as a sensational story, a has-been, a blip in history, an inspiration lasting only a few moments.
Only in the light of Jesus' words about John has his reputation and ministry been redeemed in our view. If Jesus had not shared heaven's perspective about John and His life had not been recorded from a different perspective than popular opinion, we may never have even known that John had ever existed. Yet Jesus declared that this vessel that seemed to have been designed for dishonor and doomed for destruction (and he was destroyed quite literally) was from heaven's standpoint the greatest in God's kingdom.
But I fear that we still don't get the point. We still tend to measure success by numbers; we still cling to our paint-by-numbers mentality to portray what God's system is supposed to be like on earth. But just because we mistakenly measure success by outward appearances does not make it so from heaven's perspective. And in the final revelation of reality we will all be very amazed at who fits where and what was really going on at the much deeper levels of the heart where the real kingdom exists.
If we still try to argue that the parable of the sower only refers to the Word of God that is either accepted or rejected by people who represent the various types of soil, let us not forget that one of the designations of Jesus is as the Word incarnate. From this perspective, it is impossible to deny that Jesus Himself would be related to the seed in this parable. As His disciples we cannot deny that those who choose to follow Him must in turn also find themselves being distributed as the Word Himself was used in this parable.
Was the life of Jesus while on this earth highly productive in the results that we want to see in our work for God? Did He bring in many souls to the kingdom and garner a large harvest of baptisms? For awhile it appeared that this was true, yet the longer He lived among humanity the more it became evident that increasing resistance to Him apparently reduced His effectiveness. It could appropriately be said that Jesus Himself was cast on the pathway and carried off by birds, that His efforts to enlighten were suffocated by the cares of this world in many lives and that even those who at first embraced His ministry with joy later fell away when the popularity began to diminish.
It also cannot be ignored that it appears that Jesus was also a vessel designated for dishonor and even destruction. From a human standpoint the life of Jesus was a terrible failure if it is not viewed from heaven's perspective as seen in the rest of the Bible. Isaiah said as much in his prophecies about Christ and the whole pagan world for many years found His story utter foolishness and even bizarre. The Jews found His claims to be scandalous and generally everyone finds it hard to believe in His claims unless they respond to the inner convictions of the Spirit sent to reveal the real truth about Him to our hearts.
When we stay intent on measuring fruit primarily by the number of souls brought into our clan or preferred group, let us consider the following verses.
When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them. (Exodus 30:12)
The Levites, however, were not numbered among them by their fathers' tribe. For the LORD had spoken to Moses, saying, "Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor shall you take their census among the sons of Israel. "But you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings and over all that belongs to it. They shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it; they shall also camp around the tabernacle. (Numbers 1:47-50)
Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1)
But [Joab] did not number Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king's command was abhorrent to Joab. God was displeased with this thing, so He struck Israel. David said to God, "I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly." (1 Chronicles 21:6-8)
Yet the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; and in the place where it is said to them, "You are not My people," it will be said to them, "You are the sons of the living God." (Hosea 1:10)