Accepting Our Role, Marvelling at His
While working toward my undergraduate degree I worked summers in a manufacturing plant. I remember walking out onto that factory floor for my first shift. For a 19-year old with callouses-less hands, it was an intimidating place—a huge building filled with big, loud, dramatic looking machines.
Thankfully, the foreman took me around and showed me how the place operated: press-shop, assembly line, paint line, shipping. He then took me to the machine at which I’d be working and demonstrated what I’d be doing for the next five summers.
That foreman clearly defined my role. He said, “this is the part you’re going to play.” I was no longer bogged down by the size of the building or the scope of the operation. I wasn’t distracted with my lack of understanding of some of the adjacent machines. And I wasn’t tempted to wander into the CEO’s office and offer help with the business model. I knew my role and the foreman’s instruction empowered me to fulfill my role with maximum effectiveness.
Cutting through the noise
Walking into church may feel for you at times like it felt for me walking into that factory. There’s a lot of noise and a lot of moving parts (some of which you don’t understand how they work). It’s overwhelming! You may sense that something big is happening, and you want to be productive and fruitful—to grow in your faith and mature—but you often find yourself longing for clarification: What exactly is my role in all of this? And what’s God’s role; areas I have no business meddling?
In the fourth chapter of Mark’s gospel, the Holy Spirit serves as our foreman and offers clarity on these two questions.
What’s our role in fruitfulness?
Jesus, facing a large crowd, begins teaching in parables. His opening lesson describes a farmer tossing seed upon his land. In verse 14, Jesus explains that “the sower sows the word.” The seed that he’s spreading is the message of the coming Kingdom. It’s the gospel. The farmer is indiscriminately casting the word upon various surfaces and qualities of soil.
Four soils, four types of people
The seed that fell on the hardened ground next to the road and was eaten by birds (v. 4) is the word heard by hard-hearted people (v. 15). It bounces off their callousness, never given a chance to take root, and Satan quickly and easily scopes it up.
The seed that fell on the rocky ground couldn’t develop sufficient roots and, thus, when it grew, the sun killed it quickly (vv. 5–6). Jesus explains these are people who hear the word, it excites them, but are never discipled and rooted in truth and, thus, when difficulty comes, and it will, they don’t have the support in place to survive (vv. 16–17).
The seed that fell on good soil surrounded by thorns (v. 7) represents people who hear the word and appear to grow but they’re not captivated enough by the gospel to avoid the distractions of the world that eventually suffocate the word (vv. 18–19).
Then there’s the seed that fell on good soil (v. 8). In verse 20, Jesus explains that these are people who “bear fruit.”
What makes ‘good soil’ good?
Four different types of soil representing four different types of people. But only one is fruitful. Only one matures and reproduces. We want to be good soil, don’t we? We want to grows up and increases and yields a crop that produces 30, 60, and 100-fold. So, what’s our role in making that happen?
There is one telling distinction between these soils we must notice. It obviously isn’t the word. The seed never changes and is sown liberally on all soils. But, there is something unique about the way in which fruitful people respond to the word. Consider this comparison:
Soil #1: “they hear, immediately Satan comes”
Soil #2: “they hear the word … immediately they fall away”
Soil #3: “heard the word … it becomes unfruitful”
Soil #4: “they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit”
All soils heard the word. What makes a person fruitful is if they not only hear the word, but accept it. They receive it. They take it in. They internalize its message.
The same word is used in 1 Timothy 5:19: “Do not receive (there it is!) an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.” The idea is that, if a group of people come forward and accuse a leader in the church of something, accept it as credible. Treat the accusation as possibly true. Take it seriously and prepare to act accordingly.
So then, what’s our role?
Similarly, the fruitful soil is one who hears the word of God and accepts it, takes it in as trustworthy, internalizes it, and prepares to act on it. They recognize that just as a decorative fruit bowl benefits the body in zero ways, so the word of God admired from a far as a decorative element in our lives, gives no nutrients.
And that’s our role in fruitfulness. To accept the word. Receive it. That’s the machine we’re to stand at. That’s our role in this operation. Accept the word.
We should accept the word immediately so that Satan can’t snatch it away.
Many people attend church week after week, sitting through sermon after sermon, and hearing the gospel time after time without ever actually accepting its truth. They’re heard it explained but have never called out to God as sinners in need of a Saviour. For those people, according to this parable, is it not possible that their indecisiveness is the reason for their unbelief? They’re waiting and the seed is being snatched up by Satan. If that resonates with you, I beg you to not delay! Respond today!
We should accept the word deeply so that persecution doesn’t cause apostasy.
A faith with shallow roots cannot withstand the scorching sun of hardship. You may think theology and understanding the deep things of God is boring, overly-complicated, or even faith-killing. I assure you none of those is true!
In fact, the more you dive into the deep truths of who God is and what he’s done, the stronger your faith becomes, the more exciting your walk with the Lord is, the more intense your worship becomes. So, let’s dive deep! Accept the word and allow its roots to drill down into the core of our being.
Finally, we should accept the word exclusively so that other concerns don’t strangle it to death.
The worries of the world, the allures of riches, and the desires of other things are perennial and persistent distractions for each of us. Our lives are full of voices that compete for our attention, and they aren’t all evil. But they become harmful when they pull our focus away from the acceptance of the word.
So, what is our role in fruitfulness? It can be an overwhelming question to consider. Yet, Foreman Mark comes along and simplifies it for us. Our role is to accept the word immediately, deeply, and exclusively. That’s it. Stay in your lane.
What is God’s role in fruitfulness?
In the rest of this passage, Jesus gives two more farm-based parables that, together, give us an answer to our second question.
His work is mysterious
To begin, Mark wants us to acknowledge that God’s work to bring about fruit in our lives is mysterious: “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know” (vv. 26–27).
Like the farmer, we don’t have to understand how maturation happens to appreciate and celebrate the harvest. There’s an element of mystery to our growth that we attribute to God’s sovereignty.
His work is automatic
“The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head” (v. 28). Not only is God’s work in our lives to bring about fruit mysterious, it’s also automatic. When we accept the word, when we take it in, it does the rest. It goes to work.
First Thessalonians 2:13 speaks to this reality: “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word [they accepted it!] of God which you heard from us [Paul was the sower!], you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.”
God’s work to bring about fruit in our lives by the ministry of his word as we accept it is mysterious, yes, but it’s also automatic. It’s unstoppable.
His work is significant
But there’s more! God’s work is also immeasurably significant. In verses 30–34 Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, a smallest and seemingly insignificant kernel, that becomes a massive tree. The ways God is working in our lives may seem insignificant, almost invisible and non-existent at times, but it’s from those humble beginnings that God promises to grow something spectacular.
Philippians 1:6: “For I am confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” The tree will grow.
Romans 8:29–30: “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son … and these whom he predestined, he also called; and these whom he called, he also justified; and these whom he justified, he also glorified.” This is an unstoppable cascade of verbs describing our fruitfulness. To be predestined is to experience glorification eventually.
What’s God’s role in fruitfulness? He works mysteriously, yet certainly, to bring about significant fruit in us out of what we may consider insignificant beginnings. He causes the growth and it will meet the end he desires it to meet. I’m not powerful enough to stop it. The question is: Can we trust him with that role?
Some of us wrestle with a blue-collar Christian faith. We can approach our maturity in Christ the same way we’d approach a tough project or problem: We grit our teeth, put our heads down, and work hard to power through. We try and kill our sins with sheer willpower as if our determination to be like Christ is stronger that the devil’s determination to stop us.
When we do this, however, we need to understand that we’re beyond our role in this equation. We’ve wandered off of the factory floor and into the CEO’s office and we’re meddling in things we don’t understand and in areas we have no ability to affect change. And the only thing that can come of that is frustration, disillusionment, burn-out, and, counter-intuitively, stifled fruitfulness.
Instead, Mark is inviting us here to understand the simplicity of our role and the magnitude of God’s. We’re called to accept the word—immediately, deeply, and exclusively. Chew on it, internalize it, apply it. And we’re invited to trust God for the rest, knowing he will do his work in us just as he already has been doing and already is doing. Allow that truth to liberate us, excite us, and motivate us to just be faithful with the role we’re given.
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