Series Introduction: Recently our new Associate Pastor, Nigel Shailer, challenged us to be “Community Listeners” as we hear God’s Word taught each week. Focus, the ministry to Seniors at FBC, has been working through this topic following Ken Ramey’s excellent book Expository Listening. This series of six articles comes from that study.
In chapter 2 of Expository Listening, the parable of the sower is used to explain how the Word of God (the seed) is received when it is preached. Although the context of the parable deals with hearing the gospel message of salvation, by way of application we can apply the same truth to anything that is taught from God’s Word. We can respond in one of four different ways.
Rolled Eyes and a Stubborn Heart
We can ignore the Word proclaimed. Though some people come to church and hear a sermon, it doesn’t do them any good. The parable specifically states that the devil comes and takes the message away from them. Such a person is unsaved. The message of salvation needs the involvement of the Holy Spirit to take the Word, bring conviction, and give them repentance and faith (both of those are gifts, by the way!).
Teary Eyes and a Superficial Heart
We can “make a decision.” The second type of soil is the kind where the seed finds a place to get some roots started. Such a person can hear the message, respond to it in a positive way, and even get excited about it! They appear to be truly impacted to the point that there is some type of change taking place. But such change does not last. When things get tough, the change disappears; it’s just a memory. True, it is difficult to be consistent over the long haul, but there is no “long haul” with such a person. There is no lasting fruit, if there is any at all. It wasn’t heart change. This person was not saved.
Distracted Eyes and a Strangled Heart
We can make some changes in our life. This type of hearer appears to last longer than the second. There is even some fruit for a period of time, just as it takes weeds a while before they begin taking over a garden. They build up over time. The one who hears the Word of God can show some fruit for a while, but eventually, something becomes more important to them than the Word. They get distracted. They are deceived by a pursuit for more wealth, or they become pleasure-seekers. The times in which they live have captured their attention, and they drift away, like Demas (2 Timothy 4:10). This person who showed such promise was not a believer at all, merely a “make-believer.”
Focused Eyes and a Soft Heart
We can make changes that have a permanent impact on how we live. This is the person who not only is a hearer, but a doer (James 1:22). He hears the Word of God and puts it into practice, not just for a brief time, or even for an extended time. There is consistent, habitual action. There is fruit that is evident. And the fruit is abundant. It is clear to all who look at this person that there is a changed life. This is the only one of the four types of hearers that is truly born again.
We should be careful not to judge the amount of fruit that others are showing in their life (“I have more fruit than you!”). Their fruit may look different than our fruit. But there WILL be fruit if they are truly saved. If your life is evidenced by a continual response to God’s Word as pictured in the first three soils, then it is time to examine yourself to see if you are in the faith (1 Corinthians 13:5). At the same time, however, we should always be striving to produce more fruit as we grow.
True believers do grow, just like plants will grow as they are fed what is needed. We should always seek opportunities for more growth (by getting more of the Word), but that growth should consistently lead to more fruit. The type of fruit you produce may change over time. While you may have once been an aggressive evangelist or a faithful teacher of the Word to large numbers of people, now your fruitfulness may be seen in more personal work, impacting smaller groups or perhaps just one or two people. However, there will be fruit of some kind if we have the right response to what we hear from God’s Word.