This week we finally wrap up our series, Tell Someone. For six weeks we have been talking about how to share our faith with another person. This last part offers a reminder: Although our work is vital, when it comes to the saving of souls, our work is not the only work that is happening. Jesus reminds us in the parable of the sower that there is someone else involved in the process and His work is pretty important too. Rather than worrying about doing the whole thing ourselves, if we will learn to play our part, things will go entirely more smoothly for us. Thanks for reading.
Playing Your Part
Have you ever watched a rowing competition? On occasion during a Summer Olympics event, I’ll manage to tune in just in time to see the rowing event. I don’t necessarily look to be able to watch it, but when it happens to be on, it’s not one of the events I’ll flip past to watch something else. While it’s not exactly one of the more popular sports in the world, rowing is one of those sports that requires both high skill and high strength. It doesn’t seem like it at a glance, but if you want to win big, they are a must. The most successful teams train rigorously until every single part of the team not only knows their part, but executes their part in perfect harmony with the rest of the team members. Every motion is coordinated. Every stroke is timed. One person who is even slightly out of sync with the squad will immediately become a drag on the rest. Oh yeah, and because they row with their backs to their destination, they are all completely dependent on the one person who can see where they are going. It’s almost like there’s a parable in there.
This morning we are in the sixth and final part of our series, Tell Someone. For the past six weeks we have been talking about how to tell someone else about our faith in Jesus. As we said way back in the first part of our journey, telling someone else about your faith in Jesus is the natural next step after gaining a better understanding of what exactly it is you believe about Him. Unfortunately, evangelism too often becomes this terrifying concept to too many followers of Jesus. What ends up happening is that we walk around with this load of guilt on our shoulders because we know we should be doing it, but we’re generally too scared to actually do it. We go through the mental and spiritual calculus and decide that carrying the guilt around is preferable to risking the embarrassment of walking into something we’re not really sure we can walk back out of.
Well, the whole point of this series has been to put a stop to this line of thinking. For six weeks I have been working with you to take the idea of evangelism down off the shelf labeled “experts only” and set it right out on the table where any of us can pick it up and get started doing it. To this end, we started out by clarifying exactly what our job is when it comes to sharing our faith. Our job, simply put, is connecting other people with Jesus. Nothing more, nothing less. We do this by turning first to prayer which is where all successful evangelism starts. We keep things simple and make sure that our personal character matches up well with the character of the God we are promoting. And then, as we talked about last week, we get started. We start filtering all of our circumstances through the lens of the Gospel and meeting people where they are wherever we happen to be. Gospel sharing can happen anytime and anywhere.
As we prepare to wrap up this whole series of conversations together this morning, I want to do so by coming full circle from where we were in the first part of our journey. Our basic job is to connect people to Jesus. If we will do that job faithfully and well, the kingdom grows. It is when we fail to do our job or else try and do someone else’s job that things begin to fall apart. Today, I want to look at a picture with you of the incredible things that can happen when we all play our part.
Guiding us this morning will not be any words from the apostle Paul. We’re not even going to look at a story about him written by Luke. We are going right to the source this morning. I want to look with you at a story Jesus told that I think puts all of this in perspective for us. If you have a copy of the Scriptures handy, find your way with me to Matthew 13. I want to look with you at the parable of the sower.
Now, for many of you, the parable of the sower is not a new story. You’ve read it before. You’ve studied it before. You’ve heard sermons on it before. You may have even read whole books on it before. If you were part of our study of some of Jesus’ most famous parables on Wednesdays last year, we spent a couple of weeks talking about it together then. All of that is to say, I understand that for many, if not most, of you, this morning is not going to introduce you to something new. But what I would like to do is take a look at this familiar story together and come away from it with a warning, a reminder, and an encouragement.
One of the things Jesus was the master at doing was taking everyday events and filtering them through the lens of the Gospel in order to draw out incredible spiritual truths—kind of like we talked about doing last week. One day, Jesus needed to get out of the house for a bit to clear His head. He had had some confrontation with His family. They were driving Him a lot crazy, and He just needed some air. Ever been there? But, because He was Jesus, everywhere He went, crowds followed. Try as He might, He rarely got personal time. Ever been there? On this particular afternoon, Jesus was in a village on the Sea of Galilee. He went out by the seashore for a change of scenery. As the inevitable crowd began to gather, Jesus went into storytelling mode. Looking over the heads of the crowd He noticed a farmer sowing seeds up on a hillside bordering the Sea. Looking back at the crowds, He started talking.
“Consider the sower who went out to sow. As he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it didn’t have much soil, and it grew up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it. Still other seed fell on good ground and produced fruit: some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty times what was sown. Let anyone who has ears listen.”
You can picture this scene because Jesus was a master storyteller. You can imagine a man walking through a field with a pack of seed slung over his neck and hanging at his hip. As he walks over his ground, he grabs one handful of seed after another and scatters it all over the place. You can see in your mind’s eye the seed falling on all these different types of ground and the results of his sowing. The story itself plays out over the course of many weeks, but we can see it in our imagination unfolding in a flash.
Well, the crowd gathered there—including the disciples—didn’t have any idea what Jesus meant. He explained it later when they asked Him about it. Still today, we often miss the point of the parable. It doesn’t have anything to do with the way we respond to the Gospel, but rather the spiritual state of the people with whom we share it. These different spiritual states are what Jesus unpacks a few verses over. The seed on the path represents people with hearts hardened to the Gospel. The seed on the rocky ground represents people with a shallow understanding and embrace of it. The seed among the thorns represents people whose lives are so overburdened by cares and worries that they can’t ever quite get their hearts around the Gospel. The seed on the good ground represents the people who embrace it with gusto and starting bearing fruit in their own lives.
So, that’s what the seeds are. That’s what they represent. But can I draw your attention to something you may have missed when you’ve spent time looking through this story before? What did the farmer do in this story? He scattered seed, right? Did he do anything else? Not a single thing. Not one. All the farmer does in the parable of the sower is sow the seed. This could really stand to be called the parable of the seed, not the parable of the sower. It’s really all about the seed and how it does in various soil types. And yet, there’s growth that happens, right? At least there is for three of the types of seed. Stay with me here. Does the farmer do anything to affect that growth? Other than sowing the seed, no, he doesn’t, does he? Okay, well then, who makes the seed grow? That’s the real question we need to answer here. The sower sows. That’s his job. He does it faithfully and well. The seed gets scattered. What happens from there is not his job. That’s the job of someone else. Who is this someone else? It’s God. God makes the growth happen.
Over in the Gospel of Mark when he was writing about this same series of parables Jesus told, he includes one Matthew does not. My Bible labels it, “the parable of the growing seed.” This is in Mark 4:26: “‘The kingdom of God is like this,’ he said. ‘A man scatters seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day; the seed sprouts and grows, although he doesn’t know how. The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the full grain on the head. As soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.’”
The idea here is basically the same and helps give us some insight into what we should see in the parable of the sower. We have a job to do. We’ve talked about that. It is a vitally important job. People need to hear the Gospel. They need to see it as well, but they’ve got to hear it. Words matter. But once we’ve done our job and make a Jesus connection for another person, when it comes to the task of evangelism, that’s where our work stops, and the Holy Spirit’s work begins. Now, that doesn’t mean we share the Gospel with someone once and quit. We should absolutely keep on sharing it, keep on seeking to make more Jesus connections. But that’s the point: We make connections. That’s it. We can’t force anyone into the kingdom. We can’t argue them there. We can’t reason them in the door. Whether or not that seed grows is God’s business, not ours. Now, when a person embraces the Gospel, we shift gears from evangelism to discipleship where we have another role to play, but that’s for another conversation. On the matter of telling someone about our faith, our job is to do just that. We scatter the seed. God makes it grow. We both have a part. If we want to see the kingdom grow, we need to play our part. When we play our part, the kingdom grows.
This truth brings with it a warning for us. The warning is this: We have to play our part. It would be easy for us to begin thinking that since God does all the growing work, that since we don’t have any impact on whether or not a person embraces the Gospel once we’ve helped them make a Jesus connection, why can’t God just make the connections Himself? I mean, it’s not like He actually needs us. He doesn’t need anything or anyone. He’s God. Need us or not, though, He’s chosen to accomplish our part of this kingdom-advancing work through us. He has given us the task of making Jesus connections through our telling someone about our faith in Him. His turning those connections into life-giving faith without any input from us doesn’t mean our making the connections in the first place doesn’t matter. We absolutely cannot talk ourselves out of evangelism using this line of reasoning. When we play our part, the kingdom grows.
This truth also brings with it a reminder for us. The reminder is this: We’ve got to be humble. When it comes to evangelism, we don’t save anyone. Anyone. Not a single person. Billy Graham never saved a single soul at any point in his long and incredibly fruitful ministry. Now, he made hundreds of millions of Jesus connections, but God saved every person who came to faith because of a connection Billy made. Our work is important, but we are part of a team. Our part matters, but it is not the most important part. If we don’t learn to work in perfect harmony, following carefully the commands of the one who can actually see where we are going, we’ll be a drag on the whole affair. Our goal is to see the kingdom of God grow, not the kingdom of ourselves. When we play our part well, that’s exactly what will happen. When we play our part, the kingdom grows.
One last thing. There is an encouragement here. The encouragement is this: Because God does the growing, the pressure isn’t on you to make it happen. Too often we go into Gospel-sharing opportunities on edge because we have convinced ourselves (and the enemy encourages this line of thinking) that success is only defined by a conversion happening. Anything short of that and we have flopped. We’ve let down God. We’ve failed the individual with whom we’re sharing. Our church is ashamed of us now. Yet what we see here reminds us forcefully of the fact that none of this thinking could be further from the truth. The seed growth that is the conversion of a lost soul into a saved one does not come from us. We don’t have anything to do with it. That’s God’s job, not ours. Our job is to make a Jesus connection. If we have done that, we’ve been a success. To put that another way, if we have played our part, we cannot fail. When we play our part, the kingdom grows. When you play your part, the kingdom grows.
This, then, brings us down to a single question on which the whole of the thing hangs: Are you willing to play your part? Are you willing to play the role in the advance of God’s kingdom that He has called and equipped you to play? You have a part to play. You have a part to play in the advancement of God’s kingdom into this world. You have a part to play in the transformation of lives, of families, of whole communities from broken to saved. You only need to step out and play it. When you play your part, the kingdom grows.