Parable of the Sower

Q.  I have some questions about the Parable of the Sower. Your comments are greatly appreciated.

A. The inquirer put a lot of thought into this parable and asked multiple questions touching on many theological issues. I will therefore answer them in several installments. Here’s part 1:

1) If the parable is about the gospel and hence salvation, it would seem to mean that real saving faith is not determined at the moment of confessing faith, since temptations (v.13), worries (v.14) and perseverance (v.15) happen later on in life.

The parable itself is in Lk 8:5-8, which narrates a typical agricultural scene about a farmer sowing his seeds. When Jesus’ disciples questioned Him what it meant (v 9), He said it is about the mysteries of the kingdom of God (v 10). So the subject is kingdom of God, which encompasses the gospel and salvation, but involves more than both. Broadly speaking, the kingdom of God is God’s reign over His entire creation. More narrowly defined, it is God’s rule over the hearts of His subjects.

You are right in observing that temptations, worries and perseverance happen later on in life. But real saving faith is a “both-and“, not an “either/or”. It starts at the moment of confessing genuine faith, and is a process that continues and “endures to the end”:

  • Mt 24:13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
  • Mk 13:13 You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

The fact that it starts upon confession of genuine faith is observed elsewhere, e.g.:

  • Lk 19:9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.
  • Lk 23:43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

The Lord did not tell Zaccheus or the thief on the cross to wait and see whether they would persevere; He told them “today”.

2) In that case when people accept the gospel verbally, why do we congratulate them with Jn 1:12; 6:47 and declare that they are now born-again babies?

For Jesus it’s not a problem because He knew men’s thoughts and what’s in their hearts:

  • Mt 9:4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts
  • Lk 9:47 But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, …
  • Jn 2:25 … for He Himself knew what was in man.

But while God knows and the people themselves may know:

  • 1 Jn 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

we’re human and don’t really know men’s hearts:

  • Jer 17:9 The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?

So we’re jumping the gun a bit when we congratulate them, as we really don’t know for sure that their faith is genuine. We compensate by asking clarification and diagnostic questions, as done in Evangelism Explosion, for example. By observing all the “signs” we can have a certain degree of confidence, but never 100% sure.

(To be continued)

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Least in the Kingdom of Heaven?

matthew-5-19-b

Q. Are Mt 5:19 & 11:11 talking about different kinds of people? Who is the least in the Kingdom? What are these least commandments?

A. The kingdom of God or heaven is not a physical kingdom, but the rule of God on earth:
Lk 17:21 the kingdom of God is in your midst.
Those in the kingdom are the kingdom’s subjects.

Both Mt 5:19 & 11:11 refer to the least in the kingdom i.e. the lowest rank within the kingdom, and are talking about the same kind of people:
Mt 5:19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
• Mt 11:11 Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Also Lk 7:28)

The least in the kingdom of heaven are those who:
• annuls one of the least of the commandments, &
• teaches others to do the same.
“Annuls” translates the Greek verb “lyo” and literally means “loosens” or “relaxes”. It does not mean “breaks”, in which case the perpetrator would be transgressing the law and become a “sinner”, which would disqualify him from the kingdom. It means he complies with the commandment, but not fully, barely meeting the minimum requirements.

Which are the least commandments? The Bible did not say, but note:
Mt 23:23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
The weightier provisions of the law, or the more important commandments, are justice, mercy, and faithfulness. In comparison, tithing, ceremonial cleansing (Mt 23:25-26), outward appearance (Mt 23:27-28) are lesser matters of the law. Whether they are the least, the Bible did not specify.

Lastly, we can also get some clues from the converse:
Mt 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
• Mt 18:4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The opposite of “the least” is “the greatest” in the kingdom. Who are the greatest? They are the ones who humble themselves like a child:
Mt 23:12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
• Lk 14:11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Also Lk 18:14)
• Jas 4:10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

They are greatest because God exalts them. The value system in God’s kingdom is upside-down from the world’s!

Are you Smarter than a First Grader? (4)

1st grader 5

My wife joined the reunion of her high school classmates, and they gave her the following problem:
1111 = 0 | 5555 = 0 | 2222 = 0 | 8193 = 3 | 7662 = 2
8096 = 5 | 9313 = 1 | 4398 = 3 | 0000 = 4 | 9475 = 1
6666 = 4 | 9038 = 4 | 7172 = 0 | 3148 = 2 | 2889 = 5
1964 = ?

They did not say what grade this is, but supposedly it can be solved by a first grader. And unlike the previous two problems which require logic and deduction, this one is really simple, so simple that we who are so complicated often overlook the solution since it is so obvious. What does 1964 equal to? Can you guess?

The answer is 2! Why? Need a hint? Don’t try to see if there is a secret code hidden in those 15 four-digit numbers. I was stumped when I tried to discern any relationship between them, or between the digits that made them up. In vain did I try to sum the digits in each number, or do all sorts of mental gymnastics to “massage” the data! There is no need for any of that. Mt 11:25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. (also Lk 10:21) We who consider ourselves wise are too intelligent for our own good, and the simplicity of things just eludes us.

Still clueless? What shape do little children like, that parents feel safe about? “o”! Count how many “o”s there are in each of the numbers and you’ll get your answer! Now do you see? I have two degrees, with distinction, but I hadn’t got a clue! Humbling isn’t it? Reminds me of Jas 4:6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (also 1 Pet 5:5).

Mt 18:3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (also Mk 10:15; Lk 18:17) Hope we all have the simple faith of children totally dependent on their parents.