The Third SoilBy Nathan Mates
"Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful." - Mark 4:18-19
News of the stock market's movement can dominate the evening news, or the online news pages. How much the NASDAQ is up (or down) for the year is a hot topic of discussion among people. Closer to home, the discussion of the Jones's new SUV sitting in the driveway two houses down is an item of envy. The latest toys are purchased for the kids, while parents plan vacations and wonder about finding babysitters while they're away. People also dig themselves deeper into credit card debt, while ignoring the future consequences.
Such things as above dominate the thoughts and actions of many Americans these days. Curiously also, though there's no mention of God in the actions of so many, people will nominally claim to be following God. In their present 'blessings,' they'll give God some credit (after praising their own hard work), but not their time. Sadly, many in the American church have bought into this notion that their worldly success is proof they're doing well by God's eyes.
Jesus spoke of such a condition, in his parable on the four soils, or types of believers. First is the hardened unbeliever, where "Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them." [Mark 4:15] These people are very resistant to God's word spoken to them-- when out witnessing, one runs into these all the time.
Second are those who hear, at least for a while: "Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away." [Mark 4:16-17] Persecution as Christians is guaranteed to all of us. We are not of this world anymore, and there are those in the world who'd rather attack than repent when their consciences start acting up. As Christians, we're not guaranteed heaven on earth, but just heaven while in heaven.
Persecution can also appear in many other forms. I have heard of some leaving the Church because they didn't like what was said during a sermon or two. Or, a pastor who didn't have enough coffee in them to warmly greet them. Or, a rattle in the air vents that bugged them. These are all examples of this second soil, where there's no roots to get past the scorching heat of adversity.
But, it's the third group of soils that is the most dangerous. "Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful." [Mark 4:18-19] Quite simply, they allow themselves to become apathetic about their faith as other things grow to a higher priority.
God, in his commandments, was concerned about this issue enough to make it the first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me." [Exodus 20:3] While many in the third soil would say they're still following God, their hearts and actions tell a different story. In many people's lives today, money, power, success, possessions, and the like are their top god(s). Following God, obeying his commandments, being in relationship with other Christians, and the like is contained to being only a few hours on Sunday morning.
In place of God first, many people follow the deceitfulness of wealth instead. Striving for the bigger paychecks (or two paychecks, even with infants at home), more toys, they chase after the pleasures of this world, aided by money. Jesus said, however, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." [Matthew 6:24] Unfortunately, too many today have chosen to serve money, leaving God out of the picture.
Chasing after money and the things of this world is hardly a new concept. The Israelites made a golden calf while Moses was up receiving the ten commandments. [Exodus 32:1-6] Later, in their promised land, a cycle emerged: "Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways." [Judges 2:18-19]
Such a cycle is in danger of happening here-- when times are good, people run away from God. When the consequences of our sin fall back on us, people cry out to God, and are delivered until they turn away again. This should not be the case for a nation full of Christians. Instead of treating all the riches we have and using them for God's purposes: tithing, being generous with the poor, saving wisely, investing in God's kingdom, we're spending all the money on ourselves.
All of the money in this country that's paid for Bibles readily available everywhere hasn't produced a nation that reads and applies God's word. We will be held accountable for what we were given, and what we did with it-- and our possession of God's blessings has produced national spiritual apathy. Pockets of doing things right do exist (God always keeps a faithful remnant), but God would prefer the entire nation to be following after him.
We cannot wash our hands of others' disobedience around us. God calls those who are faithful to him to be watchmen to warn others of the consequences of their actions. [Ezekiel 3:17-21] God is also looking to the righteous to be praying for, interceding for, and repenting of their sins. It's a difficult job, but God wants his people to be concerned about those around them.
God's warnings are clear to those who forsake him for the pleasures of this world: it may or may not be pleasant now, and it certainly won't be pleasant facing God on judgment day. Hopefully, those who are reading this do have their priorities straight-- with God first and foremost-- and are producing a rich harvest for God: the fourth (good) soil. But, there are those we may know personally, or know about, or know of in general, who have put the things of this world in place of God. We need to pray, to work, to speak into their lives to help them get their focus on God first.