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Luke 8:11-15 meaning

Jesus provides His disciples with an explanation for the Parable of the Sower. The first soil resembles a hardened heart, impenetrable from the start, unable to receive God's word at all. The second soil is like a fearful heart, which loses its joy when faced with immediate trials. The third soil reflects a heart which cares more for the fleeting treasures of this world than the everlasting riches of God’s kingdom, thus yielding no fruit. However, the fourth soil stands apart in quality. It represents a heart that trusts, reveres, and loves God. It bears abundant fruit, yielding exponentially more in accordance with its faithfulness.

The parallel Gospel accounts for Luke 8:11-15 are Matthew 13:18-23, Mark 4:13-20.

After Jesus responded to the disciples' question as to what the “Parable of the Sower” meant (Luke 8:9-10), He proceeded to give an explanation for this parable. This particular parable stands out as one of the instances where Scripture provides Jesus's own interpretation. Perhaps this explanation serves as a reminder to readers: “If you lack understanding of the parables, it may encourage a personal reflection on the condition of the soil of your heart.”

This parable speaks about the condition of the human heart as it concerns the kingdom of God (Luke 8:10). Indeed, the kingdom of God is the realm of believers, and thus the “Parable of the Sower,” while indirectly applicable to unbelievers, primarily concerns those who have embraced the Gift of Eternal Life through faith in Jesus (John 3:16).

To learn more about the Gift of Eternal Life, see The Bible Says article: “What is Eternal Life? How to Gain the Gift of Eternal Life.”

The gateway to this kingdom is through the act of faith to believe (John 3:14-16). Only believers in Jesus may enter the kingdom. Yet obedience to God's will is required of believers to enter the kingdom (Matthew 7:21). Entering the kingdom is a key part of a faithful believer’s eternal inheritance—sometimes called “the Prize of Eternal Life.” 

To learn more about the Prize of Eternal Life, see The Bible Says article: “Eternal Life: Receiving the Gift vs. Inheriting the Prize.”

In essence, believers are depicted as either faithful bearers of fruit or unfaithful due to doubts, fears, or worldly desires.

The daily choices and faithfulness of a person are often reflections of their heart's disposition. 

“As in water a face reflects the face,
So the heart of a person reflects the person.”
(Proverbs 27:19)

Throughout Scripture, the heart is portrayed as the wellspring of one's life (Proverbs 4:23), shaping their affections, fears, and allegiances (Psalm 119:10, Proverbs 3:5, Proverbs 28:14, Romans 10:10). It is in the heart that choices are made. This is evident in the command to love the Lord with all one's heart (Deuteronomy 6:5),

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your
heart and with all your soul, and with all your
might.”
(Deuteronomy 6:5)

The heart profoundly impacts a person's receptivity to messages, influencing their thoughts and attitudes. A closed heart makes it challenging for the mind to entertain opposing viewpoints. 

Thus, the purity of the heart becomes a central idea. The pure heart generates trust, reverence, and love for God above all else. This is illustrated in Matthew 5:8 where Jesus states that those with a pure heart are granted the ability to see God. There are three basic choices that any human can make: 

  • who or what to trust or depend on 
  • what perspective, attitude, or mindset to adopt 
  • what actions to take 

Essentially, the Parable of the Sower describes how the growth and fruitfulness of God’s seed is dependent on the heart's chosen perspective.

Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God (v 11).

The seed, as Jesus explains, symbolizes the word of God (v 11). It is the message and teachings concerning the kingdom.

In Jesus's telling of the parable (Luke 8:4-8), He specifies four distinct types of soil where the sower's seed may find its place:

1.) beside the road (v 5)

2.) on rocky soil (v 6)

3.) among the thorns (v 7)

4.) into the good soil (v 8)

Consequently, there were four outcomes corresponding to these different soils:

1.) the seeds by the roadside were trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up

2.) the seeds in rocky areas grew up, but withered away for lack of moisture

3.) the seeds in the thorny areas grew but were choked out

4.) while seeds in good soil grew up and produced a crop a hundred times as great

In Luke 8:11-15, Jesus explains the symbolic significance of these circumstances within the context of His kingdom.

The seed symbolizes the word of God and its message and teachings concerning the kingdom. The sower represents those who proclaim the good news about the kingdom, professing its truths. The scattering of the seed depicts the reception of the kingdom’s gospel by the masses, including various aspects of kingdom instruction, such as ethical conduct, interpersonal relationships, priorities in life, forgiveness, and discernment—all central themes expounded upon by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and His similar teachings found in Luke 6:20-49.

The four types of soil represent four distinct conditions of the heart upon which the word of God falls. Just as the different soils yield diverse outcomes for the seed in the parable’s literal sense, so too, do they generate varied consequences in its symbolic interpretation.

The First Type of Soil

Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved (v 12).

The first scenario pertains to hearts that lack trust in Jesus. In this depiction, Jesus likens the seeds which fell beside the road to those who have heard the word of God but fail to grasp it by faith. Just as the seed fails to penetrate the ground, the word fails to penetrate the heart, symbolizing the hardest of hearts.

Then, after God’s word has been rejected and the seed is lying beside the road, then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart. Notice how the order begins with the personal rejection of God’s word because of the hardened heart first. Then the devil comes and removes the seed

This order aligns with how God gives people the ability to choose for themselves whether or not they will trust Him. This order also reveals that our choices have consequences. If we choose to deny God, then the devil can and eventually will take away the seed of God’s word from our hardened hearts, so that we will not believe and be saved.

The consequence of the hearer’s hardened heart is that they will not believe and be saved. 

Whenever we see the expression or idea of “saved” in the Bible, it is important to consider three questions:

  1. What is being saved?
  2. What is it being saved from?
  3. What is it being saved to and/or for?

In the context of the parable—which concerns “the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1, 8:10—see also Jesus’s explanation of the “Parable of the Sower” in Matthew—Matthew 13:19) what is being saved or not saved is the person and/or that person’s heart.

And consequently, what that person and/or their heart is being saved from is missing the kingdom of God

And finally, what they are being saved to and/or saved for is the kingdom of God.

The seed falling beside the road primarily symbolizes the many believers who doubt and fail to understand the offer of the kingdom (Luke 8:10). 

This portion of the parable is akin to what James says about how hearing and obeying God’s word can save believer’s hearts and minds from corruption in this world:

“…in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
(James 1:21-22)

It is crucial to remember that Jesus is teaching about the kingdom of God in this parable, emphasizing faithfulness and the fruit it yields (v 14, 15). He is not teaching about earning eternity with God through works or demonstrations of faithfulness through fruit. The Gift of Eternal Life is received solely by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Yet, believers who have this eternal Gift can harbor hardness of heart towards God, leading them to disregard and resist the Spirit’s invitations, consequently failing to grasp the kingdom (Luke 8:10).

The expression so that they will not believe and be saved principally refers to those who have believed in Jesus for the Gift of Eternal Life, but do not trust God in their circumstances, and consequently lose their eternal inheritance and do not enter the kingdom. In this case, what is not saved is not a believer’s eternal security or membership in God’s family, but it is His inheritance and reward (see 1 Corinthians 3:11-15). 

This parable primarily speaks about the heart’s condition and how the unfaithful versus faithful believers contribute within the kingdom. 

Nevertheless, Jesus’s explanation of what the seed-beside-the-road means seems to have a secondary meaning also, based on the language Luke uses to record it.

The expression that they will not believe and be saved could also refer to unbelievers (what is not being saved) being saved from everlasting separation from God in the lake of fire—and—being saved to becoming an everlasting son or daughter of God who lives forever in harmony with Him.

Believe and be saved is an expression often associated with receiving the Gift of Eternal Life (John 3:16-17, Acts 16:31, 1 Corinthians 1:21). It is an interesting word choice especially for the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. 

John’s Gospel makes clear that “faith” or “belief” is all one must do to receive the Gift of Eternal Life (John 3:16). 

The Gospel of Matthew was written to Jews who already had the Gift of Eternal Life by virtue of their faith in God’s promise. Matthew was written to convince these Jews that Jesus was the Messiah and to embrace Him as their King so that they would receive the blessings of the Kingdom. Most, if not all, of Matthew’s exhortations are concerned with inheriting the Prize of Eternal Life.

Mark and Luke were written to Gentiles. But these Gospels largely follow Matthew’s overall approach. Consequently, the Gift of Eternal Life is rarely brought up in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But the expression: so that they will not believe and be saved appears to be an exception.

The Greek word translated saved is “σῴζω” (G4982, pronounced: “sozo”). “Sozo” means something being delivered from something. As mentioned above, the context determines what is being delivered from what. An example is Matthew 9:21 where “sozo” is translated “made well” because, in context, a woman was delivered from a sickness.

Here God’s word is taken away by the devil before it can be acted upon by the hearer that they might believe. Accordingly, it would seem that the salvation in view here could include initial salvation—receiving the Gift of Eternal Life. Jesus taught that all that was required to be born again was enough faith to believe on Jesus on the cross, hoping to be healed of the poisonous venom of sin (John 3:14-15).

Jesus used the analogy of those in the wilderness who heard the message from Moses that all they had to do was look on the bronze snake on the pole and they would be healed from the poisonous venom of vipers. The analogy here seems to be that the people initially heard about the bronze snake, then that information was taken from them. In such a case, they would not believe and be saved from the snake bites.

The expression—believe and be saved—may be Luke’s way of applying the first part of the “Parable of the Sower” to those who reject Jesus’s offer of Eternal Life to unbelieving Gentiles in His audience. If Luke is doing this, then this teaching may be one of the few verses in the synoptic Gospels that explicitly addresses the Gift of Eternal Life. 

Luke may have used the expression that they will not believe and be saved because his primary audience included Greek Gentiles who lived in communities filled with unbelievers who, because of Luke’s associate, Paul, were beginning to hear the Gospel for the first time. Greek believers would have likely been familiar with the believe and be saved terminology used by Paul.

Luke, who may have been a Gentile himself and was companion of Paul on his missionary journeys to the Gentile Greeks, understood that the first part of the Gospel is to believe in Jesus to receive the Gift of Eternal Life. Luke may have included the negative version the Gospel expression “so that they will not believe and be saved” as a way to show his Greek audience what to do to receive the Gift—they must believe in Jesus and His message to be saved from the penalty of sin, which is separation from God and God’s family.

In summary, the hardened soil beside the road scenario as described by Luke seems to have two meanings. Its primary meaning describes believers whose hearts have been hardened against God and their Savior and are unable to receive God’s word and fruitfully apply it to their lives. Its secondary meaning describes unbelievers whose hearts reject the message concerning the Gift of Eternal Life so that they will not believe and be saved

As the seed remains on the hard ground beside the road, “it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up” (Luke 8:5). Jesus explains this is the devil who comes and takes away the word from their heart before it has a chance to grow. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus specifies that it is the devil -“Diabolos”—who takes away the word from their heart. Similarly, in Mark's Gospel, Jesus identifies the devil by his title "Satan"—“Satanas”—meaning "the Adversary" or "the Accuser" (Mark 4:15). 

Matthew’s Gospel states “the evil one” has snatched away the seed that was sown (Matthew 13:19). However there's no definite article before "evil"—“Poneros”—suggesting the snatching away is not necessarily attributed to Satan. In this context the nature of the evil described in Matthew could mean various things, including a person's sinful desires, temptations, demonic forces, or the devil himself. Regardless, “the evil one” would not have had the opportunity to snatch away the seed if the heart had initially received the word.

As mentioned earlier, if unbelievers are to be considered within the “Parable of the Sower,” they are typically associated with the first type of soil alongside believers whose hearts are hardened. 

The remaining three scenarios seem to exclusively concern believers. The second and third types of soil depict two additional categories of unfaithful believers, while the fourth type of soil represents faithful believers.

But how could a believer possess a hardened heart, one that is infertile and resistant to receiving the word of God? The answer is straightforward. Any believer can adopt the perspective that they know best and can figure things out independently. With this mindset, there is no receptivity to correction, which is a significant aspect of the word of God. The Bible declares itself as an instrument of teaching and correction:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”
(2 Timothy 3:16)

Those who believe in their own self-sufficiency (including those who have trusted to receive the Gift of Eternal Life) are closed off to the belief that they have anything to learn from God. Those focused on justifying themselves resist reproof. And those who insist on their own wisdom reject correction. Such a disposition renders the heart closed to receiving the word of God. Believers possess the choice to walk in the Spirit but also retain the ability to walk in the flesh and sow to the flesh (Galatians 5:13, 6:8). The soil that we present to God is ultimately a matter of the heart.

The Second Type of Soil

Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away (v 13).

The second scenario, the rocky soil, concerns hearts that fear men more than God. In this scenario, Jesus describes one who hears the word and initially receives the word with joy. However, this temporary joy is lost when confronted with a time of temptation. Both Matthew and Mark specifically refer to these temptations as “times of affliction and persecution because of the word” (Matthew 13:20, Mark 4:17). The seeds in the rocky soil initially sprouted but had no firm root and withered away due to lack of moisture before bearing fruit (Luke 8:6).

These hearts overflow with joy upon hearing the good news of the kingdom of God. Unlike the hardened soil beside the road, these hearts are receptive, responding immediately to the sower's message. Yet, their joy is short-lived because they have no firm root within themselves. The rocky soil leaves the believer vulnerable to the temptations, the trials, and challenging persecutions that come with following Jesus, causing him to fall away from God.

The fear of affliction or persecution can be a prevalent weakness for many hearts. Jesus repeatedly instructed His disciples to ground themselves in Him against such fears. A common fear for most humans is the fear of rejection. The shallow soil desires God's blessings and finds joy in them but is unwilling to endure rejection from people and the world, thus failing to walk in God's ways.

The Bible often speaks about the abundant rewards awaiting those who faithfully bear witness and endure rejection, akin to a form of death. Death signifies separation, and experiencing rejection and loss of relationship feels like a form of death. Yet, this is the essence of a vibrant testimony. The Greek word often translated as “witness” or “testimony” is the root of the English word “martyr.” Bearing faithful witness for Jesus leads to the greatest fruitfulness and consequently, the greatest reward in life. Jesus frequently spoke of this trial; a few examples follow:

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."
(John 16:33)

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna].”
(Matthew 10:28

The Bible frequently addresses painful circumstances and encourages believers to endure faithfully. Hearts that succumb to the temptation to fixate on immediate trials often lose sight of the joy that awaits them in the future if only they would faithfully persevere (Hebrews 12:1). When someone focuses on suffering rather than the promised reward, they bear no fruit and lose sight of their divine calling and their identity as citizens of the kingdom (2 Peter 1:8-11). They overlook the fact that the authenticity of their faith is more valuable than gold (1 Peter 1:7).

Strangely, they are caught off guard by the rocky trials and fiery ordeals, forgetting that as they share in Christ’s sufferings, they will also share in His glory when it is revealed (1 Peter 4:12-13, Romans 8:17-18). They consider only the joy of God’s kingdom but dread the narrow gates of affliction and persecution through which God calls them to enter His kingdom (James 1:2-8, Matthew 5:10-12, Matthew 7:13-14).

The author of Hebrews issues a warning against hearts resembling rocky soil,

“For you...accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.”
(Hebrews 10:34-35) 

This passage in Hebrews speaks directly to the believer who recognizes they have “a better possession and a lasting one” in heaven. The believer is cautioned not to “throw away your confidence,” as doing so would forfeit a “great reward.” It illustrates someone who initially embraces God's word with joy, endures significant hardships for their faithful commitment, but now wavers. In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul encourages believers to persevere and “not lose heart in doing good,” reminding them that they “will reap” a full reward in heaven (Galatians 6:9).

Suffering and the fear of suffering often cause many hearts to lose their joy. This is because such hearts lack a firm root. Lasting joy requires being firmly rooted in the power of Jesus and His Spirit, overcoming the superficial trials of the moment. Notice how this type of heart readily receives the word with joy but quickly falls away during times of temptation. The disposition of this heart is entirely temporary, lacking the enduring perspective and power that only God can provide. It remains too deeply rooted in worldly rewards.

Contrary to common belief, affliction and persecution are not joy destroyers. But rather they are occasions for joy to those firmly rooted in Christ (Matthew 5:10-12, Romans 5:3-5, Philippians 4:4, James 1:2-5). However, to gain such a perspective requires a deliberate decision of the heart. It necessitates acknowledging that “God's ways are best for us, regardless of our present circumstances.” This is why James instructs, “Consider it all joy…when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2). When we adopt a perspective that everything allowed into our lives by God is ultimately for our benefit and growth, we cultivate a fertile heart. Conversely, when we prioritize immediate gratification, we resemble the rocky soil, lacking depth for roots to grow.

The Third Type of Soil

The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity (v 14).

The third scenario, the seed which fell among the thorns, pertains to hearts that prioritize the rewards of the world over the rewards promised by God

Jesus likens the seed which fell among the thorns to the ones who have heard the word but allow worries and riches and pleasures of this life to choke the word. These seeds among the thorns may or may not have sprouted. Some find no room to sprout amidst the crowded thorns of worldly concerns, while others sprout only to a limited extent before being choked by the unfruitful competition. Ultimately, these hearts bring no fruit to maturity.

The thorns symbolize temptations to pursue the riches, worries, and pleasures of this life. These pursuits, however, are hollow, and their promises are filled with deceit. The world presents wealth as the preeminent path to honor and life's greatest rewards, but this is ultimately deceitful. The heart represented by thorny soil is one that has been led into misunderstanding the true significance of riches. While God desires us to have great wealth, He makes it clear that the path to true riches lies through the word of God, the sown seed.

In the book of Revelation, one of the most illuminating passages on this topic is found in the letter to the Laodicean church. Jesus rebukes them for being deceived by the riches of this world. Although they see themselves as wealthy, they are in fact miserable and impoverished. Jesus offers them this guidance: 

“I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich.”
(Revelation 3:18)

In Revelation 3, the Laodicean church is being instructed to shift their mindset and choose a perspective of the heart that leads to true riches. Jesus urges them to recognize that genuine riches are given from God. He assures them, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline” (Revelation 3:19). He then outlines the pathway to obtaining this gold, all the riches they desire: 

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”
(Revelation 3:20)

True wealth becomes attainable when we adopt a mindset that acknowledges that lasting riches stem from heeding the voice of Jesus and engaging in intimate fellowship with Him, like one would when sharing a meal with others. To acquire genuine riches, we must focus our desire for gain in the spiritual realm rather than in the misplaced pursuits of this world.

Solomon, renowned for his wisdom, declares the pursuit of wealth and worldly pleasures as vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11, 18). Similarly, Paul warns that those fixated on becoming rich will ultimately find themselves engulfed in ruin and destruction (1 Timothy 6:9). The heart among the thorns succumbs to the allure of lesser goods, forsaking God's ultimate and perfect goodness for their lives (1 John 2:16-17). They resemble Esau, who exchanged his future inheritance for a mere bowl of soup (Hebrews 12:16).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus advises His followers not to spend their lives worrying about worldly possessions but to prioritize seeking God's kingdom and righteousness (harmony) above all else (Matthew 6:25-34). He reassures them that those who pursue honor from men have already received their “reward in full” (Matthew 6:2). Moreover, He emphasizes to His disciples the insignificance of these worldly rewards, even if attained,

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
(Matthew 16:26

In this third scenario, among the thorns, Jesus explains that these thorns encompass not only riches but also worries, alternatively understood as the “care of the world.” This concept seems to encapsulate concerns such as seeking the world's approval, conforming to its definition of success, or aligning with its moral standards. These worries manifest as an anxiousness to conform to what the world deems good. This anxiety can be invoked by the pressures to:

  • maintain an “image” because of a desire for the approval of others
  • conform to fit in because of a desire for the approval of others
  • appear to be a “good person” by being in agreement with whatever culture says is “good”

These worries do not produce good fruit, rather anxiousness. Societal moral opinions and fads are constantly in flux, yet they can determine one’s standing in society (or history).

The world's standard of righteousness (“dikaiosune”) changes often. What garners approval today may lead to condemnation (being canceled) tomorrow. Chasing after the approval of worldly systems is a vain errand leaving one without harmony and abounding in worries. Those who seek worldly accolades find themselves pricked by its thorns and, regarding the kingdom of God, bring no fruit to maturity.

What the world deems as good or righteous is often misleading. When individuals manage their image to gain approval, they create a false impression in an attempt to direct the opinions of others. We can never truly know the thoughts of another person, we merely imagine that we can predict their thoughts. 

In actuality, these quests for affirmation are just the pursuit of a deceitful illusion, rooted in a false presentation of oneself. This leads to anxiety as individuals realize the fragility and falsity of their constructed image. The alternative is to root one's life in the reality of truth, leading to the fourth scenario: the good soil.

The Fourth Type of Soil

But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance (v 15).

In the final scenario of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus identifies the ones who have heard the word and hold it fast as the good soil

The quality of this soil and heart are distinct from the first three types. The good heart exhibits trust in God and receptivity to His word, unlike the first heart (the seed sown beside the road). The good heart fears God and is characterized by courage, boldly enduring afflictions—unlike the second heart (the rocky soil). The good heart loves God and forsakes the comforts and approval of this world, seeking instead the crowns of heaven, distinguishing it from the third heart (among the thorns)

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus gives three characteristics of good soil.

The first characteristic of good soil are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart.

The expression—honest and good heart—is an interesting choice of words. It describes ideals that were of significant importance to Luke’s Greek audience. Interestingly, Luke’s Gospel is the only Gospel of the three that includes Jesus’s “Parable of the Sower” and His explanation to explicitly connect the good soil to an honest and good heart.  

The terms translated here as honest and good are respectively the terms used by Greeks to describe two of the three transcendental or ultimate values. 

The three Greek transcendental ideals—Truth (“Aletheia”), Beauty (“Kallos”), and Goodness (“Agathon”)—are fundamental concepts in classical Greek philosophy, representing the highest and most universal forms of human understanding and aspiration.

  • Truth (Aletheia)
    Truth, or Aletheia, in Greek philosophy, refers to the uncovering or revealing of reality as it genuinely is. It embodies the idea of clarity and authenticity, where knowledge aligns perfectly with the true nature of things. The pursuit of Aletheia is a central objective in philosophy, aiming to transcend illusions, opinions, and partial understandings to grasp the fundamental principles governing existence.
  • Beauty (Kallos)
    Beauty, or Kallos, represents an ideal form of harmony, proportion, and aesthetic excellence that evokes pleasure and admiration. In Greek thought, Beauty is not merely superficial but is deeply connected to moral and intellectual virtues, suggesting that true Beauty reflects inner goodness and truth. The appreciation and creation of Beauty are seen as vital to the cultivation of the soul and the pursuit of a fulfilling and virtuous life.
  • Goodness (Agathon)
    Goodness, or Agathon, denotes the highest moral and ethical ideal, often associated with the ultimate purpose or end (“telos”) of human life. It involves the realization of virtue, justice, and moral excellence, guiding individuals and societies toward flourishing and well-being. In Greek philosophy, the concept of Agathon is closely linked with the notion of human flourishing, suggesting that the Good Life is one lived in accordance with reason, virtue, and harmony with the divine order.

Throughout Luke’s Gospel, he presents Jesus as the ideal human who lives in perfect harmony with God. Luke’s Gospel offers Jesus’s teachings as the path to the Good Life that the Greeks were consciously seeking. Jesus’s “Parable of the Sower” and His explanation are teachings that directly lead to the Good Life. 

The Greek word that is translated here as honest is from the Greek word “καλός” (G2570—pronounced: “kall-os”). It is the same Greek word for the Greek ideal of Beauty. 

What Luke means by a beautiful (honest) heart is one that is pure. It is not superficial, but rather is one that strives to seek after God, that loves Him and reflects His love. A beautiful (honest) heart has integrity to endure temptations and trials. 

The Greek word that is translated here as good is from the Greek word: ἀγαθός (G18—pronounced: “ag-ath-os”). It is the same Greek word for the Greek ideal of Goodness. 

What Luke means by a good heart is one that achieves and fulfills its purpose/”telos”—its God-given design. Our hearts were created to love God and selflessly serve people. A good heart is productive in these things. The good heart bears fruit and yields abundantly, producing “a crop a hundred times as great” (Luke 8:8).

The second characteristic of good soil are the ones who…hold it (the word) fast.

This describes people who are unwavering in their faith, in contrast to the people described in the second and third scenarios (vs 13, 14). Luke’s ministry partner, Paul, encouraged the worldly believers of the Corinthian church to “hold fast the word” in order to get the full benefit and hope of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:2). 

It is worth pointing out that each of the three Gospels who record Jesus’s “Parable of the Sower” and His explanation of it use a different verb or action to describe what the good soil does with the word.

Luke uses: hold it fast

Matthew uses: “understands it” (Matthew 13:23). The Greek word that is translated as “understands” means to “bring things together.” It is like the metaphorical lightbulb that goes off when a realization is made. In this regard, “understands” describes the Jewish concept of wisdom.

Mark uses: “accept” (Mark 4:20). By “accept,” Mark means “apply,” “does,” “live out,” or “put God’s word into action.” Application and action are Roman ideals that would have resonated with Mark’s Roman readership. Romans were doers. 

The third characteristic of good soil are the ones who…bear fruit with perseverance.

The good soil/heart that Jesus is describing continues to bear fruit. It does not go dormant for a time or bear fruit on occasion. It is evergreen. In His “Parable of the Vine” (John 15:1-6), Jesus commands His disciples to “abide in Me” (John 15:5) and He promises them that if they remain in Him (have perseverance) that they “will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). If they do not hold fast to the word (persevere) and remain in Him, then they “can do nothing” (John 15:5).

In Luke, Jesus emphasizes the longevity and perseverance of an honest and good heart. In Matthew and Mark, He emphasizes the quantity of fruit (Matthew 13:23, Mark 4:20).

Jesus does not explicitly explain in Matthew or Mark why some faithful individuals produce more or less fruit. It may be that some are more faithful or have more perseverance in the kingdom than others. Or it may be that some have greater opportunities for bearing fruit, as depicted in the “Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30), where servants were entrusted with varying amounts of money to invest. One principle from the “Parable of the Talents” is that to whom much is given much is required. It could be understood that differing levels of accountability exist according to the gifts and opportunities bestowed upon the individual. Nevertheless, all who possess the good soil are rewarded.

When Jesus illustrated examples of deeds that would be rewarded in this life, He often highlighted the most mundane of efforts, actions that almost anyone could undertake, such as offering a cup of cool water in Jesus’s name (Matthew 10:42).

The primary message conveyed through these parables is the importance of being faithful and productive for the kingdom during the brief span of life given on this earth. Jesus emphasizes that an individual's heart determines entrance into the kingdom and the quantity of fruit it bears

The parallel references from Matthew and Mark quantify the production of fruit from the good soil as “thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold” (Matthew 13:23, Mark 4:20). However, the outcome for all of the first three scenarios/soils was precisely zero.

It is crucial to acknowledge that in all four scenarios described in this parable, the sower, the word, and the opportunity to hear the message of the kingdom remain constant. The sole variable is the condition of the heart receiving or rejecting the word. To believe in Jesus is to experience spiritual rebirth, while entering the kingdom entails walking in His ways.

To summarize, the “Parable of the Sower” points out the condition of the heart of believers as they relate to the “kingdom of God” (Luke 8:10). It underscores the fluctuating condition of believers’ hearts. At various points in their spiritual journey, believers may find their hearts hardened and resistant to believe the word of God, easily swayed by the temptation of fear, choked by worldly concerns—or fertile, bearing abundant fruit with perseverance. Any believer has the capability to display each of the four different hearts toward God

The profound message embedded in this parable is that, regardless of the condition of our hearts at any given moment, believers possess the remarkable opportunity to have their hearts transformed, embrace the word, and experience the abundant and fruitful life it offers. 

James’s admonition to believers in this context applies:

“Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”
(James 1:21)

Here, James addresses the fundamental struggle believers face, noting that temptation does not originate from our circumstances, but from our own lusts and desires. Therefore, believers carry this temptation with them everywhere they go. James’s proposed solution involves two steps: 

  • Learn to listen to others (James 1:19
  • Listen to God, “receiving” the word of God into the good soil of the heart (James 1:21)

It is noteworthy that James proposes learning to listen to others along with “receiving the implanted word.” The willingness to receive another’s thoughts is part of the path to having a good heart. When believers fully embrace and internalize the word of God (hold it fast), it becomes “implanted” within them, transforming their hearts and saving their lives from the grip of their own desires. 

A heart cultivated as good soil, holding fast to the word of God, enables believers to break free from the bondage of their fleshly desires, allowing them to sow to the Spirit and reap the abundant rewards therein, and experience the Good Life.

 

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