The Expository Files.

The Crowded Heart

Matthew 13:7

"And othen fell upon the thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked them . . ." (Matthew 13:7).
This part of Jesus's story of the sower does not refer to seed sown in an already visible infestation of weeds, but in soil adulterated with the seeds of useless and burdensome plants. The soil is rich, deep and receptive, but it is corrupted. The thorns, which will produce nothing good themselves, will simply grow up to burden the ground and sap the strength of the good seed until it, too, is fruitless. Of this thorn-possessed soil Jesus says, "And he that was sown among the thorns, this is he that hears the word; and the care of the world and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word and he become unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22). To the list of deterrents to fruitfulness, Mark adds "the lust of other things" (4:19), and Luke, "pleasures of this life" (8:14).

Some commentators, especially those of Calvinistic bent, dismiss this case as that of an unconverted heart - one that never received the word of the kingdom with fullness of spirit. This seems unlikely. In the unconverted no life is produced, the seed rots in the ground. Here there is not only life, but growth. The failure derives from what comes afterward - the rise of earthborn distractions which divide the heart and dissipate the energy of the soul.

The whole point of planted seed is not the growth of a plant, however luxuriant, but the production of fruit. The child of the kingdom of heaven is not just to look good, but to do good and to be good. The problem with the heart of the thorny soil is that it has become too crowded with competing concerns, and the seed of God cannot prosper in a divided heart.

What are the thorns that can bleed the spiritual vitality right out of a child of God? Jesus is explicit. The cares of this world can do it. Constant preoccupation with food and shelter and the fear of not having enough not only slanders God's faithfulness, but allows mindless anxiety to rob God of the energies we owe to Him (Matthew 6:25-34). Christians who exhaust their powers in fear and worry will never blossom and bear fruit. Why do we kid ourselves? Worry is not only wasteful, it is sinful. It says implicitly that God will not help us and that we must muddle on without Him.

The love of things can also effectively suffocate the spirit. Money and property can seem so tangible, so real and so securing, but riches are deceitful. They promise fulfillment and never give it (Ecclesiastes 5:9-10). They promise security, but fly off like a wild bird (Proverbs 23:5). We need to deal practically rather than emotionally with material things. We all know intellectually that they don't last. They are as ephemeral as a snowball in July. Why should a man be fool enough to build his life on sand? Still, many Christians think they can have their cake and eat it too. They only wind up as spiritual zombies who drag their emptiness to church assemblies and watch their children grow up to open worldliness without their parents' pious fraud. Such disciples are decorative plants. Don't expect anything lasting to come of them.

Finally, the "pleasures of this life" can work to suck us dry. "What's wrong with pleasures?" someone asks. "Is the life of the kingdom to be one long headache of misery and self-denial?" The answer to the first is "nothing," to the second "no." There is nothing wrong with working diligently for our food, or having wealth, or enjoying all the pleasant things which God has richly given us (1 Timothy 6:17). But any or all of these things are wrong to those who have been "choked" by them, when they have become the passion of their lives. The Greek word translated "choked" in Luke 8:14 is later in the same chapter construed as "thronged" (8:42). Some people let these intrinsically legitimate things so overwhelm them that they are possessed and ruled by them. Legitimate concerns or blessings are then turned into fear, greed and lust. God and His kingdom are crowded to the fringes. The voice of God becomes dim in the clamor. The blessings of our Father ought to be the occasion in His children for thanking Him and serving Him, but they can easily become the cause of our disaffection and uselessness.

Those who choose the divided heart, the crowded heart, says Jesus, will "bring no fruit to perfection" (Luke 8:14), literally, will never carry through to the end, will never finish the job.

We need be under no illusions about Jesus' attitude toward those who start but never finish. "No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is flt for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). We never need to wonder how He feels about the double-minded. "No man can serve two masters

You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24). And we certainly have no cause to doubt His feeling about the fruitless. "Every branch in me that bears no fruit, he takes it away . . ." (John 15:2). There is a future in God's kingdom for the single-minded, however fumbling - but for the divided heart, the crowded heart, there is no hope. "Purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8).

{From CHRISTIANITY MAGAZINE, January, 1993, p.#27}


 By Paul Earnhart  
 From Expository Files 3.5; May 1996