Biblically Categorizing the Shallow and Divided Heart Hearer
By Richard Allen – October 2, 2023
In this week’s Blog we’ll cover another of the portions of Soil, “The Thorny-Ground Hearer,” also referred to as “The Divided-Heart Hearer.” Of all the types of “hearers” to whom Jesus spoke, this portion of Soil is the one that personally gives me the most pause, causing me to examine my own heart and profession. For those who profess faith, Jesus’ somber warnings really strike a nerve, even for the most sincere follower. As was pointed out in “The Fruitless Professor” - Part 1, there are four important stages to the growth and harvest of any seed: 1.) Successful planting and germination, 2.) Root growth and establishment in the Soil, 3.) Upward growth toward the sun and becoming a healthy plant that can support bearing fruit, and 4.) Producing fruit for a bountiful harvest. If there is any disruption or failure at any of these four stages, the plant remains “Fruitless.” Both the Rocky Ground Soil and the Thorny Ground Soil (hearts) allowed the seed to germinate and grow to some degree. But neither portion of Soil was conducive to the “Word of the Kingdom” growing in their affections (heart) to the point where “fruit” was produced. For the Thorny Ground Hearer whom we’re looking at this week, it’s interesting how the Gospel of Luke describes this hearer’s response:
“And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the caresand riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:14).
For two weeks we’ve been looking at “Fruitless Professors,” which I am suggesting include both the Rocky Ground and the Thorny Ground Hearers. While there are some differences in how many “Stages” each may advance in the growing cycle, it’s clear that regardless of making a “leafy show,” neither plant bears any fruit. While the Scripture affirms that the Rocky Ground, or Shallow-Hearted Hearer only continues for a while, all three recorded Gospels make it clear that: “In time of testing” he falls away from any profession of faith. Whereas the Rocky Ground Hearer withers and dies during a Time of Testing for the Word of the Kingdom, the Thorny Ground Hearer continues to grow. There is no mention of the Thorny Ground Hearer withering or dying, but as the King James’ translation of Luke 8:14 explains, “no fruit is brought to perfection.” I have another interesting story to share from my master-gardening wife, Cathy. She related an experience that we just had this recent growing season. She had a very robust and healthy tomato plant that had many flowers, good sunlight and appeared to be heading for a fruitful harvest, so she paid it little attention. But as the growing season progressed, she realized that a weed (that looked much like the tomato plant itself) had intertwined the poor tomato plant and sapped the water, sunlight and life from it. In the end, it never produced any healthy tomatoes. It did have a “nub of a stunted tomato” on its vine, but it never grew or ripened to fruitfulness.
The lesson here, that Jesus gives us, is profound when rightly understood. The thorns or weeds Jesus speaks of that occupied the Soil of the Thorny Ground Hearer are described as:
“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).
“And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the worldand the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19).
“And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:14).
This is a somber lesson from Our Lord. Which of us doesn’t struggle with the cares of the world, the desire and need for money or for other things as well as the pleasures of life? I can safely say, ALL REAL CHRISTIANS STRUGGLE AGAINST THE CONSTANT INTERTWINING OF THESE THINGS IN THE SOIL OF OUR HEARTS! And the analogy that Jesus gives us makes it clear that our hearts, that is the Soil in which the Word of God seeks to grow and find nourishment in our affections and sustenance from the Spirit within us, only has a limited amount of nutrients. Our hearts will either be growing and sustaining the Word of God, bringing us to obedient faith, or those affections will be sapped away by the cares of this life. And here is the final insult, just because our affections are sapped and divided doesn’t mean we don’t still go to Church, often making a fair show outwardly of our piety and faith. But while we may still have a ”leafy show,” the weeds of care and worry for this life prevent any fruit that may result from our profession of faith “stunted, immature and useless to God.”
As my master gardener wife observed: “I should have weeded better and paid more attention to that poor tomato plant while the weed was just getting started. I could have saved that plant from a barren harvest.” In Scripture, we see several other times where Jesus interacted with plants that were expected to bear fruit. Probably the most memorable is the Barren Fig Tree in Luke’s Gospel:
“Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered “ (Luke 21:18-19).
What should catch our eye immediately is that Jesus was hungry. And as He longed for fruit (a fig), from this tree, He approached it, but found nothing. His curse will be the same for all “Fruitless Professors.” In that day, all those who have made a “leafy show” of religion without bearing fruit will find themselves cast out of the Kingdom. So I don’t bring us all to despair, let’s look at another passage Jesus taught about a vine that did not bear fruit and the Vinedresser makes needed changes in the hope of bringing forth a harvest. Jesus told this other parable in Luke Chapter 13:
“Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.’ So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down ’ ” (Luke 13:6-8).
The obvious reference is Jesus coming to the people of Israel seeking fruitfulness, yet finding none. But we need also to see that any wise vineyard keeper does not quickly destroy a plant that he has dressed and labored for. In the same way, would not a farmer in our own day do the same? I’m told by those who have cultivated and grown grapes that very often a master vinedresser will prune a vine so drastically that you’d almost think he had killed it. It turns out that pruning off the leafy growth that is sapping the life from the vine – often forces the vine to produce the buds or flowers that will bear fruit. In the same way, God the Father often needs to “prune and take away the leafy growth” in our lives in order that we may bear fruit to God. I’m sure that many of us are familiar with the painful hand of Our Loving Heavenly Father as He has pruned things in our life, so that our affections and obedience to the Word might bear real fruit – with patience. I personally have known the painful pruning of God in my life. It’s not pleasant at the time, but in the end, it bears the “fruit of righteousness.” Here’s how the writer to Hebrews describes this pruning process:
“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-11).
My goal for bringing pruning into our discussion of the “Thorny Ground Hearer” is to once again help us respect God as a Master Gardener, who does no less in the lives of His children than an earthy Sower does for his crops. And just so you understand, I’m not saying that God is looking for “good soil to plant in.” If I understand the Scriptures correctly, THERE IS NO GOOD SOIL! Since God “cursed the ground” after Adam’s disobedience, thorns and thistles are the default crop. You don’t have to do anything to have a harvest of weeds. Here’s what God told Adam after the Fall:
“And to Adam he said, because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘you shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you. In pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the plants of the field” (Genesis 3:17-18).
So, if thorns and weeds are the default crop – as most farmers (Sowers) know, that means there needs to be faithful preparation of the soil before planting, and constant weeding and pruning afterward. As we are working our way through this Parable of the Soils, we’ll see that God, the Master Gardener, does no less. In fact, He performs a “miracle of grace” in the hearts of fallen men and women to allow the Word of the Kingdom to germinate, grow and produce a harvest of righteousness!
Soli Deo Gloria!