Jesus teaches that disciple-makers carry the responsibility to spread the Word broadly. Varying responses to the Word do not alter the responsibility. These responses fall into two categories – unproductive and productive. Jesus describes three unproductive responses followed by one productive response with differing yields.
The text defines the sower as someone entrusted with the gospel. But who do the unproductive soils represent? Again, examining the text will lead to the answer.
“Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 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 13:18-22 (ESV)
First, note that all the soils hear the “word of the kingdom.” The first defining element includes everyone who hears.
Second, those who hear respond. Unproductive responses include carelessness, instability, and distraction.
Third, the responses yield no produce. Even those responding with initial receptivity bear nothing.
Unproductive soils represent anyone who hears the word but produces no fruit. This would include unregenerate hearers and regenerate believers who hear but fail to be “doers” of the Word. Furthermore, everyone possesses the ability to hear carelessly, unstably, and distractedly. Jesus presents the symptoms of unheeding hearing through these pictures.
A dual application emerges from this text. First, those spreading the Word must understand the cause for the response – the heart-condition of the hearer. Second, those hearing the Word must examine their heart-condition. Does the Word produce lasting fruit demonstrated by a changed life?
James reminds us that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)