In His Parable of the Sower, Jesus discussed different types of soil, representing hearts, and how they would receive the seed, which was the word of God (cf. Luke 8:10-15). Some would have hard hearts, represented by the packed earth of a path, into which the seed would never penetrate, and others would have rich, fertile hearts in which the seed would root, grow, and produce fruit. Tragically, Jesus predicted that some, with otherwise hearts capable of sustaining growth, would allow other things to take root. Jesus likened such hearts to thorny soil, where the thorns and the weeds choke out the ability of the good seed to ever thrive as it should.
“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; ESV).” Matthew, though he does not include Jesus’ inclusion of the pleasures of life, does elaborate on the other two thorny factors as, “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches (Matthew 13:22).” Thus, Jesus’ full description of the thorns is understood as “the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the pleasures of life.”
True to the prediction of Jesus, there are indeed many who, though they believe the gospel, are too preoccupied with this present world to ever apply themselves as they should to following Christ. Their heart needs a good weeding, but instead of removing those things which are entangling them (cf. Hebrews 12:1), they fixate on them and convince themselves that these “thorns” are indeed important enough to lose their souls over. Or at least, they tell themselves that when all their worldly cares and concerns are removed, when their finances are secure, or when they have allowed themselves to sample all the various experiences this world has to offer – it is then they will focus on spiritual matters.
It is worth noting that none of the “thorns” Jesus describes, are of themselves evil or wrong. Everyone, godly or ungodly, has cares in life – whether it be cares of health, weather, government, finances or a thousand other problems that fill the human experience. Likewise, while the love of money is a form of idolatry (cf. 1 Timothy 6:10; Colossians 3:5), money is of itself not wrong, and Jesus has been faithfully served by both rich and poor alike. And, concerning the pleasures of life, it is God Himself who made so many pleasant things for His children to enjoy. The beauty of flowers, or a beach at sunset, or the fall leaves – these things are not evil. Likewise, the love of a spouse, the joys of family, and the bounty of a rich harvest are all pleasures which God commends. That which makes these things thorns is not therefore the intrinsically evil nature of the behavior, but rather it is in allowing them to detract from the more important matters of godliness, love, kindness and righteousness. It is in allowing them to come between ourselves and full obedience and submission to God.
If a man had a garden, and decided that the solution to his weed problem was to give the weeds attention in the form of water and fertilizer, and if such a man were to argue that his garden will thrive as soon as he has allowed the thorns and weeds to grow and mature, he would end up not only ridiculed by other gardeners, but he would never have much in the way of a useful crop. Yet, when individuals throughout the world give loving attention to those things that drag them away from service to God, and when such individuals argue that they will begin producing spiritual fruit as soon as all their worldly concerns have matured, those around them frequently nod in agreement with the plan. But just as thorns in a garden don’t go away without simply being rooted up and cast aside, so too the world is not going to change its nature in the few years of a single life so as to allow one to a full harvest of both thorns and spiritual fruit.
The solution Jesus proposed to His followers was that we should give our full attention to those things that really matter (cf. Luke 10:41-42), allowing other, worldly concerns to work themselves out as they will, apart from our own worry (cf. Matthew 6:25), enjoying the blessings of God as we receive them but content with such things as we might or might not have (cf. 1 Timothy 6:6-7). Whenever we come across any one thing in life which is demanding we turn our attention away from Christ, we should recognize it for the thorny weed that it is and pluck it from our heart.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.