Spiritual maturity happens over time. That’s why most metaphors for spiritual growth in the Bible are gardening metaphors.
And it follows that some people will mature at different rates than others. Some are self-learners and will seek out resources and read and grow at a much faster pace than someone who is less inclined to do so.
But there are still plenty of people who don’t seem to mature spiritually over time. Their lives look no different than their neighbors’ and coworkers’ lives. They’re not getting more generous. They’re not growing in holiness. They’re not praying or reading their Bible.
Why is that?
Jesus told a story about people like this. It was called the Parable of the Seeds. This parable tells us what’s going on with people who never seem to mature, particularly in the “seed that fell among the thorns” part. Here’s how Jesus described it:
“And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it.” (Luke 8:7)
Then Jesus explains:
“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)
The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who have received the gospel but have yet to mature because they are overcome by the comforts of life. That should raise all kinds of alarms for Americans.
If you’re trying to help these “seeds” mature, it can be endlessly frustrating, and in some cases, make you wonder if it’s worth continuing to minister to them at all.
While that sounds tempting, there is nothing in the Bible that affirms leaving people behind for this reason. When Scripture does affirm an abandonment of ministry is when the gospel is adamantly rejected (examples include, Matthew 7, Titus 3:10-11, and when Paul decides to go to the Gentiles in Acts 13 and 18).
Continuing to minister to those being choked by the comforts of this world is exhausting, but it’s also the ministry that’s set before us, particularly in America.
So Jesus’ parable of the seeds helps us understand why some people hear the same message year after year but never grow or mature or produce fruit. But what do we do about it?
Well, we loosen the grip of the world.
And how do we do that?
Here’s my thesis: Clear gospel preaching and discipleship will loose the world’s chokehold.
These are the only things which can convict the heart and transform its desires so that little by little people can mature. Remove one or both of these things and it becomes much harder or nearly impossible for people to recognize and resist the temptations of the world, much less mature in their faith. Those that are able to mature in a starved environment will be those who seek outside resources, teaching and discipleship.
Ultimately, the gospel looses the world’s chokehold and reverses the heart’s desires so that the “seed” then pursues the cares, riches and pleasures of the Kingdom.