PARABLES SERIES OVERVIEW Primary Scripture “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop” (Luke 8:15). Objectives 1. Study the parables of the New Testament. 2. Connect the parables‟ lessons to the lives of teenagers. 3. Challenge students to evaluate their hearts with the lessons from the parables. Series Overview There‟s nothing like a good story. It grabs our attention, keeps us interested, and lodges deep in our memory banks. Jesus‟ stories were no different. Even people with a remedial level of Bible knowledge can recall some of the stories Jesus told, even if they don‟t know where to find them. In fact, Jesus seems to have done far more story-telling than lecturing. His messages were as much illustration as exhortation. But Jesus‟ stories were more than memorable. They were transforming. No doubt he understood the power of stories to connect with people, move their hearts, and bring home the truth better than bare facts or clear statements ever could. The tales he told weren‟t just fun; they were dangerous. If you sat around and listened to a few of his stories and you might not ever recover; in fact your life might be forever changed. What follows are studies on six of his parables. Some are familiar, others not. But all contain pointed truth. These are timeless tales that test our hearts. Table of Contents The Tale of Two Hearts (Pride): Luke 18:9-14 The Account of the Fat Account (Greed): Luke 12:13-21 The Legend of the Lost (Evangelism): Luke 15 The Story of the Wise Manager (Wisdom): Luke 16:1-9 The Fable of the Foolish Girls (Second Coming): Matthew 25:1-13 The Farmer's Almanac (The Heart): Luke 8:4-15 THE TALE OF TWO HEARTS The Pharisee and the Publican Primary Scripture Luke 18:9-14 Secondary Scripture 1 Corinthians 5:12 Objectives 1. Recognize that all of us sin but are saved by grace. 2. Contrast pride and humility and explain how these qualities come to light in a student‟s life. 3. Evaluate the level of pride in our lives and take steps to reduce it. Overview When we forget that we not only need Christ to save us for eternity but also to help us make it through the day, we begin to distance ourselves from others and lose sight of two truths: We need God‟s grace and God wants us to extend His grace to others. When we forget, we strut like Pharisees rather than beg like Publicans. Getting Things Started It was big news when actress Ellen Degeneres decided to make her homosexual lifestyle public. It became a subject of national conversation. This type of announcement is not as newsworthy anymore as similar statements have become more common. But the public remarks of Ellen‟s announcement by a once prominent pastor and tele- evangelist are noteworthy. This minister of Good News called the actress, Ellen Degenerate. That wasn‟t the nicest public statement to make about the actress, but it‟s a true statement about all of humanity, not just because of a person‟s sexual orientation. All of us are born degenerate, but the Good News is that God has made a way for the degenerate to be regenerate. Somehow the pastor neglected to mention this fact! What if, when asked his opinion of Ellen‟s revelation, the pastor had said this: “Well, I‟m not concerned with judging the world. The Bible in reminds us that‟s God‟s business. But I can say this: I‟m sure Ellen has been through a lot regarding this, and I sympathize. She‟s lived for years in fear and silence. Now, apparently, she doesn‟t want to be afraid anymore. She doesn‟t want to hide. She wants to be honest about who she is. I can admire that. And I respect her desire to be a whole, integrated, reconciled person, to have these diverse aspects of her life brought together. My encouragement to Ellen would be this: Jesus Christ knows something about reconciliation and wholeness, and so do I. In fact, the ministry of reconciliation is my business. I would love to talk with Ellen about it.” That just sounds a little more like good news to me. What social groups exist in your school? What nicknames do they have? (For example, years ago some groups might have been called “greasers” while others were “nerds.”) Which groups are most admired? Why? Which groups are most disliked? Why? How is dislike for these group expressed? Teaching Guide Read and discuss Luke 18:9-14. Jesus addressed this parable to those confident in their own righteousness while looking down on others. There are few attitude problems more prevalent or dangerous than this, and it was characteristic of a group called the Pharisees. Their system of meticulous law- keeping was noble as it went far beyond the instructions in the Old Testament. However, Jesus denounced this lifestyle because it became a way for Pharisees to prove themselves holy before others. Pharisees daily thanked God for three things: that they weren‟t born Gentile, that they weren‟t born Roman, and that they weren‟t born female. Their daily prayers reinforced their own sense of superiority. Tax collectors, on the other hand, were considered the lowest of people by the Pharisee‟s. They were seen as traitors for assisting Rome by taxing their Jewish brothers. Jesus reveals that these two groups of people are the same: They were both estranged from God and in need of grace. Only God could offer this grace and it required them to humble themselves before Him. How a Humble Heart Expresses Itself 1. It COMMUNICATES humility not pride. In the parable, the tax collector stood at a distance, looked down, and beat his breast in heart-felt agony over his sin while the Pharisee stood and prayed boastfully. 2. It COMPARES itself to God not other people. The tax collector saw himself in light of God‟s holiness while the Pharisee saw himself in light of the tax collector. 3. It CELEBRATES God’s grace not its own righteousness. The Bible says all our self-righteousness is like filthy rags. So we are to celebrate what God has done for us, not what we have achieved. Discussion Remind teens how easy it is to look down on people with strange habits or significant problems. We focus more on seeing our differences than our similarities. What is the danger in seeing others as different from yourself? To whom did Jesus direct this story? What do you know about Pharisees and tax collectors? [You can find a good overview in a Bible dictionary or study Bible.] List all the differences you see between the Pharisee and tax collector in this story. What was the Pharisee‟s basic problem? What was the tax collector‟s basic problem? What qualities in these men made all the difference in the way God saw them? Application How are pride and humility revealed in your life? What one step can you take to be more humble and less proud? How does becoming more humble about our own sins change the way we look at the sins of others? What is one attitude in your life that is challenged by this parable? What can you do about it? THE ACCOUNT OF THE FAT ACCOUNT The Rich Fool Primary Scripture Luke 12:13-21 Objectives 1. Identify the fatal flaws of greed. 2. Evaluate our attitude toward material things. 3. Determine how we can become rich toward God. Overview There is a way to serve God with wealth that keeps us from serving wealth as god: generosity. Scripture clear teaches it is next to impossible for hoarders to enter heaven. People who hang on to money are gripped and overpowered by it. We like to think we‟re exceptions to the rule, but don‟t count on it. There are no exceptions. The only way to free ourselves from money‟s power is to free ourselves from money. If we hold on to it, it takes hold of us. Getting Things Started Years ago a rocket was launched with a peculiar payload. Twenty-four lipstick-sized capsules carried the remains of two-dozen dead and cremated bodies that were to be placed in a 10-year earth orbit. I guess you could call it harmless fun, but my jaw dropped when I saw the price tag for such an action. Celestis Inc. of Houston, Texas received nearly $5,000 for each lipstick container being sent into orbit. It‟s one thing to mess around with miniature gadgetry to improve life, but this was a mere media gag that cost about $120,000! Think about what that hundred grand could have done. Besides paying my mortgage, it could have been put to some real use. Compassion International could have cared for over 150 kids for two years with that money. The kind of waste represented by this space stunt falls into the categories of folly, poor stewardship, and idolatry. Only God‟s instruction can unravel this kind of haphazard expenditure. Jesus‟ story of the Rich Fool illustrates the shortsightedness and sheer ignorance of misusing wealth. Pursuing money is a trap. It produces a false sense of success and security that blinds us to our spiritual bankruptcy. To avoid the snare, the Bible instructs us to use our money differently. Which of the following do you consider excessive? a. A multi-millionaire throwing a million-dollar party for himself. b. Buying a $180,000 European sports car as another extra car. c. Putting a $50,000 addition onto your house to make it a dream home. d. Spending $10,000 on flowers to make your daughter‟s wedding an event to remember. e. Spending $400 to upgrade to a nicer surfboard. What separates excessiveness from legitimate spending? Teaching Guide Read and discuss Luke 12:13-21. A materialist is into stuff. It could be anything: cash, clothes or iPods. Materialists come in all shapes and sizes and income levels. A materialist finds more security and satisfaction in stuff than in God. And it doesn‟t take much stuff before our heart drifts. The parable of the Rich Fool seems to be a spontaneous illustration Jesus gave in response to a request from the crowd, but it‟s really key instruction on the dangers of greed. The story teaches that if we find ourselves with an income, we ought to invest it in God‟s direction. If we‟re not rich toward God, we‟re acting like a poor fool. Jesus tells the man to be on guard against all kinds of greed, a phrase that can be taken in two ways. First, watch out for the myriad of circumstances in which greed grows: It can be fueled at the grocery store, in the lottery ticket line, on pay day, while listening to an ad, and so forth. Second, watch out for the different varieties of greed. This is a catch-all term that includes envy, hoarding, stinginess, ingratitude, poor stewardship, theft, adultery, etc. Greed is like dirt: It comes from all different sources and gets on you whether you want it or not. We need constant evaluation and cleansing to keep ourselves free of its effects. How to be a Greedy Materialist 1. Don’t see God as a source of wealth unless he personally hands you a check. The rich farmer never acknowledges his huge harvest as a blessing from God; nor does he seek God in prayer concerning how to use it. 2. Stockpile your stuff. The farmer never considers the possibility that he was given his crop to share, not to keep. Instead, at great time and expense the man tears down perfectly good barns in order to build larger ones. 3. Put your trust in stuff. This guy assumed he had guaranteed himself years of problem-free living through the accumulation of wealth. 4. Upgrade and indulge whenever possible. The foolish farmer prepared to party like never before. He had worked long enough and now it was time to take it easy, maybe redecorate the house, take a cruise, or go shopping with the rich people. A brand new lifestyle had just opened up to him and he could not wait to enjoy it. Discussion How would you define materialism? How big of a problem do you think it is? To whom does Jesus address this story? What was Jesus‟ attitude toward the materialistic man and the others in the crowd? Jesus said, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” What different kinds of greed are there? In the story of the rich farmer, at what point did the farmer begin to fall into greed‟s trap? When he had a good crop? When he had a shortage of storage? When he tore down his old barns? When he built bigger barns? When he stored up his crops? When he said, “Eat, drink and be merry”? Why was God angry at the rich farmer? Application When does materialism get the best of you and what can you do about it? Instead of being greedy, Jesus said we should be rich towards God. What does that mean? What can you do this week to become rich towards God? THE LEGEND OF THE LOST The Lost Sheep, Coin, and Son Primary Scripture Luke 15 Objective 1. Understand God‟s passion for lost people. 2. Soften our hearts for those that don‟t know Christ. 3. Learn how to recognize and meet the needs of our friends who don‟t know Christ. Overview In Luke 15 we read three times over about the desperation of being lost and the celebration of being found. Why such strong emotions? Why such passion? The consequences! God has lost a master work of art in His image-bearers. They have been made for the fellowship of heaven and for God‟s own glory. And He wants them back! What price are we willing to pay to help him find them? Getting Things Started I rarely feel more desperate than when I‟ve lost something that‟s important to me. A simple case of misplaced keys, especially when I‟m already late, sends me into a tailspin of frantic activity. Nothing else matters except those keys. Drawers get dumped, sofa cushions fly, counter tops are swept clear without a second thought. The extra work required to clean up after the wild search doesn‟t matter. Keys matter. Period. The lost item doesn‟t need to be particularly valuable either. The tension over lost things rises in direct proportion to the consequences of their being lost. I remember a picnic we held years ago to celebrate the end of the ministry year. We anticipated having a few hundred people and because half of them consisted of parents, I was a bundle of nervous activity. But by game day, the plan was airtight. Everything was in order. The weather was wonderful. Nothing could go wrong. And for three hours, nothing did. We had a nice picnic with lots of food, folks, and fun. But then it came time to head inside for our massive year-end media. Four screens with video, all driven by a 25-minute soundtrack custom mixed for the event. I had spent hours setting up the room for perfect viewing. All I had to do was push power and play. The people were seated; the power was on, but where‟s the sound? I popped open the CD tray and to my horror, it was empty. I combed the area and found nothing. The crowd got restless as I ran to my office and proceeded to tear it apart. Still nothing. Seething with anger, I grabbed some miscellaneous CD and coldly prayed that God would make the thief suffer in order to be taught not to steal. Rarely have I been so passionate. If possible, steal someone‟s jacket or purse – something valuable – before your meeting gets started. As you‟re about to begin let them discover their loss. See what happens and talk about it. (Or share a story of a time you desperately searched for a lost item.) What emotions are felt when we lose something important? What do you think would be the worst thing to lose? Teaching Guide No doubt people are the worst things we could lose. But even losing someone to physical death hardly compares to losing someone eternally. And when you consider how much God loves each person, imagine the sense of loss He feels over the millions who have rejected him forever. Tonight we‟re going to look at one story, told three ways, that gives us a sense of God‟s desire that everyone be found. Read and discuss Luke 15. Nowhere else in Scripture is a parable repeated three times in succession. This is an unmistakable attempt at drilling a truth deep into our minds. It‟s as if Jesus were saying, “Whatever you do, get this! I‟m going to say it three times just to make sure you understand.” Clearly Jesus wants us to know how critically important lost people are to him. If God searches so desperately for the lost and celebrates so intensely when they are found, then certainly we should follow His lead. Much gets made in commentaries about the percentages involved in these stories. In the case of shepherd and sheep, the loss factor is 1%. With the woman and her coins it is 10%. With the prodigal son, the loss is 50%. Interesting facts, but not the key insights to be gleaned from this text. More important is the passion of the searchers. They become locked into search mode. Nothing will distract them from the cause. Even the father, who wisely knows he cannot force a rebellious son to repent, nonetheless searches with his eyes and heart for his son‟s return. While he was still a long way off, his father saw him (v. 20). Then, filled with loving compassion, he runs! This part of the story would startle the Jews of Jesus' day. First, the son‟s desire for inheritance money was a virtual death-wish on his father. After all, that‟s when inheritances are divided. For a son to want his while his father lived would be the ultimate in disrespect. A father would live in disgrace after that. But this father is not concerned with the disgrace and brings more upon himself as he runs to his son. Dignified men don‟t run, especially in that culture. To run, in full view of servants and neighbors would be unthinkable. But this man‟s love is unfathomable, so why not!? The prodigal is embraced and enrobed, a clear sign of restored sonship. A signet ring is placed on his finger, a sign of authority. And shoes are put on his feet, a sign of nobility. Then the party begins. God’s Legendary Love for the Lost 1. Great Grace God continues to bless both good and evil, even though many act as if they wish He were dead. 2. Perfect Patience God never gives up on us, no matter how low we sink. As long as this age lasts, He waits for all to return. 3. Colossal Compassion His eyes search for the lost; His heart woos them home. At the first sign of return He sprints to meet us and throws His arms around us. 4. Awesome Affection He hugs and kisses us before we‟re all cleaned up. He gives us sonship rights, authority, and nobility in His name. His heart is to: Long for us Look for us Laugh with us . . . when we return! Discussion What situation prompted Jesus to tell these stories? What ideas or themes are common to all three stories? What do these stories tell you about God‟s heart for the lost? Why do you think the father waited while the shepherd and woman actively searched? What lesson or principle do you think is in this? If you could summarize the lessons from these stories in one sentence, what would it be? Application How many of you know a lost person? How desperate should we be to see them found? What kind of desperate measures might be appropriate to use in reaching your lost friends? Which are you willing to do? THE STORY OF THE WISE DUDE The Wise Manager Primary Scripture Luke 16:1-9 Objectives 1. Identify people in the Bible who acted with wisdom. 2. Define wisdom and explain why it is a positive, desirable quality. 3. Discuss how we can share the Gospel in wise ways with our lost friends. Overview Christians need to seek wisdom, especially for the sake of advancing the Gospel. We need to employ some sanctified ingenuity to plant and grow seed on ground most Christians ignore. Getting Things Started Saddleback is a wise church with wise leaders. It‟s a church that asks questions, probes problems, and develops innovative solutions. It‟s a church that finds opportunity in difficulty and refuses to quit in the face of opposition. Problem: Where to house a growing body of people. Solution: In 57 rented facilities and a tent. Problem: How to minister to the multiplied thousands that are willing to attend worship once a year. Solution: An even bigger tent (at the chump-change price of $30,000). Problem: How to reshape the church in order to recapture its central purpose. Solution: Break away from traditional organizational structures and work in five purpose teams. Problem: How to draw a new generation into vibrant worship. Solution: Burn the pipe organ. Use the hymnals for kindling. But these kind of changes and “out of the box” approaches don‟t come without criticism. Saddleback isn‟t a perfect place, but it‟s a church willing to take chances to make a difference for Jesus. A biblical example of creative thinking is found in Luke 16, The Parable of the Wise Manager. The Parable of the Wise Manager glorifies innovation and ingenuity in the face of difficulty. It teaches us that wisdom is a character quality not to be abandoned to the world but redeemed for the kingdom. Illustrate wisdom with a clip from the movie Back to the Future. (Maybe the part where Marty rips the top off a scooter and invents the first skateboard; or where Doc Brown uses lightning to power the DeLorean.) What character traits do you see illustrated in this person‟s actions? What other scenes from movies illustrate wisdom and creativity? What does the word wisdom mean? Teaching Guide Read and discuss Luke 16:1-9. Examples of wisdom can be seen throughout the Bible. Jacob was wise when faced with the prospect of war with his twin brother, Esau. To appease him, Jacob sent gifts ahead. By the time the two met face to face, the tensions were dissolved and they embraced as brothers. Nathan was wise in confronting King David‟s sin with Bathsheba. He used a parable to open David‟s heart and get him to pass judgment on himself. Nathan entered through the back door rather than attacking the king with a full frontal assault. Paul was wise too – numerous times. In one example, he was stretched out on the rack, prepared to take another 39 lashes for his ministry. As the cat-o-nine-tails was raised, Paul calmly asked, “Is it lawful to whip a Roman citizen before he has had a trial?” The stunned soldiers became putty in his hands. To administer such a punishment unjustly meant receiving the same yourself. Before he knew it, he was escorted to freedom. Admittedly, the story of the wise manager is not such a clear-cut case of Spirit-inspired smarts. There is the sticky fact that the manager‟s actions were morally wrong yet spiritually admirable. Make sure students understand this. But the bottom-line point is clear: A little street smarts can go a long way in the service of the gospel. What a Wise Guy has Going for Himself 1. Wise people see facts accurately. This manager did not deny his problem or underestimate the potential consequences. He knew he was in big trouble, likely facing prison and the loss of his reputation. Something had to be done to head off these troubles. But this man also knew his own limitations: He was too weak to dig and too strong to beg. A third option had to exist. 2. Wise people develop options creatively. They don‟t give up or wallow in self pity. They look for new possibilities even when the outcome seems inescapable. 3. Wise people see outcomes realistically. They have a way of seeing the future before it happens. They aren‟t idealistic or fatalistic, just realistic. They can think a plan through and see where it will most likely lead. 4. Wise people take action decisively. A wise person is not immobilized in the face of multiple options (the paralysis of analysis). Even when the perfect scenario doesn‟t exist a plan of action is decided upon and implemented. Then it is carried through with energy and focus. Discussion Creative problem solving, ingenuity, and quick responses to difficulty are all captured in the word wise. It‟s being clever and sharp in dealing with people and problems. Give some examples of people, real or fictitious, who you consider to be wise. Why was this business manager about to lose his job? What solution to the problem did he come up with? How did this benefit him? What moral implications were involved in this decision? One of the most striking features of this story is that Jesus uses a bad guy to make a good point. What was it about this man that Jesus saw as admirable? Application What are some creative solutions to a dilemma you currently face? List some examples of how to use wisdom in service to God. How could it help you reach more lost people? How could it help you witness to friends who seem totally closed to the Gospel? Which of the above will you try this week? THE FABLE OF THE FOOLISH GIRLS The Ten Virgins Primary Scripture Matthew 25:1-13 Secondary Scripture Matthew 26:41; Luke 12:15; 1 Timothy 4:16; Peter 3:3-4 Objectives 1. Understand the realities of heaven and how that relates to our lives today. 2. Examine the dangers of those who don‟t plan ahead. 3. List principles that will help us prepare for Christ‟s return. Overview If heaven is real, then it‟s relevant. It shouldn‟t only affect our view of death but our view of life. That‟s the point of the parable in this session. It shows the tragic consequences of holding a belief in our heads without expressing it in our lives. Getting Things Started Time Magazine once featured a cover story on heaven. The cover illustrated a man standing on a cloud and shading his eyes as he peered into eternity. “Does Heaven Exist?” read the header. Survey results revealed an overwhelming majority of 80% of the people said they believed in heaven. That shouldn‟t surprise us since other surveys indicate that a majority of our nation believes in Jesus and is born again. People love to express intellectual assent to Christian faith propositions. The real question is not whether heaven exists, but whether it makes a difference in our lives. The article was less encouraging on this perspective. The consensus among people is that they believe in heaven because it is useful, especially in the face of death. In fact, that‟s the only time heaven seems to make a difference. When faced with grief or the prospects of our own mortality, our thoughts turn to heaven, and that‟s when we drop it into the “Things I Believe In” file. The writer also noted that pastors once frequently chose to speak on heaven and hell, but not anymore. In fact, the conclusion was drawn that in the national consciousness, including the minds of an increasing number of pastors and theologians, heaven might as well not exist, except when somebody dies or we need spiritual comfort. Turning our thoughts to heaven at death is like turning our thoughts to toothpaste at the dentist‟s office. It‟s a little late. If we really believe in toothpaste, we use it. It changes our tomorrow because we use it today. Share an illustration of something you prepared for over a long period of time. Explain the process you went through to make preparations and the pay-off for your hard work. What are some things in life for which you regularly prepare? (Sports, tests, dates, careers, etc.) To which of these areas do you give the most effort? What are you preparing for now? Teaching Guide Read and discuss Matthew 25:1-13. Many people, including Christians, neglect to prepare for the ultimate event: meeting Jesus. Instead, we prepare for other big events, like weddings. Jewish weddings were community- wide festivities, full of tradition and ritual. On the wedding day, the bride would stay in her home and be attended by ten bridesmaids. It was not customary in those days for mothers or married friends to serve in the wedding party, so it is assumed all bridesmaids to be virgins. During their day with the bride, the ten virgins would sing and dance and prepare the bride for the ceremony. The groom would arrive to his bride‟s home at dusk. When he approached her home, he would send a herald ahead to announce his arrival. At this point the ten bridesmaids would light their torches, carefully prepared ahead of time, and go out to meet the groom on the way. They would return with him to meet the bride, gather everyone together, and then lead a twilight parade to the groom‟s home. At his home the vows would be spoken and the party would begin! The dancing and singing not only went into the night but continued for days and days. Jesus‟ story catches everyone by surprise because the groom didn‟t arrive at dusk but at midnight. And when he did, only half the original bridal party was ready. Five bridesmaids planned ahead and brought extra oil while the other five had a limited amount, possibly revealing they did not care as much about the wedding and weren‟t prepared to give it their all. When it became obvious the groom was on his way, they didn‟t even go buy more oil. They did only what would be expected and no more. The price of their indifference was exclusion from the wedding reception. No singing and dancing and celebrating, just outer darkness and hearts full of regret. So it will be with those who aren‟t captivated by thoughts of Christ‟s return and the party to follow in heaven. If you‟re not into it today, you‟ll definitely be out of it tomorrow. How to Get Ready for Heaven 1. Watch carefully The parable concludes with this point: Keep watch! Watchfulness in the Bible is associated with vigilance, wisdom, and careful living. Jesus said, “Watch and pray so you won’t fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). The Bible also tells us to watch out and be on our guard against all kinds of greed and to watch our lives and doctrine closely (1 Timothy 4:16). 2. Wait expectantly Five girls eagerly anticipated a party, and went to great lengths to prepare. Five others viewed it as another night out. We get the impression that they were indifferent as to whether the groom ever came or not. Peter 3:3-4 says that in the last days scoffers will come, ridiculing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this coming he promised?” 3. Work diligently We don‟t work to earn our salvation, but we work to get ready to receive its final, full consummation. The wise virgins had extra oil because they diligently prepared. The others ran out because of their negligence and lack of effort. Christianity is about grace and faith, but faith shows itself in good works. Discussion Explain the symbolism of this story: Who are the bridesmaids? The groom? What is the wedding? Compare and contrast the wise and foolish bridesmaids. Besides the oil, how do they differ? Why do you think the groom dealt so harshly with the foolish bridesmaids? Running out of oil and arriving late seems like an innocent mistake. Why were they denied entry? What do you think is involved in keeping watch, as Jesus instructs? The foolish bridesmaids aren‟t really punished in this story, so what is the real tragedy? Application What is one way the parable challenges? What can we do to make better preparations for heaven? What will you do? What do you think our primary attitude should be about the Lord‟s return? The Farmer’s Almanac The Sower and the Soils Primary Scripture Luke 8:4-15 Secondary Scripture Luke 8:18; Galatians 5 Objectives 1. Explain the symbolism behind the four soils. 2. Evaluate our own receptivity to God‟s Word and discuss what it takes to produce fruit. 3. Recognize the fruit in our own life, both now and what we‟d like to see in the future. Overview Any child of God who has been changed by His Word and filled with His Spirit will bear fruit. Where there is no fruit, there is no saving faith. That‟s the sobering truth behind the parable of the sower. Getting Things Started Growing up in farm country has its advantages. There‟s the expectancy of the spring planting, the lush beauty of the growing season, and the communal celebration of harvest. Life in a farming town has its serious disadvantages too, like the insistence on the part of the former generation to pass on its agricultural know-how. This took place mainly in 8th grade agriculture class. I was a decent kid and a good student, but I was not a farmer, nor interested in becoming one. In fact, my athletic friends and I who lived in town considered the country kids to be red-necked hicks who would rather pitch cow pies than baseballs. So 8th grade wasn‟t my bag. Nevertheless, the good folks on the school board decided to make it a required course. The major project of the semester, worth a solid half of our grade, consisted of plowing, planting, photographing, and reporting on the growth of our own garden. So early in the spring, my friend Jeff and I grabbed a couple of shovels and went to work in the backyard. We would show these people what hip city farming looked like. The first task was digging out the boundaries. We decided square was boring, so we cut out a funky, 70‟s shape and planted distorted rows of carrots, beans, and tomatoes. By the end, we were psyched – wait „til they see this! It wasn‟t until just before finals week that we chose to check our gardens. It wasn‟t pretty. There wasn‟t much of a garden to be found, but we did succeed in raising a jungle and earned a „D‟. Many people‟s hearts look the same way. Their owners have enthusiastically signed up for Jesus and committed to bearing the fruit of following him, but either the cares of the world or their own callousness have impeded progress to the point that we have to question whether they‟re still in class with Christ or not. Which of the following do your students think is solid evidence of real faith? Carrying around a large family heirloom Bible? Wearing clothes with Christian slogans Going to church weekly Singing loudly in worship Having consistent daily devotions Sharing your faith regularly Doing a lot of service projects for people Being known as a loving person What other evidences are there of true faith? Does any solid proof exist? Teaching Guide Explain that evidence for faith is available. The issue is not only what we do, but how long we do it. While a lifetime of church attendance doesn‟t make you a Christian, it indicates something. Even better is a lifetime of love, service and worship and other qualities listed as fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). When these grow for a lifetime, you know you‟re the real thing. But this parable shows the temporary nature of unbelief. Read and discuss Luke 8:4-15. I regularly get asked: What about the person who prays to receive Christ but doesn‟t really get into church or the Bible or anything? Or what if a person accepts Christ but nothing changes, will he still go to heaven? In other words, the questioner wants to know if it‟s possible for a person to be legitimately saved without being transformed. The Parable of the Soils says no. There are all kinds of people who take an initial interest in Christ and make public professions of faith, but many – sadly – don‟t take the gospel to heart. Brief evidences of life-change may initially exists, such as going to church or carrying a Bible, but in time they show their true colors. They are unproductive, and therefore, unregenerate. The parable for today says that three out of four hearts who hear Christ don‟t know him. Some people will find this idea unacceptable. They will want to talk about grace, argue against lordship salvation, and remind you of a little reformation doctrine called JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH! But remember what James said: Faith without works is dead. It cannot save. And remember the reformer‟s famous formula: Faith alone justifies, but faith that justifies is not alone. It results in works of obedience. This in no way discounts grace. Grace is the agent that calls forth faith and saves us. Far from being anti-grace, a belief in the necessity of transformation upholds grace. It says that anyone who legitimately receives the supremely powerful grace of God cannot help but be changed. The same grace that saves us is the same grace that grows and glorifies us. How can God grip a life without it being radically altered? How can the Holy Spirit possess a person without bearing fruit through them? We need to hear this parable and test the quality of our own heart-soil. We need to chart our progress and see if spiritual fruit is growing. Luke 8:18 reminds us to consider carefully how we listen. We must not let the words of Scripture merely enter our ears but lodge in our hearts and get pumped out in our actions. Testing Your Heart-Soil 1. The Callused Heart Represented by the hard path, this heart stonewalls the Gospel. It remains unstirred and unresponsive. Acid Test: Does the Bible bore you? 2. The Cowardly Heart This person is like shallow, rocky soil. There is an initial response to the Word, but pressures and difficulties cause the person‟s faith to wilt. Acid Test: Do you relax your standards around unbelievers? 3. The Crowded Heart Both the Word and worldliness crowd this heart. The cares of life, the allure of money, and the pursuit of pleasure choke out God‟s influence. Acid Test: What do your priorities say about your heart’s first love? 4. The Converted Heart The legit Christ-follower. Acid Test: How are you different today than you were six months ago? Discussion What elements are symbolic in this story? What do they mean? What do you think about each kind of soil? Which ones might be representative of real Christians? According to this story, Satan is involved in non-responses to the Gospel. How do you think he works in those situations? How does Jesus describe the responsive, fruitful soil? What qualities are necessary for bearing fruit? Verse 18 tells us to consider carefully how we listen. What do you think listening has to do with bearing fruit? Application What is the bottom line? How would you summarize the point of this parable? What challenge do you take away from this passage? What areas of your life still resemble hard, shallow, or thorny soil? What do you need to do about them?