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08. The Parable of the Sower: Spiritual Root


Chapter 8

Do You Have the Spiritual Root in Your Inner Being?

The Parable of the Sower

Matthew 13:21, Colossians 2:7

by Pastor Eric Chang

Hong Kong, March 20, 1983


Today, I aim to focus on two verses in the very important Parable of the Sower:

“But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the Word, immediately he stumbles.” (Mt. 13:20-21) [ NKJV]

Key to Parable of Sower: Spiritual root in your inner being

I am reading this passage to you from the New King James Version because two very important Greek words are missing in the New International Version translation. Perhaps you have a better translation in your hand. In the Greek it says, “…since he has no root in himself.” These words “in himself” are what we need to turn our attention to. Meier very rightly translates this “in himself” as “in his own inner being.” Now some Christians have this root and some don’t. If you don’t have this root, you will not survive. This root is a matter of life and death; it is absolutely vital for your survival. So, today, we need to ask this question, do you have the root in yourself?

Some people have rightly said, “We seem to hear that the church is quite alive in Montreal, but some who have come back from Montreal seem to be quite dead.” And you are right. They seem to be like coal in the fire, in the atmosphere in Montreal. When you put a coal in the fire, it catches the heat from the other pieces of coal in a while, and seems to be quite all right. But if you put this coal by itself, it cannot perpetuate the fire within itself. Or to turn to this picture in the Parable of the Sower, they have no root in themselves. This is a big concern for me in the church in Montreal, and I am very concerned about you all in Hong Kong as well. I would like you to ask yourself, do you have this spiritual root in yourself? When a Christian has this root in himself, one of the first signs you will notice is that he is not much affected by external circumstances, because he can draw strength from inside; he has an inner source of power. Do you have this source?

Can you stand opposition to the truth? From family?

Matthew 13:20 says that when this person heard the Word of God, he “immediately receives it with joy.” He says, “Wow! So good!” And verse 21 tells us he lasts only for a short time. He seems all right for a time, before “tribulation or persecution arises because of the Word.” Trouble is always coming in the Christian life. People are always giving me trouble, and praise God for that! If Satan did not give me trouble, I would start to get worried. “What’s wrong with me? He’s not interested in me.” The Lord Jesus says, “When everybody thinks good of you and says good things about you, you are in trouble.” But when you really go deep with God, soon the enemy will get very annoyed with you. I know some people are quite keen to get me buried! You see, the Word of God produces very strong responses when it is preached with power. But when you preach the Word with no power, nobody bothers you; nobody cares what you are saying because it doesn’t touch them.

As you see in Acts 7, when Stephen preached the Word with power, people were so furious with him. That Word of God was like a knife cutting into their hearts. The Bible says they even put their fingers in their ears. Have you ever seen anyone in the church put their fingers in their ears, and grind their teeth? There was powerful reaction to Stephen’s message. When all that did not help, they killed him. When you preach the Word of God with power, you are going to have tribulation and persecution. When that comes, the Christian with no spiritual root in himself cannot stand.

When you go home and say, “I’ve become a Christian,” your family will say, “What?! Have you gone out of your mind? Don’t talk to me anymore!” They will give you a hard time. And you will say, “I can’t take it! I’ll surrender!” When I was training to serve God, my parents did not want to talk to me anymore. When I went home, the first question my mother asked me was, “When are you leaving?” I am an only son, so when they treat an only son like that, they must be really annoyed. Can you stand this persecution? If you are not persecuted at all by anybody, maybe you are not making much impact with your Christian life. I don’t mean we want to go out and get everybody to persecute us. I mean that when you live in the power of God, in holiness, the natural reaction to you will be opposition. And I am concerned whether you can stand. Have you got this root inside you?

Root: God’s Word goes into your heart changing your life

Now I have preached on this parable before, but the Word of God is very rich, and I have never approached it from this angle, that the root is the key to this whole parable. Remember that the Word of God is pictured as a seed. What happens when this seed is developing in our heart? It produces a root. Just like when you are sprouting bean sprouts, when you put the beans in a moist place, a root comes out. At first, when you listen to the Word of God, you just hear it, you understand it, but nothing much is happening at that point. But after a time, when the Word of God reaches down into your heart, there is a root going from your mind to your heart. That is to say, until the Word of God reaches your heart, there is no root. But when God’s Word reaches into your heart and begins to change your life, it is taking root.

This point is very important because people go to a theological seminary to study the Bible, but when you look at their life, there’s nothing there. I have a deep impression of some students debating about predestination in the students’ lounge until their faces and ears turned red: “You’re wrong! I’m right!” The attitude towards one another was like several lions ready to eat each other up! When I saw their behavior, I felt sick in my stomach. I couldn’t get out of there quick enough! They treated the Word of God as some kind of philosophy. If I could take you all into a seminary to look at the arrogance of some students some time, you would get my point. In this college, we all had to put on black gowns, and so when you walk, the sleeves are flinging around. As soon as you put on this gown, you suddenly feel that you are very important, your head is very big. Look at all these small people down there! You can see that when you treat the Word of God in this way, it’s a disaster! I have spent so many years with these theological students, as one of them, and I have often wondered, why are they studying the Bible? They study the Bible, but it is all in the head, so that they can show their knowledge. They treat it as a profession. Their life is pitiful! That includes even my professor. I was under the supervision of the Hebrew professor who knows Hebrew very well. When I talk with him, I might as well be talking about chemistry or physics; it is all technical. I don’t even know I am talking about the Bible anymore. Sometimes, I wonder does he know God, or doesn’t he know God? I don’t know either, because talking to him is like talking to any non-Christian.

What am I saying? I am saying that you can read the Bible every day and be as dead as a stone. Don’t think you are a good Christian because you study your Bible. Every theological student studies the Bible every day, and some of them are worse than non-Christians. They don’t have the root of life inside them. I beg of you to understand this root. I repeat, when the Word of God reaches into your heart, and you begin to sense God’s power changing your life, so that others say, “Hey, your life is changing!” then the root is growing. Of course, it has to go deeper.

Study the Bible to draw God’s life into you

This also means that there are two different ways to study the Bible. One way is to study it as a piece of technical knowledge, like the theological students. But the other way is to go into the Word of God with spiritual perception, drawing the life from the Word of God into your heart. The root draws water and nourishment from the soil. Not only does the Word of God reach into your heart, but it also becomes a point of contact with God Himself.

Colossians 2:7 says, “rooted in Christ” and verse 9 says, “in him the whole fullness of deity (Yahweh God) dwells bodily.” Now there are two things: the root in ourselves, and the other is, the root in ourselves actually extends all the way to Christ, who is in union with God, so that we make contact with Christ first, and through this root with God. Only then does the Word of God become a source of life to us. Otherwise it is merely a source of knowledge. I don’t mean there is anything wrong with knowledge, but that is not the point of God’s Word; it is meant to give us life.

Now let us look at the characteristics of someone who has the root in himself.

1. A person with root in himself has stability

The root signifies stability in Scripture. Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, to put down the root means it becomes very stable, it has a firm grip on the ground. For example, Psalm 80:9, God cleared the ground for Israel, a vine He took out of Egypt, and “it took deep root and filled the land.” Then we just saw Colossians 2:7, to be “rooted in Christ” leads to being in touch with God. So when this root, the Word of God goes into your heart, you will notice that you become more and more stable. This point of stability is very, very important. When a person is unstable, it shows that the root is not there, or it is not deep enough. One of the things we look for in those who request joining the full-time training is, how stable this person is. We cannot accept people who do not have the stability.

2. He has initiative, and sets achievable objectives

The source, or the cause, or the motive is also called the root in the Bible. Take for example, these very famous words in 1Timothy 6:10: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” What does it mean? It means that the love of money is the source of all evil. If you want to destroy the source of evil in yourself, you cut the root. This is the absolute law of the Christian life, that when any Christian is in love with money, that person has evil in himself. It is amazing what people will do for the love of money. People will sell their sons, or their daughters, or their parents for money. If you have an enemy, just hire someone who will murder for the love of money. Love of money is the root of evil. With many Christians, that root is still there. So there are two roots: one is the root of God’s Word, the root of spiritual life; the other is the root of this world, the root of money. Bear in mind that these two roots don’t go together. One will choke the other. In fact, it is the other point in the parable that the roots of the thorns just choked the seed.

The spiritual root is also a source, it is also a cause, it is also a motivat­ion, and so when a person has this root in himself, another mark besides stability is that he has initiative. We also look for spiritual drive, initiative in those who request full-time training. There are some Christians who may move one step if you move them. If you push harder, they will make two steps. If you don’t push them, they stand still. You can’t get them to move! There is no inner dynamic, no motivation, no initiative. The Christian with spiritual root always presses towards the mark; they are always working towards the next objective and setting targets to get there. They don’t set an objective that is so far away that you can’t see it with a telescope. So, if you are a Christian with initiative, you are very practical, and when you are practical, you set achievable objectives. What is your Christian life like?

Praise be to God! When I was a young Christian, God was working with power in my life. The result was, I kept setting objectives. The first objective was to know the Word of God. So I was working in the Word of God whenever I could find a spare moment. If it was a holiday, I would work all day on the Word of God. There was a time I was not studying theology, but some other subjects, and whenever there was time, I worked in the Word of God.

I set objectives to approach the Word of God from this direction and from that direction. For example, I wanted to study the Word of God to see where I could learn more about God’s character. So I worked right through the Scriptures to understand, what is God like? Then I studied the Word of God from another angle: what does God require of me? Then I would study the Bible from another angle: what is God’s purpose for His church today? What kind of church did He intend to build in this world?

A new society of God’s people takes initiative to love and give

In studying the Word of God, I saw the vision of God’s plan for His church: a new society of God’s people. Oh, I got very excited! The fire burned in my heart!

I became a Christian in China where I spent 7 years under the Liberation. I saw the Communists trying to build a new society, and I don’t have to tell you what a disaster that was. At first, everybody had to smelt iron in their backyards, and then all this piled up as garbage because in the end, you cannot get any usable iron out of it. Previously, we were supposed to wipe out the whole existing society, and now we are supposed to build it all back again. Now I do admire their attitude. They desire to create a new society because they know the old is no good. I can sympathize with that. But before you do that, you have to know where you are going, and you cannot use 1 billion people as your experimental ground. You cannot ruin the lives of all these people just to find out whether it works or it doesn’t work.

A dear brother was baptized with me in Shanghai. His whole career as a surgeon was ruined because he was sent to hard labor for 21 years for being a Christian. In 1980, they said, “Sorry, we made a mistake.” It is very easy to say sorry, but a person’s whole life is gone! You can see that worldly leaders don’t know where they are going. It is the blind leading the blind, and both fall into the ditch. In those 7 years in the new China, I have seen what a mess man could make in his dreams of a new society!

But now we implement the new society if God permits, in the church in Montreal, and here in Hong Kong. In due time, we are working towards God’s new society in which people don’t live for themselves but for each other; a society in which if you care for yourself, you have only one person to care for you, but when everybody is living for the other, you have so many people to care for you. The root of God’s Word transforms our lives, and when each person has that root, there will be a new society.

I see many churches always begging for money. They need money for this building, money for that cause; it is as though the church cannot live without money. Once, I went to a church and the first thing I saw was a huge placard of a gigantic thermometer. I was wondering, what is a thermometer doing in a church? Is it so cold you have to study this gigantic thing? On a closer look, I saw figures of money on it. Presently, the offering has reached $500,000, but there is a long way to go yet—they need $1,200,000. So don’t forget to give an offering!

I have been to churches where the offering plate comes around three times. When the second offering plate comes, I have already put all my offering into the first one. After a while, there is still another offering plate. Obviously, the trick is if you were only going to give $3, you give $1 each time. Of course, not knowing this, I put in $3 all at once. What is the idea of having 3 offerings? I don’t understand it.

The love of the brothers and sisters in our church in Montreal really touches my heart. There is a new society coming up. They are giving all the time to anybody in need. We had a brother who had one leg cut off because of cancer. I suggested that he go to Switzerland to benefit from a natural treatment—a special water treatment—not a medical one, so that he could get a rest as he was very tired. I had hardly mentioned this, and the gifts came pouring in for this brother! $2,800 Canadian within one week-end! I looked around the church and I wondered, where does all this money come from? We don’t have any millionaires. Then some­body’s mother died, and they all collected money for the family. When somebody got married, all the gifts were coming in for this new couple!

So I knew by the time I was going away, they were going to start collecting again. I was begging them the Sunday before I left, “Don’t give me anything because I don’t have a need.” I was wondering whether I should kneel down on the platform! It was useless. The treasurers still gave me the gift—enough to cover my entire journey to come here and back. I was begging them because I was afraid they were not going to have anything to eat! They collected three times in one month! Since begging did not work, I had to threaten them saying, “I’m going to come to your home at dinner time to see what you have on the table, and if you don’t have enough to eat, you’ll be scolded!”

I don’t know what to do with a church like that! You have to beg them not to give, and still you can’t win, because in God’s grace, they are learning to care for one another. God’s power is bringing into being a new society! The kind of society where you never have to worry is so wonderful! When you get married and there is no money, there is a whole family to support you. If somebody dies in the family, you don’t have to worry. When the mother of one of our sisters died, I was so touched to see the church comforting her, supporting her. Oh, my heart was so full of joy! That is what the new society, God’s family is about. This is the root reaching deep into the heart, transforming every life. So how do you like God’s new society compared to what you see around you?

3. He is constantly in touch with God to draw strength and pass on life

I want to close by mentioning how this root affects our communion with God. Again, picture the root. A root is always planted in the ground. A root is not for you to pull up, take a look, wash, and stick it back in the ground. You will destroy the plant. It must always be permanently fixed in the ground. That is what true spiritual life is—to be in constant communion with God, sometimes consciously, sometimes even unconsciously, but always in touch with God. How is your spiritual life? Some people think of spiritual life as praying one or two times a day. You can call it, one or two “visits” to God during the day. So in the morning, you say, “Hi God! I had a nice sleep. I’m going to be quite busy today. I’m sorry I don’t have much time to talk to You. You’ll understand, won’t You? You know life in Hong Kong is like that. But anyway, I said good morning. Maybe, if I have time in the evening, I’ll say good night to You.” This sounds funny, but isn’t that true to life? There is no root in them. Remember, the root is something permanently fixed.

Let us change the picture. The Lord Jesus speaks of the branch abiding in the vine in John 15:4. The branch doesn’t come to stay two minutes in the vine in the morning, and then it’s gone, and it is back in the evening, does it? It must always remain grafted into the vine, the Lord Jesus, who is the way to God. If constant communion with God through constant union with Christ sounds rather strange to you, clearly this root is a problem for you.

This is called “walking with God” in the Old Testament. Enoch walked with God. Noah walked with God. To walk with God doesn’t mean that you visit Him once or twice a day for 2 or 3 minutes. It means all through the day you are walking with Him, living with Him. And that is not just for Enoch or Noah. Micah 6:8 says, “What does God require of you, Israel? That you love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” God wants us to walk with Him.

The problem is, this verse rings a little bit in the ears, but never reaches our hearts. We still don’t have the root. Understand very clearly that the root is permanently fixed, that you have to constantly draw strength from God. The Christian life is not being charged up like the nickel-cadmium battery. You plug it in the wall to charge up, then you pull out the plug and it has power for the next few hours, after which a meter shows that the power is going down. So when you are charged fully in the morning, you are very bright and smiling, then the power decreases and the smile grows weaker. So by the time your power gets near to zero, you get irritable, impatient, annoyed, and you have to get a charge. It seems to me this is more like drug addiction, such that your Christian life is taking a dose of drugs once in the morning and once in the evening. No, this is not to understand the root.

Communing with God: not feeling, but power to change lives

Finally, when we talk about communing with God, when we talk about prayer time, many people immediately feel that their prayer time is a success or a failure, depending on whether they feel something. If you have a satisfying, floating feeling when you pray, then this prayer time is a success! Perhaps another time you pray, your fellowship is as sweet as talking with the wall! It is like you plugged in and the connection did not work because you were looking for a feeling.

Say for example, my arm is looking for a wonderful feeling when it is attached to my body. Frankly, it doesn’t feel anything, at least not normally. But sometimes, when I fall asleep on my arm, I wake up won­dering, where is my arm? It went to sleep, and when it comes back into connection with the body, you know how that feels. Pins and needles is a very uncomfortable feeling!

What is the point of this illustration? The point is this: when my arm is normally and constantly connected to my body in the right way, I don’t feel anything. But if for some reason, the blood supply was cut off from the body, I feel something—I begin to feel uncomfortable. When I commune with God, frankly, sometimes I feel wonderful things, but most of the time I don’t feel anything. In fact, I don’t want to feel anything. What do I want to feel? If I want to feel something, I should singe myself with a lighted cigarette butt, then I can really feel something! The point we have to understand is that we are talking about life. When the life connection is normal, I should not feel anything. But if I get cut, or even worse, if I have a cancer in the hand, I will soon feel something.

In fact, what happens is quite different from an emotional feeling. What I know is that I am being charged with the power of God all the time. When I pray for something, God answers the prayer. Isn’t that better than a feeling? I can testify there is not a day that goes by that I don’t see God’s power working. I see my wife’s life being changed, and the lives of people I come into contact with, experiencing God’s transforming power. That is the normal Christian life. And when you see God’s power at work, you don’t want to look for any emotional feelings. Feelings go up and down. Don’t look for that.

There have been times I have an exceptionally sweet communion with God, and I felt like I was walking in Paradise, having wonderful fellowship with Him! And I was so conscious of God walking right next to me, as closely as my translator is with me right now! But I never looked for a feeling. So never look for a feeling. If God wants to give me an experience, I thank Him for it. If He doesn’t want to give me an experience, I thank Him for that too. I don’t need it. People who need feelings are like the addict. I don’t need feelings. I only need the power of life within me. It is quite beyond my understanding how God’s power is constantly manifested. When you live in this way, constantly with your root connected with God, communing with Him, you will see God’s power changing other people’s lives through you. And the closer you walk with God, the greater the power. God’s power will work right through you to break through to some people who seem quite impossible to reach.

One of the deepest impressions is when my mother came to God, which is so precious to me. She was so resistant to the gospel. When I came home, she was the one who asked when I was leaving. But God’s power was working in me. Have you ever led your own parents to God? Do you know what that is like? My mother knelt down with me, and the tears were just pouring down her face. So great was God’s power working in her life that I just watched with amazement! Her whole life was transformed! I know what my mother was before, and I know what she was afterwards—a totally different person! Isn’t that better than feelings, which are here now and gone in a few minutes?

Put your root down into God: He will answer your prayers

Draw power from God when you have this root grounded right into Him, by being united with Christ. Then you will see wonderful things happening, just as the Lord Jesus said in John 15:16, that those who follow him can ask his Father for what they want, and God will grant it to them.

I will say, if God is not true, nobody would dare to say this. This is something you can test any time, and if it doesn’t work, you can say, “This is rubbish! I have put my root in God through Christ, but it doesn’t work! I have committed myself to God for over 20 years, so if it doesn’t work, my first responsibility is to tell you this is just rubbish. You should forget the whole thing. The least I can do for you is to tell you the truth, and the truth is that God is real and He does work! I have proved it all my life of walking with Him, and I am appealing to you to prove it for yourself.

Put your root down into God. Let the Word of God reach into your heart, into your innermost being. Be in constant touch with Him. When you live like that, ask what you will, and see if He will not answer it. Then you will know whether the Lord Jesus is speaking the truth.


(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church