Sunday, January 04, 2015

30, 60, 100: Can We Conclude That More Fruit Was Caused by the One Receiving the Seed?

You might hear something so many times that you think it is the truth, but sometimes it is the truth and sometimes not.  In the classroom teaching for over 25 years, I will ask students a question, and after the first one responds, others will take their answer down the same path, even though it is wrong.  It is human nature.  I'm asking you reader if the same thing is done with one vital aspect of the parable of the soils (sower) in Matthew 13 and Mark 4.  Here is what I'm talking about in Matthew 13:

But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

I'm especially referring to the last part, "some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty."

Does the text itself connect the differences in fruit bearing to something done by the person who received the seed?  I've never myself heard a presentation that would imply a "no" answer to that question.  I remember hearing a number of factors that differentiate between the results someone sees in his sowing of seed -- more power with God and more fruit, more dedication to God and more fruit, or more sowing and more fruit -- those types of reasons.  I've never heard someone teach a theological randomness, ambiguity, or dubiousness.

What I'm saying is that Jesus wasn't communicating cause of the greater fruitfulness.  He was only telling us that the amounts might be different.  We can't conclude anything from the greater results.  What we do know is that they'll be varied.  Fruit will be there, but it will be varied.

Men have taught that one could conclude something about the quality of this believer, the one who received the seed, by the nature of his 100, versus the 60 or 30 of the others.  30 is an average Christian, 60 a good one, and 100, par excellence.  This has fueled a desire to be the 100.  And so how do you get 100?  Well, here's how.  And then comes the almost sheer pragmatism.  The bigger church claims superior spirituality based upon its size, and they often uses these verses as a basis for that.  The smaller church must be doing something wrong, and it needs some kind of reeducation to be a 60 or 100 church, if it's only a 30.  Even if someone doesn't teach this as true, it is most often what it seems that churches believe.

The Matthew 13 and Mark 4 passages are used as a proof text.  But do those passages prove this? Look at them.

We can conclude that a believer will be fruitful, but the passage doesn't say that the more fruitful he is, the greater believer he is.   Some bring a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty, but with no stated reason.  Certain Christians will bear more fruit than others.

Matthew 13 itself makes the point that the fruitfulness doesn't result from the seed sowing, but from the condition of the soil.  Many other passages confirm this theological view.  1 Corinthians 3:7 says, "neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase."  The ones who plant and water, all Christians, are irrelevant as to reproduction.  God gives the increase.  In the Matthew 13 text, Jesus refers back to Isaiah 6 and God's revelation that Isaiah would not see fruit from his endeavor.  1 Corinthians 15:58 says that if your labor is in the Lord, it is not vain.

The passage isn't about the sower bearing fruit.  It's about the condition of the soil having an impact on the result of the seed sown.  You'll know someone is good ground because he receives the seed and brings forth fruit of whatever amount that might be.  Hundred, sixty, and then thirty are about the soil where the seed is planted, not about the sower.

A lot of wacky strategies, techniques, and deeds have come from seeking the 100, like some sort of lost city of gold.  Seminars explain how to get the greater fruit.  Certain programs offer a guarantee. They will work.

True conversion won't happen just anywhere.  The hearts must be good ground.  The recipients must strive to enter the narrow gate.

Will some churches get bigger because they are more obedient, more faithful to the Great Commission?  I believe so.  If one church sows to one million people and another one to one thousand, the one who sows to more people might see more fruit.  On the other hand, you can sow one million seeds on concrete and one thousand on good ground and the one sowing on better ground will get better results.  You can't judge anything as to the spiritual condition of the sower from the result.

Some churches that are disobedient and unfaithful will get bigger, because they have used worldly means of accomplishing the growth.  When someone does everything right, he can still see very little tangible results, doing more and better than someone with larger visible consequences.  Scripture doesn't emphasize how big your church will become. It teaches faithfulness and purity and love for God and his neighbor.

You could argue that the church with thirty has the smaller production, because it doesn't sow enough seed, but you can't tell that by the number.  You would have to be able to see the faithfulness, the obedience with the gospel, firsthand.  Some churches get much bigger, but their ministry is actually far smaller.  We cannot conclude that more fruit was caused by the one receiving the seed.


17 comments:

Jim Camp said...

FWIW, I agree. I think this is an American problem. One of the best Christian men I have ever met is a missionary in Ethiopia. He is one of the busiest witnesses I have ever met. He witnesses, street preaches, passes out gospel tracts - He works very hard to reach these people, with very small results. (But he can't rely on the local charismatic church splitting to increase his attendance!)

In America, he is a failure because he is not running 40 in attendance!?
Just my $.02

d4v34x said...

Crypto-calvinism. Tsk, tsk.

:)

KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

I think I might be missing something that you explained in the post. I have thought that the 30, 60, 100 fold refers to different levels of spiritual growth in those that received the seed of the gospel, rather than referring to different numbers of people who were converted. If you could deal with this question, or if you already did and I just didn't get it, then if you could clarify, I would appreciate it very much. Thank you.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Jim,

Thanks. Agreed.

D4,

This really is just scriptural.

Thomas,

I didn't get into "fruit" being spiritual growth or fruit of the Spirit or something like that. I don't think that is what it is. It doesn't fit the story. I don't think there is a corresponding spiritual point for every detail of a parable. Here, the ratios are supernatural, far above the norm in the land.

What would be your basis for saying that fruit is spiritual growth? I've heard that too, but I was specifically dealing with those who would say that you can do something about being a 100 in reproduction.

Jeff Voegtlin said...

Kent,

Dr. Darrell Champlin, missionary to Suriname, taught us in a missions class that the 30, 60, 100 in the parable referred to the capacity of the recipient to do more or less for God. (at least that's what I took from his lessons and still believe to this day--over 20 years later) That made sense to me and it seems to be true to the text and the parable.

I think his point was...some converts (Christians) can do more than others. So don't don't demand more from someone whom God has not equipped to do so.

Chris Gable said...

Bro. Brandenburg,
Could the pronoun used in the text point us in the proper direction of understanding. It says "which beareth fruit"...a non-personal pronoun. If it was talking about the sower or another person would not it say "who beareth fruit"?? The ground/soil would be an inanimate object that would properly fit that pronoun.
Does that make sense or am I barking up the wrong tree?

George Calvas said...

"Scripture doesn't emphasize how big your church will become..."

Good points to consider except the above statement.

There is no place in the bible that "your church" has any place or bearing in defining the body of Christ or the work in accomplishing the great commission of bearing much fruit (numbers or quality) in and for the body of Christ. It is not anyone's church, except the head, which is Christ.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Every reader,

I'm making a judgment call here. As I apply scripture, I do not believe allowing a blog comment is fellowship; therefore, I don't think whether I allow or not allow a comment is an issue of separation. Every comment is a judgment call. Based on that, my policy as of right now is to take each comment on a case by case basis, versus completely omitting the comments of one particular person. Some comments are not going to be a problem as I see it, and if I'm going to apply a kind of separation or disfellowship here, when I don't think it is fellowship in the first place, then to be consistent, I need to allow anyone to comment. I'm going to moderate the comments as I see fit. Generally, I have always let them through. If you have any questions about that, then email me at betbapt AT flash DOT NET.

Someone can be a part of a false religion and comment here, but that doesn't mean we will allow any comment he or she says, if we don't think it would be best.

Kent Brandenburg said...

One added comment to the last comment. I'm saying no one as of right now is banished from commenting, but a particular comment may not appear if I deem it unfit. Again, if you have a question about why that comment didn't appear, email me as the above address I provided and hopefully I'll get back to you. I say hopefully because I get so much email that sometimes I delete it accidentally.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Jeff,

As it relates to interpretation, I think my problem with the "capability" interpretation there is that fruit has already been established in the text as conversion. The person receiving the seed is converted and then that person brings for more conversions. I would be open for an explanation how that is not so. Thirty what? Sixty what? One hundred what? Just like the person is produced, he will produce.

I'd be interested the grammatical or syntactical reasons for "capability." Because it says he actually does bring it forth (poieo), not just is capable to.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Chris.

The antecedent of pronouns is important in understanding a verse. "Which" is a masculine relative pronoun, so would almost certainly be referring with only a very few exceptions to a masculine noun. "He," first word, is masculine, "he" that heareth the word is masculine. I think it is referring to the one on whom the seed is sown, he, the one who is the good ground. "Which" is a relative pronoun, but I believe it refers to another masculine pronoun as its antecedent. I think the word "also" helps on this, day. It's a different word than is normally translated "also," and means "indeed." I think it is saying that the one who is produced will for sure reproduce -- you can count on reproduction.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Jeff,

Do some people have more capability to produce fruit than others? I don't think so. Does God give certain Christians more capacity or capability than others? I believe scripture teaches otherwise. I believe we all have exactly the same capability spiritually. Consider the first few verses of 2 Peter. And then, Philippians 2, it is Him that works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure.

Kent Brandenburg said...

George,

I think you're being overly picky on "your church." In a technical sense, as it relates to ownership, it is the Lord's church, not any of ours. But when the Lord puts me in a church, it's my church now. I am His and He is mine. Saying it is my church doesn't mean I'm sovereign over it, but it means I'm a member, a body part.

Thomas Ross said...

Folks reading,

Thomas Ross had written this comment, and I published it, and then found it again in my email box, and since I had published it, I deleted that one, and so it deleted what I had published. I still had it in my email, so here is what Thomas Ross wrote (sorry Thomas):

Thomas Ross: I have thought that the point of the 30, 60, 100 fold was different levels of spiritual growth in those who are converted by receiving the good seed. I have difficulty seeing that it is numbers of converts because not every truly saved person sees 30 or more people converted as a result of his witness. I have thought that the point was supernatural growth in those who received the good seed – that is, all saved people will be changed – although not all will grow as quickly. My understanding was that genuine conversion resulted in this kind of supernatural growth in contrast with the seed that is sowed on the other three types of ground, where there is not genuine conversion and consequently not genuine fruit in the life. Then again, I haven't preached verse by verse through Matthew like you have.

Thanks for the post."

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Thomas,

I don't think that your reason is a good interpretational reason. In studying for Matthew and Mark in the past, I know that the average growth was far less than 30, so each of these are supernatural. I think the numbers are not literal per se, and I would have thought you would have recognized that I said that in the post. The point is not a literal 30, 60, 100, but that people will see reproduction at a different rate, not because of their own talents or even surrender, but because of the condition of the soil on which they plant. I don't think we should use the thought or some kind of "evidence" that some people don't reproduce as a basis for thinking 30 is not reproduction, but a level of growth.

If one person is reproduced per generation from each convert, by the time we get to the kingdom, perhaps that is to thousands, and not just 100. Do we take 100 literally? I don't think each aspect of these parables gives us something literal.

I think you can get this without preaching through all of Matthew.

Do you understand that the parable, the words in it, don't introduce spiritual growth, but production like what the seed and the good ground produced?

My issue in the post was using this passage as an argument for the 100 being obviously greater than the 30, so if someone thinks those numbers are spiritual growth levels, he isn't a problem with the main issue of my post.

Thanks.

Bobby said...

Maybe this will help George.

Only Jesus can say "my church" as it relates to ownership.

I can say "my church" as it relates to identification.

Ken Lengel said...

Kent,

I recently taught thru the Gospels in Sunday School and taught a specific lesson on understanding parables. One of the keys to understanding the original meaning of a parable is to determine which are relevant details and which are irrelevant. A relevant detail is one which the meaning is dependent upon to understand the meaning of the parable. Irrelevant details would not change the meaning of the parable. Let's take Luke 11 for example. Whether the man stopped by at midnight or 1AM, or even 12:01 is irrelevant to the meaning. The truth of the parable is not changed by the exact time of the visit.

My question I have is, do you think that Matthew 13 is talking about actions during the Millenial Kingdom, now, or both?

Thanks,
Ken