It Is “God Who Makes It Grow”!
“Neither is he that plants anything nor is he that waters, but God who makes it grow.”—1 COR. 3:7.
1. In what way are we “God’s fellow workers”?
“GOD’S fellow workers.” That is how the apostle Paul described the privilege all of us can enjoy. (Read 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.) The work to which Paul referred is the disciple-making work. He likened it to the sowing and watering of seed. If we are to be successful in that vital work, we need Jehovah’s help. Paul reminds us that it is “God who makes it grow.”
2. Why does the fact that ‘God makes it grow’ help us to have a proper view of our ministry?
2 That humbling fact helps us to have a proper view of our ministry. We may work diligently at preaching and teaching, but ultimately all praise goes to Jehovah for any growth that might result. Why? Because try as we may, none of us can fully understand the growth process, let alone control it. King Solomon expressed the situation correctly when he wrote: “You do not know the work of the true God, who does all things.”—Eccl. 11:5.
3. What similarity exists between the work of sowing literal seed and that of making disciples?
3 Does our inability to understand the growth process make our work frustrating? No. Rather, it makes it exciting, intriguing. King Solomon said: “In the morning sow your seed and until the evening do not let your hand rest; for you are not knowing where this will have success, either here or there, or whether both of them will alike be good.” (Eccl. 11:6) Truly, when it comes to planting literal seed, we do not know where or if it will sprout. Many factors are beyond our control. Something similar can be said of the disciple-making work. Jesus highlighted this fact in two illustrations that were recorded for us in the 4th chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Let us see what we can learn from these two illustrations.
Different Types of Soil
4, 5. Summarize Jesus’ illustration of the sower who scatters seed.
4 As recorded at Mark 4:1-9, Jesus describes a sower who casts, or scatters, seed that happens to land in different locations: “Listen. Look! The sower went out to sow. And as he was sowing, some seed fell alongside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. And other seed fell upon the rocky place where it, of course, did not have much soil, and it immediately sprang up because of not having depth of soil. But when the sun rose, it was scorched, and for not having root it withered. And other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. But others fell upon the fine soil, and, coming up and increasing, they began to yield fruit, and they were bearing thirtyfold, and sixty and a hundred.”
5 In Bible times, the sowing of seed was generally done by broadcasting. The sower carried the seed in a fold of his garment or in a container and scattered it with a long sweeping motion. So in this illustration, the sower does not deliberately sow the seed on the different types of soil. Rather, the scattered seed lands in various locations.
6. How did Jesus explain the illustration of the sower?
6 We are not left to guess the meaning of this illustration. Jesus went on to explain it, as recorded at Mark 4:14-20: “The sower sows the word. These, then, are the ones alongside the road where the word is sown; but as soon as they have heard it Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. And likewise these are the ones sown upon the rocky places: as soon as they have heard the word, they accept it with joy. Yet they have no root in themselves, but they continue for a time; then as soon as tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, they are stumbled. There are still others who are sown among the thorns; these are the ones that have heard the word, but the anxieties of this system of things and the deceptive power of riches and the desires for the rest of the things make inroads and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. Finally, the ones that were sown on the fine soil are those who listen to the word and favorably receive it and bear fruit thirtyfold and sixty and a hundred.”
7. What do the seed and the different types of soil represent?
7 Notice that Jesus does not say that different types of seed are being used. Rather, he speaks of one type of seed that lands on different types of soil, each of which produces a different result. The first type of soil is hard, or packed down; the second is shallow; the third is overgrown with thorns; and the fourth is fine, or good, soil that produces well. (Luke 8:8) What is the seed? It is the Kingdom message found in God’s Word. (Matt. 13:19) What do the different types of soil represent? People with differing heart conditions.—Read Luke 8:12, 15.
8. (a) Whom does the sower represent? (b) Why does the response to the Kingdom-preaching work differ?
8 Who is represented by the sower? He represents God’s fellow workers, those who proclaim the Kingdom good news. Like Paul and Apollos, they plant and water. But even though they work hard, the results differ. Why? Because of the different heart conditions of those who hear the message. In the illustration, the sower has no control over these results. How comforting this is, especially to those of our faithful brothers and sisters who have worked for many years, in some cases for decades, with seemingly few tangible results!* Why so?
9. What comforting truth did the apostle Paul and Jesus both emphasize?
9 Faithfulness on the part of the sower is not measured by the results of his work. Paul alluded to that when he said: “Each person will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” (1 Cor. 3:8) The reward is according to the labor, not according to the results of that labor. Jesus likewise emphasized this point when his disciples returned from a preaching tour. They were overjoyed because the demons were made subject to them by the use of Jesus’ name. As exciting as that may have been, Jesus said to them: “Do not rejoice over this, that the spirits are made subject to you, but rejoice because your names have been inscribed in the heavens.” (Luke 10:17-20) Even where a sower may not see a lot of increase as a result of his work, he has not necessarily been less diligent or faithful than others. To a large extent, results depend on the heart condition of the hearer. But ultimately, it is God who makes it grow!
The Responsibility of Those Who Hear the Word
10. What determines whether an individual who hears the word resembles fine soil or not?
10 What of the ones hearing the word? Is their response predetermined? No. Whether they resemble fine soil or not is up to them. Indeed, a person’s heart condition can change for good or for bad. (Rom. 6:17) In his illustration, Jesus said that “as soon as [some] have heard” the word, Satan comes and takes it away. But this does not have to happen. At James 4:7, Christians are encouraged to “oppose the Devil,” and then he will flee from them. Jesus describes others as accepting the word initially with joy but then being stumbled because of having “no root in themselves.” But servants of God are admonished to “be rooted and established on the foundation” so that they may be able to grasp mentally “what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge.”—Eph. 3:17-19; Col. 2:6, 7.
11. How can one avoid allowing anxieties and riches to choke the word?
11 Others who heard the word are described as allowing “the anxieties of this system of things and the deceptive power of riches” to make inroads and choke the word. (1 Tim. 6:9, 10) How can they avoid this? The apostle Paul answers: “Let your manner of life be free of the love of money, while you are content with the present things. For he has said: ‘I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you.’”—Heb. 13:5.
12. Why do those represented by the fine soil bear fruit in different amounts?
12 Finally, Jesus says that those sown on the fine soil “bear fruit thirtyfold and sixty and a hundred.” Even though some who respond to the word have a good heart condition and bear fruit, what they are able to do in proclaiming the good news varies according to their circumstances. For example, advanced age or enfeebling illness may limit the share that some have in the preaching work. (Compare Mark 12:43, 44.) Again, the sower may have little or no control over this, but he rejoices when he sees that Jehovah has made it grow.—Read Psalm 126:5, 6.
The Sower Who Sleeps
13, 14. (a) Summarize Jesus’ illustration of the man who broadcasts seed. (b) Who is represented by the sower, and what is the seed?
13 At Mark 4:26-29, we find another illustration concerning a sower: “In this way the kingdom of God is just as when a man casts the seed upon the ground, and he sleeps at night and rises up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows tall, just how he does not know. Of its own self the ground bears fruit gradually, first the grass-blade, then the stalk head, finally the full grain in the head. But as soon as the fruit permits it, he thrusts in the sickle, because the harvesttime has come.”
14 Who is this sower? Some in Christendom believe that this refers to Jesus himself. But how could it be said that Jesus sleeps and does not know how the seed grows? Surely Jesus is aware of the growth process! Rather, this sower, like the one mentioned earlier, represents individual Kingdom proclaimers, those who sow the Kingdom seed by their zealous preaching activity. The seed that is cast to the ground is the word that they preach.*
15, 16. What truth about literal and spiritual growth did Jesus bring out in his illustration of the sower?
15 Jesus states that the sower “sleeps at night and rises up by day.” This is not neglect on the sower’s part. It just portrays the normal routine of life followed by most people. The wording used in this verse indicates an ongoing process of working by day and sleeping by night over a period of time. Jesus highlighted what happened during that time. “The seed sprouts and grows tall,” he says. Then Jesus adds: “Just how he does not know.” The emphasis is on the fact that the growth occurs “of its own self.”*
16 What point was Jesus making here? Notice that the emphasis is on growth and on the gradual way in which it occurs. “Of its own self the ground bears fruit gradually, first the grass-blade, then the stalk head, finally the full grain in the head.” (Mark 4:28) This growth occurs gradually and in stages. It cannot be forced or speeded up. The same is true of spiritual growth. This occurs in stages as Jehovah allows the truth to grow in the heart of a person who is rightly disposed.—Acts 13:48; Heb. 6:1.
17. Who share in the rejoicing when the seed of truth bears fruitage?
17 How does the sower take part in the harvest “as soon as the fruit permits it”? When Jehovah makes the Kingdom truth grow in the hearts of new disciples, they eventually come to the point where they are prompted by their love for God to dedicate their lives to him. They symbolize their dedication by water baptism. Brothers who continue to progress to maturity are gradually able to take on more responsibility in the congregation. Kingdom fruitage is reaped by the original sower as well as by other Kingdom proclaimers who may not personally have been involved with sowing the seed that produced that particular disciple. (Read John 4:36-38.) Indeed, “the sower and the reaper . . . rejoice together.”
Lessons for Us Today
18, 19. (a) How has this review of Jesus’ illustrations encouraged you personally? (b) What will be considered in the next article?
18 What have we learned from our review of these two illustrations recorded in Mark chapter 4? We can clearly see that we have a work to do—sowing. We should never allow excuses and potential problems and difficulties to stop us from doing this work. (Eccl. 11:4) At the same time, though, we are aware of our wonderful privilege to be counted as fellow workers with God. Jehovah is the one who causes spiritual growth, blessing our efforts and the efforts of those who receive the message. We realize that we cannot force spiritual growth in anyone. We likewise need not feel discouraged or disheartened if growth is slow or lacking. How comforting it is to know that our success is measured by our faithfulness to Jehovah and to the privilege that he has granted us to preach the “good news of the kingdom . . . for a witness to all the nations.”—Matt. 24:14.
19 What else did Jesus teach us about the growth of new disciples and the Kingdom work? The answer to that question is found in other illustrations recorded in the Gospel accounts. We will analyze some of these illustrations in the next article.
Consider the example of Brother Georg Fjölnir Lindal’s ministry in Iceland, as reported in the 2005 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pages 210-211, and the experiences of faithful servants who persevered in Ireland for many years without immediate results, as found in the 1988 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pages 82-99.
It was previously explained in this magazine that the seed represents personality qualities that need to grow to maturity, being influenced along the way by environmental factors. However, it should be noted that in Jesus’ illustration the seed does not change into bad seed or rotten fruit. It simply grows to maturity.—See The Watchtower, June 15, 1980, pages 17-19.
The only other usage of this expression is found at Acts 12:10, where an iron gate is spoken of as opening automatically, “of its own accord.”
Do You Remember?
• What are some similarities between the sowing of literal seed and the preaching of the Kingdom message?
• How does Jehovah measure the faithfulness of a Kingdom preacher?
• What similarity between literal and spiritual growth did Jesus emphasize?
• How do “the sower and the reaper . . . rejoice together”?
[Pictures on page 13]
Why did Jesus compare a preacher of God’s Kingdom to a sower of seed?
[Pictures on page 15]
Those represented by fine soil wholeheartedly share in Kingdom-preaching according to their circumstances
[Pictures on page 16]
It is God who keeps making it grow