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A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Luke 8:5-8 (read v. 4-15)

From Jesus’ parable of the sower, we learn that not all who hear the Word of God with their ears rightly receive it in faith. In fact, some who initially hear it and come to faith in Jesus fall away again; but, by the grace of God, some of the seed of God’s Word falls on good ground — prepared by the Lord — and grows and produces faith and its fruits.

As we consider this parable, we remember that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63; cf. Heb. 4:12).

We remember that the Gospel is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:16-17).

And consider the words of the LORD in Isaiah 55:10-11: “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

As we read the parable of the sower and its explanation, we are quick to identify people we know with the poor kinds of soil and ourselves with the good ground. But, when we do this, we miss the warning and comfort of this parable for ourselves.

This parable certainly warns against being like one of the three poor kinds of soil. We may think of ourselves as the good soil, but how often do we not also fit the descriptions of the poor ground?

Many times we are like the hard ground. The Word of God is sown upon us, but it doesn’t sink in and produce fruit in our lives because we have either been uninterested or inattentive. Then the Word is snatched away by the devil.

Often we are also like the rocky soil. Though God’s Word begins to grow and produce faith in us, in times of trouble, affliction or persecution, we shrink back from a bold and faithful confession of the truths of God’s Word because we have not let that Word sink its roots deep into our lives. When trouble comes and our faith is put to the test, we turn away in doubt and unbelief.

And how often, like the thorny ground, we let the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things in this life keep us from faithfully hearing and learning God’s Word! These things choke out the Word and keep us from living our lives by faith in Christ Jesus and producing the fruits of faith — the works God would have us do as His redeemed children (cf. Eph. 2:8-10; John 15:1-8).

When we are good soil, we can take no credit. We must say with Jesus that it is a blessing of the Lord when the Word sinks in, grows and produces fruit in our lives (Matt. 13:16).

It is the Lord who cultivates the soil of our hearts, breaking up the hard ground, removing the rocks and pulling out the weeds, that the Gospel of forgiveness of sins and life eternal for the sake of Jesus Christ and His innocent sufferings and death on the cross might be heard and believed by us and produce fruit in our lives.

“Almighty God, Thy Word is cast like seed into the ground; now let the dew of heaven descend and righteous fruits abound. Amen.” The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn #49, Verse 1

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:21-23

Not all who call Jesus, “Lord,” will enter God’s eternal kingdom. Not all who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ truly are Christian.

We can think of groups who take the name of Jesus on their lips and claim to hold to His doctrine but who do not believe in Him as their Savior and Redeemer. It is not enough to look to Jesus as an example, as a son of God, or only as a lord and master.

But Jesus spoke these words that we, too, might examine ourselves and be certain we are holding fast to Him in faith and trusting in His innocent sufferings and death for our salvation.

The Scriptures admonish us: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” (2 Cor. 13:5).

It is not enough to just take the name of Jesus on our lips and call Him Lord. It’s not enough to preach in His name or do miracles or good works in His name. Jesus says we must do the will of His Father in heaven.

What is that will? Jesus answered that question for us when He said, “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).

It is the will of God the Father that we sincerely repent of our sins and wickedness and place our faith and confidence in the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of the Son, Christ Jesus our Savior. It is the will of God the Father that we not only see Jesus and take His name on our lips but that we believe and trust in Him and continue trusting in Him unto life everlasting.

Jesus called upon His hearers to repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15; Matt. 4:17); and He still calls upon us today, through His Word, to turn from our evil and rebellious ways to Him for forgiveness and life.

The Bible tells us to “repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord…” (Acts 3:19).

And, where there is true repentance, there are also “fruits meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:8). Those who are sorry for their sins and place their faith and hope in Jesus Christ will also, as a fruit of their faith, seek to live their lives for Him in accord with his Word.

Thus, as Jesus said, many who have professed to know Him will be cast out on the Last Day, for their repentance and faith were feigned — they may have even deceived themselves. They may claim to be followers of Jesus, but they are not truly sorry for their sin and unbelief and do not turn to Christ Jesus for forgiveness. Nor do they seek his help and strength to amend their lives and live for Him.

And then Jesus will, as He said, “profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

Jesus spoke these words in His Sermon on the Mount that we might not be deceived and find ourselves cast out on the Last Day. We, therefore, ask ourselves if we are truly sorry for our sins; if we trust in Christ Jesus and His innocent sufferings and death upon the cross for our salvation; and if we, with the help and aid of the Holy Ghost, truly desire to amend our lives and live in accord with God’s commandments. If we cannot honestly answer all three of these questions with a yes, we need to consider the consequences we shall pay for our sin and rebellion against the LORD God and His anointed.

How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation as God has provided for us in His own dear Son (Heb. 2:3)? Or, as the Bible says in Hebrews 10:29, “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”

But how comforting it is to know that we can yet, by God’s grace, turn to the Lord Jesus for mercy and He will not cast us off but wash away our sins! Because Jesus suffered and died for all sins and rose again, the Lord is indeed “good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon” Him (Psalm 86:5).

O Lord Jesus Christ, keep us from impenitence and unbelief and grant that we sincerely repent of our sins and trust in You for mercy and forgiveness that we may be received into Your everlasting kingdom and not be cast out on the Last Day. And as a fruit of our faith, grant that we also seek to walk in accord with Your commandments while we await Your return. Amen.

[Scripture Quotations from the King James Version of the Bible]

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Practicing and applying the Scriptural principles of church fellowship is not an easy thing, especially when they call for a break in fellowship between close friends or members of the same family. While we are to be loving and patient with others and seek to explain to them the truth taught in the Holy Scriptures, God’s Word also calls upon us to sever fellowship when the Word of Truth is rejected.

This is commanded for two basic reasons: 1) To point out to the erring the seriousness of departing from the doctrine revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures; 2) To prevent the spread of error that the true visible church may be preserved in this world and souls not be misled into sin, error and unbelief.

And, when Christians fail to do as God has commanded, they: 1) Give the impression that it is OK and not necessary to hold to all that God has revealed in His Word; 2) Cause the visible church to fall into error and cause souls to be misled into sin, error and unbelief.

A summary of the Biblical teaching regarding the practice of church fellowship

Since Jesus commanded us to disciple the nations by going, baptizing in the name of the Triune God and teaching them to observe all that Jesus taught and commanded (Matthew 28:18-20), and since Jesus warns against false prophets who come to us in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15-23), we, as Christians, are to discriminate between churches and teachers which are faithful to Christ and that which is taught in His Word (orthodox churches and teachers) and those which are not faithful to Christ and His Word (false and heterodox churches and teachers) and to practice church fellowship (joining together in those things which one would do with fellow believers, such as worship, prayer, reception of the Lord’s Supper, evangelism, mission work, etc.) only with those who are faithful to Christ and His holy Word.

Jesus said: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). For this reason, the early church “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).

That we not be led astray from the truth, the apostle Paul warned: “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself” (1 Timothy 6:3-5).

Thus, we see that we are commanded to continue in Jesus’ word and doctrine – the teaching of Holy Scripture – and to avoid and withdraw from those who teach otherwise and do not consent to the words of our Lord Jesus and the teaching of the Word of God.

So serious is the threat of false doctrine and the deception of the devil, God’s Word warns us:

• “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1);

• “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11);

• “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18);

• “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18);

• “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11); and,

• “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us … And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed” (2 Thessalonians 3:6,14).

Christians, like the believers at Berea (Acts 17:11), are to compare what is being taught to them with the clear teaching of the Word of God and reject those churches and teachers who remain unfaithful to the Word. And they must reject and condemn as sin the unionistic practices of our day in which church fellowship is practiced and church union is sought without regard for full adherence to the Scriptural Doctrine.

A church’s faithfulness to Christ and His Word is to be judged not only by its acceptance of and subscription to an orthodox creed or confession but by what is actually taught in its pulpits and writings and by what is practiced in its services and ministry.

As the apostle Paul warned, errors in both doctrine and practice will continue to trouble churches in this world (Acts 20:28-32; 1 Corinthians 11:19). But those churches which are faithful to Christ and His Word will, through Scriptural admonition and discipline, continue to combat and remove such error from among themselves and be faithful to Christ (Matthew 18:15-18; 2 Timothy 3:13-17; 4:1-5; Titus 3:10-11).

Christians remember that every lie and false teaching is of the devil, the father of lies (John 8:44), and the devil’s intent is to mislead God’s elect and weaken or destroy their faith in Christ Jesus. Therefore, Christians cannot and do not view doctrinal errors and teaching which is not in full agreement with the Bible as a trivial thing that can be ignored or overlooked. They use God’s Word to expose it, reprove it and remove it.

And, if a church or teacher rejects the sound teaching of God’s Word on a matter, Christians are commanded to reject and avoid the church or teacher until there are repentance and a return to the truth. Not to do so could even give the devil the opportunity he seeks to lead people away from faith in Christ and destroy their souls.
This is a most serious matter and yet many laugh and scoff and say that it’s only a little thing, a minor point. But, how many of you would drink water from a well which was poisoned even if the amount was small? What might not immediately kill you could do damage over time. So also with false doctrine; it is never harmless and, over time, it will weaken or destroy faith.

“A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Gal. 5:9).

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish … this is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:22-27).

While we recognize the message of Scripture to husbands and wives, we sometimes fail to read on far enough — to verse 32 — to see the mystery and see the significance of these verses for us in our relationship to Jesus Christ. We see that wives are commanded to submit to their husbands and that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, but do we see what these words teach is also in regard to our relationship with Christ Jesus?

The Church, which is made up of all true believers in Christ, is to submit to Christ in all things. This is, of course, what Jesus commanded in the Great Commission. His apostles were to disciple the nations by going out, baptizing in the name of the Triune God and by teaching them to observe all that Christ commanded (cf. Matt. 28:18-20).

Christ is the Savior and Head of the Church, and we, as believers, are His body and submit to His headship by listening to and obeying all that He teaches in His Word.

And why do we do so? It is because He loves us, His Church, and gave Himself for us when He died on the cross for the sins of the world. And He did this in order that He might set us apart as His own and cleanse us from our sins in Holy Baptism and present us to Himself “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

In other words, Jesus Christ so loved the world that He suffered and died and made atonement for the sins of all. And He did this that, through the preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of Holy Baptism, He might bring us and all the elect to repent of our sinful ways, trust in Him and be baptized and so have our sins washed away in His blood. And He did this that the Holy Spirit who brought us to faith might keep us trusting in Christ unto the end and that we might be presented to Him holy and blameless on the Last Day and dwell with Him forever in heaven!

And because Christ loves us and is working for our eternal salvation, we trust that what He teaches and commands in His Word is true and right and for our good. Thus, as the bride of Christ, we submit to His Word in all things.

Jesus said, “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God” (John 8:47). In fact, it is a mark of believers to hear and believe God’s Word, and it is a mark of unbelievers to reject and argue against the clear Word of God.

When we speak of the true (or faithful) visible church in this world, we speak of the church that preaches and teaches the Gospel in its truth and purity and administers the Sacraments in accord with Christ’s institution. Any ongoing compromise of the Word of God, any ongoing unfaithfulness to what He teaches and commands, makes a church unfaithful and untrue to Christ, our Head.

And, it often happens that people turn away and are unwilling to submit to Christ and His Word. Instead of listening to Christ, the Savior and Head, they follow their own thoughts and opinions. Jesus encountered it in His ministry when many of His own disciples were troubled over a part of His teaching and turned back: “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:66).

“Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’ But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (John 6:67-69).

Do you see the mystery?

“Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word; curb those who fain by craft or sword, would wrest the kingdom from Thy Son and set at naught all He hath done.” — Martin Luther, 1542

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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