Understanding the parable of the sower is important for it shows the path of many who hear the word of God. Not everyone who hears the word will listen, take it to heart and allow the word to make a difference in their life. Let us look at the categories the Lord has given us to understand the parable of the sower.
The first group where the seed falls on the path and is snatched away by the birds are those people who have the word taken away from them as they hear it. They may hear the word among other non-believers and bend to peer pressure, they may choose to believe the lies of this world that say there is no God, they may have been conditioned by those without faith earlier, they may just choose not to accept it or it may be that their hearts have been hardened against the Lord and they refuse to accept his word. Whatever the cause the word does not get a chance to take root in their lives as it is taken away immediately. At this point they are without hope. However this does not mean they will stay this way. The Lord can work miracles with people and turn them around as he did with the apostle Paul who violently opposed the Lord but later became one of the greatest of the apostles.
The second group are those who receive the word like seed sown on rocky ground. There is a little soil there but not enough to sustain growth to maturity for the seed. Likewise these people immediately receive the word, but they have no depth of understanding and the word cannot take root in their life. So when opposition arises on account of the word, or when they are being tested on their faith they cannot stand the heat of the test or the opposition and they fade away. Their is no question that those who choose to take the Lord’s path will be persecuted and suffer trials. Peter said as much in 1 Peter 4:12 saying, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Paul also wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12-13, “Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived.” And this brings us to the third group.
The third group are those who receive the words of the Lord but then it is strangled out of their lives like good grains are strangled by weeds. These people hear the word but it has no priority in their life. They constantly put other things before their relationship with the Lord and everything gets in the way of their walk with Christ. Eventually they find no place for Jesus in their lives. It could be work, family commitments, the desire to have a good time, other things that arise on days when they could meet with other Christians, invitations to parties, picnics, gatherings or whatever. The noise and hubbub of life gets in their way and they lose sight of the Lord. Their problem is one of priorities. They have not identified Christ as the first priority in the life and are not prepared to make the sacrifices necessary for their walk with Christ.
Finally the fourth group are those who hear and understand and take the words of the Lord to heart. The word takes root and grows within them to bring them to maturity in Christ. They learn the ways of the Lord and how to stand in the face of direct or indirect opposition. They learn how to face the heat of persecution and the diversions of this world and make a stand for Christ. They do this because they understand that what they may lose or give up now is of no comparison to what they will gain in the future. Besides they have learned that even if there is suffering and persecution now, they have learned how to remain at peace within themselves by applying the teachings of Christ to their lives. They trust the Lord and he delivers them from all persecutions and problems.
I do not believe those in the first three groups are without hope. When a person hears the word of the Lord it may not immediately take root, but it may take time to germinate within them. There is evidence of one such as this who had been given up as lost in the life of Onesimus in the letter of Paul to Philemon. Onesimus had been considered lost and had done some terrible thing to Philemon who was his brother. But Onesimus had found the Lord and Paul was pleading on his behalf with Philemon to take him back as a brother both in the flesh, but even more in the spirit. This is truly an example of one who having been considered lost was then found. It is also not unlike the prodigal son who was considered lost but repented and was found.
There is always hope. If we have loved ones and are unsure where they stand, and even if they seem opposed to the Lord, we can always pray for them that perhaps the Lord may reveal himself to them so that they will be found as Onesimus and the prodigal son were found. Never give up on anyone for only the Lord knows the heart of a person and whether they can or will turn to him for salvation.