Fear of witnessing comes in many forms: shyness, anxiety about being perceived as pushy, fear of alienating loved ones or friends, or even worry about possibly misrepresenting truth. The obstacle is essentially a fear of failure. Yet Jesus displayed—through the cross—that the term ‘failure’ means something completely different to God than it does to the world. The Son of God, hanging in the position of an accursed and dying criminal, won the greatest victory in the history of the universe. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
So how does one share this message of ‘foolishness’ wisely?
In Matthew 13:3-9 Jesus tells a story of a sower (farmer) who planted many seeds. Apparently, the farmer wasn’t too careful about where he scattered his seeds, because they wound up in a wide variety of locations. “And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside [road]; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 13: 4-9).
Jesus goes on to explain the parable’s meaning: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside [road]. 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. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:19-23).
This is a parable about people who hear the gospel and respond in different ways. How does it relate to fear of witnessing?
Jesus is delivering a message that reaches far beyond exploring the different responses to His Word. He is—in one short story—giving a comprehensive overview of witnessing in general: how it should be done, why it sometimes fails, how it ultimately succeeds, and—perhaps most importantly—how it can be done without getting discouraged. Let’s examine the Teacher’s illustration.
What is the right way to witness to others about Christ?
The sower is not selective with his dispersion of seeds (truth). In fact, he seems almost oblivious of where he is throwing them. What logical farmer is going to throw precious seeds on the road (wayside) or into thorn bushes? This farmer does not prejudge the ground where he throws the seeds! He does not judge by appearance or perceived abilities. He simply casts the seeds with reckless benevolence to all the ground in his path. The generous sower is a clear example to all that it is imperative to spread the word of truth without first casting judgment.
Why witness to those who appear unprepared to retain, or even receive, truth?
If the territories where the seeds fell are divided into four equal groups, the outcome is 75% failure and 25% success. This is the discouraging aspect of witnessing that is so often focused on. When Christ’s sowers share truth, people often seem disinterested (seeds by the wayside). Equally discouraging, are the lives of those who gladly embrace truth only to quickly fall away either because they lack a relationship with Jesus (seeds on stony ground) or they become distracted by the world (seeds choked by weeds).
One important point Jesus makes here is that witnessing will not always be successful, but that the perceived success rate is irrelevant. If Christ’s followers are to emulate His all-inclusive love for humanity, they must share without hesitation, intentionally unmindful of the reaction.
So witnessing usually fails, but I should just do it anyway?
The faithful sower is not so shortsighted as to think his initial scattering of seeds is the only method of obtaining a crop. He scatters unceasingly and fearlessly because he understands the process of growth and fruition involves more than him. Sunlight and rain will be two of the many uncontrolled factors that contribute to the plant’s development.
God understands that His children may not have the privilege of seeing the results of their labor for the kingdom until the kingdom. This is why Jesus includes the phrase about the production of the good soil at the end of the parable. “But he who received seed on the good ground,” Jesus comforts, “is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23).
This statement completely shatters the previous percentages of success and failure. If every seed that falls on good soil produces at least thirty times as much, maybe even sixty or a hundred times, than the ratio is far different. Instead of a 3-to-1 ratio of failure to success, the ratio becomes 3-to-30 at the very least, with 3-to-100 being the ideal potential. What an unbelievable difference this makes concerning the perceived failure or success of the work of Christ’s laborers.
But if I don’t see the results, how will I know if what I’m doing is working?
Again, the sower doesn’t get caught looking at the results. Fascinatingly, he hardly even looks at what he’s doing or where he’s going. His eyes are not focused on the plants behind him—whether or not they grow—or the thorn bushes beside him, or the stony ground underfoot. He seems to not even notice the birds who swoop in and steal some seed before it takes root. His eyes are focused ahead, upward. This is the greatest lesson of all.
As we walk through this life, Satan (birds) will do everything in his power to distract us from the task at hand and minimize God’s work. Shallowness (stony ground) will undo some who we may have thought were great converts to the work of God. Worldliness (weeds) will be pressing in from all sides, desperately attempting to choke out our love for God and devotion to Him.
Yet if we focus heavenward—if we turn our eyes upon Jesus—and faithfully witness for Him to all people regardless of appearance, perceived openness, or estimated ability, than the end result will be far greater than we possibly imagined. “He who hears the word and understands it…indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matt. 13:23).
The beauty of the parable is that each plant that stands firm and clings to Christ actually represents another sower. And by the faithful work of Jesus’ followers inviting more to follow Him, and the invited welcoming still others, and the welcomed imploring still others, and so on, the seeds of truth spread rapidly! Jesus recognized the exponential potential of a single, purpose-driven sower of truth. His message to us is to share unceasingly and keep our eyes focused on Him, regardless of circumstances or results.