What is more important than God’s Word?
This was the first question that Alfredo, my long-time friend, and disciple, asked during our first pastor’s training in Colombia. Alfredo took us to the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, and I have to confess, the first time I heard him speak about this parable, I was amazed. I have listened to many preachers and theologians talk about this passage of Scripture, but I never saw it this way.
The Parable of the Sower tells the story of a sower who scatters seed on four different types of ground. Some of the seeds fell “beside the road,” which prevented them from sprouting up, and they became nothing more than bird food. Others fell on the rocky places, which did not provide enough soil for the seeds. They sprouted up immediately, but because there was “no deepness of earth,” the plants did not take root and soon withered in the sun. Some seeds also fell on the thorny ground allowing them to grow, but the competing thorns choked the life out of the plants. Finally, some seeds fell on good ground and were able to grow strong and produce a lot of fruit. Jesus later takes the time to explain this parable to his disciples. In his explanation, Jesus discusses the parable’s meaning and introduces a key concept that is often overlooked: Understanding.
Verse 18 says:
Listen then to the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one sown with seed beside the road.
Many scholars agree that this story was written to portray the different ways a person can respond to God’s Word.
We could illustrate the parable this way:
But we could also summarize Jesus’s explanation in two categories:
In the last illustration, we can see how the concept of understanding God’s word is the contrast between bearing or not bearing fruit.
Alfredo suggested that this parable is also about the importance of understanding God’s word.
The word “understand” in the New Testament is the greek word “Suniemi.”
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines this word as:
to set or bring together in the mind.
idiom for: having the knowledge of those things which pertain to salvation.
In the New Testament, this word is typically used in an evangelistic context, frequently in the presentation or explanation of the Gospel.
but just as it is written: “They who have not been told about Him will see, And they who have not heard will understand.”
Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
1 John 5:20
Unquestionably, saving faith involves a level of understanding. That understanding is made possible through the preaching of the Gospel and accompanied by the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul lays out the process that leads to a proper understanding of the Gospel: Preaching, which leads to hearing, which leads to belief, which leads to calling on the Lord for salvation (Romans 10:14). The “hearing” implies understanding; if the preaching is not understood, then it is not truly “heard.”
Understanding the essential message of the Gospel is fundamental to leading someone to faith in Christ. However, understanding the fullness of the Gospel and its depths is not a prerequisite for salvation. Only when one understands his lostness and incapacity for salvation can true repentance be experienced.
Nonetheless, many evangelistic efforts among the Wayuu have been built on assumptions; unbelievers raising their hand to receive Jesus or repeating a prayer, and many other rituals that in their tribal context lead to confusion rather than a clear understanding of the Gospel.
Many Wayuu churches encourage unbelievers to attend their church services with the intent to evangelize them. However, many unbelievers rush to imitate Christian behavior without truly understanding what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Those in the church may view this quick external change as an expression of faith, but in some cases, this is simply a response to fit in with believers. Unfortunately, this leads to syncretism and confusion about the Gospel among church members.
Trevor McIlwain, in his book Firm Foundations, shares a similar experience during his missionary work among the Palawano people in the Philippines:
Following this major people movement to Christianity, more missionaries arrived to assist in the work. They faithfully taught the duties of believers to those who had professed conversion. Unbeknown to the missionaries, the majority of the Palawano church members were interpreting the responsibilities of believers in the only way that they could as unsaved people. They thought the duties of the believer were the things they must do so they could continue to be “in God.” “In God” was the term they generally used to describe their conversion to Christianity. They had come “into God” by their acceptance of Christ through faith, baptism, church attendance, singing, prayer, not stealing, and not committing adultery. For the truly dedicated, abstinence from alcohol, betel nut, and tobacco were also understood as being necessary to guarantee their continued position “in God.”
During their church meetings, they sometimes spoke of Christ and His death; but more frequently, they testified of their faithfulness to the Lord by abstaining from sinful works and by church attendance. Obviously missing was praise to God for their salvation by Christ through His unmerited favor alone. Even though salvation by faith through grace alone had been taught, the majority had not clearly understood. They were trusting in a mixture of grace and works.
McIlwain stresses that among tribal people, in order to provide a foundation for understanding the Gospel, outreach efforts have to be made in a process where the Bible is chronologically explained from the beginning in its progressive revelation. McIlwain explains that this way provides the indigenous unbeliever with a clear understanding of our lostness and need for a savior; thus, Christ can be embraced through faith in his works and not attempts to save ourselves.
For this reason, our Sembradores (Pastor’s Training) program is focused on providing a comprehensive understanding of the Gospel through chronological Bible storying. By presenting the Gospel chronologically, we are giving Wayuu pastors and leaders a full and clear understanding of the gravity of our sin, our need for a savior, and God’s extraordinary plan to save us. This is why our training program profoundly impacts the lives of Wayuu pastors and their ministry.
“I used to preach that the Gospel was only about obeying rules, and I lived frustrated. Now I understand what Christ has done for me, He fulfilled the law for me, and gave me freedom”
Pastor Olmer Pushaina
“Before the training, I used to teach that salvation was the result of works, that you have to do something to obtain it. I would tell people that they had to fulfill the Ten Commandments to be saved, but I would read the Ten Commandments and think to myself, I don’t fulfill all of these; maybe I’m not saved. So I would often pray for God to send someone to teach me. And God answered my prayers! The Sembradores training helped me understand that salvation is not obtained through our works but by trusting in the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.”
Hebert J Rincon
Bread of Hope – Director of Operations