Note: Begin reading in verse 1 in order to get the full context. This will become important as we try to correctly understand the parable.
Introduction: Steven Cole offers the following illustration on the importance of being careful how we listen to the Word:
Challenging his wife with a riddle, the man began, “You’re the engineer of a train. There are 36 people on board. At the first stop, 10 get off and 2 get on. At the next stop, no one gets off, but 5 get on. At the third stop, 4 get off and 2 get on. Now for the question: What is the name of the engineer?”
“How should I know?” snapped the wife.
“See, you never listen! Right at the start I said, ‘You are the engineer of a train.’”
That little story shows how we often fail to listen carefully. What husband or wife has not had the experience of mumbling “Uh huh” while his partner is talking, but his mind is tuned out? One husband dropped his newspaper, looked directly into his wife’s eyes, and gave her his full attention while she was speaking. “Stop it,” she snapped. “You’re deliberately listening just to confuse me.”
Just as we often fail to listen carefully to other people, so we often fail to listen carefully to the Lord. His Word is often clear on the issue we are facing. But our minds are already made up and we don’t want to hear what God says because it confronts the direction we want to go. God can speak clearly, but if we are not listening carefully, we miss His will for our lives. (Take Care How You Listen!)
I think this pastor has hit on an important issue that is stressed in the parable before us this morning. Here we will see that Jesus is very much concerned with how we listen to the Word. And He stresses how being a good hearer of the Word is seen in the way we live our lives and in the way we share this same Word with others. Let's see how our Lord Jesus stresses these truths beginning with verse 16.
NKJ Luke 8:16 No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light.
The context for these statements is Jesus' explanation of the Parable of the Sower, and it is crucial to understanding His meaning. So let's briefly examine what He says in the preceding verses:
NKJ Luke 8:9-15 “Then His disciples asked Him, saying, 'What does this parable mean?' 10 And He said, 'To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that “Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” [Citing Isaiah 6:9] 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. 13 But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. 14 Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. 15 But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.'”
The emphasis Jesus' places on the importance of hearing the Word in the right way will resurface again in verse 18, but the point we want to focus on for the moment is found in verse 10, where Jesus tells the disciples, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.”
The disciples are those who – as Jesus says in the parable in verse 16 – have lit their lamps, and now they will be responsible for what they do with the light that they have been given. They have had the mysteries of the kingdom revealed to them. They have been given the light, and now they must not hide what they have been given. They must set it “on a lampstand,” that others “may see the light.” They must go about sharing the truth that has been made known to them with others who need to know it as well.
I think John Gill gets the meaning right when he observes in his commentary:
Christ by this, and some proverbial sentences following, observes to his disciples, that though the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven were delivered in parables for the present, that they might not be seen and understood by some; and though he gave to them the explanation of such parables, as of the above, in a private manner; yet his intention was not that these things should always remain a secret with them; but as they were the lights of the world, they should communicate them to others; and that that light of the Gospel, and the knowledge of the doctrines of it, which he had imparted to them, were not to be retained and concealed in their bosoms, but to be diffused and spread among others …. (Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword)
Those who have been given the light – who have had the Word revealed to them and have understood its implications – are responsible to share it with others. They are expected – as Jesus said in verse 15 – to “keep it and bear fruit with patience.”
So, the fruit Jesus seeks in His followers can be summed up in two ways: 1) He expects that they will keep His Word, living it out faithfully, and 2) He expects that they will share His word with others, telling them what they themselves have heard. These two things must always go together. We must always sincerely live out the Word that we proclaim to others if we are going to bear fruit for the kingdom. This is how we set our light on a lampstand for others to see.
Application: I think we all need to remember today the importance of being good hearers of the Word. We did not come here to listen to the teaching of God's word in order to leave unchanged. If we are good hearers of the Word, then we will leave here transformed by it! We will go out and live it! And we will go out with a desire to share it with others! For if we do not live it out, and if we do not share it with others, then we have only pretended to be good hearers of the Word. Remember the admonition of the Apostle James in this regard:
NKJ James 1:22-25 “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”
How easily we may deceive ourselves into thinking we are good hearers of the Word just because we may regularly attend church on Sunday morning or listen to good preaching on the radio or watch good preaching on TV – what little of it there is! How easily we can forget that the true test of whether or not we have been good hearers of the Word is found in the difference that it makes in our lives. It is seen in a love for the Word that leads to a desire to live it out and to share it with others.
We should actually be excited by the fact that we have been privileged to know the mysteries of the kingdom and to have a relationship with the Lord, and we should want to share these kingdom secrets that have been revealed to us, as Jesus goes on to stress in the next verse.
NKJ Luke 8:17 For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light.
Here again I think John Gill is correct when he writes:
Meaning, whatever was then wrapped up in parables and dark sayings, or was secretly, and in a private manner, committed to them, should be made manifest by them to others hereafter …. (Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword)
Remember again verse 10, where we saw one important reason that Jesus said He spoke to the disciples in parables. He told them, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that 'Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.'”
He was for the time being giving them private explanations of much of His teaching, intending that only they should know the mysteries of the kingdom, but this was to prepare them for the time when they would declare all these things openly to others. These things are “secret” and “hidden” now, but they will be “revealed” later. In fact, Jesus began giving the twelve experience in such open proclamation of the kingdom when He sent them out on a special preaching ministry recorded in Matthew 10. There Jesus told them, “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops” (Matt. 10:27).
Jesus did not want the disciples to assume that they shouldn't proclaim His teachings openly in the future just because He wasn't revealing everything openly now. But, of course, He also warned them in the Parable of the Sower that not everyone will genuinely receive the Word even when it is openly proclaimed. In fact, He told them that only some will be among “those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (vs. 15).
Application: I think we must all learn from what Jesus is saying here. We cannot assume that, just because we have been called to share the Word openly, we will necessarily always see great results. And we cannot necessarily assume that, when we do not see fruit in those who hear, we have somehow failed to be good witnesses to the truth. We are not responsible for the response of others. We are only responsible to be faithful in sharing the Word with them as we faithfully live it out before them.
But we must also remember Jesus' warning recorded in the next verse.
NKJ Luke 8:18 Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.
Given what we have seen so far, we cannot be surprised that Jesus warns the disciples to be careful about how they hear the Word. As we have seen, they will be held responsible for what they do with it, for how they live it out and for how they share it with others. But notice that Jesus adds another reason to be careful how we hear, and He states it both positively and negatively.
First – positively – Jesus says that we should be careful how we hear because “whoever has, to him more will be given.”
Here Jesus has in mind those who were described in verse 8 as having “ears to hear” and those who were described in verse 15 as “good ground” in the Parable of the Sower. Because they have really grasped the truth of the Word and have receive it with “ears to hear” and “with a noble and good heart,” they will be given even more truth. And they will also be given the ability to “bear fruit with patience,” as we also read in verse 15. So, those who really posses the truth in their hearts – however little it may seem to them – can be assured that they will be given even more truth. And those who have really born fruit as a result of hearing the Word can be assured that they will be given more fruit.
Second – negatively – Jesus says that we should be careful how we listen because “whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.”
Here Jesus must have in mind the first three soils from the Parable of the Sower recorded in the preceding context. In each case, those represented by the various kinds of soil seemed to have the Word only to have it taken from them. Let's look again at these three soils in order to see what I mean:
NKJ Luke 8:12-14 “Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. 13 But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. 14 Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.”
It is my view that Jesus sees each of these three soils as examples of those who are not good hearers of the Word and whose subsequent lack of zeal for the Word, together with a lack of fruit in their lives stemming from the Word, demonstrates this fact.
Application: But what about us? Are we truly good hearers of the Word? Have we all been good hearers of the Word today? If so, then I expect we will all leave here with a deeper desire to live out what we have heard and to share it with others. If not, then we must realize the spiritual danger we are in and seek from the Lord ears to hear, noble and good hearts to listen as we should, for only He can do this for us!
Conclusion: In closing, I want to remind us all again that we cannot be good hearers of the Word aside from God's enabling grace. This the Psalmist knew full well when he was inspired to write Psalm 119, and I can do no better than to take you to his words, in which he repeatedly cries out for understanding:
NKJ Psalm 119:33-37, 73 “Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart. 35 Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it. 36 Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness. 37 Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way…. [And again:] 73 Your hands have made me and fashioned me; give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments…. [And again:] 144 The righteousness of Your testimonies is everlasting; give me understanding, and I shall live.”