Root Problem: Misplaced Hope
“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.” Matthew 13:22
This is part 5 of a series of essays about a fundamental problem with Christianity in our western culture. The “foundation” is weak and therefore the entire “building” is at risk of collapsing under pressure. I’m hoping that the Lord will place this series of warnings into the hands of Christians who are aware of the situation but have not found a solution.
I believe that there are many, many Christians who have either left the organized churches or who remain in a church but are disillusioned and turned off by what they see, but stay in the church out of obligation or perhaps thinking that leaving would be worse than staying.
I’m sure that there are still some good churches with good pastors. If you have found one and the Lord has directed you to stay, you certainly should stay.
In my last message, I discussed the problem of Christian believers having shallow roots as described in the parable of the sower. It is my observation that shallow roots are the result of an initial shallow conversion, and that an incomplete, faulty Gospel is at the root of the problem.
I also flagged the issue of Christian leaders and pastors focusing more on attracting new people to their organizations than on helping Christians to become spiritually mature. It has been my observation that this unscriptural focus on numbers has influenced the quality of the Gospel message. Whether this observation is correct or not is not as important as the recognition of a problem with the current Gospel message and the results of Christians having shallow roots. There are other contributing factors that have influenced the content of the Gospel message, but I feel that the desire for increased numbers is a major one.
I will mention here again that ultimately the best solution to all of these problems is for individual Christians to seek the Lord directly, one on one. They need to study His Scriptures and hear His voice. They need to pray and read the Bible, and communicate with the Holy Spirit, asking for wisdom and guidance in this wicked age. We live in a spoiled society and we are used to having things handed to us with someone else doing the work. These issues involve eternal life and the salvation of your soul; it’s worth doing the work to find out the truth for yourself or to know enough of the truth to guard against the lies.
The quote above at the start of this message is also from the parable of the sower. In this portion of Scripture, Jesus described a problem that is the same as a plant growing among thorns, that is, that the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches cause a problem that results in a lack of fruit.
It has become apparent to me that the problem of “shallow roots” is closely related to this problem of “growing among thorns” and producing no fruit. In my last message I concluded that new converts are not shown clearly that they need to die to this world, and to no longer love their temporary life here on earth, resulting in having shallow roots. New converts should instead be directed to consider themselves to be dead to this world, and to set their focus and affections on the next world, that is, on heaven and eternal life, resulting in an internal change that is the equivalent of having “deep roots”. Similarly, this problem of being among “thorns” defined as allowing the cares of this world or the riches of this world to choke out the spiritual fruit, has to do with having a focus on the things of this world rather than on heaven.
The only real difference between these two problems is the timing of when the problem occurs. If the Christian with shallow roots is exposed to tribulation or persecution they immediately fall away, but if not, then they continue to grow, but, like the plant among thorns, bear no fruit. The underlying cause is very similar or the same in both cases, but the resulting problems manifest at different times depending on the surroundings. In our western culture there is very little severe persecution or tribulation, at least for now, therefore, I would suspect that more Christians would have problems like the plants among thorns, resulting in no fruit and immaturity.
We must realize that it is a very serious thing for Christians to not produce any fruit. The fruit being referred to here is the spiritual fruit that is defined in Galatians 5:22: Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, gentleness and faith. A living faith produces true, Godly love that includes or results in various good works.
Realize also that any fruitless plant is at risk of being uprooted and destroyed by the owner; in other words, the Lord will deal with fruitless Christians, and the result could potentially be similar to the shallow roots that fall away.
“And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Matthew 3:10
Fortunately, we do have a loving heavenly Father and “vinedresser” who is able to remove the thorns and restore the fruit in our lives if we allow Him.
Let’s look closer at the problem of allowing the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches to choke out your fruit.
The word translated as “the cares” in the original Greek is “merimna” and can also be translated as anxiety. It comes from a root word that means to divide, and it literally means to be drawn away in a different direction. These “cares” are the earthly things that draw us away from the things of the spirit, draw life from us, and cause us anxiety. Worries and anxiety are the opposite of trusting God.
Jesus also explicitly addressed the worries and anxieties of this life:
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor your body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.” Luke 12:22
“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.” Luke 12:29-31
We worry about many, many things in this life. We worry, get anxious, and fret about our jobs, our futures, finding a spouse, losing something we want and think we need. We even worry about other people’s needs and issues. All of this worry and anxiety will choke our spiritual fruit!
How do riches, and their deceitfulness, choke our fruit? The pursuit of riches takes our time, energy and emotional life. Riches never satisfy and we never seem to have enough. Riches can also be gone over night; stolen by thieves or destroyed. Most importantly though, riches will occupy the focus of your heart, and this will be destructive to your spirit. In the end, we leave this life naked, so all of the riches that we accumulate have no eternal value.
Jesus taught us about the rich fool:
“And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God.” Luke 12:19-21
“Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:33-34
You may just say, “Okay, got it. I just need to not allow the cares of this world to distract me, and not let riches deceive me or take too much of my attention.” Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as deciding or using your will power not to let those things happen. This is the same mistake that the Israelites made when they attempted to keep the law by using their willpower alone or just making the decision to keep the law. No, there needs to be an internal change that will give you the power to be free from the cares of this world and will not allow riches to deceive you. A carnal, fleshly minded man is powerless against these “thorns”, but a spiritually minded man will be victorious.
“For to be carnally (or fleshly) minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8: 6-8
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13
This portion of scripture in Romans chapter 8 gives us much understanding about the difference between being carnal and spiritual, but the key to understanding the difference between being carnal and being spiritual is in verse 5:
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, (set their minds on) the things of the Spirit.” Romans 8:5
It is critically important that we have our minds (or hearts) set on the things of the Spirit, and not set on the things of the flesh! This change in our mind is the internal transformation that gives us the power to overcome the bondage that the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches have on our lives.
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2
And this brings us to the root of the problem: what we set our minds upon is directly related to where we have placed our hope! Yes, our hope determines the focus of our minds and hearts, and this is extremely critical.
The original Greek word that is translated as “set the mind on” is phroneo which is a verb that can mean “to savour” or “to set the affection on.” This would indicate that we need to be extremely aware of the things that have become the focus of our affections. We need to ask ourselves, “What do I long for?”, or “What am I coveting?” These feelings or emotions are directly associated with where we have placed the hope of our lives!
Remember what Jesus said, that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (quoted above). We have been promised a treasure of extreme value as a free gift of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We have been promised eternal life, a resurrected, spiritual body, a mansion in heaven, an inheritance as a child of God. As Christians, the hope of our life has been set on this promise, and therefore, our hearts and minds should be set on this hope. It is critical that we keep this hope at the forefront of our daily existence. Our thoughts should be anchored by this hope. Having this hope, and the internal change of thinking that occurs as a result of treasuring this hope, is the distinction between Christians and everyone else. It is also the power that allows us to overcome anxiety and worries, and also keeps us from being deceived by riches!
On the other hand, if we keep our hope focused on earthly things (even if they are “good” things), we will be powerless over the distractions, anxieties and worries that soak life from us and keep us carnally minded. If we place our hope on earthly things we will be dissatisfied, disappointed, discouraged and it will carry with it the burden of anxiety and worry.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when desire comes, it is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12
I need to say this bluntly: If the hope of your life is not 100% set on the promise of eternal life and the future of heaven that will become a reality upon the second coming of Jesus, than you are carnally minded and you will be in bondage to the earthly things that you have set your hope upon.
The hope in the promise of God should be the source of your happiness; if it is not, than something is amiss. In other words, if you become unhappy, depressed, anxious, or discouraged, than you have placed your hope on something in this world.
“Base your happiness on your hope in Christ.” Romans 12:12 (J.B. Phillips)
I am not saying that you will never be unhappy, depressed, anxious, or discouraged. I’m saying that if you are, you know the root cause. This is the battle that we fight every day as Christians, to keep the focus of our hope on heaven, to set our affections on things above, to set our minds on the things of the spirit, and resist the constant barrage of distractions from the world that attempt to draw our hearts down to the things of this world, to care about them instead.
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Col. 3:1-4
This focus on the hope of future glory with Jesus is also our power to get through the trials and tribulations of this life. Recognizing that this life is temporary and short, and offers nothing of lasting value compared with our future hope can be a source of strength during times of suffering:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” 1 Peter 4:12-13
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Cor. 4:16-18
I must mention that I believe it is a deceitful ploy of the enemy, or possibly a deception of our own flesh, to think that some earthly things are “spiritual” and therefore okay to set our hope upon. Things like building Christian ministries, or establishing God’s kingdom here and now, or working miracles, or contributing to solving the world’s problems like hunger, abortion, human trafficking. If any of these items become the main focus of your hope, then your hope has been misplaced. God could call you to do these things mentioned, but it must be secondary to the main hope of heaven. If not, they will become a “care of this world” and will choke out your spiritual life and leave you without spiritual fruit.
Our faith, if properly directed towards the promises of God that were presented through His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, will give us a living hope to replace the dead hope that we had from the false promises of this world. Having our hearts set on this hope in heaven, that is, treasuring the spiritual things of heaven, will produce an internal change in us that will result in true, godly love. Praise God!
In summary, it is extremely important that we have established in our hearts the living hope that is based on the promise of eternal life and glory with Christ Jesus and that we are storing our riches in heaven and awaiting His return when he will make our hope a reality. We must be careful on a daily basis to not allow our hope to be shifted back to the earthly things that cause anxiety, discouragement, depression and unhappiness resulting in the absence of spiritual fruit. We should exercise our faith to re-establish our hope when we find ourselves in a state of unhappiness or anxious or any of the above mentioned symptoms. This hope is not only a source of power to free us from the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches, but it will also take us through our trials and sufferings. Our Christian lives are mostly about patiently enduring as temporary residents here on earth awaiting Christ’s return. We may be called to other work or ministry, but it must be secondary and aligned to our focus on this main heavenly hope.
In the future I would like to talk more about how this hope is a part of a deep Christian conversion and how it is related to our faith.
I leave you with this Scripture quote from Romans regarding our attitude towards our hope:
“For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Romans 8:19-25