A Faith That Does Not Fail

A Faith That Does Not Fail

Not too long ago, I called up an old acquaintance, a brother in Christ. We had sporadically kept in touch throughout the years even though we lived very far apart. At one time we had been in the same ecclesia and shared some special history, so I felt a close bond to him. It had been awhile since we had talked. A lady picked up the phone and said, “There’s no one here by that name. You must have the wrong number”. I double checked but that was the one I had always used. I emailed him to get what must be a new number. No answer. I used Facebook to message his wife and she said he’d get back to me… no answer. I contacted her again and then I got an email. It read, “you may; or may not know that we have withdrawn from the ecclesia…” No, I didn’t know.

When such things happen, there is an old familiar feeling of pain and sorrow. There is that acute sense of loss. An emptiness clouds the mind. A continual replaying of history, searching to see if I could have done anything different to make a different outcome. As usual, by the time you fully know it is then too late. Their heart has solidified into concrete. There seems to be no words that can reverse it. There is added to my life another one who has strayed and fallen from the path that we used to walk together.

It seems to be that one of our greatest trials in our life of service to God is to be forsaken and challenged in our own confidence. This heartbreak happened to Paul. In 2 Timothy 4:10 he tells us, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica.” Demas, who Paul at one point had described as a fellow laborer (Philemon 24). This must have pained him, for he pleads with Timothy to “do your best to come to me soon” (2 Tim. 4:9). Paul yearned for that companionship in the truth and so his greatest trials were when he felt deserted (2 Tim. 4:16).

We are not alone in those feelings. Consider that even the Lord Jesus Christ was tried in that way. Why did he have to be betrayed by one of his inner circle, a friend? Why was it prophesied that his disciples would be scattered and forsake him? Is it not for the fact that he was tempted in all points like as we are (Heb. 4:15)? He shared in all our feelings and infirmities. He felt those feelings of loss yet still stood by his God.

The exhortation this morning is not about those who forsake the truth but about how we make sure that we do not also fall. What does it take to endure? We may feel we’re in a good place, healthy in our spiritual attitude, but there is no one who is not susceptible to the deceitfulness of sin and falling away. If it happened to Solomon it could happen to anybody. We have to be wiser then Solomon. Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Cor. 10:12). We have to look ahead and be aware lest at anytime we should let these things slip. This exhortation is based on the parable of the sower. We’ll consider that, and the parable’s echo in three remarkable Hebrews passages. The key to overcoming is in the development of our faith through daily exhortation, being thankful and rejoicing rather the being bitter and last of all working in love. In the end, we will find that when it comes to our standing in faith we are most of all dependent on God himself.

The Parable of the Sower

The parable of the sower is essential to understand. When Jesus’ disciples asked him about its meaning he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” (Mark 4:13). It’s a beautifully profound parable which I ponder often in my life whenever I hear about somebody falling away from the truth. Everyone always neatly falls into one of these four categories.

  • Matt. 13:19 - The ground that is the way side, a trodden, packed down, impenetrable path. The seed is sown in a hardened heart that is easily taken away by the wicked one.
  • Matt. 13:20-22 – The ground that is stony where the seed grows but cannot take root. When persecution comes because of the word he is offended.
  • Matt. 13:22 – The ground with the thorns which is the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. They choke the word so that it brings no fruit to perfection.
  • Matt. 13:23 – Then there is the good ground bringing forth a bountiful harvest in measure.

It would be a mistake for us to read this and think that it represents what a person is and always will be. Ground is not static. It is meant to be worked. If not worked, it will quickly grow over with weeds. In the context, it is the aspect of our hearing that needs to be exercised to change because Jesus says in Mark and Luke’s account, “Be careful how you hear.” Jeremiah cries, “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns” (Jer. 4:3) and Hosea says, “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground” (Hos. 10:12).

This parable is a constant warning to us. If we do not tend to our soil it can become thorny or trodden down. On the other hand, if our ground is not good there is time to plow, to take up stones and to weed so that it may be fertile.

The basic tenets of the parable of the sower are found in many scriptures. A parallel that I like and find helpful is in Matt. 24:10-13. This is an instruction by Jesus Christ to the believers (v. 9) in the last days and the response comes in four types. The first three are identified by the word “many” (v. 10-12) which leaves the last group as the “few” (v. 13).

  • Matt. 24:10 – “then shall many shall be offended…” The word “offended” (skandalizo) is the same word using in the parable in Matt. 13:21. This group then is the stony ground which when persecuted has no root and withers away.
  • Matt. 24:11 – “false prophets… shall deceive many”. These are they of the way side and Satan comes and catches that which was sown in their hearts (Matt. 13:19). This is a helpful interpretation because it reveals the identity of the devil in the parable as false prophets.
  • Matt. 24:12 – “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” This can be none other than the thorny ground where the word is choked by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches (Matt. 13:22)
  • Matt. 24:13 – “he that endureth unto the end” is therefore the good soil.

Which one are you going to be? We make the decision now.

In this context we have the concepts that make for good soil. One is to watch out for “hate” (v. 10) and the lack of “love” (v. 12). Another is not to be “deceived” (v. 11). Furthermore, there is the need for endurance (v. 13).

The Parable of the Sower Allusions in Hebrews

Let’s start considering this in more detail through the help of the allusions to the parable of the sower in three different passages in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The first is from Hebrews 3.

“… But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” (Heb. 3:6)

“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;” (Heb. 3:12-14)

The ground here is the hardened way side, an evil heart of unbelief. It is hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. The subtle deliberate daily intake of the teachings of the world will only encrust the heart. The cure for confidence in God is to “exhort one another daily”. As much as personal study is good and needful, I love how he expands this to the daily interaction we should be encouraging each other by using uplifting words. How often do you not feel like going to the meeting or Bible class but afterwards you’re thankful that you did? It might not even be the class itself but the interaction afterwards that is uplifting and helpful. Do we look for times outside the meeting to get together and encourage? It’s amazing how much we can endure when we don’t focus on ourselves but on the needs of others.

Hebrews 6:7-12 is the next passage with language like the parable of the sower.

“For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Heb. 6:7-12)

Here the focus is on love. It again is the doing aspect, the work they did in ministering to the saints. Remember the words of Jesus when he said, “the love of many shall wax cold”. That’s the choking effect of the thorns and thistles. They choke the word and it has no effect to move us. Peter backs this up in 2 Peter 1:10 where he says,

“Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:” (2 Pet. 1:10)

What are the “these things” that if we do we shall never fall? The phrase “these things” is also used in verse 9 and verse 8 which leads us to the list in verses 5-7. These things are---diligence to add to our faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. Love is the answer. Our soil will be good if we stop focusing on ourselves and ministering to others.

The final passage in Hebrews is chapter 12:15-17,

“Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” (Heb. 12:15-17)

The allusion here to the parable is the “root of bitterness springing up”. I was surprised also to find that the word “profane” literally means “permitted to be trodden”, that is, just like the wayside ground.

Bitterness is surely the opposite of love (6:10) and rejoicing (3:6). Many I find that fall away have developed this bitterness about them. Do you find that feeling within yourself sometimes? Bitterness comes from a feeling of being wronged. That you have rights. Life has treated you unfairly and you deserve better. Bitterness is acid.

The cure is thankfulness. A deep gratitude for whatever small things we have in life. An appreciation for whatever God hands us whether good or bad. Peter, in another tip of the hat to the sower parable, prays for the believers to “grow in grace” (2 Peter 3:18). Grace is thankfulness. A heart filled with thankfulness cannot be bitter.

There is another aspect to verse 15 which we need to consider. A root of bitterness springing up may trouble you, individually, but thereby many be defiled. It’s just not about you. Problems of this magnitude mushroom and can destroy our family and our ecclesia. It reminds me of a conversation I had a long time ago with a brother who was telling me the history of a local ecclesia, and how it flourished back in the day. I was curious though because that same ecclesia at the time was just two people. A big bustling ecclesia reduced to nothing. I asked him, “what on earth had happened?” His answer: divorce. It started with one couple, then another, and that bitterness wasted that ecclesia. The strength of our ecclesia is so dependent on the strength of our marriages. Faithful families create a faithful and vibrant ecclesia. The root of bitterness can tear it apart.

Praying for Others

What is going to keep us from falling? We’ve seen the need to exhort one another daily, to motivate to love and good works, to have in ourselves a spirit of grace and be diligent in all these things. In the end though there’s only one that can keep up from falling and that is God. Jude v. 24 says,

“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,”

We can do all we can with the soil, but it is God’s seed. A seed, by a miracle of God, springs to life, and bears fruit for his glory. He gives the increase.

This was Jude’s prayer for the believers. It should be our prayer. I think myself guilty of only praying for the faith of those who have all ready left. Once I hear of problems that’s when I start to pray. That’s not the example given to us though. Jesus and Paul prayed for believer’s in good stead that they would stay that way.

Consider the prayer of Jesus for Peter.

“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32)

Jesus knew the trials Peter was going to face so he prayed for him. We’re all going to face unknown trials. Nobody is exempt, so let’s pray for one another.  John 17 is another prayer of Jesus where he prays for not only the believers but for those who should believe on his name. He prays for people not even born yet! (John 17:20)

Paul is another notable example to follow (Phil. 1:3-6, 9-12).

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. “

Let’s pray then for one another fervently. No matter how strong in the faith you might think somebody is they still need your prayers. Let’s be proactive. Let’s not take anything for granted.


We know come to the memorial table. We come to remember a man who was tempted in all points like as we are yet without sin. One of those temptations was being forsaken by those closest to him. He was despised and rejected of men, yet he endured. Jesus gave us that wonderful parable of the sower so that we might ponder it and develop our hearing for the word of God. Jesus has challenged us to break up our fallow ground and to plow in righteousness.

In all the passages this morning there has been mentioned the need for diligence. There needs to be endurance. To make sure we never fall we need to be doing these things: exhorting one another daily, laboring in love, turning any bitterness into thankfulness.

In the end, we’ve seen the need for prayer. Jesus and Paul prayed for all that their love may abound. Lord willing, it will not be too much longer that we need to endure to obtain those great and precious promises that are before us.