Matthew chapter 13 displays two key principles we can learn from the perfect model of ministry, who is Jesus Christ himself. He loves the lost, but never caters to their unbelief. He preaches the truth, but knows people will have different responses.
Love the Lost
If you are modeling your ministry after Jesus, you truly love the lost. I don't think there is any greater lesson that you can learn from the example that Jesus displays in Matthew chapter 13. Let’s begin by setting the context.
The final verses of Matthew chapter four introduce the ministry of Jesus in Galilee. Here we’re told that He was going throughout the land teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every kind of disease.
There has never been a person that walked this earth that has had a greater love for people than Jesus Christ.
The news about Him spread throughout Syria and the people brought to Him all who were ill and He healed them.
His popularity spread. Why? Because He was really helping people. He cured every sick person brought to Him, no matter the severity of their affliction. Can you imagine the press? Can you imagine the number of people crowding in around Him seeking attention? And yet, He continued to give Himself away. He continued to go to the synagogues, continued to minister, continued to serve, continued to do miracles, and continued to preach the gospel of the kingdom. That's a glorious picture of the sacrificial love that Jesus has for the lost.
There has never been a person that walked this earth that has had a greater love for people than Jesus Christ. If you are going to be one of His disciples, you need to begin to manifest that same kind of love. You are going to have to have that same kind of a sacrificial servant's heart and concern for lost people that Jesus had.
Don't Cater to Unbelief
By the time you get to Matthew 13 though, you can see there's a little bit of a change. At this point, Jesus has spent about a year ministering in Galilee. He has clearly articulated the revelation of His person as the Messiah. He's also made clear what is required to gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven. He's proven Himself by countless miracles of all kinds and displayed that the power of God is on display in Him and through Him. The change in His ministry practice occurs when the people continue in their unbelief despite the abundance of revelation they've been given.
The people are indifferent. They’re just looking for more wow moments. They are not considering the reality of the power of God that's on display, nor the significance of the message that Jesus is proclaiming. So, Jesus begins to speak to the people in parables. He pronounces a woe upon them for not responding to the revelation they were given. He doesn't cater to their lack of faith by making it easier to understand—He makes it harder.
When the disciples ask Jesus why He speaks in parables, He basically says He won’t cater to the people’s unbelief. The disciples were blessed. Their eyes saw, and their ears heard. The reason Jesus still taught truths about the kingdom in parables is that even though He wanted it to be harder for the crowds to understand, He still wanted to teach the disciples and those who truly believed. The basic principle on display here is that God loves the lost. He offers salvation to all who will come to Him. But He never caters to unbelief.
Yes, when you talk about biblical ministry, there needs to be a heart for the lost. It shares the truth. It begs people to be reconciled to God. But it does not make concessions that compromise the integrity of the church to cater to people who are not responding to the revelation that they are being given.
Understand People Will Respond in Different Ways
This is a fundamental principle of ministry that will strengthen your heart in the hard days when you wonder if you're even making a difference. Success in ministry boils down to one thing—faithfulness. There are four different types of responses to the ministry of the Word of God. The examples come from the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-23
- The first type of person you can expect to share the gospel with is like the hard road where the gospel message, as a seed, lands and is then eaten by birds. It has no lasting impact. The next day there isn't any evidence that it was ever there.
- The second kind of soil is the seed that was sown on the rocky places. This is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no firm root. The impact is only temporary. When affliction or persecution arises, he falls away.
- The third type of soil is the most difficult on a shepherd's heart. This is the seed that falls among the thorns. It’s the heaviest, because they're always with you. These are the people that are in your church because they've made a profession of faith. They never defect, and they respond (to an extent) to admonishment and to instruction. They will even affirm when confronted that they agree with it. But they just never really come all the way to saving faith. There's always something just a little off in the manifestation of real fruit in their Christian life.
- The last type of soil is the one we focus on and rejoice in. It's the seed that was sown on the good soil. This is the man who hears the word, understands it, and brings forth fruit.
Don’t think that your ministry is useless because the only people you’ve led to Christ have abandoned the faith. You should expect to encounter people like this. There is no difference in the seed. There is no difference in the sower. The difference is in the heart that receives it, and you can't control that. Success in ministry boils down to one thing—faithfulness. That's it. Faithfulness to do God's work, God's way, for God's glory.
Stop worrying about what the temporal visible results are. Yes, it's heartbreaking. Yes, ministry is going to be characterized by fixing love on people that aren't going to love you or Christ, and they're going to disappoint you. But, instead of being disappointed, you're going to have to grieve for them and keep finding a sense of joy and purpose and satisfaction from preaching God's word. You were faithful. God is pleased with you. Like Jesus who wept over Jerusalem because they wouldn't receive the offer, you too can weep. But, just like Jesus, you can be sure the Father is pleased with your faithfulness to preach, to appeal, and to invite them into the kingdom.
Our perfect model of ministry teaches us to love the lost in a sacrificial way, but never cater to their unbelief. We must keep doing the work of God for His glory regardless of how it plays out.
[Editor's Note: This article was originally published in August 2019 and has been updated.]