Mark 4:26-32 And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come. And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.
The seed is a grain of corn.
The first grain of corn is the Lord Jesus Christ.
The sowing in the earth is the death and burial of the Lord as He says: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone."
The blade that rises from the seed is the Lord Himself rising from the dead.
The ear of corn, is the church made up of grains that have sprung out of the death of the Lord Jesus.
The grains of corn in the ear are the individual Christians, each one of them a multiplication and a duplication of the Lord Jesus Christ, the First Grain.
The full corn in the ear is the hour of ripening, the hour when the church shall be complete.
The harvest is the end of the age, the end of this dispensation.
The man with the sickle is the Lord Jesus Christ coming again into the field of the world.
The reaping with the sickle is the gathering the church out of the earth to meet Him in the air.
The grain of mustard seed represents the church in the beginning.
In the beginning the church seemed like a very little, a very insignificant thing.
The growing up of the little seed into a great herb, a mighty tree, is the sudden increase of the church in numbers and power.
The branches spreading out in every direction, the expansion of the church in all the world.
The fowls that find shelter and shade in the branches are Satan and his agents according to the declaration of headquarters in Mt 13:4,19. "Some seeds fell by the way-side, and the fowls came and devoured them up. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart."
These two seeds represent the church in its inward and true character, and in its outward and professing character.
Both represent growth, but one is the growth of the church spiritually, the other is the growth of the church in worldliness.
The two seeds, then, represent spiritual growth and worldly growth.
The mustard tree represents the growth of the church, and the profession of Christ in worldliness. The more a tree grows the more it takes root in the ground. Its expansion outward is in exact proportion to its root downward.
There is a profession of Christ both in individuals and churches which becomes worldly in the exact ratio of its growth.
Some churches are full of growth, crowded, prosperous; but when they are examined it will be found that they are rooted in the world and draw all their inspiration and power from worldly things. They are nothing more nor less than natural organizations with here and there a modicum of spirituality; their growth is in worldly things, worldly methods and principles. They are worldly churches, religious, but not spiritual.
There are individual professors of Christ of whom this is also true. They make a profession of Christ, but they find their root and fatness in the world, and when left to themselves or given full sweep, will bring the world into the church even as the "mixed multitude" brought Egypt and Egypt's ways among the children of Israel. The profession of Christ that grows into the world and expands in its strength affords sooner or later a shelter and vantage ground for Satan and those who are his, as every page of church history shows.
The outward expansion of a church then, and the mere religiousness of a professor of Christ, do not indicate spiritual growth.
If the mustard tree stands for natural and worldly growth, the grain of corn in its development stands for just the opposite.
The more a mustard tree grows upward the more it tightens its grasp on the earth; the more a stalk of corn grows upward the more it loosens its hold on the earth. The law is that as it ripens towards heaven it loosens towards earth.
The mustard tree needs no care but the corn must be constantly cultivated, you cannot neglect it. You must keep the hoe going all the time. If you are going to grow corn you must be the man or woman with a hoe. You must keep out the weeds. You must keep the earth loose about the roots. The mustard tree is a natural growth, it grows wild, it needs no care. The corn is not a natural growth. There is no such thing as wild corn. It is purely and simply the gift of God and must be so dealt with.
The analogy is self-evident. The Christian is not the development of the natural life, he is the gift of God. He does not belong in the earth, and as he grows and ripens he will loosen his hold on it and grow and ripen in heavenly things. The world and worldly things will have less and less claim upon him, heaven and spiritual things will more and more attract him.
But great care will be required for this heavenly and spiritual growth. If you would thrive you must keep the hoe going, loosen, the earth about you, cast out the weeds, and in patience wait on the rain the dew and sunshine of heavenly grace. And as you grow you will find your place as a perfect grain in the divine ear. As you grow no fowls will find a resting place in you or a church composed of those like unto you. They may peck at, and fly over you, but they cannot find shelter with you, and you will ripen, not in the Sun, but in the Son, towards the harvest hour and the sickle's swing in the Master's hand.
Certain definite lessons are taught here:
1. Spiritual growth is necessary, as all growth is necessary, for evidence of life, evidence to ourselves and, particularly, evidence to others.
2. Spiritual growth can be maintained only by and through the Word of God.
The Word is the germ power. It is the seed of spiritual things. Our Lord Himself declares that the words He spake were "spirit and life." (Joh 6:63.) Wherefore the Apostle Peter says: "Precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature." (2Pe 1:4.) Thus the apostle Paul also exhorts: "Let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly." (Col 3:16.) You may read, study, and fill your mind with the best natural literature in the world it will not stir a single atom of spiritual life, or growth; the growth can come only from the divine seed, the Word of the Living God; and it must indeed be in our hearts.
3. Spiritual growth will be in proportion to the attitude we hold in relation to the Word of God.
In Mr 4:24 the Lord says very significantly, "Take heed what ye hear." That is to say also, how ye hear. Socrates has said there is an eloquence of the lip, and an eloquence of the ear. It is the eloquence of the ear that is needed, giving attention to what God says, that His Word may enter deeply and germinatingly into the heart, But it must be a hearing that is prompted and inspired by faith. All the failure of Israel was due to the fact that "the Word preached unto them did not profit, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it." (Heb 4:2.)
4. In spiritual growth there is to be no toiling, no labor, or effort.
When a child grows it does not labor, it just grows. This is what our Lord taught in the parable of the lilies. He bids us consider the lilies, how they toil not neither do they spin; He does not draw our attention to their beauty so much, although Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like unto them, but to the great fact that they grow without toiling; they rest where they find themselves, and quietly and gladly receive; receive air and light, dew and rain, sun and heat; and then just grow heavenward in their royal beauty. So we are to rest where God has planted us, and receive; drink in the truth and blessing that heaven pours upon us in the Word, and grow as perfect grains in the golden ear of corn.
A forest of mustard trees, every branch filled with fowls of the air, would not attract you, no matter how strong and lusty the growth of the tree and branch. But a field of corn would attract and inspire you.
I remember riding in the West by a field of thousands of acres of corn. At one moment the field seemed like an army, rank on rank, each several stalk an upright soldier standing in the sun. At another like a vast and mighty sea of life, swelling, rising, and moving on with lifted waves to the infinite horizon. As I looked I saw the yellow corn bursting in its golden beauty from the emerald folds about it, and I knew that it meant bread and life, strength and hope, to multitudes of the sons of men. As I listened I heard the wind sighing and singing through the vast and ordered way, until the tassels, fine as feathers, rose and fell like martial plumes; and the sight and sounds were as a blessing and a benediction to my soul; for I saw and heard the parable of my Master. I saw the Christian Church as an army with banners. I saw it also as a wide sea of perfect and heavenly life, rising and swelling towards the infinite glory, bearing on every wave hope and blessing to the souls of men. I heard it in the soft tender music of the Spirit Divine breathing across each individual and spiritual soul and making praises unto Him who gave His life for us, and gave it unto us that we might also bring forth abundant fruit of life divine.
Oh, may we in the church be as a field of ripening corn, growing as perfect grains in the swelling ear, growing as individual Christians in the Master's likeness. Let us remember too that corn as it grows in all its yellow beauty in the field is but another name for stored-up sunshine; and may we grow until we shall become indeed ourselves the stored-up shining of God's eternal Son; growing so that we may be the S. O. N.-Shine, the Son-Light of God, giving light and hope, joy and blessing, to the troubled hearts of the sons of men.
—Isaac M. Haldeman, How to Study the Bible, from Chapter 6: Spiritual Growth.