Spring time: Farmers are busy sowing their fields. Gardeners are cleaning up their yards and preparing their gardens, taking little seeds and placing them into the ground so that they will grow into fruitful plants. There is nothing like the taste of fresh vegetables from your own garden!
Every year, my family business—a large greenhouse operation that grows and sells plants—looks forward to the start of the spring-summer seeding season. We grow nearly 1,000 different varieties of plants, many of which are started from seed in our greenhouse.
Seeds come in different shapes and sizes, with each type having differing requirements for germination (the process in which seeds sprout and begin to grow). Small seeds must be placed as delicately as possible on the soil so that they do not bury themselves too deep. They should also be planted together in groups, ensuring that some will grow into thriving plants. Larger seeds, on the other hand, are buried deeper and probably with fewer in a group. Some seeds prefer warm, dry environments, while others require environments that are cold and moist. There are seeds that will germinate in less than five days, while others will take up to five months—or even longer!
Because there is a wide range of seed types, man has learned a seemingly endless variety of tricks that can be used to cause seeds to sprout and grow. One common treatment is exposing the seed to a cold, almost freezing, temperature for a specific length of time, mimicking winter. Certain seeds, such as some carnivorous plants from Australia, germinate when they are exposed to fire. Some germinate when immersed in water. Others, such as Cyclamen, germinate when they are kept in the dark for a certain period. Hard-shell seeds must be scarred or cracked. Some seeds can sit dormant for several years before something triggers them to germinate.
As you will come to see, the seed has many spiritual parallels to God’s Work and our Christian lives. Following King Solomon’s admonition to learn from God’s creation—“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” (Prov. 6:6)—let’s “go to” and consider the example of the seed.
A seed is basically a copy of the plant it came from. Genetically, it has all the information needed to grow into a complete plant. A seed consists of an embryo and a food store, surrounded and protected by an outer seed coat. The food store is large enough to allow the plant to grow its first leaves so that it can start producing its own food. The outer coat will vary in size and thickness, depending on the variety of plant. Under the right conditions, this perfect little “package” will grow and develop into a wonderful new plant, providing food, shelter or beauty.
As mentioned earlier, a seed with a thicker coat may need to be scarred or cracked to ensure germination. In addition, some seed embryos are not fully developed for germination. In such cases, the seed will need to go through a waiting or curing period before it is ready.
In general, there are five basic conditions that all seeds need in order to germinate—light, water, soil, time and temperature. Similarly, Christians need the spiritual application of these five conditions in order to grow. Let’s look at how and why a seed needs each of these conditions—and how they spiritually apply to a Christian’s life.
Light, which changes in length and intensity in the earth’s northern hemisphere, is a plant’s signal to start germinating at the right time. It also helps to show the plant which way is up and where to send its leaves to receive light, so that it can start producing its own food.
Now notice what Psalm 119:105 states: “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” God, in His Word, shows us through daily Bible study which way to go. Alone, man does not know how to direct his own steps (Jer. 10:23). As a result, he is spiritually groping in the darkness of this world, ignorant of the only way that produces true and lasting peace, happiness and prosperity. The light of God’s Word reveals the path that leads to the kingdom of God and eternal life.
Water is a vital key for the life of a plant. Recall that some seeds need to be immersed in water in order to germinate. All seeds need to absorb and fill up with water, which is the first step in germination. This happens by either a chemical trigger or a change in the seed coat.
This is an obvious parallel to baptism—when one is immersed in water and, upon receiving God’s Spirit, a new life begins. Additionally, water is likened to the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12:13), which we need to ask for and be replenished with daily, if we are to survive (Luke 11:13; John 4:14). A Christian’s goal is to become full of God’s Spirit.
Soil will determine the health and strength of a plant. The better the soil, the healthier and stronger the plant. The soil should not be too sandy or too hard, and it must supply the right nutrients for the plant to grow strong. As in the parable of the house built on sand (Matt. 7:25-27), plants must have a good foundation. Soil nutrients provide the proper building blocks for a plant to build its cells. For example, it must have a good source of calcium in order to have strong stems and branches. Soil also needs magnesium to make its leaves green, enabling it to harness the power of the sun.
Likewise, our “soil”—our spiritual foundation—must contain the right “nutrients.” Notice: “Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph. 2:19-20). Christians must build their spirit-led lives upon the doctrines and traditions of God’s true apostles and prophets, whom God has used to instruct and lead His people.
Time is crucial in the germination process. As in every business, it is usually better to get things done sooner rather than later—yet, some things cannot be hurried because they need to be done right.
In our Christian lives, we need to remember that it takes time to grow, change and overcome. This means that we should strive to be patient with our spiritual development, as God is patient toward us (Jms. 1:2-4).
Temperature is also very important in the germination process. If a seed is in an environment lacking the right temperature, its chances of success are severely limited, even if all the other elements are present.
The vast majority of true Christians today have a “temperature” problem. In Revelation 3:15-16, Christ warns His people, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot: I would you were cold or hot. So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth.” None of us can afford to let our zeal for brotherly love and doctrinal truth wane. Therefore, we must be diligent to have—and maintain—the right temperature to survive this lukewarm age!
Ultimately, the seed’s sole purpose is to reproduce its own kind. In the “parable of the sower,” seed was cast onto differing types of environments, yielding varying rates of failure and success. Christ explained that “the parable is this: The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). The purpose of God’s Work is to cast those seeds.
During Herbert W. Armstrong’s ministry, this was mostly done through radio and television programs, and The Plain Truth magazine. Mr. Armstrong was a master at marketing ideas—taking the Word of God and presenting it in a way that people could easily understand.
Today, The Restored Church of God is doing the same, largely through the Internet. For the first time in history, the Work can combine audio, video, images and text in a single medium that potentially billions of human beings around the world—especially those of the birthright nations, who need to hear God’s warning—can access all at once, at virtually any time. The Internet has become a powerful tool in spreading the “seed” of God’s Word—and this is only the beginning!
The Work can be compared to either a fruit or nut-bearing tree. At first, the tree is a sapling, with just one stem. But it soon grows more branches—at first two, then four the following year and even more every year after. Eventually, the tree will become mature enough to bear fruit or nuts, but only as much as the branches are able to bear. Even then, much fruit must be thinned so that the remaining fruit will be good. Every year afterward, the tree will increase dramatically, under proper care. For instance, the oak tree will usually not produce a significant amount of acorns until approximately its 20th year. But every 20 years afterward, it will more than triple its production of acorns.
Yes, God does start things small, even in the plant kingdom—setting an example for us to learn. Consider how tiny the Church was in the early years, when God started the Philadelphian Era with just Mr. Armstrong and 18 others, some of whom were children! Yet, God used His servant, with the Church backing him up, to do a worldwide Work. Through Mr. Armstrong, God established three colleges—raised up hundreds of congregations across the earth—reached the eyes and ears of millions of Plain Truth readers and World Tomorrow listeners and viewers—and took the heart of the gospel message to one third of the world’s leaders and heads of state.
Now let’s compare the early years of the Work under Mr. Armstrong (starting from 1934) and the early years of RCG (beginning May 1999), and draw some analogies. In my family greenhouse, we must constantly look out for wrong seeds. Many times, we find that, despite our best efforts to clean and sort seed, wrong seed and dirty seed usually are not noticed until germination. Sometimes, the saplings are so close in appearance that the wrong seed is not noticed until the plant is mature and shows its flower color. Similarly, at the start of the Work in 1934 and 1999, there were often people among us that were not of us (I John 2:19). In his “Oregon days,” Mr. Armstrong would start a congregation in one area and then leave to start another one in a different area. Once he left, people who he thought were true brethren tore the congregation apart. Likewise, when RCG started, certain people were, by necessity, quickly brought into the Work. It took time to discern that they were not qualified to work at God’s headquarters. Though a segment remained loyal to God’s government, the majority attacked the Church and its leader.
If any of the examples God leaves us—in recent Church history, in the Bible and in nature—are a gauge, then very exciting times are ahead!
However, God also leaves us examples of the downside. Tremendous amounts of seed are produced year after year, but very few ever succeed in growing into their intended purpose. Again, look at the oak tree: For every 10,000 acorns, only one becomes a mature tree. This pattern is common throughout the plant kingdom, in greater or lesser degrees. In the same way, many millions of people were reached by the Work under Mr. Armstrong’s leadership, but few came into the Church. Interestingly, God has shown us an exciting twist: We are now receiving inquiries from people who first heard the truth from Mr. Armstrong, but have not acted upon it until now.
Just as some seeds need to be exposed to fire, we must endure trial—sometimes even fiery ones—throughout our lives (I Cor. 10:13; I Pet. 1:7; 4:12). At the end of this age, all Christians must go through a “trial by fire”—either now, or later in the Great Tribulation. When a seed is exposed to fire, extreme heat or a period of freezing temperatures, a chemical change occurs, triggering the seed to grow.
In the same way, trials trigger us to grow. God uses problems, troubles and afflictions to strengthen His begotten children—to cause us to learn, change, grow, endure and overcome.
As stated earlier, some seeds must be exposed to complete darkness for germination to occur. Likewise, we sometimes go through periods of darkness—when life seems bleak and all hope has faded. This has occurred to some of God’s greatest servants.
One example is Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers. Just when things were starting to look up for him while serving his master Potiphar, Joseph was unjustly thrown into prison and forgotten. He was not released until several years later. A type of Christ, Joseph suffered for things that were not his fault (I Pet. 2:19-24).
Yet, despite all the things that he had to endure, Joseph made the most out of his situation and grew. While a slave, he rose to be in charge of Potiphar’s household. When he was imprisoned, he rose to become the second in command of the prison. And upon his release, Joseph became the second highest ruling authority in all of Egypt!
Let’s continue on with the comparison of seed germination and Christian growth.
Once a seed has germinated and developed into a mature plant, it still faces many obstacles. In a greenhouse, sometimes the environment can provide an excess of what is good for the plant—too much of the right amount of heat; too many nutrients; lots of light, but not enough direct sunlight. A plant in this environment grows very quickly, which causes it to become weak. This quickly leads to being susceptible to diseases and insects. In general, to grow a better quality plant, and to help keep pests and diseases at bay, it is best to grow the plant under a little stress. It needs just enough water. It should have enough nutrients, yet not so much that the plant becomes “lazy.” And it must be exposed to direct sunlight, along with some wind, rain and insects. Just as these “try” the plant as it matures, problems, troubles, difficulties and afflictions try us as we mature spiritually, making us stronger in the end (Psa. 119:67, 71).
At baptism, we received a small amount of the Holy Spirit, which can be likened to receiving a seed. This tiny amount is a deposit of eternal life and has enough power to start our growth—but we must use it and develop God’s righteous character. This is done by immersing ourselves in the Word of God. Notice: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law does he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper” (Psa. 1:2-3).
Again, the purpose of every seed is to reproduce its own kind. Each seed has the potential to grow into a new, fully mature plant. In the same way, God is reproducing His “own kind” through man. As His “firstfruits,” God gave us the “seed” of His Spirit, with the potential to become like Him—having perfect character (Matt. 5:48).
The next time you do a little planting in your garden or see a farmer planting his field, remember the example God has given us in the little seed!