It is 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!
During my childhood and on into adulthood, my family’s business looked forward to the start of the spring-summer seeding season. We owned a large greenhouse operation that grew nearly 1,000 varieties of plants, many of which we started from seed.
Seeds come in different shapes and sizes, with each type having different requirements for germination (the process in which seeds sprout and begin to grow). Small seeds must be placed as delicately as possible in the soil so that they do not get buried 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 generally 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 five months—or even longer!
Because there is a wide range of seed types, man has learned a seemingly endless variety of tricks 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.
What Is a 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 varies in size and thickness, depending on the 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 needs to go through a waiting or curing period before it is ready.
Five Basic Conditions
In general, there are five basic physical conditions that all seeds need to germinate—light, water, soil, time and temperature. Similarly, Christians need these five spiritual conditions 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.
Sunlight, which changes in length and intensity throughout the year, is a plant’s signal to start germinating at the right time. It also helps show the plant which way is up and where to send its leaves to receive light, so that it can produce its own food.
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 gropes 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 also a vital key for the life of a plant. Recall that some seeds need to be immersed in water 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 to have strong stems and branches. Soil also needs magnesium to make its leaves green, which enables 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 fellowcitizens 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 He 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).
In addition, temperature is important in the germination process. If a seed is in an environment lacking the right temperature, its chance of success is severely limited, even if all the other elements are present.
Many 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!
The Work—Planting Seeds That Grow
Ultimately, the seed’s sole purpose is to reproduce its own kind. In the “parable of the sower,” seed was cast upon different 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 the ministry of Herbert W. Armstrong, who was the leader of the Church in the 20th century, 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. Yet 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 can access all at once, and at 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 world—reached the eyes and ears of millions of Plain Truth readers and World Tomorrow listeners and viewers—and took the gospel message to one-third of the world’s leaders and heads of state.
Similarly, God is using His servant in the 21st century to spread the gospel throughout the world so that many more can be called.
Growth by Trial
Just as some seeds need to be exposed to fire, we must endure trials—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, which triggers 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, including Job, Joseph and David.
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 it 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!