Gospel Gazette Online
Volume 18 Number 8 August 2016
Page 5

The Barren Fig Tree

Ed MelottAnd He told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground? And he answered him, Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” (Luke 13:6-9 ESV)

This vividly spoken parable speaks loudly to all who will hear it. To the Jews, the meaning must have been poignant and should have been understandable. The fig tree is considered to be the most valuable of the trees in and around Palestine. It was very productive, carrying its fruit for 10 months out of the year, bearing three crops of figs. Its value is also seen in that it was more dependable in its yield than grapes; therefore, it was common for such trees to be planted inside of vineyards. The patience of the owner of this particular tree had finally run out; the tree must be cut down. The vinedresser, who had undoubtedly spent time and effort with this very tree pled for an additional year for the tree to bear fruit. His efforts would be intensified with the hope of the sought after crop. If, however, the tree still persisted in its unfruitfulness, the vinedresser also consented to the death sentence.

The tree, in our eyes, must have represented the Jewish nation. The vineyard, then, would be symbolic of the enclosure of privilege given to the nation. Israel had been blessed abundantly with the oracles of God (Romans 3:1-2) for the duration of its time as a nation. God had treated the Jews as His children (Jeremiah 3:19) and even set Israel apart as a beloved wife (Isaiah 54:5-6). The land that had been provided for Israel was “flowing with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27). God expected the nation, then, to bear fruit, which is more than simply doing good deeds. Therefore, holy character should have been produced within this enclosure of privilege. The three years represents the whole course of Israel’s history. Cutting down the tree would undoubtedly refer to the removal of this nation, ultimately seen in its destruction in A.D. 70. The vinedresser is the Lord Himself interceding on its behalf. The additional year, then, would consist of Jesus’ ministry and that of the apostles. After this period of longsuffering, Jesus would consent to the removal and the ultimate destruction of this once favored nation. To make this application to the ancient people of Israel is easily done; however, God’s people today must take an introspective look. We may give three divisions of this parable: (1) A Privileged Position, (2) A Reasonable Anticipation and (3) A Benevolent Intervention.

The Jews were favored highly and truly privileged. How much more so have we been advantaged? The Jews had only a partial revelation from God, whereas we have been given the complete will of Heaven. They were given prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah and Daniel; we have been given the teaching of the Son of God (Hebrews 1:1-2).

It was reasonable for God to expect fruit from such a venue of circumstances. Does He expect less from us today? We must bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Bearing fruit is not just what we do outwardly in our Christian service, but we must of necessity begin with the motivation of a good and an honest character. God may say of us today, “I have given them every possible blessing and opportunity to develop good character and produce fruit, but yet, they are so materialistic that they have made no progress; hence, cut them down.”

The benevolent vinedresser interceded on Israel’s behalf. God’s wrath is operable because of our sin (Romans 6:23); however, Jesus pleads on our behalf and makes salvation possible (1 Timothy 2:5). We may think that we have gotten away with our sins and our lack of bearing fruit. We may be fooled into believing that God has become indifferent to our sins. He is not indifferent but longsuffering (2 Peter 3:3-10). There is a limit to God’s forbearance! He destroyed Jerusalem, and He will destroy this world with all who do not obey His Word (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). A loving Savior and a philanthropic God make salvation possible. Let us not rebuff the longsuffering of our God but rather, let us “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Watching the Fence

T. Pierce BrownPerhaps many of us are familiar with the parable of the city fathers who were concerned about the large number of persons who kept falling over a cliff to the rocks below. So, they had a meeting and voted to spend several thousand dollars to provide ambulance service to carry the injured to the hospital. After several years of wailing and spending money for ambulance and hospital services, a young lad suggested to the aged fathers that they build a fence at the edge of the cliff to keep people from falling, rather than being so concerned with keeping the ambulances ready to pick them up after they had fallen.

The story appealed to me. I have seen elders who seemed more concerned with providing help for those who have fallen than doing the things necessary to prevent them from falling in the first place. First Corinthians 10:12 says, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” It is also true that after one is fallen, Galatians 6:1 says, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of meekness.”

As I was meditating on that, another thought occurred to me that might be worth our consideration. Although it is good to be concerned with the welfare of those who are fallen, perhaps it is better to be concerned with the means that we can use to keep persons from falling. It is possible that in focusing on the means of helping those who are fallen, or the means of preventing some from falling, we may still fail to focus on the most important thing โ€“ the total welfare of the persons who may or may not fall! It is very interesting to read what Jesus said to Peter in John 21:15-17. He first said, “Boske ta arnia mou,” which means, “Feed my lambs.” Then He said, “Poimaine ta probatia mou,” which means, “Shepherd my little sheep.” Shepherding involves feeding, delousing, protecting from wolves, keeping them from falling into the ravine and anything else they need for their security โ€“ their total welfare!

Let me illustrate what I mean. Is it not possible that elders start thinking about a building program with the purpose of advancing the cause of Christ and winning more persons to follow Him, but so concentrate and focus on the building and the program that they neglect the people who need to be saved and strengthened? Is it not possible that elders and educational directors begin an ambitious program of Bible school promotion and may get so involved in how the program operates that they forget to minister personally to the people involved? Is it not possible that “Family Life Centers” have been built on the assumption that the “Center” would provide for the needs of the members when it actually does not? Is it not even possible that elders and preachers can be so concerned with keeping their doctrinal fences sound and repaired that they allow many sheep to die before they even get to the fence? For example, are there not congregations where the preacher and elders are “sound” on the issue of marriage, divorce and re-marriage, but may have dozens of teenagers practicing fornication because not enough personal attention was given to their lives? Maybe we can get so busy attending to the fence that the lambs starve to death!

So, while it is true that the ambulance needs to be ready for caring for those who fall and get hurt (Galatians 6:1), and while it is true that the fence needs to be built and kept repaired to keep people from falling, it is even more important to know that with the proper attention and training, it is possible that many of the people who might otherwise fall, would not even get near the edge, and would need neither the fence nor the ambulance.

Have we ever seen a person buy a pretty lawn mower, get the blade sharpened, the oil changed, the gas in, the grass catcher applied, and then perhaps be so tired he goes over to the hammock and sleeps while the grass and weeds still grow? Anytime we allow the means to become the ends we have done that sort of thing.

Of course we knew that all along, but it is still true that we may get so involved in getting the pretty ambulance and keeping it shined, and in building fences and repairing them that we do not pay too much attention to the real job of training and teaching so those things will not be needed. In all our teaching of personal evangelism over the past 40 years, we have taught “How to” do everything from change the light bulb in a projector to “Setting up the study” and “Closing the sale.” Seldom have we actually taught in a practical way, “How to develop the mind of Christ” in those classes. To use a phrase of Jesus, “These things ought ye to have done and not to have left the other undone” (Matthew 23:24). If we changed the figure of speech and thought of them as sheep, we could say that many of the sheep need feeding, delousing and shepherding while many shepherds are nailing barbed wire to a post, or putting air in the ambulance tires. Are you watching the fence or the sheep?

[Editor’s Note: A lot of cute phrases with practical applications come to mind as a result of this article by brother Brown. “Closing the barn door after the horses got out.” “Majoring in minors and minoring in majors.” In addition, one time I preached by appointment for a congregation where the elders had forbidden the presence or the use of cellphones in the meetinghouse. I didn’t know that, and I read Scripture from my phone as I preached. The discussion afterward wasn’t about the content of my sermon but rather that I had read Bible verses from my mobile device. One of the reasons for banning mobile phones, etc. was in an attempt to curtail texting by members during worship. My late wife Bonnie observed that the elders were treating the symptom instead of addressing the problem; we see that sort of thing all the time, in both the religious arena and also in the secular world โ€“ treating the symptoms instead of remedying the ailment. Before the era of digital devices, distracted captives in the assembly resorted to pencil or pen and paper to write and pass their notes, and in the absence of cellphones what would stop those so inclined from regressing to pen and paper or otherwise being inattentive? Pen and paper or cellphones were never the problem, but they were only symptoms of a deeper, spiritual delinquency. Sometimes, we need to look to the root of the matter. ~ Louis Rushmore, Editor]

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