Sunday, September 23, 2012

What to Do With a Useless Vine

Autumn's first chill brought out the fall gardener in me.  Black-topped rows already tilled and planted with kale, mustard greens, and broccoli, I turned my attention to the flower beds and the defiant clematis vine that had strayed from the wooden post it had determined not to climb, likely because that is the one thing I wanted it to do.

Armed with long-handled loppers, I marched into the backyard with full-scale massacre in mind.

Throughout a sweltering summer full of bountiful rain, the tendrils had sneaked away from the post and crept across the tops of the bed's other foliage until they formed a verdant tangled heap atop the iris, chrysanthemums, and heirloom rose.

I let it grow, determining to cut it down and throw it into the fire after the intertwined carpet of tiny white flowers had shriveled into seed.  Blossoms spent, the vine would die back anyway at first frost.  It was useless.

Many Christians are familiar with the New Testament passage wherein Jesus presents the analogy of Himself as the vine and His followers are the branches.  Christ warns "'Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned'",  (Jn. 15:4-6).

Old Testament Scripture uses the same analogy of the vine but here, the vine refers to God's chosen people, the nation of Israel.

The prophet Isaiah plainly states, "the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel And the men of Judah His delightful plant" (Is. 5:7).  Then, he describes how God did everything to help His vineyard grow and produce fruit: 

         He dug it all around, removed its stones,
         And planted it with the choicest vine.
         And He built a tower in the middle of it
         And also hewed out a wine vat in it;
         Then He expected it to produce good grapes,
         But it produced only worthless ones.
  (v. 2)

Even with all this special treatment, though, the vine did not produce good fruit.  The prophet Jeremiah confirms this, saying, "I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock.  How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?" (Jer. 2:21).

The nation of Israel thought itself better than the other nations because it was God's chosen nation.  In the Israelites' mind, God would bless them above all others no matter whether they followed God's law or played the harlot with idols.  Yet, through the prophet Ezekiel,  the Lord takes them to task over this faulty belief, asking what is a vine good for if it doesn't bear fruit?

The Lord says, "how is the wood of the vine better than any wood of a branch which is among the trees of the forest? Can wood be taken from it to make anything, or can men take a peg from it on which to hang any vessel? If it has been put into the fire for fuel, and the fire has consumed both of its ends and its middle part has been charred, is it then useful for anything?" (Ez. 15:2-4).

God makes it clear that other trees can be used for construction to make something else.  But a vine that is fruitless?  It is worthless, useless.

A vine is created for one, simple, single-minded purpose--to bear fruit.  It cannot deviate from its purpose and decide to have itself carved into a chair or a table.  Instead, if it refuses to do what God created it to do, it is worth nothing and will glow for a mere moment in the fire before being consumed in ash (v. 7).

Both Old and New Testament references to the vine may be different, but they impart the same lesson--God made His children, Christ's followers, to have a single-minded purpose--to abide in Christ so that we glorify God while pointing the world to Him.

John McArthur says, "In every age, the people of God have their value in their fruitfulness" (p. 907).

We must believe that.  The world may say that the heyday of Christianity is over, that we have lost our influence in the areas of morality, government, and the family...that it's too late to turn back the tide of rampant sin and evil.

But God says differently.

He says to you, to me, that we are still useful if we continue bearing good fruit to glorify God for all to see.

It's the one thing we were created to do.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, wow. This makes me think of Andrew Murray's "The True Vine."

    Such a great post Jennifer.