John T. Willis

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The People of God: God's Field or Vineyard

A third metaphor the Bible uses to describe God's people is that of a field or vineyard. In this metaphor, God is the farmer, the gardener, or the vinedresser. Several very important truths arise from this metaphor.

1. The vineyard or the field is productive ONLY because God prepares it properly and completely and because God constantly nurtures the plants by providing everything they need for healthy growth. The following passages emphasize this point:

Psalm 80:8-11 [The psalmist is praying to God]:

"You [God] brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it,
and it took root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches.
It sent out its boughs to the Sea,
its shoots as far as the River."

Jeremiah 2:21a-b (God is speaking to his people Judah):

"I had planted you as a choice vine
of sound and reliable stock."

Isaiah 5:1-2d, 4a-b:

"Let me (the prophet) sing for my beloved (God)
a song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
And he dug it and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in the midst of it
and hewed out a winepress therein. . . .
What more could have been done for my vineyard
that I have not done in it? . . ."

1 Corinthians 3:6-9 [Paul is describint the establishment and growth of the people of God in Corinth]:

"I [Paul] planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building."

The people of God owe their very existence and any and all spiritual growth they have experienced to God, and to God alone. God uses human beings like Paul and Apollos and Isaiah and Jeremiah to form and develop his people, but all the wisdom and power and love for this great enterprise comes from God alone. And God overlooks nothing. He knows all our needs and supplies them. He asks:

"What more could have been done for my vineyard
that I have not done for it?" (Isaiah 5:4a-b).

The obvious, indeed the only, answer to this rhetorical question is: "Nothing." God has completely and thoroughly supplied all our needs to be his people. May our response be reciprocal love which leads to devotion and service out of gratitude for his wonderful gifts and blessings which we do not deserve and which are absolutely necessary for our survival and productivity.

John Willis

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The People of God: God's Wife--IV

God is intently concerned to establish and maintain a loving, healthy, growing relationship with human beings. He exerts maximum effort to make this happen. At the same time, he does not force human beings to think, speak, or act in the way he desires. Human beings are free to make their own choices.

When people respond to God's love positively and enter into a relationship with him, he does everything that anyone could expect to protect, sustain, and encourage them. But if they turn away from him persistently over a long period of time, he loves them so much that sometimes he acts very drastically in an attempt to shock them into reality and to bring them back to him.

Using the husband-wife relationship as a metaphor, the Bible affirms that God "divorces" his unfaithful wife. God's statement in Hosea 2:2:
"She [North Israel] is not my wife [any longer],
and I am not her husband [any longer],"
is a clear declaration of divorce. A little over a century later, Jeremiah proclaims the same message to Judah, in the course of which he compares God giving North Israel a divorce by sending her into Assyrian captivity a century earlier with God's present resolve to give Judah a divorce by sending her into Babylonian captivity in Jeremiah 3:8-10:
"I gave unfaithful Israel a certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her false sister Judah had no fear; but she also went and committed adultery. Because Israel's immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and tree. In spite of all this, her false sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, says the Lord."

The New Testament also teaches that God will sever his relationship with his people if they abandon him in infidelity. A clear example of this is the words of Jesus through John to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:5:
"If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place."

God's dominant desire is to maintain his relationship with human beings; but if they forsake him and persist in sin, as a desperate effort to jar them to their sense and to bring them to repentance, he will give them a divorce; he will remove their lampstand out of its place. May God help us be faithful to him.

John Willis

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The People of God: God's Wife--III

Ezekiel 16 tells a gripping story. An Amorite man and his Hittite wife give birth to a little girl. They do not want her, so they leave her in the open field to die. As the helpless child is kicking about in her blood, a man just happens to come by the field and hears the child crying. He takes pity on the newborn, takes her home, washes her, clothes her, feeds her, and raises her to womanhood (verses 1-7).

When this little child became a mature woman, the man who had saved her fell in love with her and married her. He lavished extravagant gifts of clothing and jewelry and ointments and food upon her, so that she was the most beautiful of all women (verses 8-13).

The man in this story is Yahweh, and the woman is Jerusalem in the time of Ezekiel, which actually represents all of the people of God. This story emphasizes three important truths about God's relationship to his people.

First, the people of God are people whom others abandon; they are ugly; they would perish if God did not have pity on them and deliver them from certain doom.

Second, the "beauty" which the people of God possess does not come from within them, but is an undeserved gift of God to them. Yahweh's words to his people in verses 13b-14 emphasize this point vividly:

"You [God's people] became VERY BEAUTIFUL and rose to be a queen. And your fame spread among the nations ON ACCOUNT OF YOUR BEAUTY, BECAUSE THE SPLENDOR I HAD GIVEN YOU MADE YOUR BEAUTY PERFECT, declares the Sovereign Lord."

Paul makes precisely the same point about the church in Ephesians 5:25-27:

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her TO MAKE HER HOLY, CLEANSING HER by the washing of water through the word, and to present her to himself AS A RADIANT CHURCH, WITHOUT STAIN OR WRINKLE OR ANY OTHER BLEMISH, BUT HOLY AND BLAMELESS."

The people of God have nothing of which to boast (Ephesians 2:9). God through Christ has made them beautiful in spite of the ugliness of their hearts. God's people are repulsive, requiring the moment-by-moment spiritual cleansing by Christ's blood to survive (1 John 1:7).

Third, very often, when God's makes his people beautiful in spite of their innate ugliness, his people try to convince the world that they are responsible for their own beauty. Thus the very next words which God speaks to his people--in Ezekiel 16:15--are: "BUT YOU TRUSTED IN YOUR BEAUTY and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his."

How warped and disheartening it is for people to receive God's gifts and blessings, then to claim those gifts and blessings are their own doing, and to use them for ungodly activities!

John Willis

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The People of God: God's Wife--II

The Bible compares God's people being unfaithful to God by going after "other lovers," like foreign gods, wealth, material things, earthly political, social, institutional, recreational, or religious power, human alliances and coalitions, and the like, instead of depending totally and completely on God, with a wife being unfaithful to her husband by going after other men. Hosea 2:5, 13 uses this language to describe North Israel's apostasy from Yahweh in the eighth century B. C.:

"Their mother [North Israel] has been unfaithful
and has conceived them in disgrace.
who give me my food and my water,
my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink.' . . .
I [Yahweh] will punish her for the days
she burned incense to the Baals;
she decked herself with rings and jewelry,
BUT ME SHE FORGOT,' declares the Lord."

Similarly, Jeremiah 3:1-3 says concerning Judah in the late seventh century B. C.:

"'If a man divorces his wife
and she leaves him and marries another man,
should he return to her again? [The answer is NO! as Deuteronomy 24:1-4 shows]
Would not the land be completely defiled?
would you now return to me?' declares the Lord.
'Look upon the bare heights and see.
Is there any place that you have not been ravished?
sat like a nomad in the desert.
You have defiled the land
with your prostitution and wickedness.
Therefore the showers have been withheld,
and no spring rains have fallen.
you refuse to blush with shame.'"

Paul uses the same husband-wife metaphor to describe the apostasy of the church from Christ in 2 Corinthians 11:2-3:

"I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to ONE HUSBAND, to Christ, so that I might present you as A PURE VIRGIN to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, YOUR MINDS MAY SOMEHOW BE LED ASTRAY FROM YOUR SINCERE AND PURE DEVOTION TO CHRIST."

When God's people are unfaithful, the great tragedy is not that they have violated some divine rule or commandment, or that they have deliberately or unintentionally thought, spoken, or acted against the religious and moral standards their ancestors have taught them, but that they have behaved unlovingly with ingratitude in response to a PERSON (God) who constantly and persistently loves them under all circumstances and cares for and provides for them far more than they deserve.

John Willis