John T. Willis

Sunday, September 18, 2005

God's Field or Vineyard--II

The purpose of a field or vineyard is to grow healthy plants and to produce good crops. Thus, God expects his people to grow and to produce spiritual fruit. When they do this, he is very pleased and rejoices; when they do not, he is hurt and deeply disappointed. Isaiah 5:1-7 describes a period in the history of God'a people when they produced bad fruit instead of good fruit:

"I will sing for my beloved
a love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He digged 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.
And he looked for it to yield good grapes,
but it yielded only bad grapes.
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard.
What more could have been done for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield good grapes,
why did it yield bad grapes?
Now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trodden down.
I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow upon it.
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting.
And he looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
for righteousness, but behold, a cry."

This passage emphasizes that God's two greatest concerns involving human beings are that they love him with all that is in them, and that they love their neighbors as themselves.

God's first priority, then, for his people is to glorify him by "practicing" AND "promoting" JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS between and among human beings. Throughout the centuries, various religious figures and institutions have emphasized matters other than justice and righteousness; and when this happens, those who accept such emphases forsake the message of God as revealed in Scripture. A simple hearing of the Bible makes this quite clear. Notice the following representative passages.

Genesis 18:19 [God is speaking to himself about Abraham]: "For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him TO KEEP THE WAY OF THE lORD BY DOING JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he has spoken of him."

Psalm 72:1-2:
"Endow the king with YOUR JUSTICE, O God,
the royal son with YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
He will judge your people IN RIGHTEOUSNESS,
your afflicted ones WITH JUSTICE."

Jeremiah 22:13-16 [in God's message to king Jehoiakim of Judah through Jeremiah]:
"Woe to him who builds his palace BY UNRIGHTEOUSNESS,
his upper rooms BY INJUSTICE,
making his countrymen work for nothing,
not paying them for their labor.
He says, 'I will build myself a great palace
with spacious upper rooms.'
So he makes large windows in it,
panels it with cedar
and decorates it in red.
Does it make you a king
to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father [King Josiah] have food and drink?
so all went well with him.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
and so all went well.

If an individual or a church or an institution claims he/it knows God but does not "practice" AND "promote" justice and righteousness, that individual or church or institution has no idea what it means to KNOW GOD. 1 John 3:17-18 says:
"If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother or sister [fellow human being] in need but has no pity on him or her, how can the love on God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."

James makes the point very clearly and succinctly in James 1:27:
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

Two perversions of this biblical message have plagued the people of God from time to time: (1) helping those in need is a "social gospel" which is not the concern of the church, for the concern of the church is to convert people to God [meaning, to convert people to "my" or "our" interpretation of the Bible]; and (2) it is all right to help those in need, but only as a MEANS to "getting" them or "persuading" them to study the Bible with "me" or "us" in order to convert them [meaning, to "my" or "our" way of thinking].

Jesus Christ demonstrated by his life and teaching that God is concerned about THE WHOLE PERSON. God's people, therefore, should be concerned about THE WHOLE PERSON. If a person is hurting or in need physically, socially, emotionally, ethically, personally, spiritually, or in any other way, God's concern (and thus the concern of his genuine followers) is to help them through that hurt or in that need JUST BECAUSE WE LOVE THEM AND WITH NO STRINGS ATTACHED. God through Christ converts people. We may be tiny instruments at times in that process; but God's heart yearns to relieve the pain and suffering of human beings in every aspect of their lives; and this should also be the heart of his people. In the language of Psalm 68:5:
"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling."

John Willis