Grain, Vines, and Olives: Becoming Part of God’s Fruitful People

The Bible uses a lot of agricultural imagery. You’re probably most familiar with this from Jesus’s parables about sowers and fields, or His statement “I am the vine.” These sorts of analogies are rooted both in the culture of Jesus’s day and in the Old Testament writings, and they focus on three types of plants: grain, vines, and olive trees. Those plants are also the three main agricultural products of Palestinian farming: “grain, new wine, and oil” (Theological Wordbook: Old Testament, entry 1040a). These three things figured prominently in scripture, mostly in tithes and offerings (Lev. 23:13; Deut. 14:23; 18:4; 2 Chr. 31:5; Neh. 10:39; 13-12) and promised blessings (Deut. 11:14; Jer. 31:12; Hos. 2:8, 22; Joel 2:19, 24).

Grain, vines, and olive trees were a key part of culture in Bible times and they’re used in teachings that are a key part of our faith. The study I’m sharing today started out with the question, “How can we bear fruit for God?” and the more I looked into it the more fascinated I became with the way God and the writers He inspired use these three plants to tell us about His plan, kingdom, and relationship with people. At first, I planned to divide this up into three posts (one for each type of plant), but the way the Bible talks about them is so intertwined I don’t think that would be useful. That means today’s post is a little on the long side, but I hope you’ll find this study as interesting as I do 🙂

A Brief History of God’s Vineyard

Obviously, grain, vines, and olives are useful for physical things. They were key to food production, they were used extensively for tithes and offerings, and olive wood played an important role in construction. In addition to these uses (and perhaps because these plants were so well-known and widely used), the Bible also talks about metaphors and spiritual parallels for us using these three types of plants and their produce. Hosea offers a great example of this.

Near the beginning of Hosea’s book, God brings a complaint against Israel, His unfaithful wife who “has refused to acknowledge that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine, and the olive oil” (2:8, NET). God’s punishment for her idolatry was to “take back my grain … and my new wine,” turning the cultivated land for food production into an “uncultivated thicket” (2:12, 15). That’s not the end of the story, though.

I will commit myself to you in faithfulness;
then you will acknowledge the Lord.
“At that time, I will willingly respond,” declares the Lord.
“I will respond to the sky,
and the sky will respond to the ground;
then the ground will respond to the grain, the new wine, and the olive oil;
and they will respond to ‘God Plants’ (Jezreel)!
Then I will plant her as my own in the land.

Hosea 2:20-23, NET

When a new covenant is restored with God’s people Israel, the agricultural blessings return. God’s people are compared to “a fertile vine that yielded fruit” (Hos. 10:1, NET). In this passage, Israel is also counseled to plow up the ground of their lives and bear new crop–righteousness and love rather than wickedness and injustice (10:11-13). Here in Hosea, we see the fruit of grain, grape, and olive plants used to speak of blessings, punishment, and (most relevant to today’s topic) the state of human hearts. Are we planted by God, or growing wild? Are we sowing with a good harvest in mind, or investing in bearing bad fruit?

Cultivating a Faithful People

In the Old Testament, Israel is often compared to a vine. Typically, it’s in a negative context. Israel was a vine that betrayed God and so He withdrew His protection from them (Psalm 80:8-16). It was a vineyard where the grapes went sour, rotten, and foul (Is. 5:1-7; Jer. 2:21). It was a fruitful vine that used its fruit to worship a false god (Hos. 10:1). The consequences of all this unfaithfulness was to be punished, burned like a dried-out vine cut away from a plant (Ezk. 15:1-7; 19:10-14). There is, however, a promise of restoration. The Lord will protect and water His vineyard, and Israel will blossom and thrive (Is. 27:1-6; Hos. 14:4-8).

The way the prophets talked about Israel as a vine would have been very familiar to the Jewish people of Jesus’s day. When He taught parables which compared the kingdom of God to a vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16; 21:33-46), His listeners would have connected it to what they heard read in the temple about Israel as God’s vineyard. And when Jesus spoke of a vineyard where the people tending it betrayed the owner, the “chief priests and the Pharisees … realized that he was speaking about them” when Jesus said, “for this reason I tell you the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce it’s fruit” (Matt. 21:43-46, NET).

Jesus–as the Word who delivered God’s message to the prophets–knew exactly what He was doing when He compared the kingdom of God to a vineyard, showed that the Lord is the only one with the right to decide how that vineyard is managed, and warned that the unfaithful would not be allowed to grow in the kingdom/vineyard forever (Matt. 15:12-13). Much like the parables where Jesus compares His people and people’s reactions to His word to grain (Matt. 13:18-30), the way Jesus talks about vines shows that the kingdom’s inhabitants are not a group which automatically includes any one type of people based on their background. He’s specifically cultivating a field/vineyard full of faithful people, regardless of where they started out “growing.”

All Nations Grafted In

We’ll come back to the idea of fruitfulness, but this last point about a change in the composition of the field/vineyard also connects to an olive tree analogy that Paul uses in Romans. Like vines and grain, olives figure prominently in scripture. Olive oil was used to anoint kings and priests, and as part of the offerings. Olive wood was used to build sukkas (Neh. 8:15) and in the temple construction (1 Kings 6:23, 31-33). Someone who trusts “in God’s loyal love” is “like a flourishing olive tree” (Ps. 52:8, NET). Much like the vine imagery, Israel was also called a once fruitful and “thriving olive tree” that became “good for nothing” through unfaithfulness and was set on fire (Jer. 11:16, NET).

It’s with that background that Paul uses olive trees imagery to show his gentile readers how they relate to the Jews (which represented one tribe of Israel, Judah, though Paul uses them to stand-in for all of physical Israel). Even in the Old Testament, the name “Israel” referred to both a physical nation and to a smaller group of spiritual, faithful believers (Rom. 11:1-4). A similar thing is happening today, only now this faithful remnant doesn’t just include descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It includes those who were once outside Israel as well and who’ve responded to God’s call (Rom. 11:5-16).

To illustrate this, Paul compares Israel to a cultivated olive tree and the Gentiles (ethnos in Greek; tribes, peoples, nations) to a wild olive tree. Both groups are olives–people made in the image of God–but one has a longer history of being chosen, tended, and cultivated by God for a specific purpose. Now, the Master Gardener is expanding His cultivation project. He’s pruning out those who do not believe and grafting in those who have faith. Which olive tree you came from doesn’t matter; only the state of your heart (Rom. 11:17-24). In other words, God is still working in the same vineyard/field/orchard that He has always had, cultivating a kingdom people, but He is bringing new vines and branches in and grafting them all onto one Root.

How to Bear Fruit for God

Jesus is the holy root which makes the branches grafted into Him holy (Is. 11:1-10; 53:1-5; Rom. 11:16; 15:8-13; Eph. 3:16-19; Col. 2:6-7; Rev. 5:5; 22:16). Remember all those verses about Israel as an unfaithful, fruitless vineyard and the prophecy about future growth? Jesus is how that prophecy is fulfilled.

“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit. You are clean already because of the word that I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples.”

John 15:1-8, NET

See how this echoes so many of the prophecies we’ve looked at? Jesus reveals that He is the one we need to have a relationship with in order to be fruitful. Without Him, we wither away like ancient Israel so often did as they strayed into unbelief. The emphasis on being rooted also echoes other prophresies that talk of God’s people being rooted (Is. 27:6; 37:31-21; Jer. 17:7-8). The closer we are to God, the more firmly we’re rooted and the more we thrive. And the more we study what the whole Bible says about the way God’s people are like grain, vines, and olives the better we understand what Jesus is teaching us in passages like this one where He says, “I am the vine.”

God is looking for fruit from the people growing in His vineyard. He exercises patience, encouraging us to grow, but if we refuse to keep abiding in Him, He won’t force us to stay and bear fruit (Luke 13:6-9). We can’t grow and fruit without Him (1 Cor. 3:6-9), but we are also active participants in this fruitfulness and we are free to disconnect from the root and be unfruitful if we choose (as so many Jewish people of Jesus’s day chose to do when they rejected Him as the Messiah). When we choose to abide in Jesus, though, we will abound in the fruits of His spirit (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 5:8-11; 2 Pet. 1:5-8). In His grace, goodness, and love, God has opened the way through Jesus’s sacrifice for all people everywhere to become part of His kingdom-garden. Let’s stay close to Him, rooted with faith and trusting Him to supply all we need to grow and thrive and bear fruit that glorifies our Father.

Featured image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

Good Fruits of Wisdom

“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom,” says a verse in Proverbs (4:7, KJV). In an effort to do that, we’ve been studying how James defines Godly wisdom in his letter to the New Testament church.

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18, WEB)

Today’s post is about the sixth characteristic on this list — wisdom is full of good fruits. Fruit is an often used metaphor in the Bible. It typically refers to what is produced in/by a person’s life. Certain fruits are associated with a life guided by God’s spirit and others indicate a life lived apart from God.

How to Fruit

There are certain actions and things that are not fruitful. As followers of Christ, we are to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather even reprove them” (Eph. 5:11, WEB). A life lived in spiritual darkness cannot lead to the production of good fruit. And if we’re not producing good fruit, then we’re in trouble. Read more

The Fruit Of Gentleness

Meekness, gentleness, and mildness get a bad rap in today’s society. People tend to think of them as synonyms for being weak or boring. A door mat. But those three words I opened with are all possible translations of the Greek word praotes (G4236), which is listed as part of the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.

The spirit of God is not weak or boring. It is full of power, and it is also “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.” Indeed, though we may not think of these traits as “powerful,” we cannot display them all unless we’re empowered by God. It takes a great deal of inner strength, commitment, and willingness to be transformed by God to live-out the fruit of His spirit, including gentleness.

The Meekness of Christ

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul opened one of his lines of thought with the words, “I Paul, myself, entreat you by the humility and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1, WEB). The traits of gentleness, humility, and meekness that the world spurns are key to understanding Jesus Christ’s character. Read more

Are We Making The Most Of God’s Gifts?

Salvation is a free gift that we cannot earn, but which we can lose or refuse because God always gives people a choice. Adam and Eve had access to a close relationship with God, but they also had the option to choose sin and death instead. Ancient Israel was asked to choose between “life and prosperity, and death and evil,” and implored to pick life (Deut. 30:15, 19). The Lord is not willing that any should perish (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), but He also won’t force you into His kingdom. You need to choose, and then act on your choice.

We also can’t say “I choose life” and then keep living as if we chose death. We will be judged by what we do with the gifts given to us by God, and for those in His church today this judgement has already started (1 Pet. 4:17). God is watching us now to see what we do with all the gifts He gives us.

As we think about our relationship with God and examine ourselves as Christians, we all need to ask if we’re doing what God would want us to do with the gifts He’s entrusted us with. That includes examining how we respond to salvation, how we heed and use His Spirit inside us, and whether or not we’re truly following the example of Jesus Christ.

The Parable of The Talents

Shortly before His death, Jesus told a parable that illustrates how important it is for us to do something with the gifts we’ve been given. He compares His absence from earth between His first and second coming to “a man, going to another country, who called his own servants, and entrusted his goods to them” (Matt. 25:14, WEB).

This man divided his goods between his servants, entrusting each with a certain number of talents (a “talent” is  measure of weight, typically used for silver, that is equal to 30 kg or 66 lb). This pictures the time that we’re in now as servants awaiting our master’s return. Like the servants in the parable, we’ve each been given gifts “according to his own ability” and must now decide what to do with them (Matt. 25:15). Read more

Good and Bad Fruits

As Christians, we’re asked to find a balance between being too judgmental and an “anything goes” mentality. We must not condemn others, but neither should we ignore sin. We have to exercise discernment, “judge righteous judgement” (John 7:24), and make decisions about right and wrong in our own lives, and in the lives of people we choose to associate with.

When we’re deciding that teachers to listen to, which groups to fellowship with, and who to count as our closest friends, God gives us guidelines for making decisions.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matt. 7:15-20)

A parallel scripture in Luke 6:43-45 shows this principle applies to people in general, not just leaders. It also applies to us. Before we can recognize good and bad fruits in other people, we have examine ourselves. We must remove the plank from our own eye before we can clearly see the speck in our brother’s eye (Matt. 7:3-5). This is especially important as we approach the Passover season, traditionally a time of reflection and self-examination (1 Cor. 11:28-31).

Bad Fruits

When we’re trying to discern good and bad fruits, what should we be looking for? The Bible outlines many good and bad traits that individuals may have, but today let’s focus on a list given in Galatians. We’re very familiar with the fruits of the spirit, but leading up to that there is also a list of undesirable traits and actions.

 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

Credit:  oatsy40, CC BY, via Flickr
Credit: oatsy40, CC BY, via Flickr

This is serious stuff. Those who have these “bad fruits” in their lives will not be welcomed in God’s kingdom. It’s easy to just read over lists like these, pick out a few traits that seem particularly bad, then pat ourselves on the back because we’re not practicing witchcraft or murdering people. But let’s take a closer look. We need to be able to recognize these sort of bad fruits in church congregations, in leaders, and in ourselves.

Does a church congregation overlook sexual sins among its members or ignore them in society? Is that teacher impure in his deeds? Am I allowing an absence of restraint to characterize my life? Does this church group put anything before God on their priority list? Do they teach that it’s okay to dabble in the occult?

Is a minister acting out of hostility or hatred? Am I stirring up debates and contentions? Are we jealous of others, or easily made indignant? Are the people in that congregation known for their anger? Does their leader encourage strife and divisions, or teach things contrary to sound doctrine? Do we envy each other, or hate someone so much that we’ve wished them dead? Am I lacking self-control and moderation, or engaging in riotous conduct?

Christ made it clear in His sermon on the mount that the laws of God are still in effect, and operating on a spiritual plane. Even a longing to sin is a sin (Matt. 5:17-30). We need to be on guard against bad fruits showing up in our lives, as well as being wary of associating with a church or following a minister who is producing bad fruit. God expects better from us than that.

Good Fruits

God expects us to bear good fruits for His glory, and to associate with other Christians who are also bearing good fruits. We do this by developing a strong relationship with Him and with Jesus Christ.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, 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, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. … By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:4-5, 8)

Credit: net_efekt, CC BY, via Flickr
Credit: net_efekt, CC BY, via Flickr

If an individual or church group has a strong relationship with Jesus and the Father, it is made visible in the kind of fruits that show up in their lives.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal. 5:22-23)

Let’s ask ourselves the same kinds of questions about this list. Is that church congregation characterized by active goodwill and godly love towards all? Is this minister filled with joy and gladness, and encouraging that in his brethren? Do I “live peaceably with all men”? (Rom. 12:18).

Do the people of our church congregation show self-restraint before acting, and choose to suffer long rather than taking vengeance? Does this teacher have a “grace which pervades the whole nature, mellowing all which would be harsh and austere”? (Zodhiates, G5544). Can God look at me and say that I am actively practicing goodness?

Is this church group defined by their faithfulness to the Word of Truth? Is that minister a humble man who calmly accepts God’s will in His life? Do I have self-control that lets me moderate my desires? If we can answer these questions with a “yes,” then we can be assured that our churches, our leaders, and we ourselves are bearing “good fruit.”

Examine Yourself

We’re less than three weeks away from Passover, and whether or not you observe it as part of your Christian walk this is a good season to take a close look at ourselves and what kinds of fruits we’re producing. When John the Baptist was preaching, he warned the Pharisees about how important it was to produce good instead of bad fruits

Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matt. 3:8-10)

A sense of complacency will not get you in to the kingdom of God. Jesus told the Jews near the end of His ministry, “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (Matt. 21:43) We don’t want that to happen us us as individuals. We must abide in Christ and bring forth good fruits while getting rid of bad fruits in our lives.

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal. 5:24-26)

That’s the concluding thought at the end of the “works of the flesh” and “fruits of the spirit” lists. We belong to Jesus – there should be no room in our lives for evil fruits. We have to battle against that fleshly, rotten side and truly walk in the spirit as we follow Jesus

Summer Cheesecake Bars

I’m re-sharing two recipes today that I’ve already posted because they’re just way too tasty to only share once. I’ve been making these fruit cheesecake bars for most of our get-together this summer, and they’re always popular. Both need fresh fruit, so this is the best time of the year to plan on enjoying them.

Peach Cheesecake Squares | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Click here to visit the recipe page for Peach Cheesecake Squares

 

Lemon-Blueberry Cheesecake Bars | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Click here to visit the recipe page for Lemon-Blueberry Cheesecake Bars