Column: You're one of the plants in God's garden

Mr. Knowles, a Church of God member for many years, makes his living as a writer. This article is part of his "Out of the Box" series of columns.

By Brian Knowles

MONROVIA, Calif.--I have always enjoyed gardening. My old Yorkshire grandfather, with whom I grew up, was an avid gardener. He grew potatoes, carrots, peas and other vegetables, and he did it all naturally. Every year he had a bumper crop.

Just about everywhere I've lived since I've been an adult, I've planted a garden. God has used the metaphor of the garden to teach me many spiritual lessons.

Large and round

When Lorraine and I moved into our present house in Monrovia, I discovered a large, round plot of ground back of the garage that seemed like an ideal spot to plant a garden. I cleaned the area of weeds, prepared the soil and planted a variety of vegetables. I used no chemicals and no fertilizer.

After about six weeks or so, I noticed that some of the good plants had died, some were flourishing, and the plants in the garden were growing at different rates.

I also observed that some of the weeds had reappeared and were growing faster than the vegetables, in some cases supplanting them.

While I was down on my knees weeding, the Spirit of God seemed to speak to me in a subtle way.

"The weeds are like sin in a person's life. They spring up involuntarily and are usually unwelcome, and they harm the rest of the garden. They grow faster than the good plants. Once established, they hinder the growth of the good plants. In some cases, they kill them."

I realized that to weed sin out of my life I needed constant vigilance. Whenever I identified a weed, I needed to take instant action to remove it. The longer I allowed it to establish itself, the harder it was to get rid of it and the more damage it did.

Certain kinds of weeds can establish strongholds in the garden. Once they have reached that stage, removing them is a major task.

It's the same with sin.

Sin means theft

Sin robs righteousness of its energy, just as weeds rob good plants of nutrients. The more we tolerate sin, the weaker the godly side of our personalities will become.

As sin advances, godliness will retreat--unless it is stopped in its destructive tracks.

God calls Christians to a live a life of overcoming, not succumbing.

Wheat and weeds

If we take the illustration of the garden one step further, we will see another lesson: In the church the good plants and weeds grow side by side.

Or, as Jesus put it, the wheat and the tares grow together (see Matthew 13:24-30).

Within the Church are true Christians, and there are counterfeit Christians. That they look outwardly alike is no proof of conversion. In many cases we may be able to tell the difference only at harvesttime. Then the weeds--the tares--will end up in the fire, and the good plants will be spared.

As long as false Christians live alongside true Christians, they rob energy from them. They're a drain on the church. They have no real fear of God. They go through the motions of being a Christian; they may even spout the right doctrines and dogmas. But they are phony. They do not live their lives with a sense of accountability to God. They talk a good fight, but they live like the world lives.

Different rates of growth

By studying the good plants in a garden, we can learn another lesson about the church. The good plants grow at different rates, yet they are all good plants. Their rate of growth does not make them more or less good; it simply speaks of their capacity for growth.

Don't force-feed

An experienced gardener knows that one cannot force-feed a plant into growing faster. If you give it too much fertilizer, you'll burn it and it may die.

The amount of nutrients you feed your plants must be precisely what the plants need and can handle and no more.

Not only that, it must be qualitatively what it needs. Too much nitrogen can harm some plants. Too little causes the leaves of others to turn yellow and brown.

In the same way, each member of the church has a personalized capacity for growth. As pastors, we cannot force people to grow faster than they are capable of growing. The same is true of our own growth. Radishes are ready to harvest in six weeks. Other plants take longer. When it comes to plant nutrients, one size, and one kind, does not fit all.

Different places for different folks

Christians within the Body operate at varying levels of spiritual growth. We are all in different places in terms of our own development. We don't march lockstep in some regimented ecclesiastical army. In beliefs, in degrees and levels of overcoming, we are all over the map.

Perhaps that's why Paul wrote, "Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes ..." (Romans 14:1-2).

Plants support each other

He also wrote, "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2).

To the Romans Paul wrote, "We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak" (Romans 15:1).

Gardeners know that certain plants support other plants; that is, they grow compatibly together. Some plants keep pests away from other plants. Some of the more-mature plants shelter delicate sprouts from the wind and rain while they develop.

It's important to plant the right plants together and protect all of them from the weeds.

The church is made up of all kinds of people. God created each of us in His image, yet each is different. We cannot all know the same things, grow at identical rates or overcome our evil impulses, the world and the devil at precisely the same pace.

Those of us who are strong in some areas ought to support those who are weak in the same areas.

Each of us has something to offer God's garden. He has planted each of us for a purpose that suits Him.

Ministers aren't owners

God's garden--that is, His church --is not the property of its ministry. Nor is it there for the ministry; the ministry is there for it. It belongs to Christ, who bought it with the price of His blood (1 Corinthians 6:2).

Ministers are mere gardeners. Sometimes God allows us to plant some seed; other times God expects us to water His garden (1 Corinthians 3:6). But all of the growth in the garden comes from God (verse 7).

It is God who decides what kind of plants He wants in His garden (John 6:44). It is the Father who does the pruning (John 15:1-2). We must seek to keep the weeds out of the garden (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). In context, this last verse applies to people who fellowship with the church while practicing sexual immorality.

Help for the mental state

Tending a small vegetable garden can be excellent therapy. Some nursing homes offer gardens for their residents as therapy. Some are elevated strategically for people confined to wheelchairs.

It has been observed that mental and physical states improve when nursing-home confinees begin to garden.

It does each of us good to serve the church. Paul taught, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Galatians 6:10).

In Judaism, even the poorest person is expected to give alms according to his means--thus the widow's, or widower's, mite.

Jesus used agricultural parables

To use a garden in such a simple way to illustrate spiritual principles may seem almost childish to the sophisticated reader. Yet Jesus Himself used many pictures from agriculture to illustrate His points.

Today most of us are far removed even from backyard agriculture. Working men and women have been ripped away from the soil and connected to radiating computer screens, cell phones and television sets.

We work in impersonal sensory-deprivation units called cubicles in corporate rabbit warrens. We spend hours on toxic, congested freeways. We seldom stop to smell even the wonderful aroma of fresh cilantro in the produce section of the supermarket.

Consequently, the agricultural pictures contained in Jesus' teaching may seem quaint.

We live in a stressful, high-tech, sterile world of blinking lights and glowing screens. The pungent smells of soil and compost are far removed from our hermetically sealed workplaces.

Instead of the shifting plays of light from the sky, we are subjected to the aura of fluorescent tubes, flickering behind milky panels filled with dust and dead flies.

That may be life in the big city, but I don't think we were meant to get used to it.

Sometimes when you seek refreshment, read the parables of Jesus. Think about what life must have been like when man and nature were in sync and the modern world of technology had never entered even the most brilliant dreams of the smartest people.

Think about, and seek to experience, the world God made for man. Then perhaps you'll be blessed with insight into the reality God meant for us to experience.

The August 2002 issue of The Journal includes many photos and several other graphics, besides the Connections advertising section. Don't forget to subscribe to the print version of The Journal to read all the news and features previewed here.

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