Plants in the Garden of the Lord (3)
A garden enclosed
Is my sister, my spouse,
A spring shut up,
A fountain sealed. Song of Solomon 4.12
We are beginning to see what the Lord expects from His garden, His Bride – the Church – and of each one of us who follows Him in full faith as plants in that garden. In our day churches do not appear to be asserting a presence of holiness, spiritual fruit, loving service, and active witness. It’s not that these are not happening. They are, in many places. We should be encouraged by this, and should seek more such fruit for the praise and glory of our King.
However, as a whole I think we can agree that our churches, if they are bearing this fruit, are sharing it primarily within the household of faith and not in the world at large. The world beyond the church continues its downward spiral into moral relativism, cultural depravity, institutional breakdown, corruption, violence, disappointment, and despair. If the Church, and each of us as individual disciples, were salting and leavening the society the way we should, surely these ills would be on the decline, rather than on the rise.
So it seems that something is blocking the Church from realizing the full potential of fruit which the Lord intends for her. As Solomon complained that his own bride was locked, dammed, and sealed up, so that he could not realize the fruit of their relationship, so the Church today seems to be experiencing some blockage of its own, something that is keeping us from realizing our full fruitfulness as the garden of the Lord.
Three hindrances in particular stand between the Church and the full, flowering, fruitful, and fragrant blossoming of holiness, spiritual fruit, ministry, and witness. Unless pastors and church leaders recognize these hindrances and deal with them aggressively, the Church will continue to fall short of our Lord’s expectations.
The first hindrance is a kind of spiritual narcissism.
Many churches today have turned inward, and are focusing their energies and resources on creating a kind of isolated community that caters to the felt needs of the members. The money, buildings, and staff they employ for the work of ministry are almost exclusively devoted to doing things and sponsoring activities for the members of the church. In our churches we’re just all about us. We welcome any who might like to join us, but we’re too busy satisfying our own needs to seek any lost people for salvation.
Rick Warren sensed this narcissistic trend among churches and expressed his concern about it in the opening lines of his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life: “It’s not about you.” David Wells has commented that the effect of this spiritual narcissism is to make of the church’s vision something small, shrunken, and ineffectual.
The fruit of the Lord’s garden is, first and foremost, for the pleasure of the Lord, not our own pleasure. Whatever we’re doing to maximize our own pleasure, rather than that of the Lord, we must repent of and begin to rediscover our true purpose as the Bride of Christ.
Fear of men
The second hindrance is the fear of men. This takes a variety of forms: we fear offending others; we’re afraid of their insults and scorn; we fear getting to know new people – unlovely and unloveable people, especially; and we fear being exposed as hypocrites because we do not “walk the talk” the way we should. Jesus knows that we will never bear fruit for His glory as long as we fear men; this is why He commanded us to fear God and to live wholly unto Him (Matt. 10.28-33).
The fear of men is a snare that bottles us up and locks, dams, and seals the blessings of the Lord from the people around us.
Departures from Scripture
Finally, the Church is hindered from realizing her full potential by subtle departures from the clear teaching of Scripture on the part of church leaders.
Whenever we substitute doing something the world’s way for doing what the Lord has clearly revealed in His Word, we cut ourselves off from the transforming power of grace and Truth. Wherever we are doing so – in our worship, how we organize and lead our churches, compromised teaching, or by minimizing the requirements of true discipleship – we are choking off the church’s ability to be the garden of the Lord.
Let church leaders examine their own churches and practice in each of these areas: Are we hindering or nurturing our churches as gardens of the Lord?
1. Do you see any evidence of spiritual narcissism in your church? Explain.
2. What would you suggest as the best way to overcome the fear of men?
3. How can you tell when you or your church are doing anything in a way other than what God prescribes in His Word?
Next steps: Talk with some fellow church members about the three questions above.
T. M. Moore
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This week’s ReVision study is Part 5 of a 10-part series, “Full Faith.” You can download “Plants in the Garden of the Lord” as a free PDF, prepared for personal or group study. Simply click here.
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.