Vines and oaks
In preparation for Sunday, I’m studying Ezekiel 15-16, two of the harshest, stomach-punch chapters in the Bible. These are chapters intended to make us feel the guilt of sin; indeed, it’s hard not to if we read with any honesty at all.
Chapter 15 is parable about vines (sound familiar?). Specifically, God instructs Ezekiel to basically say, “When cut, the wood of an oak can make furniture. The wood of a cedar can enclose a house. But when cut, the wood of a vine is only useful for burning.”At first this sounds fairly obvious–is anyone seriously claiming that the wood of a vine is useful for something? Something else has to be going on here.
Going deeper, we remember that the metaphor of God’s people as a vine is woven throughout the Scriptures. God often paints the picture of his people as a vine which he uprooted from Egypt and planted in the soil of the Promised Land (Ps. 80:8). Ezekiel’s audience, if they were thinking, would slowly have begun to understand the force of this parable.
You see, vines are useful. They have an intended function of bearing wonderful, life-giving fruit. And so did Israel: they were plucked and planted with the function of bearing the fruit of righteousness, obedience, holiness and worship. But when the vine fails to produce the fruit, at that point is cut off and burned, useful only for a few moments of heat and light (Jn. 15:6).
Commentator Peter Craigie makes a clear and obvious application to the church: like Israel, we have an intended function, a fruit we are designed to bear for our Gardener. Simply put, the fruit he desires is that his gospel be proclaimed to his whole creation. When a church goes long enough without bearing that fruit (regardless of whatever other good things they are doing), they will be cut off and thrown into the fire along with Israel.
Craigie continues: There is a constant tendency for the church to forget that it is a vine; it seeks instead to become an oak or a cedar. It exchanges the mission of love for a multitude of worldly pursuits, all honest enough in themselves, but not the purpose for the church’s existence. And when it has failed in its function, it is good for nothing else. Currently there is a lot of debate about the mission and purpose of the church. I’ve just begun to read DeYoung and Gibert’s What is the Mission of the Church? and am finding it very helpful in regards to refocusing the church’s hyperactive disorders back to God’s desired fruit of proclaiming the gospel and discipling the nations.
May God grant his church the power to focus on our great commission, to forsake the idols of relevance and innovation, to bear the fruit we were designed to bear.