Tending God’s Garden

The Bible often uses agricultural/gardening imagery to make and drive home spiritual truths. Since the Biblical world was predominantly an agrarian society, the images were readily accessible to the first listeners/readers. Because we have moved farther and farther away from the land in our modern society, we can have a harder time appreciating and understanding these passages. This is one reason I love to garden at home, so that I can grow in my existential understanding of God’s word.

I Corinthians 3:5-9 is one of my favorite gardening passages. Paul compares himself and Apollos to gardeners, and the church of Jesus Christ is “God’s field” (he also calls the church “God’s building,” and proceeds in 3:10-15 to use construction/mechanical imagery, so it would be wrong to say that the Bible has no traces of an industrial society). Paul and Apollos each played a different role in the gardening process – Paul planted, and Apollos watered. Harkening back to Jesus’ parable of the sower, Paul says that he cast the seed of the word of God into the hearts of the Corinthians, and then Apollos came later and watered that seed. All along, “God was causing the growth,” just as he does in a real garden. We plant the seed, we water and fertilize and pick weeds and prune, but we can do nothing to effect the growth of the fruits and vegetables.

The lessons we can draw from Paul’s metaphor are many: 1) Humility – The human gardeners in God’s field are merely “servants through whom [the Corinthians] believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.” “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” “Now he who plants and he who waters are one…” Thus there is no room for boasting, either on the part of the gardeners or on the part of the field (cf. 1:10-13, 3:1-4). 2) God is sovereign over the growth of the church – He is the one who causes the growth; He is the one who gives opportunity to various servants to minister in various ways, and He is the one who secretly and mysteriously grows fruit. 3) Gardeners are responsible to work hard. “Each one will receive his own reward/wages according to his own labor.” God uses means – “through whom you believed” – and therefore we must not take His sovereignty as an excuse to be lazy. Whatever opportunities God gives us to be used in someone else’s life, we must take them and improve them and leverage them to their fullest effects. The harder we work, the greater will be our reward (cf. 3:12-15 for more on the truth of reward for our work). Of course, our salvation is dependent upon Christ crucified alone; and our working is only “according the grace of God that [is given to us]” (3:10); but Paul affirms as clearly as he can that gardeners must be diligent. May God make it so in the church today.

Ezra and the Farmer


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