And he spake this parable; “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit thereon, and found none.
And he said unto the vinedresser, ‘Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why doth it also cumber the ground?’
And he answering saith unto him, ‘Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit thenceforth, well; but if not, thou shalt cut it down'” (Luke 13:6-9).
Agriculture provided plenty of fodder for Jesus when it came to His parables. Jesus perceived that there were many parallels between how plants develop and grow and how His Kingdom would develop and grow, and people readily understood matters of agriculture. Here we have one such parable– one that you may not hear about as often as the others.
We expect fruit trees to produce fruit. Yet we ought not expect excellent fruit to come immediately after such a tree is planted; according to the Law, the Israelites were to consider the fruit of a tree during its first three years as “uncircumcised,” the fourth year devoted to the LORD, and afterward the fruit could be eaten (Leviticus 19:23-25).
The master, therefore, comes to see the fig tree after its three years, and it has not produced any fruit. Without fruit, the tree has no value, and ought to be cut down in his eyes.
Yet notice what the vinedresser tells him. He confesses that the tree has not been productive, yet before any permanent decision is made, he makes a request to have one more year to “dung” it– provide fertilizer– and then see if the plant will produce its fruit. If so, well and good. If not, it can be cut down.
Parables generally have application to Christ’s Kingdom, and this one is no exception. There is much to be gained here!
When people come to belief in Christ, it takes time for the proper fruit to be manifest (Galatians 5:22-24, Hebrews 5:14). It takes time to grow in the faith. Therefore, we should not expect mature “fruit” from immature “trees.”
Yet fruit is still expected. What happens when there is no “fruit”– no indication that there is any growth in a young believer? Should they be immediately cast out?
Absolutely not– we must apply the “spiritual dung,” that is, proper encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25). Sometimes growth does not take place because the proper nutrients are not present, and when nutrients are provided, the growth will come.
This is why it is so important for believers to encourage one another, building up the Body (1 Corinthians 12:12-28). Yet it is not limited to believers. Do we know people who are struggling to get through life, and who do not seem to be getting very far? Consider how to encourage them. Are there people in despair? Seek to encourage them.
Encouragement is the fertilizer of life. Use it bountifully among others, and see how much fruit can be borne!
Ethan R. Longhenry