Study 3 THE NEGLECTED VINEYARD
THE SONG OF SOLOMON
by Francis Dixon
Key-verse: “They made me take care of the vineyards; my own vineyard I have neglected” (Song of Songs 1:6)
These haunting words are most challenging to all who are engaged in the service of the Lord, and they should be read in conjunction with Proverbs 24:30-31 – “I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins.” The warning which comes to us in this study may be summed up in the statement, “Beware of the barrenness of a busy life!” Too often public profession and activity are accompanied by inward neglect and spiritual declension. The one who confesses her neglect in this passage was not neglectful of her duties. She had been made black by the sun as she had laboured among the vines in the heat of the day; she was the keeper of the vineyards - but she had neglected her own vineyard. Notice that three things are indicated in the words upon which this study is based.
1. THE PRIVILEGE WE ENJOY
What is it? It is this: that we as Christians, as servants of the Lord, are keepers of the Lord’s vineyards. We have been saved by His wonderful grace and He has set us in a sphere of service where we are to labour for Him. We are in that place by Divine appointment. Notice the force of the words, ”They made me…” The speaker had been made, compelled, to keep the vineyards. The same is true of us. We did not choose to serve the Lord, He chose us (John 15:16). All we did was to obey His call (Matthew 21:28), and allow His love to constrain us to be His servants (2 Corinthians 5:14). What are the vineyards in which we are serving the Lord? In a word, our vineyard is just where the Lord has placed us. If you are a mother, your vineyard is the home; if you are in business, your vineyard is in the office; if you are a soldier, your vineyard is in the army; and if you are a preacher, your vineyard is amongst the people to whom the Lord has commissioned you to minister His Word. The manager of a large company once asked his minister to present the claims of Christ to the members of his staff. Why did he do this? He did it because he recognised that his vineyard was his business, where God had placed him. What a privilege it is to be a keeper of one of the Lord’s vineyards! But immense dangers face us. ”My mother’s sons were angry with me and made me take care of the vineyards;” - and then follows a confession, “my own vineyard I have neglected.” Consider this quietly, and search your own heart about it.
2. THE DANGER WE FACE
How very easy it is to serve the Lord zealously, to be on the job all the time, and yet to neglect our own inner life, our personal communion with the Lord Himself, our study of His Word and our fellowship in the secret place! How easily possible it is for the shoemaker’s boy to be the poorest shod, and for the tailor’s son to wear the shabbiest clothes! How sadly possible it is for the preacher to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ, but to fail to adorn the doctrine in his own personal and private life! - look up Titus 2:10. This is the danger which is faced by every servant of the Lord. It is the possibility of neglecting the cultivation of one’s own inner life of communion with the Lord Himself. We can never lift others above the level of our own spiritual experience; it is, therefore, a very sad, as well as a very solemn thing, to neglect our own spiritual life. Maybe you have failed the Lord in this respect? You have been so zealous in serving the Lord in your church, in your home, or as you have sought to witness for Him in the office or in the open-air meeting. What about your inner life? Do you need to make the confession: “My own vineyard I have neglected!”? Could it be that in your private and personal life thorns have come up everywhere and the ground is covered with weeds ? How can we avoid the danger of neglecting our own vineyard? One thing is certain; we must take action and apply the remedy, and we must do it immediately and frequently.
3. THE REMEDY WE APPLY
How must we keep our own vineyards? It would seem that there are four simple requirements and these are indicated by the following four words:-
- (1) Pruning. There must be some pruning; that is, the lopping off of fruitless branches which would hinder the living branches from bearing fruit. Our Lord spoke about this in John 15:2 - “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.” This surely refers to the things which need to be pruned away from our lives, the dead branches which will never bear any fruit. We cannot cut them off or take them away, but He will do it - “He takes them away.” Perhaps you have a dead branch in your life? Ask the Lord to take it away, to lop it off, to cut it off! – look up Matthew 5:29-30.
- (2) Purging. The Lord Jesus also said, in John 15:2, “Every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes it so that it will be even more fruitful.” The word “purge” means “to cleanse”. This does not refer to dead branches, but to the living branches which need to be cut back in order that the fruit may be prolific and luscious. Maybe the reference here is to those things which may be quite lawful to us but are not expedient (1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23). The purging, or cleansing, certainly refers to all that is sinful and displeasing to the Lord (2 Corinthians 7:1 and 2 Timothy 2:19-22). This purging must take place if we are to be useful to the Lord - “meet for the Master’s use.”
- (3) Provision. If the vineyard is to be kept in good order, nourishment and fertilisation will be needed for the soil. The same is true for our souls. We can only keep spiritually fit as we know what it is to go into the secret place regularly (Matthew 6:6), and to dwell deeply in the Word of God for the nourishment of our souls (2 Timothy 2:15).
- (4) Protection. If we are to take care of our inner life we need to be constantly on the look-out for the ”little foxes” which invade the vineyard and spoil the vines (Song of Songs 2:15). It is not always the big foxes; it is so often the little foxes which rob us of power and spoil our testimony! - look up Psalm 139:23-24.
Let us rejoice in the privilege of being commissioned to serve God; let us beware of the danger of neglecting our own inner life; and let us live in holy and happy fellowship with the Lord from day to day, and thus become more and more fruitful in His service.