GOD HAS apparently arranged everything in nature to illustrate great spiritual truths. The nation of Israel is repeatedly symbolized by a vine tree, whose only purpose was to bear fruit. But their nation as a whole failed to bring forth fruit (Matthew 21: 43). Christendom has made the same mistake, failing to recognize that the primary object for Christians is to bear the fruits of holiness (1 Thessalonians 4: 3).
The true vine is Christ and the branches are individual Christians, fully consecrated to God, who are striving to cultivate the fruits of holiness. Because Jesus and His disciples followed this course, He could say: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman,” “I am the vine, ye are the branches” (John 15: 1, 5).
A Tree Planted by the Rivers of Water
The tree described in Psalm 1: 1-3 refers to the individual Christian. A tree planted by rivers of water generally has plenty of life, because it has access to, and absorbs plenty of water. The same tree transplanted to a desert would soon die from lack of water. So it is with the Christian. He or she can only grow spiritually by having access to the rivers of the water of truth, the books of the Bible. The more truth he absorbs and uses, the more vitality he gains.
A tree begins with a seed, and that seed must be sown in prepared ground. In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13: 3-8), our Lord spoke of the different kinds of ground, and said that the good ground was “an honest and good heart” (Luke 8: 15). The preparation of the ground is recognizing that we are sinners and in need of a Savior. Then, by exercising faith toward God through Jesus, we become justified by faith, have peace with God, and are ready to receive the seed, the word of the Kingdom, into our heart. Thus the ground in which the seed is sown is the justified mind and heart.
Let us now compare the various parts of the tree with the various stages in the development of a Christian as outlined in 2 Peter 1: 5-7:
The Root of Faith
With the root of a tree, its tendrils are first small and delicate, but they grow and spread in all directions. Likewise, a Christian’s faith begins small, but eventually grows and spreads. A tree’s root has two functions:
(1.) It takes hold of the ground, but its hold initially is very weak, so that even a child could pluck it up; but when the tree is large, many strong men could not uproot it. The same is true of the Christian’s faith. At first it is small and could be easily uprooted, if it were not for our Lord’s care. But gradually it grows strong and can withstand all the assaults of the enemy.
(2.) It absorbs the water and other elements in the ground, which are useful for the growth of the tree. The Christian receives the truth of God’s Word by his faith, and just as the root’s sap enables it to absorb the water and other elements, the holy spirit enables our faith to absorb the water of truth. Additionally, as the sap nourishes the other parts of the tree, so the holy spirit develops and strengthens all the other graces.
Add to Your Faith, Fortitude
When a seed is first sown and takes root, no one is aware of it, but when the root grows a stem which appears above ground we say: “A seed has been planted there, and has taken root.” Similarly, at first our root of faith was known only to ourselves, but by adding fortitude, or courage, to our faith, others recognize that the Word of Truth has taken root, for we not only believe in our heart, but we confess with our mouth that Jesus is our Lord (Romans 10: 9). We are happy to share God’s Word with others, to model our lives by it and to persevere in spite of opposition and failures.
Add to Your Fortitude, Knowledge
We begin to speak to others about God’s wonderful Plan, but soon realize that we cannot explain it very clearly, and we are asked questions that we cannot answer. That sends us to the rivers of truth, the Word of God, to add knowledge to our fortitude.
Just as there are many branches in a good tree, so the Christian needs to cultivate many branches of knowledge to be an effective servant of God. The higher, or religious branches, include knowledge about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, Creation, Man, the Covenants, Evil, the Ransom, the High Calling and Restitution. The lower, or secular branches, though not as important, are somewhat necessary in order to gain a proper understanding of the Bible. For instance, we ought to know something about grammar, the meaning of words, geography, history, botany, etc.
Add to Your Knowledge, Self-Control
A tree needs branches to bear fruit, but a fruit tree does not grow for the purpose of having branches. However fine these branches are, they need pruning, for a tree that is not pruned simply runs to wood. Similarly, the Christian must develop various branches of knowledge in order to bear an abundant fruitage of love, but careful pruning is necessary, for knowledge alone tends toward pride (1 Corinthians 8: 1).
The pruning would correspond to self-control, though here the analogy fails, for unlike a tree, the Christian is expected to do much of his own pruning. Paul says, “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11: 31, 32). Self-control must be exercised in order to keep the body under; to prevent us from being cast down because of our failures, nor exalted by our successes; and to prevent us from being turned aside by persecutions.
Add to Your Self-Control, Patience
We must exercise self-control before we can develop patience. Patience is represented by the leaves of the tree, but the analogy again fails, for leaves will grow on a tree even though it has not been pruned. There are however several qualities of leaves that resemble patience:
(1.) Leaves are mobile. They bend under the wind, but when it has passed, they recover themselves immediately. This is different from the trunk of a well developed tree, which represents our fortitude, our firmness to principles; but the leaves represent our patience, our yielding to trials when no principle is at stake.
(2.) Their ability to absorb carbonic acid gas, split it up into carbon and oxygen and then assimilate the former and return the latter to the atmosphere. This illustrates the difference between the natural man and the spiritual man. Men and animals absorb oxygen and exhale carbonic acid gas, but trees absorb carbonic acid gas and emit oxygen. Likewise, the worldly man thrives on material prosperity, but sometimes inflicts injury on those living godly in Christ Jesus; whereas the latter, uninjured by the experience, uses earthly adversity to bless others and to add to their own spiritual strength.
Add to Your Patience, Piety; and to Piety, Brotherly-Kindness; and to Brotherly-Kindness, Love
A fruit tree, in addition to its leaves, must develop buds, blossoms and fruit; so the man of God must add to his patience, piety, then brotherly-kindness and finally love. Piety, or duty love for God, is represented by the bud. At this stage the Christian lives by the first great commandment, stated by our Lord in Mark 12: 30: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.”
Those who continue to grow will add to their piety, brotherly-kindness, or duty love for the brethren, which is represented by the blossom. At this stage the Christian also lives by the second great commandment, given in Mark 12: 31: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Our Lord also gave The Golden Rule (Matthew 7: 12; Luke 6: 31), which is another description of brotherly-kindness.
Finally, after many toward and untoward experiences, the Christian adds to his brotherly-kindness, love. This beautiful Christian grace goes beyond duty-love – it is unselfish and self-sacrificing – and is represented by the fruit, the Christian’s goal. At this stage one’s love not only goes out to God, Christ and the brethren, but to the world, and even toward one’s enemies. It is the mark of perfect love.