In Luke 13:6-9, Jesus tells us a parable about a barren fig tree. It’s a short parable, and one completely unique to the book of Luke. We start off the story with a man who comes to a fig tree he’s planted in his vineyard looking for figs. He arrives only to find that his fig tree hasn’t produced any fruit that season. Frustrated with a lack of fruit he turns to his gardener and begins to complain. “7What’s going on here? For three whole years I’ve been coming to look for fruit expecting to find figs on my fig tree. And yet, here I stand, without a single fig. This tree hasn’t produced a single fruit in all the years I’ve been coming to it. Cut it down! Why should this tree take up my soil and waste my precious space? Cut it down!” The gardener then responds in verse 8, 9 saying, “What’s going on here? For three whole years I’ve been coming to look for fruit expecting to find figs on my fig tree. And yet, here I stand, without a single fig. This tree hasn’t produced a single fruit in all the years I’ve been coming to it. Cut it down! Why should this tree take up my soil and waste my precious space? Cut it down!”
I read through this story a couple times last week and as I studied up on the fig tree, this story came to life for me. I’ve been preaching a 3-part series on giving based on the book “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein and this story in Luke 13 seemed to fit great with the theme. Here are a couple of the lessons I learned from this short parable in Luke 13:
You Are Blessed to Be a Blessing
I think most of us are happy to receive something from God, or have a prayer answered, but we often forget to think about the “why” since we become so focused on the “what”. God doesn’t bless us so that we can be selfish with God’s selflessness. In the same way Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 28 to preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, blessing others through the gift of grace freely given, I believe that God asks us to use what He has given us, and give back to the church and to those around us.
The man in the parable of “The Barren Fig Tree”, or “The Not-So Giving Tree” as I’m calling it, plants a fig amongst his vineyard. It wasn’t uncommon, and still remains a common practice today, for a farmer to plant a fruit tree among his vines. It’s known that the wine produced from a vineyard will acquire subtle flavour additions of the other tree’s it’s planted with. In this case, the man planted this fig tree for two reasons: 1. For the fruit it would produce, and 2: For the addition of flavour it would add to the wine.
God has planted us in his vineyard for a specific purpose. He has planted us to enjoy the fruit we bear, and to add to the flavour of the vines around us. All these spiritual gifts, all the talents, all the time, all the strength, all the money God bless us with He gives to us because He loves us, and also so that we can return to God in praise, and also to bless those around us. In the same way that the fruit the fig tree produced would add to the flavour of the wine of the vines around it, so too have we been planted, rooted in the soil of Christ, and blessed so that we can reach out in our personal lives, and in the ministries of the church, to those around us.
The Season Is Right
The man comes to the tree expecting fruit, but doesn’t find it. He becomes frustrated and tells the gardener to cut it down. It may seem like a rash decision but in reality his patience with this tree is a little illogical. A fig tree takes on average 3 years to produce fruit. They can take anywhere between 2 and 5 depending on pruning and climate, but in the hands of a knowledgeable gardener, which would be the case in this story, a fig tree averages only 3 years. In the story the man says he’s been coming for 3 years expecting fruit and hasn’t found any. Obviously the man knows about the fruit cycles of a fig tree and doesn’t come the moment it’s planted, but instead waits the 3 year average.
After 3 years he begins coming to check for fruit. A fig tree typically produces two rounds of fruit; one round in spring which is not the best for consumption but reserved for preservation, and a second round of fruit late summer, early fall. So a fig tree can be seen with ripe, or ripening fruit anywhere between spring and fall. The man must have come in between these seasons and rightfully expected fruit. He spent 3 years looking for fruit and has found none. If the fig tree hasn’t produce fruit in its 6th year then it would likely never produce fruit!
There’s an expectation that the tree will produce when the season is right and when God comes to you asking you to use the gifts, the talents, and the blessings He’s invested in you, it’s because the season is right in your life to give. God will never ask you to give what you’re not ready to give. God will never expect fruits from you off-season. God will never ask you to give before you’ve gone through the necessary growth period for your giving. If God impresses you to give it’s because the season is right in your life.
You will have season of growth in your life, where God is preparing you to produce fruit. There will be periods and seasons in your life where you just can’t give, and that’s ok! But trust that God has had enough experience in the area of personal development to know when to expect fruit from us. Our purpose is to turn what God has done for us into blessings for those around us.
Where Are Your Roots?
After the man asks the gardener to cut down the tree, the gardener asks for one more year, a seventh year. In this final year he will dig around the tree and fertilize the soil. If it doesn’t produce fruit by then, then cutting it down would be the logical next step. It seems to me though that the gardener is implying that there may be nothing wrong with the tree itself, but rather with the soil it had been planted it. Changing the soil around the tree’s roots may be what stimulates the production of fruit for this fig tree.
In our lives, changing our surroundings may be what stimulates our growth. Are your surroundings holding you back from fulfilling the purpose God has placed in your life? Are the people you choose to have company with holding you back? Are the places you choose to frequent holding you back? Are the life choices you’ve been making holding you back from God’s plan in your life? If the soil is terrible, a tree cannot grow. If what we choose to surround ourselves with is terrible, we are stunting our personal and spiritual growth. Sometimes we have to do like the gardener and dig around our roots, remove all the bad soil, and replace it with good soil. Our surroundings will be the difference between success and failure. If God wants to clear the bad soil from your life, it’s because He wants you to succeed. But there’s one thing more that the gardener does, and that’s fertilize the tree.
He not only removes the bad soil, but he adds fertilizer around the tree to promote rapid growth. Fertilized soil smelled terrible since it was mixed in with animal manure, but it provided the right environment and nutrient retention for the tree to grow. Sometimes in your life, you’re going to feel like you’ve got manure all around you (you know exactly what I mean). Sometimes you’re going to feel like what’s going on in your life is pure manure, but don’t think of your life’s circumstances as manure, think of it as the fertilizer for your growth. God can transform the manure in your life into the nutrient rich soil that will help you produce the fruit you’ve be purposed for. Let God clear the bad soil from your life. Let Him transform your seasons of difficulties into the catalysts for your growth!
You Determine the Ending
If you notice, the story ends after verse 9. It ends with “9Maybe it’ll produce fruit next year. If it doesn’t, cut it down.’” We’re left in suspense! We don’t know whether the owner ever gets his fruit; whether what the gardener does works; whether this fig tree defies all odds and produces fruit in its seventh year. We don’t know how this story ends, but I think it’s better like that.
I like that the parable isn’t concluded because it means that the ending is left open for interpretation. It’s left for you to fill in the blank with the results of your life. You get to determine how the story ends. You get to determine whether you turn what God has given to you in to blessings for others. You get to determine if you produce a return on God’s investment in you in the right season. You get to determine whether removing the bad soil in your life and using the fertilizer as your catalyst for growth actually works.
God will wait on you. He will do everything in His power to provide a good environment for growth, but its up to us as to how long it takes us to give back to God. Your giving can start now! Your fruit can start now! Your growth can start now because you determine The ending.
God help me to return to you. I want to turn what you have blessed me with into blessings for those around me. Help me to respond to your promptings even when I feel I’m not ready or able, or qualified, trusting that you know me better than I know myself and that you will empower me to do everything and more of what you’ve called me to do. Help clear out the bad soil in my life that is preventing my from growing in You. Help me to have a positive outlook when things around me seem to be going terrible. Transform my difficulties into my seasons for growth. Help me to write an ending befitting of all you’ve done for me.