“The land which absorbs the frequent and abundant rains continues producing good crops for the benefit of those for whom it is cultivated – and it receives God’s blessings. But should it persistently produce thorns and briers, it is regarded as worthless, is on the verge of being cursed, and is finally burned. Beloved, we are firmly convinced of better things from you – things that concern salvation, even though we give this warning. For God is not unfair and will not overlook the works of love you have shown for His sake by continuing to send help to fellow Believers. We earnestly desire that each one of you continue to show the same zealousness, knowing all our hopes will be fulfilled by holding onto them to the end.” (paraphrased)
The following two verses are connected with the previous six by the word “for,” graphically depicting the fate of apostates. Scriptural illustrations from agriculture are common. Speaking for God, Jeremiah says,“I planted you as a noble vine, a healthy seed – so then how did you become a degenerate plant?” (Jer. 2:21). Isaiah writes of a land-owner anticipating sweet grapes from his vineyard, but finding only wild ones (Isa. 5:4). God frequently likens His Word to refreshing rain. “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech…as the showers upon the grass” (Deut. 32:2). Like the rain, God’s Word is a blessing from heaven that is productive. These verses contrast two groups of people who have heard the Gospel under conditions favorable for growth. One group drank deeply of the frequent, life-giving doctrinal waters. The other, having equal opportunity, chose not to grow spiritually. The contrast in this analogy is as follows:
<> productive ground versus unproductive ground
<> useful crops versus useless crops
<> crops gathered versus crops burned
<> acceptable growth versus unacceptable growth
<> mature Believers versus apostates
<> blessed individuals versus cursed individuals
In this illustration, the land itself is viewed as being responsible for crop growth and therefore deserving of punishment for failure to produce.
Our faithful Sower has a right to anticipate a bountiful harvest. Jesus’ parable of the seed and soil depicts His expectations regarding productivity (Mt. 13:24-30). Crops which flourish bless the farmer, but those which stubbornly refuse to grow will be destroyed. Cursed ground that produces thorns and thistles brings to mind Cain’s punishment (Gen. 3:17-18). Jesus makes use of these words when He asks, “Can men gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles?” (Mt. 7:16). Like the thorny field, the barren lives of apostates are abandoned to eternal punishment. “That which is rejected” (adokimos) is translated “castaway” in I Corinthians 9:27. In Romans 1:28, adokimos is “reprobate,” meaning “disapproved; not standing the test.” Whereas the aftermath of rebellion is barrenness, a Believer’s determination to progress leads to a fruitful life. We are blessed or cursed according to what we produce (Mt. 5:45 & 7:17-20).
“Cursing” means “devoted to destruction.” Persistence in fruitless endeavors leads to irreversible consequences. Divine judgment follows the anticipated harvest: the failure to produce crops results in the field being burned. Apostates will hear Jesus say, “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire” (Mt. 25:41). To be consigned to hell is a tragic waste, for human beings were created to “be filled with the fruits of righteousness” (Phil. 1:11).
Only here does the writer address his readers as “beloved” (agapetoi). In every place agapetoi is used in the Gospels, it is spoken by the Father when referring to His beloved Son. The verb “persuaded” refers to a former hesitation which has been overcome. The writer is fully convinced they will persevere, having stated the severe consequences for those who apostatize. Only one who truly loves a congregation can admonish them severely, yet encourage them consistently. He balances his expectations with exhortations.
All true Believers are called “saints” (hagios) or holy ones. Their “labors of love” in God’s name serve as further verification his readers were true Believers. Loving concern for other saints emanates from their love for God and characterizes their lifestyle. “Whatever you do for the least of My brothers, you do it for Me” (Mt. 25:40). James challenges us to demonstrate our faith through our works (Jas. 2:18 & Mt. 10:42). The writer indicates their empathy has set a standard of behavior he is confident will be pro-active. He praises them for the spirit of service they constantly manifest.
Without exception, the writer is concerned about “every one” of them. He trusts the diligence of each individual will continue, for none need fall short of their potential. Hope is the sincere desire for something, accompanied by the expectation of obtaining it. Whereas doubt is the primary reason for slothfulness, faith is the primary reason for empathy. Lifelong perseverance is required of all who anticipate heaven.
Having acknowledged their eagerness to help other saints, he warns them against flagging in their zeal. He does not say they are lazy, but encourages them to not become lethargic. Listlessness leads to a lack of faith, hope and love. He urges them to maintain the spiritual ground they have gained. We must not allow our spirits to be daunted by opposition and trials, for others have braved them victoriously. Like the Old Testament patriarchs, we must pass on to succeeding generations a spirit of optimistic enthusiasm.
QUESTIONS: THIRD WARNING: DON’T DENOUNCE (Part 4) – PERSERVERANCE
1. According to Luke 13:6, what did the vineyard owner expect to find?
2. What was the vineyard worker instructed to do in Luke 13:7?
3. What are disciples commanded to produce? (John 15:8?
4. When the Word of God is heard and obeyed, what is the result?
5. In Psalm 128:3, to what is a good wife compared?
6. According to Psalm 1:1-3, what will a godly man bring forth?
7. What title is given to the Lord in Matthew 9:38?
8. Although God remembers our good works, according to Jeremiah 31:34 and Micah 7:19, what does God “forget”?
9. According to Psalm 103:12 how “far away” are the sins of your old life?
10. According to I Corinthians 15:58, what should we bear in mind?
11. When we stay true to Jesus, what can we be assured of? (I Cor.3:14)
12. What fruit have you produced? What acts of service for others have become part of your lifestyle?