What Kind Of Tenants Are We? April 17, 2016

Proverbs 3:5-10 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body. Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

Matthew 21:33-41 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”
As we find our place in this story, it seems easy at first glance to understand the players. The landowner is God. He has built a wonderful world. He protects it with the fence, he has made it productive with a winepress and there is a watchtower so that enemies can be seen. God has created a wonderful world for the tenants in His vineyard. We can apply that to our world today, no matter what we may think or believe. Our vineyard is better than most if not all.

The vineyard is Israel in this setting, but we can easily see today that he is speaking to us. He speaks to us as a world, a nation, and a community. The tenants in this setting can be looked at as those who have not really surrendered to Jesus. Those who live in the world whom think the world is theirs. People who want to own the world, not recognizing that they are really tenants and renters in a world that actually belongs to God.

The servants are the prophets that had been sent by God to guide and correct the people. One might think that this could be ministers, yet aren’t we each a prophet as we spread the Gospel of Jesus as we are called to do? The son is Jesus sent and killed in this story is Jesus. The other tenants, to whom God gives the vineyard, are the church, not only this church but the church universal. We must not forget that we are each individuals which make up that church.

Jesus was telling the Jewish religious leaders that God was disappointed in them. God had trusted them, but they had failed to bear good fruit. Now God would take the vineyard from them and give it to people who would produce good fruit, the church, which would be made up of all people, people like you and me.
When we read this parable, we are tempted to say, “Yes!” with the enthusiasm of people who have won a contest. God has taken the vineyard from those who were not worthy and given it to us. We rightfully feel good about being chosen by God. It is a great calling to which we have been called. We must be careful, however, not to lapse into spiritual pride. The original tenants failed, and God penalized them. Now God has entrusted his vineyard to us, and we are subject to the same accountability. If we fail to bear fruit, God will punish us.

We are the “others” who are now the tenants in the vineyard. We have not been given the vineyard, we are tenants called to work in it. God has entrusted it to us. God has left us Jesus disciples in charge. God wants fruit. Are we giving Him our fruit? Are we giving Him our best fruit? Are we giving Him our leftover fruit? Are we not giving Him any fruit at all, just like the original tenants did? Proverbs 3: 10, “Honor the Lord with your substance and with the fruits of all your produce.” This is not just money, but your life.

These are the critical questions today. The reality today is that unless we individually and as a church find our answer is nothing but giving Him our best fruit, then we are like those original tenants whom we just acknowledged as being wicked and we cheered when they were put to death. The Bible is filled with guidance as to what fruit is expected from us. Again the question is who are we living like, the original tenants or the “other’s” whom the landowner gave it too or are we something in between. There are several critical places we need to look at, let’s look at three “fruits” that God expects of us.

1. The fruit of righteous living.
God expects us to bear THE FRUIT OF RIGHTEOUS LIVING. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (5:6). He talks about the things that we strive for, food and clothing, and then he says, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (6:33).

Strive first for God’s righteousness. What is righteousness? Righteousness is doing the will of God. What is the will of God for your life? That’s harder to answer. Our Proverbs scripture today says we are to trust God and not rely on our own insight. In all ways acknowledge Him. Do not be wise in your own eyes.
Notice what it did not say. It did not say to do this some of the time, but it means all the time. Problem is that with that standard, most fall short. Our pride tells us we know the best way. Our day to day living in the consumer self oriented world bombards our brain with the concept that it is us who have planned things and executed things. Our lack of righteous living, our pride, makes us all too often think it is our world and we own it. We forget we are tenants.

Sure we know some things that we SHOULDN’T do: we shouldn’t worship idols, we shouldn’t murder anyone, we shouldn’t commit adultery, we shouldn’t steal, we shouldn’t bear false witness, we shouldn’t covet.
But figuring out what we SHOULD do is much more difficult. What does God want you to do with your life? Are you doing/serving God in a committed all out way, or just giving Him your leftovers, or nothing as the original tenants did? What does he want you to do today? In what way does the Holy Spirit speak to you to step out and stop making excuses and start trusting the Lord?

That’s the kind of thing that you can come to understand only through spiritual disciplines: prayer, reading, studying, and contemplating the Bible, all of the Bible, worship. That is real worship giving your all to God and not always saying worship is about what I can get from God. It helps to be a part of a small group of Christians who can help you understand God’s will for your life, people who will hold you accountable. Tuesday nights?

Some people would say that we can be righteous by just following our conscience. To that, I say MAYBE! Clearly, if our conscience tells us NOT to do something, we ought not to do it. However, if our conscience isn’t waving red flags, that doesn’t mean that what we are doing is OK. Our consciences are only as good as the training we give them. Some people do terrible things without triggering their consciences. We need to engage in spiritual disciplines. Do you pray often? Do you know and read the Bible? Prayer and Bible reading nurtures our consciences, to train our consciences in the way that God would have us to go. So Christ expects us to bear the fruit of righteous living.

2. The fruit of Human Caring. He also expects us to bear THE FRUIT OF HUMAN CARING. God constantly warned the people in the OT to care about the poor, women, homeless and outcasts. Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (22:39). The Good Samaritan parable asks us the real question: to whom must we become a neighbor. Jesus meant everyone. Those you love and like, and those you don’t love so much and barely if at all like. That’s a high standard. Most of us try to do what’s right for ourselves. Jesus tells us that we ought also to do what’s right for all neighbors, regardless.

Jesus even extends that principle to people who would harm us. He says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (5:43-48). How can we do that? How can we love our enemies? It helps to know that the Greek word translated “love” in that verse has more to do with how we behave than it does about our feelings. Jesus doesn’t call us to have warm, fuzzy feelings toward our enemies, but he does call us to act kindly toward them. Jesus also says, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (7:12). This is the Golden Rule — usually stated, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I love the reverse golden rule though, “what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” What a wonderful world this would be if everyone would only do that.

3. The fruit of Courageous Witnessing.
Christ also expects us to bear THE FRUIT OF COURAGEOUS WITNESSING. He says:
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (5:14-16). So if we expect God to bless us “others” of the vineyard, we need (1) to live righteously, (2) to care about each other and all people, and (3) to bear witness to our faith. We sure discussed that last week.

But the idea of spiritual fruit-bearing isn’t popular today. We have stood discipleship on its head. All too often, the emphasis among Christians today is not what we can do for God, but what God can do for us. Just consider how all too often people look at worship in our consumer world. We talk about going to church for what we get out of it. Now that is not an altogether bad idea, because we do get something out of worship. Worship strengthens our relationship with God. It reorients us. It gets us pointed in the right direction each week.

But the Biblical idea of worship isn’t what God does for us, but what we do for God. Worship is a part of our service to God. Worship is part of what we owe God. Worship is part of our obedience to God. Our worship is part of our witness for God. When our neighbor sees us in church, that helps to strengthen his or her faith. Our worship helps us to bear fruit for Christ. Worship isn’t primarily what we get from God, but what we give to God.

This parable calls us to learn a similar lesson with regard to our spiritual lives. God has provided generously for us in a spiritual sense, even to the point of giving God’s own son. God calls us to pass those blessings on, to give back, to bear spiritual fruits. As you contemplate this parable today, ask yourself, “What fruit am I bearing for Christ?” Ask yourself, “If Christ were to hold me to an accounting today, what would he find?” Ask yourself, “Would he find righteous living? Would he find human caring? Would he find courageous witnessing? Or would he find an empty vineyard?” Who are you in this story?

If you fall short. If you find yourself as a tenant in God’s world with your life lived as one who thinks they are the owner, there is one more super important point to this parable. The landowner had an incredible amount of patience. Long before he removed the tenants, he had the authority to remove them. The landowner probably had more patience and grace than we might have.

Christ has called us to be his people, and that is a great privilege. Christ has called us to be his people, and that is a great responsibility. Let us be a people whose thoughts, words, and deeds bear fruit for Christ, the fruits of righteous living, human caring, and courageous witnessing.

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