Song of Solomon 4:12, “A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.”
This morning, invasion comes in various forms. Sometimes the “front” of battle is centered in countries, while other fronts occur in communities, families, churches, and even the mind and heart of an individual. Most of the time, battles do not start out fast and furious but gain momentum and steam after early skirmishes on the fringes and borders of the battle. Doubtless today, we see the prince of the power of the air at work on many fronts trying to engage and ensnare the family of God on battles of a moral, theological, and personal level. In all the battles and fronts that we have to face, we should rejoice and thank the Almighty that none of the battles will be faced without Him or without sufficient provision from Him. His presence never leaves us, and He has throughly furnished us with everything that we stand in need of to deal with the problems that we will encounter. (I Corinthians 10:13, II Timothy 3:16-17)
The study verse before us pertains contextually to the bride in this book. The bridegroom is singing to her about how she stands and what she looks like. However, the language utilized to describe her as a body can also be extended to describe the individuals within the body as well, and we will therefore employ both subjects as we study some of the ideas regarding our “borders.” This is the season for gardening, and having spent several straight afternoons and evenings in mine, a lot of thoughts regarding our borders have come to mind. Ever since the fall of man in the garden, weeds have been a regular part of man’s existence, and looking at the different kinds of weeds that invade a garden serves as a beautiful natural illustration and expression for how the battles for our minds, hearts, and churches go.
While hoeing the weeds this week, I noticed something that I had not previously considered in light of the Scripture above. My garden has defined borders to it that must be maintained since there is encroachment on a regular basis. While hoeing, it dawned on me that cleaning the borders was harder and more time-consuming than cleaning the rows around the crops. Most of the weeds in the rows and around the plants were smaller and easier to dislodge than the weeds encroaching on the borders since they were more “stand alone” instead of entrenched with a support system from the area around the garden. So, let us briefly consider what we can make of the different kinds of weeds and how this knowledge aids us in keeping our borders clean.
Weeds around established plants can mostly be identified as doctrinal departures on major elements of God’s word like salvation and the facets contained in it. When established plants have weeds in the vicinity, they are easy to clear away without risking the health of the plant. When we as individuals or churches are faced with blatant false doctrine – putting salvation in man’s realm, denying Scriptural truths like the Divinity of Christ or the resurrection – they are easily seen as weeds to people established in things most surely believed among us and taught from God’s holy book. These same weeds must be dealt with a little differently when they appear around smaller and tenderer plants. While I was hoeing, my potato and corn plants were so big and hardened that I never put the hoe down while clearing out the weeds. However, when I got to the cucumber patch, I had to take extra care around them by pulling some by hand as they were so close to the cucumber plants. Likewise, some of the same doctrinal weeds must be pulled personally by hand when the plants are tender and less established.
Moving to the “border weeds” I found something altogether different. They were so established and interwoven with the grass that I had to “hack” over and over at them and even reach down by hand to get some of the roots out. Subjects that are closer to the world take more time and effort to clear away as they are so personal to us. For example, church discipline will always be harder to deal with because of the personal nature of it. What if the offender is our spouse, our child, best friend, etc.? People that would not bat an eye at calling someone a heretic that they were related to sometimes will balk when talk is made of the necessity of excluding someone for a public offense against the church.
A more hard-hitting example than that though relates to us personally and not just as a church collectively. There are parts of this old world that we are more encumbered with than others. While I do not necessarily have recreation and leisure on my mind when saying that, those things can be abused to the point where they would apply. Rather, there are sins that each of us struggle with personally more than others. Mine may differ from yours in their form, but we have the same struggles to prevent their ill effects. They are hard to get rid of, as they are part of the “grass structure” of the vestiges of that old nature that we still lug around. We must spend a lot more time clearing our borders of personal sins (favorite sins) than we do with things like doctrinal error. Sometimes after attacking it repeatedly, we must reach down and get some roots out too. Do we struggle with pride? Jealousy? Whatever the case may be, more time and effort is required for them than the other.
What really pains the gardener though is that while he comes back and finds the weeds growing again, the encroachment of the borders comes back faster and worse than the sprouts in the middle. I generally have to clean the borders 2-3 times for every round through the rows and around the plants. While regular maintenance is needful throughout, the edges require more effort. “I thought I had licked that pride problem, and here it is again already…” Because there is such a fruitful environment for the weeds around my garden in the grass, they come back fast. Because our old man has such a sinful world to feed him, these things must be dealt with regularly.
Now, looking at our study verse momentarily we see that the Lord calls us a “garden enclosed.” The reason there are barriers around her is that it staves off things coming in from outside that would defile. While the Lord always remembers us, He also says our walls are before Him continually too. (Isaiah 49:16) He has set barriers that keep us eternally so that we never fall from His sight, but He has also given us things that provide for our protection from defilement here in this life. The church has been given the Spirit to direct her and ministers to feed her, and all of us have been given the great book of God’s Bible that is sufficient tooling to keep our lives clear and clean along the border “front” of battle.
The next phrases are interesting too. We are also a “spring shut up” and “fountain sealed.” When I have either watched the rain water my garden or hooked the sprinkler to water it myself, the same thing that makes the plants flourish is the same thing that makes the weeds run faster and harder. At first I wondered how something as needful and edifying as water could help the “good stuff” and the “bad stuff.” Then it hit me one day while leaving a particularly blessed meeting. I was riding so high from the meeting that I could have floated right off to glory. Just a few minutes later, I found myself in the throes of idle and sinful thought. Wow! Where did that come from? Then I realized that Satan has always worked overtime trying to rob and spoil the things that we glean from God’s dew and tender rain. It emboldens him to work that much harder to wreak havoc in our lives.
God’s tender mercies are intended for the garden, but the weeds work harder and harder to ruin the plants when they get a good “wetting.” The world is trying harder and harder today to infringe on the borders of right and wrong. Marriage is under attack. Biblical Christianity – people living Christ-like lives – is rarer and rarer. Churches across the land are falling victim to more and more practical problems than in the days of my youth. Borders are being overrun with little regular weed cleaning. My own life is littered with many a fault and failure from the same old weeds that come at me every day. Beloved, we shall be forever in His love and safe from the bonds of sin, hell, death, and the grave, but may we pick up the tools He has provided to clear out those spoiling vines that seek to reach their tentacles to make ruin of our minds and hearts and church bodies. Crops growing in the border will have a hard time prospering, and if the border does not get a regular cleaning, crops further inside the garden will be affected until there is no room left for fruitfulness. Shall we hoe together?