Gardens are seen at the beginning and end of our Bible. They are also linked with the beginning and end of the work of our Savior at Calvary. Israel is likened to a watered garden by both Isaiah (58:11) and Jeremiah (31:12). Doubtless, this is what is depicted by Solomon when he speaks of “my sister, my spouse” being “a garden enclosed.” “Ye are God’s husbandry” (1Cor 3:9, KJV), would sanction a consideration of the local assembly as a garden. The Amplified Bible says, “You are God’s garden and vineyard and field under cultivation.”
The metaphor teaches us:
The Bride as a fruitful garden (4:12-15). It is barred … to prevent contamination.
“A garden enclosed … a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.” God has only one garden in each locality throughout the world; the local church.
The spring “shut up,” is the same expression as enclosed/barred, and it is sealed. Hence, the barring and sealing are to prevent contamination, not to restrict the flow of water.
What does this picture of a walled and secured garden convey to us?
Its Pedigree and Provenance
When visiting gardens, we might discover the owner and its history. This garden has two owners. The bridegroom owns it to enjoy its fruits and fragrances – the bride owns it to cultivate it.
Similarly, the local assembly is both His and ours. Paul reminds the Ephesian elders it is “the church of God (local) which He hath purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28, KJV). It is His by purchase price.
Equally, it is our assembly, inasmuch as we are responsible for its cultivation. There should be no clergy and laity. Each believer in fellowship shares equal responsibility for the maintenance and development of the local church. A properly tended garden, or allotment, calls for hard work, and God’s husbandry is no exception.
As to its provenance, the local assembly can trace its roots back to the day of Pentecost and the birthday of the Church in Acts 2.
Isaiah refers to Israel’s remnant, post-tribulation, as “the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified” (60:21, KJV), and the “planting of the Lord” (61:3, KJV).
We recognize that the planting of an assembly is of the Lord, even if human agency is involved. He superintends the work, but others have been involved in its construction through the centuries. The garden metaphor is sustained by Paul. “Paul planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1Cor 3:6, KJV).
The Lord Himself is the Designer and Planter of His garden, the local church.
This is not a public garden. This garden is for bride and bridegroom exclusively until their wedding takes place. Afterwards, the friends of the bridegroom are invited to share the feasting and friendship. The church is not on public display. What takes place in a local assembly is not for public consumption, but is between the prospective bride and Bridegroom-elect! After the marriage of the Lamb, however, we will be associated with Christ in His millennial reign over the earth. Then the Church will be on public display. Currently, angels are the only spectators (1Cor 11:10, KJV).
The fruit and fragrance an assembly produces is for Christ alone. It is a walled garden, barred and locked so that only bride and groom have access. The proprietorial claims of Christ are witnessed when the metaphor changes and Christ is seen in the midst of the seven golden lampstands of the Apocalypse. These churches are His and He assesses them: “I know thy works.”
The wall is not only to mark ownership of the property and to give privacy to bride and groom, but it is also intended to keep out what is harmful to the garden. The garden of God’s assembly needs the wall of separation around it. Elders need to be warned, as Paul warned the Ephesian elders, of dangers from without and within. The assembly needs protection from the world’s influence, the flesh’s intrusion and the Devil’s inroads.
The World’s Influence
James reminds us that “friendship of the world is enmity with God.” Such are adulterers and adulteresses. We profess to be married to Christ, but flirt with the world. John wrote, “If any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him.” Worldly influences must be resisted. We are to love the Father and obey the will of God. The wall of separation must be maintained.
The Flesh’s Intrusion
How readily the flesh will intrude even into our holiest moments. Unholy thoughts invade our prayer time. When preaching, believers tell you how good you have been and you flush with pride. The flesh may also show itself in less subtle ways. Remember Diotrephes, “who loveth to have the pre-eminence,” and, in the case of itinerant preachers received by the assembly, he “casteth them out of the church.” The flesh also intrudes when immorality raises its head in an assembly. Discipline becomes necessary to maintain the holiness of God’s house. The wall of separation needs to be retained.
The Devil’s Inroads
In the early days of the church, Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit when they reneged on a promise they had made before God. “But Peter said, Ananias why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land” (Acts 5:3, KJV). The Devil has been exceptionally busy breaking up Christian marriages and homes. He has caused divisions in assemblies where personalities, rather than principles, have been fought over. He is also partnering with the flesh in these instances. In partnership with the world, he is promoting legislation that is contrary to the teaching of the Bible and recent laws will impact the testimony of assemblies if the Lord does not return soon. The wall of separation needs to be maintained. “Young men … ye are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one” (1John 2:13, KJV).
Chapter 4 is the first chapter to use the expression, “my sister, my spouse.” It is suggested that the relationship of the bride and bridegroom before marriage is like that of brother and sister, indicating the purity of the connection. “My spouse,” however, indicates the promise of intimacy once the wedding has taken place. The expression occurs three times in chapter four and once in chapter five.
– To be continued