Taking Up Space


In Luke 13, Jesus told a parable about a fig tree that had failed to produce any fruit. The owner instructed his keeper of the grounds to cut it down. The keeper suggested giving it one more year, and that he would dig around and fertilize the fig tree. If it remained fruitless after a year, then it could be cut down. We are not told whatever became of this particular fig tree.

Parables are earthly stories that communicate spiritual truths. They reveal the unknown by using what is known. Simple things in the ordinary life of Israel—a mustard seed, wineskins, oil lamps, money, judges, stewards, widows and kings. Jesus used these everyday images to portray spiritual reality for those who had “eyes to see and ears to hear.”

If we apply the parable to Israel, it’s easy to see Jesus’ meaning. He had ministered throughout the land for three years. In that time, the nation had failed to bear any kind of spiritual fruit in spite of all his miracles and teaching. Even after Pentecost, when the church began to expand, the Jewish nation as a whole remained spiritually fruitless. Eventually, the nation was cut down: in 70 A.D., Israel was crushed under Rome’s heel, over a million Jews were killed, and the temple was destroyed.

Though the primary application of our Lord’s parable is for Israel, there are certainly lessons in it for you and me.

1. We have been greatly favored by God.

This tree had been planted in a good soil and the owner had every right to expect fruit. This was no wild fig tree in shallow soil. After planting, a fig tree will bear good fruit after three years. We can surmise then that the tree had been planted at least six years prior to this incident. It had enjoyed God’s sun and rain, constantly taking but never giving anything back.

Jesus said, “To whom much was given, of him much will be required.” (Luke 12:48) Are you living up to that principle? Is the spiritual fruit in your life proportionate to the blessings you’ve received from God’s hand? Spiritually speaking, are you idly taking up space or are others blessed and positively impacted by the fruit being produced in your life?

2. Fruitlessness invites disaster.

In the context of this parable, we find Jesus’ warning that refusing to repent leads to judgment. Israel’s failure to bear spiritual fruit ended in disaster. As Christians, we understand that we’re going to give account of ourselves to God. (Romans 14:12) Furthermore, we know the Lord will not allow his children to remain unfruitful. Whom the Lord loves he disciplines. (Hebrews 12:6) The writer of Hebrews says that “if you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” (Hebrews 12:8)

He goes on to say, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11) If your life is not bearing spiritual fruit, that is, producing nothing that would bless others or bring glory to God, it’s time for you to consider whether you are truly a Christian.

3. The gospel of the second chance.

For three years the owner of this tree had come to see if figs were beginning to sprout. This reminds us that God is patient. He gives time for repentance and works in us to make our lives fruitful. Have you experienced the Lord’s gracious dealings in his work of sanctification? Have you felt the spade of God’s correction in breaking up your fallow ground? Have you experienced the fertilizing effect of those spiritual influences he’s brought into your life?

The parable clearly establishes a deadline for the fig tree of one year. While we don’t know how long the Lord will bear an unfruitful life or what he will do to correct it, we do know that one day God will say “enough.” If you’re just taking up space in the kingdom while doing nothing to promote its growth, it’s time to repent.

Three life lessons from the parables of Jesus.