Fenced In or Fenced Out?

Nobody really likes restrictions. Nobody really likes to be told what to do. Nobody really likes to have to depart from their chosen way of living.

I’m sure animals are much the same. When given the opportunity they will head off without much provocation.

What would a youth like better than to be free of limits, free of boundaries, free to go or come totally at will?

If you could ask a cow if she liked the fence, she would surely say no. In fact, she would be happiest if all fences could be removed.

Unthinking people today are working to reduce or eliminate the police force. No fences.

But reality is: We all need fences, boundaries to be safe from predators. Safe from outside invaders. Safe from ourselves. The pandemic has showed this plainly.

Isaiah wrote about God’s plan: to plant a very favored vineyard. He described it in some detail. Let’s read it from Isaiah chapter 5.

Isaiah 5:1 1Now will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:

What does the vineyard represent in its figurative language? A few verses later in the same chapter we learn;

Isaiah 5:7 7For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah his pleasant plant:

God’s vineyard is His people, the “house of Israel,” the “men of Judah,” i.e,  those in His service.

One of His earliest steps was to choose a good location. He placed His vineyard in “a very fruitful hill.” Good spiritual advantages.

Right away we learn that it’s all about fruitfulness. The owner wants FRUIT.

What did the owner do next?

Isaiah 5:2 2And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, And planted it with the choicest vine, And built a tower in the midst of it, And also made a winepress therein: And he looked that it should bring forth grapes, And it brought forth wild grapes.

This tells the whole story in just a few words. Notice what complete care He gave His special vineyard.

He “fenced it.” Was this a negative step? Not at all. By putting a fence around the vineyard, God set boundaries. He was protecting it. He was fencing IN and fencing OUT.

Very early God put a boundary between His people and those outside. Every “thou shalt not” in the law was a boundary. It was saying, “No, don’t go there.”

One could read it as “KEEP OUT.” Another could read it as “KEEP IN.” Either way, it worked, if the law was obeyed.

Jesus told a parable similar to that of His setting up the vineyard. It is recorded in Matthew 21.

Matthew 21:33  33“Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country.

He planted a vineyard—a place for God’s people to grow and flourish. The first thing he did was “set a hedge around it.” What is a hedge but a fence—which means limits, boundaries, commands like “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not.”

There is a statement in the book of Job much to the same effect.

It is a statement about the boundaries of the sea. The Lord is speaking to Job “out of the whirlwind.” It is prophetic, but it emphasizes the fundamentals that govern all of God’s creation—boundaries. 

Job 38:8-9  8“…who shut in the sea with doors, When it burst forth and issued from the womb;

Boundaries.

Job 38:9–11  9When I made the clouds its garment, And thick darkness its swaddling band; 10When I fixed My limit for it, And set bars and doors; 11When I said, ‘This far you may come, but no farther, And here your proud waves must stop!’

More boundaries.

God set up the fence very early because He knew human nature. He knew our tendency toward the easy, popular way. That is why He told His people to keep separate from those who worshiped idols. Socializing with them would lead to intermarriage, and intermarriage would bring the pagan gods right into the camp of Israel, along with all their pagan gods and goddesses. He said,

Deuteronomy 7:3–4 (NLT) 3You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, 4for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you.

Deuteronomy 7:6 (NLT) 6For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.

You are holy, he says … you belong to the Lord your God. God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.

What did Paul say about being like the Gentiles, those who do not know God?

Ephesians 4:17–20  17This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. 20But you have not so learned Christ,

Paul says, Don’t walk like the “rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind.” Don’t go there. You have something better, infinitely better. They are “alienated from the life of God,” ignorant, blind, past feeling. He says, You know something far better… “you have not so learned Christ.”

There is benefit in the fences! 

Ephesians 4:20–21  20But you have not so learned Christ, 21if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus:

He says, think of the privilege you have had. You have learned Christ, heard Him, been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus. This means keeping apart from all that is on the other side of the fence.

Peter said the same to his brethren: Separate past (outside the fence) from the present (Inside the fence)

1 Peter 4:3–4  3For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. 4In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.

He says, Enough of all that is outside! They think you are strange? So be it! They speak evil of you because you do not join them in a “flood of dissipation”? So be it! You have better things to think about than what is outside the fence.

Paul said it again in Ephesians 5.

Ephesians 5:1–5  1Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

Then Paul sets up the fence, the boundary. Inside it is different.

3But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints;

Paul says, don’t even talk about what life is out there! And he adds the commonest offenses:

3But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; 4neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.

What contrast! Not foolish talk and jesting, but rather giving thanks to God! Here is the reason:

5For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

We want a place in the Kingdom of Christ and of God.

Continuing with Paul’s thought—more fences, more dividing lines, more about separation:

Ephesians 5:6–11  6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7Therefore do not be partakers with them.

In plainest words, don’t go there!

8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

Paul says, you used to be there. But “Now you are light in the Lord.” There is a reason for the separation.

9(for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.

No fellowship with those doing the “unfruitful works of darkness”—but rather “expose them.” Show them up for what they truly are.

Paul wrote some of the same to Timothy:

1 Timothy 5:20–22  20Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. 21I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.

The commands are equally incumbent on all, whatever their position in the church. ALL must “observe these things without prejudice.” Continuing with verse 22:

22Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure.

“Lay hands suddenly on no one” – It would sound strange that Paul advised Timothy not to be rash or harsh with anyone. But no, Paul was cautioining Timothy to go slow in appointing leaders in the church by the “laying on of hands.” Let their character first be proven.

The fence between inside and outside, the hedge around the vineyard, has double use. It keeps the outside OUT and the inside IN.

It is the principle of separation. I am not ashamed to say there are books I will not open. Films I will not view, or even review. People I will not intentionally keep company with. Internet sites I will not go to. And so on and on. Fences everywhere. I must keep myself reminded of these things, and keep check on myself… lest I relax and go off course.

At the risk of sounding bigoted or being classified as naïve or legalistic, I have a duty to guard my convictions. And this means setting boundaries that I must keep within. All the time

What does Proverbs say?

Proverbs 4:14–15  14Do not enter the path of the wicked, And do not walk in the way of evil. 15Avoid it, do not travel on it; Turn away from it and pass on.

AVOID. That is the safest course.

We must not leave out Paul’s clearest and most direct. Let us read it from the New Living Translation. Think about the constrasts here:

2 Corinthians 6:14–18 (NLT) 14Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? 15What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil [our own evil hearts]? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? 16And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

It is truly a study in opposites. That is the reason for the fence, separating two opposite ways of life, opposite ways of thinking, opposite ways of worshiping. Separation is the one way to make life easier!

17Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. 18And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

—live inside the fence and make life easier for all and don’t even TOUCH what is outside! And then, the great promise:

18And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

Separated. Fenced AWAY FROM the turmoil and endless striving of the world outside, and Fenced IN, to become sons and daughters of The Lord Almighty!

What greater blessing could we imagine in return for the little we are giving up!

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