The Rose and the Thistle

We live with the duality of being born of the flesh and born of the spirit

Depositphotos Image ID: 4468140 Copyright: Estea-Estea

“Two things cannot be in one place. Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.”[i]

This quotation by Frances Hodgson Burnett is pretty profound when you think about it. A person cannot feed love and feed hate at the same time. One displaces the other, like light displaces the darkness.

Except, we know from our own experience that we can love and hate at the same time. It’s just that we cannot love and hate the same thing at the same time. This is what the quotation is saying: a rose and a thistle cannot occupy the same space, though roses and thistles can certainly stand side-by-side. We can love one person and hate another.

Jesus puts a twist on these thoughts when he says that a person cannot serve two masters. When two priorities are vying for position in our hearts, they cannot both occupy the top position: “Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”  And Jesus provides us a ready example: “You cannot serve both God and money.”[1]

Like the rose and thistle, the love of God and the love of money cannot occupy the same space in our hearts. If we allow money to control our priorities, we have made money our master over God.

The interesting thing about this statement is that love of God and the love of money seek to occupy the same position within our hearts, but they also cannot stand side-by-side. We either love the one and hate the other, or we are devoted to one and despise the other. Jesus says we can’t do both. God will not share space with an idol, not even side by side.

The examples of love and hate relate to objects of our attention. Similar principles apply to sources as well. James says that freshwater and saltwater cannot come from the same spring.[ii] James is speaking of the things we say: “With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”[iii]

But they are so. We are often two-faced like this. We can love one person and hate another. We can bless one person and curse another. We can also bless one person at one time and curse the same person at another time.

Jesus says, “[O]ut of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”[iv] But how can it be that we can say loving things at one time and hateful things at another? From the illustration of a spring, they must flow from different sources within us. Like the rose and the thistle, they must emanate from sources that occupy different spaces in us. They cannot occupy the same space (emanate from the same source).

We know from experience that a person can say both loving things and hateful things. The necessary conclusion of that coexistence is that loving things and hateful things that we say must emanate from different sources within us.

Jeremiah tells us that the heart of man is deceitful and sick.[v] Jesus told Nicodemus that a man must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God.[vi] Jesus explained further, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”[vii] What that tells us is that man’s heart, the unregenerate heart, the natural heart is one source (flesh), like salt water, and the spirit of which we may be born again is a separate source (like fresh water).

When we are born of the flesh, we are born of one source, and when we are born of the spirit, we are born of another source – one person, born from two different sources – one source is like salt water, and the other source is like fresh water.

Jesus said that he and the father are one.[viii] At another time, Jesus said, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”[ix] Jesus (the Son) and God (the Father) emanate from a common source and share that common source. When we give our ourselves to God, receiving Jesus as our Lord and savior, and are born again, we tap into a source that is different than our own hearts. That source is God, who is love.[x]

But, we live with the duality of being born of the flesh and born of the spirit: As Paul observed,

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.[xi]

When Paul spoke about doing things that he hates, he was expressing this idea of duality that is within us, that we have in us “natural man” emanating from a corrupt state, while we also are born again of the spirit, emanating from the perfection of God.

Our goal, then, is to feed the one and starve the other. “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”[xii] Though roses and thistles cannot occupy the same space, they can exist side-by-side, but the larger the rose gets, the less room there is for the thistle.


[1] Matthew 6:24

[i] Frances Hodgson Burnett

[ii] James 3:11

[iii] James 3:9-10

[iv] Matthew 12:34

[v] Jeremiah 17:9

[vi] John 3:3 (“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again[b] he cannot see the kingdom of God.”)

[vii] John 3:6

[viii] John 10:30

[ix] John 14:11

[x] 1 John 4:8

[xi][xi] Romans 7:15, 17-19

[xii] Romans 8:13

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