Sunday, April 5, 2009

To Bear Much Fruit

Our orange and grapefruit trees have started blooming, the beginnings of next winter’s fruit. The problem is my two-year-old son loves flowers, so we’ve had many conversations this week about how each flower he picks is an orange that won’t grow for him to eat and how sad it would be if there were no fruit next year. His eyes widened at the “sad” part of what I was trying to teach him; then, he said, “Yeah” and hasn’t picked one since. Since Wyatt adores citrus fruit, he really would be sad if the trees bore no fruit next year.

This seemingly insignificant conversation got me thinking about the fruit we, as Christians, are supposed to bear and how sad our Savior might be when we don't bear fruit as we should. When speaking to His disciples, Jesus gave a beautiful analogy, describing Himself as the vine and true Christians as the branches attached to that vine: "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:1-6, my italics).

This passage could be renamed “A How-To Lesson on Having a Fruitful Relationship with Christ.” In these verses, Jesus gives us the key to good fruit-bearing when He repeats the word “abide” seven times. According to the Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, to abide means “To remain, abide, dwell, live.” Thus, the first step to bearing good fruit is to dwell in Christ, to have His Spirit dwelling within us.

This leads us to the question, Can non-Christians bear fruit? Yes. Matthew 7:15-20 says, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” A bad tree (or bad vine) will produce bad fruit. A good tree (or good vine) will produce good fruit. Bad vines and bad trees are sentenced to the same punishment in both John 15 and Matthew 7: being thrown into the eternal flames of hell.

Next, note how in John 15, Jesus doesn’t say that Christians might bear fruit or will occasionally bear fruit. No. He’s quite emphatic that true believers will bear fruit. But what fruit is He talking about? Later, in Galatians 5:22-23, Paul gives a list of specific fruit (not fruits) that Christians will bear when they “walk by the Spirit” (v. 5): “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Thirdly, Jesus straightforwardly tells us that the more we bear fruit, the more God will prune us so that we will bear even more fruit. Ouch—pruning sounds pretty painful. But, I wonder if we looked at the various trials God sends us as just His “pruning” to make us a more fruitful part of the vine, would that make them easier to bear? Would that be enough of an answer to our “Why, God? Why me?” that we’re looking for?

Finally, Jesus makes sure to tell us that we cannot produce fruit on our own. Wow. How many times have we tried to do things in our own strength, in our own patience, in our own love instead of in His love, His patience? Jesus is clear. On our own, we will be unproductive and fail to produce any real fruit.

In light of Christ’s analogy, I find a quotation by writer Frank Scully very interesting. Scully once quipped, “Why not go out on a limb? Isn't that where the fruit is?” If lately, you seem to not be bearing much fruit in your life, ask yourself if you are truly going “out on a limb” in your service of Jesus. If your love for Him has grown lukewarm, if your service of Him has become “safe” and “only when convenient,” your love for others will cool as well, you will find yourself acting more without patience and self-control, and you will not feel that incredible peace and joy deep in your soul.

This week, try to think of one way you can go out on a limb for Jesus and find some fruit that you can only produce in Him.

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