Recently our daughter sent us photos of a cherry tree and an apple tree in her garden. We asked her whether the cherry tree was the one she and her husband found in her garden when they moved in. Her answer: “No! That tree was a fraud. It has no fruit at all! It’s one of those flowering cherry trees that have no fruit. The cherries in the photo are from the other tree we planted in the spring!”
Their new cherry tree bears fruit, but the tree which was already in the garden does not. It grows lots of leaves and even beautiful flowers that make the tree look fruitful, but no actual fruit.
This got me thinking. What do we concentrate on? What are our priorities? What do we spend our lives producing? Are we growing lots of leaves with our faith, and thinking all those results are evidence of our Christian lives. Are we concentrating on producing lost of leaves to look good?
What are leaves? Leaves are what everyone can see. Leaves may be lots of church members, material blessings in our lives. They may be miracles, breakthroughs, victories, becoming known as successful. Leaves are something we can measure, point to in a quantifiable way and say this shows my faith is working. There may be fruit within a large church, but the large church itself is not fruit. Large numbers of “converts” in programs are just leaves. People living as Christ lived is fruit. Paul planted many churches, but he didn’t rejoice in that. When we wrote to the Corinthians he was still looking for fruit.
We have been led astray. We have thought that blessings are fruit. We have ranked our lives and ministries by the blessing we have received. But to the Lord these things are not fruit. It’s like someone said, “It’s terrible to succeed at the wrong thing, or spend all your life climbing to the top of a ladder, only to find out at the end of your life that the ladder is against the wrong wall.” We have been indulging in an entirely wrong concept of ministry. We celebrate those people who become successful because they produce huge quantities of leaves. Then we copy them, and then say, “Come and see, the results show my success.” But these are those things that Paul said will be burned up in the fire (1 Cor 3). That which looks successful to man, will not pass through God’s judgment.
So what is the fruit? Normally fruit looks nice. It’s attractive. We often think that the attractive things in life are the fruit of faith. That’s because we have a wrong view of what is attractive. We don’t often see as God sees. When we have “good things” we call them God’s blessing and believe this shows our faith and walk are genuine. We don’t know that these are just leaves. We call ourselves blessed. The fruit in the Garden was attractive to Eve, and that is why she took it. She believed it was a blessing to her. But she was led astray.
What we call “blessing” is normally the opposite of what God calls blessing. Go through the four Gospels and see every time Jesus used the word “blessing”. We use it in terms of receiving something our society calls good: cars, houses, clothes, money, and promotions. Jesus used it frequently in the Sermon on the Mount in opposite terms. You will never hear Jesus using the word “blessing” the way it is commonly used today. So when we say to someone, “God bless you”, what do we mean? Do we want the things that Jesus says are a blessing?
Fruit is often the opposite of that which we think it is. It isn’t that which is attractive to people. It is usually that which people seek to avoid. This is seen right through Jesus’ teaching: “Don’t seek the seats of honour; the first shall be last, blessed are the persecuted, those that mourn, who seek peace, justice and mercy, and who hear my word and do it.” He never said,”Blessed are those who have lots of goods”, but he said, “be careful of covetousness”, because this deceives us and harms others, harms relationships and harms our relationship with God.
Again, what is fruit? In all the Prophets of the Old Testament fruit is justice. God tended Israel as a garden, gave her good things, the leaves, and then God looked for good fruit coming from the nation. By this he meant justice towards each other and towards their neighbour and foreigner. All the Prophets agreed. The fruit of Israel would be justice.
When Jesus came to Israel and found no justice in her he likened the nation to a fig tree which bore leaves but had no fruit. So Jesus himself bore Israel’s fruit for her as Israel’s representative. He bore the fruit that God was looking for in the nation, by his suffering, by his rejection. This fruit doesn’t look atractive, not like fruit we would desire and like to eat. But it is good fruit because it was the Father’s will. In doing the Father’s will, Jesus chose against the values of his generation. He chose not to rejoice with those who divide the spoils while others suffer. He chose rather to be counted with those from whom justice was taken away. This is fruit.
Firstly, let’s not be deceived by what we count to be fruit. And secondly, let’s build our lives looking for the fruit Jesus looked for in his life, and the fruit he told us to seek. It’s the fruit that grows in our lives as we seek the good of others and not of ourselves, and as we even seek the good of our enemies. It’s the fruit that grows in the world as people care for the rejected, because Jesus was rejected. Fruit might not be buildings and success as the people would see it. But Jesus said that is the fruit of fools, like building bigger barns instead of caring for people.
The popular fruit has been the content of much of our message. It has led the church well off track and shown us to be false shepherds. In repentance, real life and real ministry, we look for the truly good fruit in the teachings and life model of Jesus. We pray that this may be shown in our lives, that we may change, and this may spread to many others around us. Go spread the right seed, for a better harvest,.
Those of us who bear the right kind of fruit will overcome and reign with him, just as Jesus said to the churches in Revelation. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus divided the sheep and goats and said, “Those of you who think you are doing well in the world, aren’t, and those of you who are looked down on have the opportunity of shining as lights, of bearing the right fruit that transforms our lives, churches and nations.” Don’t copy those who do wrong, copy Jesus.