by Ken Francis
(Based on John 15:1-8 and I Cor 3: 5-14)
This Gospel passage about fruit-bearing set me a-searching – not for the first time, I might say – for evidence of fruit in my own life. This passage clearly says, if you abide in me, Jesus, you will bear much fruit. Ok, Ken … where is the fruit?
My first stocktake wasn’t promising. Presumably ‘fruit’ means healings and miracles and souls saved, right? Well, if right, my life is pretty well fruitless. In fact, I’ve had some big fails. Just recently I asked a friend to men’s breakfast – but he said, no, I’m not into that sort of thing. Actually, in the ten houses – I did a count – we have lived in over time, I’ve never even managed to get a neighbour along to anything.
So, I’m thinking, not much fruit to show … Ergo, according to these verses, I am a branch to be cut off and discarded.
But deeper reflection doesn’t accept this. I know God won’t discard me just because I haven’t brought many souls to salvation, or healed anyone. How do I know? Well, there are plenty of other Scriptures that say different. For example,
Eph 2:8, 9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —not by works, so that no one can boast.” So the fruit in John 15 can’t just be good works – things I can point to and say, ‘Look what I did!’
Also, you heard St Paul saying, in I Cor 3, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”
Then there’s the whole life of David. David did some awful things once he was King, and could really be judged a complete failure as a Christian! What fruit do you see resulting from David’s adult life? Apart from his Psalms, it’s hard to find. And yet he wasn’t discarded … “cut off”. On the contrary, Acts 10 describes David as “a man after [God’s] own heart, [who] shall fulfil all my will.”
Enough, on what Jesus didn’t mean by fruit bearing. What did he mean? This is the critical thing. What is he telling us here? What fruit is Jesus looking for from us?
There are clues in the passage. For one thing, Jesus is not telling us to “bear fruit”. He’s telling us to “abide in him”! “Abide” means to dwell, hang around, remain, and carries the idea of resting, enjoying, soaking it up … “Anchor yourself in me,” Jesus is saying, “and watch what happens!”
Then, in the verses just following the ones we read, Jesus talks a lot about love – his love for us, our love for him, our love for each other … so it’s reasonable to infer that one of the fruits he’s talking about is love – for him and each other. Do we recognise the fruit of love in our life? A love grown in us through abiding in him? Godly love, that is? With its sisters compassion, charity, mercy, etc. Are we bearing such fruit? “Abide in me,” says Jesus, “and you’ll find love flowing and outworking all over the place!”
The idea of love and compassion being fruits leads us to another prominent statement in the New Testament – Galatians 5:22 – which lists “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” as fruits of the Spirit. Do we recognise these things flowing in our lives?
And a few other things occur to me, which might be considered God-produced fruit: how about forgiveness, encouragement of others, promotion of justice, wisdom …? Any of these fruits in your life?
Is prayer a fruit? Especially intercessory prayer? Why not? I’ve been moved to pray for the last ten days for India, overwhelmed by the coronavirus. ‘Moved’, I say, because it comes of abiding in Christ. Fruited.
Matthew Henry is helpful, in his commentary: on these verses he says, “From a vine we look for grapes; from a Christian we look for Christianity. That is, a Christian temper and disposition, a Christian life and conversation. We honour God and do good as best we can, and this is bearing fruit.”
CS Lewis floated the idea of compound interest: He wrote, “Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance.” The little things can have exponential outcomes that we are probably not even aware of.
There’s a corporate aspect too. We are the church. Or part of it. Acts 2:47 describes how the Christians “devoted themselves to the … teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe … All the believers were together”, giving to anyone who had need and “praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people.” And as a result – and here’s the fruit, folks – “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Wouldn’t we like to see that.
The thing is, is it God-produced, because we abide in Him? That’s the key. We can do these things on our own, of course – in our own strength. We don’t need God to be able to encourage others, or be compassionate, etc. But that doesn’t count here. Because Jesus says, “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me … apart from me you can do nothing!” There are many people doing great things around the world, and good on them. But unless they are “abiding in him”, they are not bearing fruit in this way. Those endeavours are not to God’s glory. “This is to my Father’s glory,” says Jesus in verse 8, “that you bear much fruit.”
The Christian walk is a tricky thing. It’s simple, but it’s hard. We need to strike a balance between doing our best and, simultaneously, leaving things to God (the actual gardener) (the actual fruit-producer).
I argue that the fruit lies in the attitude (disposition perhaps a better word), not the outcome, because the outcome is God’s responsibility. Ours is the availability, His is the responsibility.
So, let’s be available, let’s be intentional, let’s be obedient to what seem like Godly impulses. (Which can lead to awkward mistakes, but, hey, let’s be willing to take chances, as we abide in the vine.)
When a man in the Old Testament, Micah by name, asked what the Lord required of him, God’s response was, “Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) We can do that. Let’s do that. And let’s learn to abide in Him as He abides in us.