Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"Fresh Fruit"

It’s the season of the year when gardeners are bringing in their fresh produce. Those without green thumbs stop by farmer’s markets and roadside stands, eager to buy farm-fresh fruit and vegetables. There’s just something about a fresh summertime peach dripping with juices, snaps that were snapped just that evening, or ripe strawberries on shortcake. I don’t gardening, but already many people have stopped by the parsonage and brought me gifts from their abundance. Though it’s good to get homemade canned vegetables or frozen fruit from somebody’s tree, there’s just nothing like fresh-picked.

From Genesis to Revelation, God’s Word makes a big deal of fresh fruit. In Eden, humanity sinned by eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As a result, we were cast out of the garden and forbidden from eating of the Tree of Life. Yet the Bible’s final chapter describes the River of Life flowing from the throne of God, on either side of which grows “the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree [are] for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22.2[i]).” Not only does the New Covenant with Christ restore our ability to eat from the tree of life, to be nourished and healed—but God desires all Christians to become fruit-bearing believers. Psalm 52:8 says, “I am like a green olive tree in the house of my God.” Every believer should bear fruit like that! In God’s creation, fruit-bearing is expected. In John 15:1-6, Jesus says,
“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 does not bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit….Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide I me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

It’s clear that not only does God expect fruit-bearing, but God actually has no use for plants and trees that bear no fruit. Though non-fruit-bearing believers may have all the outward appearance of Christianity, God will know a true Christ-follower by the fruit he or she bears in life. Keith Copley writes about useless Christians who bear no fruit.
In the Greek Islands, one can seek out the home of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. In the area, one can also find an olive tree, supposedly dating from his time. If this is so, this tree would then be some 2400 years old. The trunk of this tree is very large but completely hollow. The tree is little more than thick bark. There are a few long, straggling branches, but they are supported by sturdy wooden poles every few feet. It has an occasional leaf here and there and might produce a few olives each year. In the fields around, however, are olive groves in many directions. The strong, healthy, young trees with narrow trunks are covered with a thick canopy of leaves, under which masses of olives can be found each year. The tree of Hippocrates can still be called an olive by nature, in that it still shows the essential unique characteristics, but it has long since ceased to fulfill an olive's function. Tourists file up to inspect this ancient relic, having some link to a dim history, but the job of the olive tree passed long ago to many successions of replanted trees. Do you know any churches (or even people) like the tree of Hippocrates? The form is there, but the function is not. They have stopped reproducing and are satisfied just being big, or having a noble history.[ii]

What is the fruit that Christians are supposed to bear? Christians are supposed to not be known as keepers of the Law, but as followers of the Spirit. Galatians 5:18-23a says:

If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalires, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Too often, people think that a Christian will be known by being a rule-follower. But Christians aren’t rule-followers; they’re Christ-followers. Instead of being consumed with the works of the flesh, true believers ought to bear the fruit of the spirit. Churches that operate in fleshly ways are full of these works of the flesh, but churches that follow the spirit reproduce with bountiful harvests of new believers, because they operate in these fruits and gifts of the Spirit. In Jeremiah 17:5-8, the Lord says:
Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is in the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.

I’ve heard people say that while we’re not supposed to judge one another, we are called to be fruit-inspectors. But the last time I read the Bible, that was still Jesus’ job, not ours. God plants the seeds of the gospel in the heart of every believer so that we can bear much fruit. In John 15, Jesus says that it is God who prunes us so that we can bear fruit, and God who decides which branches or trees are fit for the fire. Our job is not to judge one another’s harvest, but to abide in Christ, so that we can produce fresh fruit for the Lord.

[i] All scriptures are taken from the ESV.

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