Last week I shared from my notes on the first talk I gave at the Community Bible Study of Seattle leaders’ retreat recently. I appreciated the feedback I got from comments readers left here and on Facebook, and I encourage you to continue responding with your own thoughts and insights on this topic (and any others I cover on this blog!) As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another, and your comments sharpen me tremendously. Thank you!
I wanted to continue sharing from my talks at the retreat, picking up where I left off last week. I was talking about the fact that we who are in Christ should focus more on being fruitful than on being productive, and I finished with this question: what is the fruit that marks a “fruitful life?”
So here goes…
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One of the highest compliments I received after speaking at the retreat last week was from someone who said, “You used the Bible to teach the Bible.” I had never thought of it that way, but I love that concept. Even though many have undertaken to point out apparent inconsistencies in biblical texts, and have used those inconsistencies to undermine the trustworthiness of scripture, I find the Bible to be incredibly consistent, and intensely reliable instructor, with everything we need for life and godliness.
So in the spirit of letting the Bible teach the Bible, let’s take a look at this idea of living a fruitful life.
Jesus stressed the importance of bearing fruit in this passage. Elsewhere, he said that the kingdom would be given to those who bear fruit. He said, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.” The tree is made good by abiding in Christ and letting his word abide in us.
But what is the fruit? How do we know if the tree is good?
To understand what marks a fruitful life, we can learn from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where, in chapter 5, he wrote:
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
So from this we can conclude that these are signposts of someone not abiding in Christ. For me, this is an important part of the litmus test on “how I’m doing.” While it would be easy to write off some of the things on this list flippantly (“Haven’t been involved in any orgies lately! Hahaha!”), many of the things on this list are very real struggles for me. By meditating on every word and phrase in this list, I am convicted of those things that serve as signposts that I’m not “doing too great” spiritually.
But thankfully our faith is not defined merely by what is absent, but also by what is present. And when we are abiding in Christ, there are things that should be evident. Says Paul, “The fruit of the Spirit is…”
Love. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Joy. Joy in happy and hard times. Joy that provides strength. Joy that is contagious. Joy that lifts others’ moods and hearts.
Peace. Peace that passes all understanding. And peace that transforms others. It’s not merely about us being “at peace,” but it is also fundamental that we be about the business of “making peace.” Blessed are the peacemakers! For they shall be called “children of God.”
Patience. Forbearance. It is to a man’s credit to overlook an offense. Forbearance is overlooking an offense in the short term in favor of grace—in order to demonstrate grace and love. Once again, not keeping a record of wrongs, but holding fast to love.
Kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We can meditate on each of these words, and let them serve as mirrors for our souls. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Is this love, this joy, this peace, this patience, this kindness, this goodness, this faithfulness, this gentleness, and this self control markers of my character? When this “fruit” is evident in our lives, we are shown to be Christ’s disciples.
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I work in public relations, and while I do have clients and associations both inside and outside of faith contexts, several of my clients are Christians or Christian organizations. I get Google alerts every day summarizing how Christians are depicted in the media, and from what I can tell, for the most part, we are associated with conservative politics, celebrity preachers, and conflict, both in the US and abroad.
But can you imagine what would happen in the world if Christians became primarily known as the most loving, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled people?
I can. I can imagine that. And it is that ideal that drives me, in pretty much everything I do. It is what I strive for—to be that person, to live a life characterized increasingly by the fruit of the spirit and decreasingly by the fruit of the flesh. I am far from “there.” I fail often. But it is a goal, ever before me.
And it begins with abiding daily in Christ. In fact, it cannot happen otherwise.
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Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”