Fruit Producers – Dan Teefey
Sermon text: Matthew 7:15-23
Thus far in recent weeks we have started to progress through the primary themes or vision that should guide how our church discerns through the decisions that we make. Our starting point is the power of God. Nothing we do has any merit unless its source and its power is God himself. Next we discussed what it means to be a church that God uses to plant seeds that germinate. We can acknowledge God's growth potential all we want, but ultimately we must unleash it in our lives. We must step back and allow the Word of God to sprout in us. We must run towards new life in Christ. But that is not enough either. A sprout is just a beginning. We must also grow, develop and mature into Christian disciples . . . followers of Jesus Christ that pick up our cross and go after him each day. We study God's Word, we communicate with God through prayer, we spend time with other believers and we share our story with others through evangelism. But what is the result of all this? What do we become or what do we produce? The Bible says that we become mature plants that produce fruit. But what is the fruit that we produce?
Lets read our passage this morning to get us going. Matthew 7:15-23.
This passage helps us to first understand our starting point again with a tough warning at the end. Jesus says that at the end of their days many folk will come to him and say that they know Him, but that he will reply that he never knew them. Our ultimate purpose in this life is not to know God, but to be known by Him. We can rattle off a million things that we know about God or Jesus and that is great and all, but if he does not know us then all that knowledge is worthless. To be known by God is to make ourselves fully available to Him. To become his agents in the world. To become His fruit producers.
Let's take Dave Timmerman as an example. You can know a lot about Dave by looking at his bio on our website, or by googling his name, or even by talking with other people who are a part of Riverside about Dave. And you could be a Dave Timmerman expert . . . or stalker, whatever you prefer, without Dave even knowing who you are. It is not until we develop a relationship with Dave that he begins to know us.
Our relationship with God is similar. We can know a ton about God and even try to do a ton for God, but unless we have a relationship with Him, He won't be a part of any of it.
In our passage Jesus is ultimately trying to help people to distinguish between truth and what is taught by false prophets, or people trying to deceive them. He seems to admit that you can't just tell the difference between the bad guys and the good guys by looking at them. Jesus says that we must look at their produce or their fruit. He says that “By their fruit you will recognize them . . . every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”
It is just October, but it feels like December outside. And every Christmas Dana and I pull out our Christmas lights and it never fails that at least one strand of lights does not work. And when you lay that strand of lights out on the ground, you can't exactly tell which light bulb is burnt out. You have to go through the strand one bulb at a time to see which socket lights the strand with a new bulb and which ones do not.
It is the same way with batteries. You can't look at a battery to see whether it is good or not. You have to watch it in action to see whether it has power or not. Does it produce something good or not?
That is the standard that Jesus leaves us with to determine whether people are right with him or not. Are they producing fruit? Jesus says it is by fruit that we will recognize the godly people from those that are not known by God. And it is not that they are particularly significant or special . . . it is just that God is at work in them.
What is the fruit that we produce though? What is it that we are producing that reveals that we are a maturing Christian?
“Fruit” appears in the Old Testament over 100 times. And in the New Testament over 60 times. 24 of the 27 New Testament books refer to the idea of fruit in tangible ways. Fruit is biblically significant.
God's first call to human beings in Genesis after humans are created is to be fruitful. Adam and Eve are called to multiply physically and the Bible continues to use this imagery throughout to emphasize that we are to multiply our lives spiritually too. Like we bear children and produce other human beings . . . we are to produce a whole host of things that God prompts.
Our lives are a series of choices . . . we fill our days, hours, minutes, and seconds with thoughts, words and acts that influence our next seconds, minutes, hours and days. And the movement of these choices is either prompted by God or ourselves. It is never neutral though. We are always moving towards something.
A tree is never neutral. It never just is. It is either progressing towards maturity and the production of fruit or it is progressing towards its death and no fruit. It's the same with our lives – and this has nothing to do with age – we are either employing God's growth potential to create new life in ourselves and in our world or we are ignoring it, pushing it away, running from it . . . and slowing rotting away.
Biblical fruit can be defined as the results or permutations of God's qualities moving in us. We have talked in recent weeks about the intangible power of God alone to make nature grow. I can't make a plant grow (and if you have been in my office you know that is the case). I can water and feed plants, but I can't make them grow. I can't just pull them taller or will them to grow. It is God-imparted life that makes this happen . . . and that ultimately allows fruit to be produced from the growth.
Even the outward product does not reveal the whole story sometimes though. Like an x-ray, we must probe to inner reality which reveals true substance. Adelaide and Miriam have a ton of plastic fruit in their play kitchen at home. And some of it looks exactly like the real thing. But there is clearly a difference on the inside. Two Christians who do the exact same things may convey the impression that they are equally fruitful, yet one may be fruitful and the other unfruitful. The acts of one may be the result of God's authentic life freely released through them, while the acts of the other are counterfeits with no quality other than human effort and goals. God, who is the natural power of change and new life, can always tell the difference between a fake and the real thing. And we know it in the depths of our heart.
If the Bible makes it abundantly clear that the task of the church is to encourage fruit producers, then what exactly is the fruit we are to be producing? I think the most helpful way to discuss this is to first describe what the Bible says “fruit” is, then to look at common ways that we misunderstand it.
Biblical fruit takes many forms.
The first form of fruit is in the form of character that is Christ-like. This is an attitude that is characterized by the very nature of Christ's life, just as the fruit of a vine is permeated by the very life-essence within the vine. The famous Galatians 5 lists the “fruit of the Spirit” in obvious contrast to the “lusts of the flesh.” As the invisible or hidden lusts of the flesh result in visible works, so the invisible power of Christ imparted by the Spirit produces visible fruit.” Galatians 5 says, “The acts of the sinful nature 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. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” To be fruitful is to be characterized by these things: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. You can assess your fruitfulness by asking someone close to you how you are doing in these areas of your life.
Another form of fruit that the Bible discusses is what Paul calls “fruit of the lips.” Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.” The “fruit of the lips” is our use of language to worship God. When we offer the fruit of our lips, we are agreeing with regard to the name of the Lord – agreeing that He is wonderful and altogether adequate. This phrase comes from an Old Testament saying “calves of our lips,” which indicated a day when the people of God would not need to sacrifice animals, but would offer a much more meaningful sacrifice, the praise of God from their lips. We are fruitful when we speak praises and honor Him as he deserves.
Another form of fruit appears in Romans 15:26-29, where Paul says, “I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.” Paul is talking about faithful believers that have given a financial gift to needy Jews in Jerusalem. He calls their gift “fruit,” evidently because it is the product (harvest) of God-given concern for others. The Christian in tune with the Spirit will put others first and will desire to edify them rather than only to please himself.
Interestingly, what we receive can become fruit based upon what we do with it. Your income, for example, can or cannot become fruit depending upon how you choose to spend it. Have you employed it to nourish, to feed, to edify. Ultimately, the gift to the Jews in Jerusalem was more than cash, it was fruit because it conveyed something deeper about the givers care and the receivers worth.
Finally, Jesus himself talks about believers gathering converts and refers to them as fruit. In the Gospel of John, Jesus discusses harvesting “the crop of eternal life.” Paul also refers to converts as fruit of believers. Thinking about people that we lead to Christ as fruit is not difficult for us to understand. More often than not we think this is the only thing meant by being fruitful. But having acknowledged that there are many areas in which we are called to be fruitful, we must emphasize this one too.
We see throughout the Bible that God places a paramount emphasis upon taking His message to others. The book of Acts records how the Spirit acts through us with the central thrust of introducing other people to Christ. We must ultimately realize that understanding fruit as character and fruit sharing the Gospel do not exist in an either/or relationship but rather in a both/and unity. After all, it makes sense to ask, what Christian character could there be without Christian characters sharing the Gospel? It would be sinful to say: “I am relieved to learn that fruit can be many things in addition to winning people to Christ; I will bear my fruit in these areas and leave the witnessing part to others.”
The New Testament is abundantly clear that fruitfulness can relate to all aspects of life. Paul prays that the Colossians are “bearing fruit in every good work.” (Col. 1:10) Fruit, then, may be as varied as life itself. This makes sense because fruit, in its essential nature is the effect of authentic life – the life of Christ who is the vine, the true One.
Now knowing how the Bible describes fruit, it is important that we discuss some of the things that it is not.
The first thing that biblical fruit is often confused with is success. Fruit is not simply success. Fruit is a matter of reality and quality and goes deeper than outward appearance. Often people associate outward success or secular success with fruitfulness. But a seemingly fruitful Christian by these standards may, in reality, be barren of any genuine fruit because the power behind their worldly success may just be their own effort, drive and priorities. Another Christian may look like a failure in some areas of life, but truly be fruitful in the way that God intends. A good example is someone who regularly shares their faith at work, yet has brought few people to commit their lives to Christ. Some may look at that person’s life and say that they are inefficient or not fruitful, when in fact they have been enormously fruitful because they have regularly been bringing people closer to Christ, if not to full commitment yet.
It is not wise to look for “results” and make appraisals without access to all the “inside” facts as God knows them. Dana and I attended the Young Life banquet this past week and during the banquet 3 college students shared about the work that had happened in that ministry over the past year. Each of the stories were about high school and junior high students that had made huge strides in their faith, but none of them had come to Christ yet. And you we could have looked upon those results from the outside and said that none of those students brought anyone to Christ and thus they were not fruitful, but if you really listened, they were abundantly fruitful because they had brought those students significantly closer to Christ, if not fully there yet. Outward success can accompany fruitfulness, but they are not necessarily always tied together.
Similarly, success in your workplace or in your home may be tied to your fruitfulness, but they are not necessarily tied. We must know what is at work on the inside.
The opposite of presuming that secular success is the same as being fruitful is also a danger. Too often Christians create a false sacred-secular antithesis. Christians can compartmentalize life artificially based upon their surroundings. For instance, we may only think of being fruitful as happening in our time in church or with our friends at church. We presume that nothing fruitful can happen at home or playing basketball or hanging out with friends. The truth is, however, that since fruit is simply a product of Christ's life from within the Christian it can be produced anyway God wills. God dwells in our body, which is a spiritual temple, so that wherever the believer goes and whatever his task, his work can be a sacred ministry that is God-centered and God glorifying. Now, we have to choose to let it be ministry, but if we do, it can happen anywhere and in any context. The faithful Christian is like a healthy and durable plant that can be placed in nearly any environment and still produce fruit.
Fruitfulness is not sensational either. Sometimes we think of being fruitful as being flashy. Many ministries for Christ are not dramatic though. Fruitfulness does not have to be your group of friends falling to their knees and crying out for Jesus the next time you are out for dinner. Being fruitful does not mean that your fruit is produced in such a way that everyone sees it. Take, for example, working in a nursery program, teaching a small children's class, or office tasks like stuffing envelopes for mailing. You may be exceedingly fruitful at any one of these tasks, but few may know about it. It may even go wholly unnoticed. One Christian's primary involvement may make news, while another’s may go unnoticed. Yet the two persons may be equally fruitful before God.
Our last danger in understanding fruit is that we understand it simply as what our friend is producing. Too many of us imitate what we believe the ideal model to be, or mimic some exemplary Christian we admire, when the true fruitful life is the authentic product of supernatural power in us. While the fruit may be spontaneous in another person, it is artificial in the imitator. God’s supernatural power takes various forms in faithful Christians’ lives. What might be God’s promptings in one person’s life may not be what he is trying to produce through you. All of us are called to something, but you are not all called to be pastors and if you tried to become one you might do the task well, but you wouldn’t be fruitful in the way God designed you.
God desires for us to have a relationship with Him and He desires for us to be productive in that relationship. Riverside must encourage, and you must live out, lives that develop fruit, both in your character and in your sharing of the Gospel.
Rosscup, James E. “Fruit in the New Testament.” Bibliotheca Sacra, January 1968: 56-66.