In the year of our conversion, Esa and I worked at a radio station where I was part owner and manager. She was an announcer and salesperson. The local chapter of the American Cancer Society asked if our station would help raise money in their annual fundraiser held in cities all across the state. Esa had the idea of producing a festival on the county fairgrounds with contests and games and musicians, singers and dancers. It was a huge success and we raised more money than any other chapter in the state and we lived in a town of fewer than 5,000 people. We did a really good thing for the Cancer Society and for the community. But our motives were selfish. We wanted everyone to know what a wonderful thing we did. It was all about us. We didn’t really care much about cancer victims. We wanted public recognition. We were new in the Lord and wanted to do something good so we would be admired.
Jesus speaks many times in the Gospel of John about bearing fruit. He says, “He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me, you can do nothing (John 15).” It could be easy to think he means we should do something spiritual like exercising the gifts of the Spirit. Doing good things sounds honorable but that’s not what he’s talking about here. God’s ways are higher than ours. Many times they are exactly opposite. We often think in terms of taking action and being productive in order to please God or to be rewarded. It’s the American way. We’re number one! But we can’t buy entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Then there’s also the matter of the first becoming last.
In the sermon on the mount, our Lord tells us not to be deceived by false prophets. He says the way to do that is by taking note of their fruit. What kind of fruit is he talking about? Is it demonstrated in a notable ministry or building a successful business or being good at making money? Not at all. The Greek word for fruit is karpos and is predominately used in the New Testament figuratively and defined as “being the physical expression of power working inwardly and invisibly; the character of the fruit being evidence of the character of the power producing it.” (Vine’s Dictionary of NT Words)
Bearing fruit is not a performance-based activity. God first wants us to be so that what we do reflects who we are, that is, His children. As Paul says in Romans 8, “we are being conformed to the image of His son.” When we are shaped into that image, what we do doesn’t really matter because whatever we do is an expression of the kingdom. We live in Jesus and he in us. We are led by the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit is a package deal: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22). Being unfruitful is to lack these qualities. Instead of love, there is hate, instead of joy, sadness, instead of peace, strife, instead of longsuffering, irritation, instead of kindness, meanness, instead of goodness, vindictiveness, instead of faithfulness, carelessness, instead of gentleness, disrespect, instead of self-control, instability.
The fruit of the Spirit is a love package. You can’t have love and not have all the other qualities on the list. You can do a lot of good things, but they mean nothing if they’re not coming out of a genuine, heart-felt love for people, the good, the bad and the ugly. In the day of judgment, Jesus spoke of those who expected to inherit the kingdom of heaven, standing on their good works, which included casting out demons, prophesying and performing miracles in his name, to which he said, “I never knew you.” They missed the point. They had not done the Father’s will which is that His children love others as themselves. It’s the narrow gate (Matthew 7). It’s hard to do. It’s hard for everybody. It’s hard for us. That’s why God continually makes it an issue. It is something we grow into, a transformational process in renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).
Paul said there were those who preached the gospel out of selfish ambition (Philippians 1), and to purposely hinder his own work. But he went on to say he was delighted that Christ was preached even though it was done in pretense, not sincerely. That is a perfect illustration of how we ought to love. He exposed the false teachers without bad-mouthing them, but rejoiced that Christ was preached, that the gospel was an issue regardless of the messenger’s motivation. Jesus will judge the false prophets in the end. He wants us to identify them so we aren’t drawn into deception, yet not be condemning. The goodness of God leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). We will join the Lord in judgment at the last day, but that time is not now. He came, and we are here today, to minister reconciliation to the world. We are called to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. God does the heavy lifting.
The Colossians were exhorted to be fruitful in every good work (1:10). We do good work because we’re fruitful, because we love the world the way God does. We don’t do good work in order to be fruitful. Good work is the demonstration of fruitfulness. If I give away all I have to feed the poor, it doesn’t mean a thing if love is not the motivator (1 Corinthians 13). James said our works are a product of faith, evidence of good fruit. He said that wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits….that the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:17-18). We are peacemakers. It’s about the way we treat people.
At the beginning of time, when Adam and Eve fell from their first estate, they were separated from God in a way they had not been previously, and the tree of life was made inaccessible to them and, as a result, to us as well. At the end of time, in the new Jerusalem, we find the tree of life accessible to man again (Revelation 22). It bears a different fruit each month. There is a lot of conjecture about what those fruits are, but we’re also told that the leaves are for healing the nations. On any bush or tree, leaves are the initial part of the fruit-producing process. They might be like herbs with medicinal qualities. Who knows? What we do know is that they have healing properties.
Since there is no sickness and death in the new creation, those leaves could be more preventive than curative. Esa says she gets healed when she holds a baby. She doesn’t mean that the baby cures her sickness but that there’s something deep down in her soul that responds wondrously to the innocence of a newborn. The baby does nothing but be a baby, just being its pure self. It’s not conscious of sin. It’s totally dependent on its mother. In the same way, we are totally dependent on Jesus without whom we can do nothing. In the end, it’s not about fruitfulness. It’s about abiding. We don’t grow the fruit. The fruit springs forth on its own. It’s effortless, mysterious, and marvelous.