Along about this time every year we’re enjoying Palisade peaches and Olathe corn and fresh tomatoes off of our own plants, and then several of you start bringing zucchini and yellow squash and cucumbers – our neighbor has a pear tree and grapevines and blackberries and plums and he says feel free to pick any of the fruit that’s on your side of the yard. It just doesn’t get any better.
I started thinking about that in the middle of some of our readings over the past couple of weeks. Passages from OT and NT that use that agricultural language and imagery to describe what it’s like (or should be like) to be a part of God’s kingdom.
This imagery encompasses everything from root to fruit. Think of all the parables and sayings of Jesus talking about planting seeds and gathering a harvest. In the OT the prophets continually described Israel as God’s vineyard or field that he has planted and nurtured and then looks for a crop. As God’s people grew more and more rebellious and disconnected with him, the language grew stronger and stronger:
I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.
Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones. Their heart is deceitful, and now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will demolish their altars and destroy their sacred stones.
But it was especially the passage we read in Jeremiah 17 that caught my attention: (vss. 5-8)
This is what the LORD says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
“But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
What incredible imagery – and what a wonderful promise.
You’ve probably been out on the plains, where water is scarce, rain is infrequent, and plants are short and scrubby. Their roots are shallow and their vegetation is withered and sparse.
And Jeremiah says, that’s what it’s like when you turn away from God and depend on yourself. Life is parched and your roots are shallow and existence is a struggle.
I know – you’re thinking, I know plenty of people who don’t know God who seem to have a grip on life and have more than I have – they’ve got a bigger house and nicer cars and go on fancier vacations – they’ve got family and friends and life seems to be working out just fine for them. I think Jeremiah’s overstating the case.
And you’re right. There are lot of worldly people who seem to be prospering. But if I understand Jeremiah, he’s saying that’s all an illusion – all of the stuff doesn’t make for prosperity, smiles don’t make for happiness. And if you dig very deep into people’s lives you find they live in pretty shallow soil. Their prosperity can be wiped away in a single downturn of the stock market, their happiness can evaporate with a single phone call. Their world is built on stuff that can be swept away with a moment of bad news.
In God’s kingdom prosperity isn’t about money and possessions; happiness isn’t about circumstances. The abundant life is a life filled with the kinds of things that can’t be shaken by a single phone call with bad news or a downturn in the stock market. And it’s that kind of life that Jeremiah described next.
The person who trusts in the Lord, whose life is sunk deep into God’s love and care has a joy that goes deeper than the momentary circumstances that come our way. My prosperity isn’t dependent on the status of my bank account or my retirement savings. Jeremiah says the person who has a close and intimate relationship with God is like the tree planted by the river that has roots that run deep, that draws its sustenance from the very source of life itself. And so, when drought comes its leaves are still green, when hard times descend it still bears fruit.
And so it is with the man or woman of God who knows where the source of life is. It’s not if, but when difficult times come in our lives – like they do in everybody’s life. But our roots are sunk deep into God’s love and instead of drying up and withering, we have an abundance that comes from somewhere other than money and possessions. Our joy comes from knowing that God is holding us close through even the worst of times. We know that life is about so much more than our earthly existence.
And Jeremiah says, when we live a life like that we continue to bear fruit. And it was interesting that on nearly the same day, we also read the passage in John 15:1-8, where 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, and I will 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 a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is 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 given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
Bearing fruit. Jesus said that is the evidence that you are his disciple. When you look in your life, do you see the evidence? Oh, I know – you come to church, you put a check in the plate, you even read your Bible and pray every day. But do you bear fruit? That’s the real test.
Illustration – Potato Peelings
Do you know what real fruit looks like? Not surprisingly it looks a whole lot like Jesus. The Bible describes fruit bearing in several places:
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. (Eph. 5:8-10)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23)
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8)
Bearing fruit is the process of what Paul described in 2 Cor. 3:17-18 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Bearing fruit is becoming more and more like Jesus in how you think, how you act, how you speak, how you respond to life. It is incorporating those qualities and virtues that are Christlike into your own nature: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, righteousness, truth, perseverance, godliness.
These are not random and arbitrary, but a very specific description of what a life that is filled with Christ will look like. It’s like a paint-by-number. You get the outline and general picture, but as you start to fill in the colors the pieces start to come together. The more we fill in those areas that are missing, the more recognizable the picture becomes, and the finished product is very beautiful – not identical to the original, but so much so that you immediately recognize what it is representing.
Let’s be clear, though. We’re not talking about the self-made man or self-made woman. You know the kind – who by their own willpower and strength of character becomes the better person. This week I’m going to be more patient, next week more self-controlled, the next week more humble! I’m already pretty good, all I need are a few upgrades here and there, a little sanding off of a rough edge or two, polishing up – and I’m there. That’s like gluing plastic fruit on a tree. It might fool the casual observer, but the fruit isn’t the real thing. No peelings in the potatoes.
Illustration – Just the Site
This is from beginning to end a remodeling project conducted by the Holy Spirit. He is the one who does the demolition and remodeling. It is the fruit of the Spirit that begins to fill our lives and characterize our behavior.
And it happens, not because we’ve decided to start adding virtues, but because we have surrendered our lives. Look back for a moment at John 15:4-5 - Remain in me, and I will 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 a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
Your part in the process is to remain in Jesus. That word “remain” implies a lot more than an occasional pit stop at church to get your batteries recharged. It’s not a weekend visit and then back to the real world. Remain means you sink your roots deep and your place is permanent. Christ isn’t just an occasional acquaintance, but a constant companion. He is the foundation of your life. He is the vine, you are the branch. You draw your sustenance from him, your very life flows from the source.
How can I say it more clearly? If you are not in a daily, intimate relationship with Jesus, you cannot bear fruit. And if you do not bear fruit, your spiritual life is in deadly peril. If you are not becoming more like Jesus, you are becoming less like him.
But if you remain in Jesus, the fruit will come. You can’t force it, any more than an apple tree can force an apple. An apple tree bears apples because that’s what God created an apple tree to do. A follower of Jesus bears fruit because that is what God created him or her to do. We focus on being what God created us to be and doing what God created us to do.
Paul wrote this: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph. 2:8-10)
We’re not saved by works, but works are the evidence that we are saved – the demonstration that we are God’s workmanship. Just as the apples are evidence of an apple tree, everything that flows from our lives – the thoughts, the words, the actions, the attitudes – these are the evidence that we are children of our Father.
Illustration – No picture exists
Posted on Sun, August 28, 2011
by John Roberts