One of the things that I’m wrestling with lately is the desire to see fruit overflowing out of my life. I see a lot of growth in the people I serve in worship ministries – spiritual growth, growth in musicianship, leadership and a deepening love for the church. I see growth in our congregation’s corporate expression of worship to God each week. I see growth in my son and daughter as I invest my life in raising them. I see growth in my relationship with my wife and with other friends. I see growth in my relationship with God evidenced by a deeper trust, stronger desire and greater love for
him and for others. I see increasing fruitful ministry as I mature in my role as a pastor. Wherever I’m investing my time, talents, energy, I want to see fruit. In a way, I see it as evidence of God’s power at work in and through me – the Spirit’s work in my life should be evidenced by fruit. Now here are some questions. My desires are strong, but are they right? Is all fruit physically measurable? Is produces? Are there times where I am called to faithfully invest where I won’t see fruit? What does the Bible have to say about fruit? One of the most frustrating things about my former occupation of teaching was investing so much and seeing very little returns, very little growth in the maturity of my students – not much fruit. I was looking so much deeper than just mastering the mathematical skills that I was supposed to teach. This was a very discouraging time in my life. In the same way, I often wonder about what fruit we should see coming out of our church, specifically, our worship services. The mega-church era has given us a vision for numerical growth and in some instances spiritual growth. There are hazy lines between God’s standards and the American standards of bigger is better. Yet the unleashing of the Spirit’s power on specific churches is in many cases undeniable and wonderful and certainly gives great glory to Christ as his kingdom expands. I am not interested in being a mega church, but I do want to the power of the Holy Spirit at work in and through me. I am concerned that I don’t see more people turning from darkness to the light – finding salvation in Christ. I need some perspective seeing what this looks like. I will look to the Bible. Jesus had a lot to say about fruit. The one that I would like to meditate on this morning is found in John 15.
“ “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.” (John 15:1-8, NIV)
First of all, I notice that Jesus declares his role, God’s role, and our role in this fruit bearing process.
1. Jesus role is to be the center – he is our source of life – the vine.
2. God is the gardener, the one who produces the fruit through the often painful process of pruning, cutting off branches that are useless and pruning the ones that have the potential to bear the fruit. He is the one who causes the growth.
3. We are the branches with the sole job to remain in the vine, that is to remain in Christ – to keep him at the center.
I’m already feeling some conviction here. I get my position wrong. I am so concerned with producing fruit, that I try to produce it on my own, thus not focusing on being totally connected to the vine. Jesus is very clear on this. “Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. . . apart from me you can do nothing” (vv.4,5) Another lesson from this Scripture is that there is a consequence for not bearing fruit, and it is steep. The danger is death and God’s righteous judgment. Jesus teaches elsewhere that life is not in just having leaves, but it is in bearing fruit. (Mark 11:12-26) The Pharisees were very religious. They looked and acted and had the reputation of being deeply religious. However, Jesus blasted them for not being truly spiritual because there was no fruit. Our pastor, Gary Inrig, preached an incredible sermon on this passage. Check it out at All Leaves, No Fruit. A final thing that I notice is that the purpose of fruit is two fold. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit,
showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (v.8) First and foremost, it is for God’s glory that we bear fruit. He’s producing it, and it gives him great pleasure to increase it all the more. Second, is that fruit is a witness to the world to see that we are Christ’s disciples. The first thing that comes to mind here is that this might be a key to our growth. Acknowledging that some fruit may not be the real fruit that God is producing, nevertheless, fruit that is flowing out of a person’s life or a church’s ministry is a powerful witness to the world. It catches people’s attention and turns them toward Christ. Knowing that there is way more to unpack here, I will conclude anyway with two points of action. First, I need to turn my desire to see fruit into an active desire to be fully connected to the vine – to cling to Christ and seek him with all of my heart. He needs to be the center and focus of my life. Perhaps that is demonstrated best when Paul, who certainly had a deep desire to see the fruit of the gospel, said, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” (Phil. 3:8) Paul was totally connected to the vine and it was evidenced in that the scripture he wrote was always centered on Christ and the gospel. If I am tightly connected to Christ, fruit will naturally grow. My work is to remain in the vine. This happens primarily through prayer, fellowship with other believers, being under the authority and teaching of God’s Word, and spending time in my own personal study and reflection of God’s Word. Second, I need to recognize that fruit is very important to God. The evidence of fruit is in itself a very act of worship bringing glory to God. Christ existed for God’s glory. By being wholly connected to Christ, we do too. Fruit is also a witness of Christ and the power of the gospel at work in and through our lives. God uses fruit produced through us to get people’s attention. Just as fruit grows and drops it’s seeds, our fruit is part of God’s plan to reach the world with the message of Christ. I can hear his voice proclaiming, “Hey world! Look at this! These are my disciples. They’re connected to my Son Christ. Isn’t it beautiful? Come and follow me and be my disciples as well.” I see in this study an affirmation that my vision for worship ministries is aligned with God’s will. That vision is, to glorify God, to serve his church, and to reach the lost. Abiding in the vine is where I must remain and grow if I am to see fruit from my life and through this ministry. After all, Christ says this a few verses later in the passage. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” (v.16) God, thank you for choosing me. Help me to remain in Christ and open to your pruning work. Produce fruit for your glory and that the world may see that I am your disciple! Amen. Next it would be good to examine the faithfulness in our calling even when our fruit is not externally measurable. Perhaps you might have some ideas on this?