After a person has been a Christian for a while, it’s natural for them to start asking themselves, “how am I doing?” We ask it as a church also. “This is the Way…”, said Jesus. So, how’s that walk with Jesus going?
Some see only thorns and thistles and miss the small growing fruit underneath. Some have eyes that see fruit where no fruit is. And churches often like to measure fruit by the numbers.
As a church, we might measure ourselves by the increase of people attending worship on Sundays or the success of a particular program. If fifty people came to your BBQ Event, we might reckon it a success.
Because we live in a consumer-driven age, an age of individualism, this view of Christian living is on the rise. Loyalties are determined by how well you satisfy the consumers.
People will go to church, in many instances, only if the worship and the public speaking are riveting and captivating or entertaining. If a Minister can create a powerful experience through personality, music, and motivational chit-chat, he can grow a church and call it a success.
This is a bit of a problem.
Others measure their life and walk with Jesus, not by success, but by their level of commitment.
On this take, life is measured by a commitment to good doctrine or clean living, or your name on multiple rosters. But the “committed-not-successful” has its problems too.
The scriptures call us to not only be committed but also competent. Some people have enormous passion but, as Spurgeon once of it, “A conspicuous absence of brains”. They are genuine, earnest and diligent, and often very busy, but nothing seems to come of it.
Those who over-emphasise technique, cleverness and strategy in meeting consumer needs tend to sidestep a commitment to faithfulness by pointing to the numbers. Those who over-emphasise commitment, accuracy, crossing every ‘t’, dotting every ‘i’ might tend to excuse themselves for the lack of increase by pointing to the faithfulness. “I defy anyone to question our commitment and our faithfulness”, they say.
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Now, these two aspects of our lives are important and there is some truth in both of them.
In the book of Acts, somebody is counting: 120, 5,000, 3,000. Some is also calling the people to a life of faithfulness through repentance and baptism.
But they are not the whole story. They are not even part of the foundation.
In 1 Corinthians 3:6-9, Paul likens Christian service as a gardener at work. He told the Corinthian Church that they were God’s field in which some planted, others watered, while others reaped.
The gardener metaphor teaches us that success and faithfulness by themselves are insufficient criteria for evaluating our lives before God.
Gardeners must be faithful, but they must also be skilful or the garden will fail. There must be a plan of action that works toward an increase, and yet we are to keep in mind that the increase is determined by factors outside their control.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)
In John 15, when Jesus wanted to talk about living out our faith in a way that is pleasing to God and joyful for His disciples, He painted a similar word picture.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
Here, Jesus gives the bottom line. If we are not grounded and grafted in Him (that is, in a life governed from head to toe by His word and His love, cf. John 15:7–9), we remain unfruitful.
All thought of human will and pursuit as a means of living a fruitful life is here put to bed. We do not start out with the Word of God and then move on to something more interesting as we grow in Christ. From root to fruit, the word of God and the love of Christ are to be our adornment and the grounds of all our boasting in whatever fruit-bearing we may enjoy.
Of course, this doesn’t cause us to stand around in a paddock chewing thistle. It calls us to action as we see just a few verses on.
You are my friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:14)
God is glorified in us through the fruit we bear in obedience to His commands.
“These things I command you”, Jesus concludes in John 15:17, “…so that you will love one another”.
In other words, love one another and you will be abiding in His word. Abide in His word and you will be abiding in His love. Abide in His love and you will be abiding in Him.
The result, says Jesus, is joy.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)
The Joy here is not a function of personality or circumstance but the overflow of obedience and love, grounded in Jesus.
Here is where fruitfulness becomes visible.
Do people come away from you having experienced something beyond superficial joy? Are they witnessing something of God’s word in and through Jesus at work in you?
Do you yourself experience something more solid than superficial gladness? If not, have you wandered in some way from the vine?
Fruit-bearing is not a project and not the result of clever planning, manmade rules and tacky brochures. It’s not in the numbers and not in the level of commitment. Fruit-bearing is the overflow of a life adorned with the love of Jesus and grounded in obedience to the gospel of God day-by-day.
Let the fruit fall where it may.