Part of our confusion about fruitfulness stems from our bent to QUANTIFY everything as a measure of success – number of converts, bodies in pews, churches in the denomination, etc. Certainly our society’s penchant for focusing on the bottom line is no help here. Add to that an incomplete view of our Scripture’s use of fruitfulness and it’s no wonder our view is blurred.
The Old Testament uses fruitfulness almost exclusively to refer to having babies – progeny. “Fruitful” is used 13 times in Genesis, and 12 of those times specifically refer to increasing in number, mostly through bearing offspring. From God’s first instructions to the animals He created to his promises to the patriarchs, fruitfulness was specifically linked with an increase of numbers.
Only a few references hint at God’s deeper view of what it means for us to be fruitful in His kingdom. Psalm 72:3 links fruit with righteousness and Isaiah 32:17 extends that application: “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.” But perhaps the clearest reference comes in Hosea 10:12: “Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers the righteousness on you.”
Fruit, here is seen as an expression of righteousness that comes from the unfailing love of the Father. Here Scripture’s definition of fruitfulness deepens beyond a simplistic increase of numbers and deals with the depth of our character.
In the New Testament, the tables turn completely. There is only one reference to fruitfulness as expanded numbers (Colossians 1:6), and that passage deals with the fruitfulness of the gospel. When the fruitfulness of INDIVIDUAL lives is addressed, however, only one definition is used: Fruitfulness is the demonstration of God’s transforming power in the character of his people.
John the Baptist encourages us to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” In Philippians 1:11 Paul exhorts believers to be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” In Ephesians 5, he contrasts the difference between the fruit of the light (goodness, righteousness, and truth) with the fruitfulness of darkness.
Finally, in Galatians 5:22, 23, a passage long revered for its profound simplicity and clarity, he lists the fruits that God desires from His people:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Fruitfulness has nothing to do with how many Bible studies I’ve taught for how many people I’ve lead to Christ, nor has it any attachment to any other religious activity. FRUIT IS BORNE IN OUR CHARACTER. It is the transformation of our lives so that we reflect God’s nature to the culture around us. In John 15, the call to fruitfulness and the command to love one another are one and the same.
When we love the way God loves, we bear the fruit of His kingdom. It’s what He wants to work into us through the long process of growth and maturity. The fruits of the Spirit are not what we can make ourselves do for a moment, but what God makes us to be for a lifetime. At its fulfillment, this fruit is how we freely respond to people and situations. Obviously, this kind of fruit is not produced overnight. Learning how to respond like Christ is fashioned in us over time as God walks us through our joys and disappointments, all the while transforming us from the very depths of our being.
Our ability to reveal God’s image to the people around us is more important than our worship, our prayers, our religious deeds, our devotions, our spiritual gifts, even our acts of evangelism. For without this fruitfulness there is no spiritual work that counts, no evangelism that succeeds, and no gift that prevails. All of these other aspects are valuable in our growth in God’s kingdom, but these are not the fruit that God seeks in our lives. If the objective of our time in worship or Bible study is not to allow God to transform us into His image with ever increasing glory, then it means nothing.
From Tales of the Vine by Wayne Jacobsen
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