GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 619 • March 10, 2021
PROPER FRUIT IS MORE THAN GREEN LEAVES AND SAVED SOULS
Luke 13:6-9, Mark 11:12-14, Matthew 21:18-23, John 15:1-9, Galatians 5:22-23
What is expected of fruit trees, maybe not so much from wild trees but certainly domesticated, planted and tended trees? One does not plant fruit trees for their leaves or their bark, or for firewood. The reason for planting and tending a fruit tree is that it produce its proper fruit in its proper season.
Jesus told a parable about an unproductive fig tree (Luke 13:6-9). It did not deserve its place because it had not and did not produce the desired and required fruit. There was no indication the tree had been neglected by the gardener, no evidence that it was diseased or harmed and hindered by other plants in the garden. It was simply unproductive – a barren tree that had no proper fruit. But the reason for having fig trees, exactly the same as the reason for having grape vines, date palms, or any other vine or tree or plant: for the fruit they can produce. The landowner said, about this particular fruitless tree: “Cut it down, remove it. It should not be allowed to deprive the productive trees of sustenance or hinder their existence.” At the gardener’s request it was given another year of careful attention and opportunity to fulfill its purpose, but it failed again It would be interesting to know the outcomes, but we are not told. But the lesson seems abundantly clear: unproductive, unfruitful occupiers in the Lord’s kingdom will not be tolerated – they will eventually be peremptorily removed.
On a different occasion, desiring food, the Lord approached a fig tree with an abundance of green leaves. But it offered no edible fruit and so he commanded it to wither and remain fruitless – and it was so (Mark 11:12-14, Matthew 21:18-23). What’s the lesson here? By the time the fig tree is fully leafed out it will have produced edible fruit – not mature figs but something that can be called pre-figs, edible and nourishing even if not the ultimate product, full-grown mature fruit. Green-leafed but fig-less trees are hypocrites, pretending to be and pretending to give something they are not actually doing. Why give them a “free ride” in the garden when they do nothing to justify their existence?
One more lesson taught by Jesus that bears directly upon our subject here is found in John 15:1-9. It is an obvious and direct metaphor of the Christian – anyone planted, grafted, or rooted in Christ (he calls himself the true vine but could also be called tree or anything the Father God planted), anyone connected and involved in fellowship with him, the Christ, is required to bear appropriate fruit. Failing in one’s responsibility as a fruit-bearer results in being burned. Don’t miss an important point here: providing fire for cooking, warmth, protection, etc is good in itself, but that is not the “fruit” expected and required.
The events and parables, similes and metaphors referenced here, may seem simple and easily grasped and the message self-evident: those who do not bear fruit can expect to be given up, discarded, and destroyed. But there is something much more profound, and the application may not be as easy as we think.
IMPORTANT FACTS, LESSONS, AND APPLICATIONS TO BE LEARNED
1. The nature or character and quality of the “fruit” expected from us. I’ve heard it said the fruit of a Christian is another Christian, and some insist “you can’t go to heaven alone, you’ve got to take somebody with you.” If that is true, there’s going to be a lot of church members who will not get to heaven – including (I say this from observation and experience) some of those who say saving others is required to get your own ticket punched.
Works, programs, building, etc produced by a church are not the fruit of the church although they may add to the perception of what the church is or is trying to be. Buildings are leaves, not fruits. No matter how attractive, costly, or ostentatious it may be a church building cannot preach, evangelize, or minister in any way to anybody. Buildings, including the most famous and fabulous cathedrals, cannot “do the work of the church.” Yet people continue to buy into the idea that if we build a better building, they (the people of the world) will come. Nonsense! If people come for the building they may marvel at the architecture and furnishings but they will not find God there, since God does not dwell in temples made by men’s hands (Acts 7:48). Nor will adding a theater, a basketball court and other sports equipment, a pantry, a soup kitchen, a health clinic, or other benevolent gestures save anybody or keep anyone from falling away from the church or from the faith. Those things are leaves, not fruits. One may wear a Christian mask without being a true Christian. The fruit of Christians is not the “works of the church” they do, not attending worship services and assemblies, praying piously, visiting the sick, ministering to widows and orphans, or even “giving sacrificially” to offset the church’s financial needs. The fruit is spiritual. It is becoming more Christlike, more godly, developing more of “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23), the character and qualities noted in 2 Peter 1:5-10, and much more. You can give your body, your goods, and your life for noble causes (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) but if godly love is not among your fruits it is all to no avail – you will be considered deficient in fruit.
2. We are individually as well as collectively responsible for our own fruit. Group works, or fruits, are certainly possible and appreciated. One cannot claim credit for what others do, nor can others be credited for what any person does. You can’t claim credit for the fruits or the works of others if you are not an active contributor and participant in those particular things. The mouse and the elephant can shake the bridge they cross together if they are both walking independently. The mouse doesn’t shake anything by riding on the elephant’s back.
3. The fruit is not determined by the results it produces in others. Yes, of course, we talk about “the fruits of our labors,” the results of our works, the products produced by the things we do or support others in doing. But your fruit is not so much evidence of what you do as what you are. “By their fruits you shall know them,” Jesus said, in the context of explaining who and what are true and false prophets, sheep and wolves, good and bad trees, to be accepted or avoided for what they are, more than what they do in evidence of what they are (Matthew 7:16-23).
4. Fruit-bearing is not a group responsibility or group activity but rather a conditional personal individual responsibility. There are no surrogates in Christianity or in bearing Christian fruit of the Spirit. Individual responsibility is emphasized throughout the scripture.
5. The reward is individual not collective, group, or categorical. There is a sense in which the church will be saved – Jesus is the savior of the body, the church (Ephesians 5:23) – but that does not necessarily imply or include all members of the church. Only the faithful – the true fruit-bearers – of the church will be saved. Even at the end in the final judgment the goats will be removed from the saved sheep with whom they mingled and with whom they shared the Lord’s blessings (Matthew 25:31-46).
6. Fruit-bearing is seasonal. Your season is while you are able, it includes all the time in which you are involved actively in doing what God wants you to do, becoming and being what God wants you to be (2 Peter 1:5-10). Faithful fruit-bearing continues until death (Revelation 2:10) – your season ends at your death.
7. Failure to bear fruit for the Lord in your personal season can be repented and forgiven but losses cannot be recovered. No doubt all of us regret not doing what we could have done and should have done in our past times. Other good things may yet be done, but what could have been done before can never be done now. One can still be good and get even better. But what one could have been but did become will haunt him: “What I could have been I didn’t, and I will forever be less than I could have been and doing less than I could have done.”
As a barren fruit tree is a disappointment to its owner a barren life in any of His people is a disappointment to God. When we see signs in others that they are departing from God and not fulfilling their responsibility for fruitful living so we try to warn them, restore them to the right way of God (Galatians 6:1-2) it should be a disappointment to us as it is to Him. We certainly need to examine ourselves carefully. We can detect barrenness in ourselves by watching for the same signs and applying to ourselves the same measurement used for others.