Bearing Fruit for God
When the subject of bearing spiritual fruit is brought up, many times the discussion centers around the topic of personal evangelism. While one can certainly agree that our talking with and leading others to Christ is an indispensable part of our lives as Christians, we are in need of reminder that our fruitfulness as Christians is not limited to our sharing of the gospel. As always, we need to let the Bible speak for itself, and the Bible says much about bearing fruit for God.
As branches of the true Vine, we know that we are expected to bear much fruit for God, and we are pruned/tended to do that very thing. “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15.2) Understandably, we do not wish to be taken away for being unfruitful! We must look in our Bibles as what is being described as being fruitful. If we stay in John 15, we can see that the first part of being fruitful is abiding in Jesus. “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.” (v.5) If we are to be fruitful for God, we must abide in Jesus! This means following in His footsteps, being disciples (learners/followers) of Him and following His commands!
If we are raised with Him after burial in baptism and having our sins washed away, we are to bear fruits “in keeping with repentance” (John 3.8). Being a new spiritual man means we put to death the works of the flesh, and begin producing the fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5.22) Paul’s earnest desire for the Philippian brethren was that they be filled with the fruit of righteousness: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil. 1.9-11) If we walk as God would have us to walk, we will be “…fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Col. 1.10)
We often read 2 Peter 1.5-7 as how the Christian should improve or supplement their faith, and rightly so. But notice v.8 with being fruitful in mind: “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Producing and striving for the qualities found in v.5-7 above this (faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, love) keeps us from being unfruitful, therefore they must be involved in being fruitful for God!
This discussion would not be complete nor scriptural without recognizing that sharing the gospel with our friends and neighbors is also an essential aspect of being fruitful for God. The Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 speaks to this fact, that the person who hears the word and understands it “indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” This of course does not imply that one of these is more faithful to God or more deserving than another (see Matthew 25), but the gospel message that is accepted and obeyed should provoke the Christian to share that message. “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8.15) We know that Christians are tasked with spreading the gospel message to the world around them: “How they will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10.14)
One danger of limiting our spiritual fruitfulness to our spreading of the gospel is that we start to use how many new Christians (or Christians brought back to the fold) as our metric for how much spiritual fruit we produce. When the vast majority of people reject the gospel message (which they will), we then begin to feel that we are being spiritually unfruitful, and become discouraged and disillusioned as a result. The above passages help in our understanding of being fruitful for Christ, and can provide encouragement for us. The example of Tabitha in Acts 9 can help us to understand this. She is counted as a disciple, and “full of good works and acts of charity.” (v.36) When Peter arrives in v.39, the women standing around her were holding “tunics and other garments that Dorcas (Tabitha) had made when she was alive.” The type of woman and disciple that Tabitha was counted to her credit in the scriptures. We can look to the examples of the Prophets, who spread their message of repentance and reconciliation to God, and many times had it fall on deaf ears. We would not call them unfruitful for their awful “response average” to their message.
At the other extreme, there are those who feel their spiritual fruitfulness is completely satisfied without engaging in personal evangelism. In other words, as long as they demonstrate within their own life the qualities found in the above passages, they need not worry themselves with spreading the gospel to their friends and neighbors. This is also not scripturally defensible, as so many times are we told to go and spread the gospel message. The parable of the Sower doesn’t make any sense without the Sower!!! When Jesus explains the parable of the sower, he does not address the sower directly, yet he does describe what he says: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom…” (Matt. 13.19) How will the world hear the word unless we spread it?? The world today is just like the world of the first century, ready for harvest. If we claim to be people who follow Jesus, people who will pick up our crosses and die with Him, we must also be laborers in his field. “Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Matt. 9.37-38)
Hopefully this article hasn’t caused any consternation or confusion, nor has it made anyone comfortable with their own current level of spiritual work. We need to remember what happens to the branches that are unfruitful, or what happens to the churches who do not repent and turn back to God. We must start bearing fruit for Christ, and hopefully through the scriptures we can learn what being fruitful to God looks like.