Have you ever wandered among apple trees in an orchard, or among the grapevines in a vineyard? If so, have you ever heard or seen them struggle to produce their fruit? It’s quiet, isn’t it? There is no sound of struggle, no grunts of effort because fruit trees and vines just naturally produce their fruit. Only outside forces, such as parasites or drought, can affect them. And they only produce according to their kind—apple trees produce apples and grapevines produce grapes. A pear tree never produces peaches, or a lemon tree grapefruit.
Jesus spoke many times about fruit trees and fruit. He used them as metaphors for righteousness and spiritual authenticity. He told his disciples that they needed to be attached to the vine in order to produce fruit (John 15:1-8), and that the fruit they produced was a sign of the nature of their relationship with him. He also told a parable involving a gardener and an owner (Luke 13:6-8). The owner was upset to find that his fig tree wasn’t producing any figs. He ordered the gardener to cut it down, but he prevailed upon the owner to give him one additional season to see if he could have success in getting it to produce fruit.
All of Jesus’ references to fruit focus on the value of the tree based on the fruit it produces. If it does not produce, it is of no value in the end. Perhaps that is why we are tempted to try hard to produce our own fruit. We don’t want to be considered worthless, so we attempt to prove our worth. This is a common strategy among many, but it is not effective. We try to be a good person; we try to do good things, but for the wrong reasons. We are trying to earn God’s favor, to hear that, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
However, we must remember that in his teaching of the vine and branches in John 15, he says we can do nothing apart from him (John 15:4-5), that we can produce no lasting fruit. The truth is, the only way we can produce fruit that is honorable to the Lord is to allow his Holy Spirit to do the production work. Like an apple tree, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and not quenching his work in us, we will naturally produce the fruit of the Spirit. Our trying, our effort is to be focused on staying attached to the vine, to abide in the Lord. That is how we produce the fruit that is pleasing in the Lord’s eyes.
We are a works-oriented culture. Our worth is found in what we do and how much success we have doing it. Naturally, our Enemy is going to seek to exploit this. He is going to try to turn our focus away from abiding to doing, just as he did to Martha. She was all about doing and she was working hard. From our perspective, it is easy to laud her because she was serving the Lord. And we tend to give kudos to those who work hard in the church, and, typically, it is work-oriented events, such as service projects that attract the most interest. However, prayer meetings are rarely popular. Yet, what did Jesus say about Martha’s sister, Mary? When Martha complained about her not helping with the meal preparation, Jesus commended her choice of giving her attention to him and what he taught. Martha was working hard, while Mary was abiding.
It is counterintuitive to view work as a shortcut, a way to avoid doing what the Lord requires. Yet, if we listen carefully to him, we will see this as true. What he needs from us is more abiding, which will enable us to naturally produce the fruit of the Spirit. He will produce this fruit by transforming us on the inside. As we abide in the Lord more and more, and impede the work of the Spirit less and less, then the outcome is that our lives begin to generate fruit naturally without trying. We become more loving, more joyful, more at peace, more patient, more kind, a better person, more faithful, gentler, and more self-controlled. We become like the fruit tree or vine; we just naturally produce the character traits of God in our lives without trying. They become a part of who we are rather than something we try to do.
© Jim Musser 2020