Bearing Fruit That Will Last
Often I reflect on the life of Paul and wonder what motivated him to keep on going with such zeal, even after being beaten, stoned or whipped. What really was behind the statement from Acts 20:24, "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." As I have pondered this in my heart I have come to the conclusion that the Apostle Paul was obsessed with bearing fruit for God. After all, this was God's agenda in creating us to begin with. John 15:16 states, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will last." In the beginning God commanded man to be fruitful and multiply. Romans 7:4 gives the reason why Yeshua died, and why it is necessary to reckon ourselves dead to the law. "So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of the Messiah that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God." In the dialogue that Paul has with himself about whether he prefers dying and going home to be with Yeshua, or remaining he concludes that to go on living in the body would mean fruitful labour for him. Paul saw that he staying alive was better for his friends and therefore he was convinced that it was not his time to go. His only concern was that Yeshua would be glorified in his body, whether by life or by death.
It seems then that fruit is important to God and that most of His actions can be examined in terms of increasing future fruit bearing (see the whole of John 15). We are even commanded to rejoice in our suffering because of the fruit that will be borne in our lives as a result of perseverance (Romans 5:1-5; James 1:2-4). Think of the suffering Joseph underwent and look at the answer he gave his remorseful brothers. He told them that it was not they who sent him to Egypt, but God so that many lives may be spared (fruit). The Apostle Paul looked at his imprisonment as a means for the gospel being spread and for boldness being inspired in the saints when they heard of his courage in the face of suffering (Phil. 1:12-14). I think if one were to carefully ponder over the events in his or her life they would find that God is working towards more and more fruitfulness. Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it remains alone.
Fruitfulness is given to Moses as a blessing of the covenant but, as we will find, fruitfulness comes with some conditions:
"If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit." Lev 26:3-4
"I will look on you with favour and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you. You will still be eating last year's harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new." Lev 26:9-10
Perhaps it would be helpful to define what God means by fruit. I believe that all fruit is somehow an expansion of God's kingdom rule as His character takes over more and more of His creation. This fruit manifests in us first as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and self-control. Second, it manifests when we extend his rule in the building up of the members of the body of believers into the fullness of the Messiah. Finally, it manifests in the spreading of the gospel, i.e. more and more come under the rule of Yeshua and take on more and more of His character. God's Kingdom expands as more and more people come out of the kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of His son, Yeshua. This happens as we come to understand and appropriate more of God's abundant grace in our life and then proclaim this grace to others. Colossians 1:6 "All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth."
FRUIT BEARING AND COVENANT FAITHFULNESS
There are two main conditions for bearing fruit that will remain. One key for fruit bearing is maintaining covenant relationships, the first being our covenant relationship with God. Yeshua said that abiding in the vine is necessary for fruit bearing and fruit bearing releases joy. He said that if one does not abide in the vine one will not bear fruit that will last into eternity. Then he states that one continues to abide in the vine through loving him and obeying his commandments (John 15). Bearing fruit is inevitable if one is abiding in the vine -- it is a given. Hence, when we stop abiding, then our ability to bear fruit which will remain ceases. Communion or intimacy is necessary for fruit bearing in the natural as well as in the spirit. If we fall into sin and do not repent of it, death sets in, for the wages of sin is death. Death ultimately is the inability to commune. The end result of covenant breaking is broken fellowship and barrenness. We must be zealous to repent so fellowship with God and with one another will not be broken. God hates sin as it breaks off communion, intimacy and fruit bearing. When one comes to understand that relationships are the most important value in life then one comes to understand why God hates divorce or breaking faith with one another. If we can really hear God's heart in this matter we would be diligent to confront sin in our own life first, and then to confront sin when we see it in others. If it is our desire to see another obtain the blessing of fruitfulness, we will be motivated to love enough to confront and will overcome the fear of man. We confront sin in another person not because they have somehow put a wrench in our agenda but because we truly care about the other person fulfilling his or her destiny in God. Sin separates friends, family members and congregants and this grieves the heart of God. By faith we obey. To fear the Lord is to hate that which is evil and breaking faith with one another is evil. We all sin against one another but acts of sin do not fall into the category of covenant breaking unless we fail to confront sin and/or repent of sin, especially the sin of rebellion.
FRUIT BEARING AND SUBMISSION TO AUTHORITY
The second major condition for bearing fruit follows on the heels of covenant keeping. Obedience is stated as a condition for abiding in the vine. How can we walk this out practically? When Yeshua said that if we loved him we could keep his commandments, this includes his commands to submit to and/or obey his delegated authorities. Satan tempts us to break faith towards God through deceptive thoughts accusing the character of God. "How can a loving God allow such evil and suffering? God is really not for you; look at how he is restricting you. The law was given to keep you back from having fun. God is really out to control you." He is very subtle in that he often doesn't direct these thought towards God head on but has you focus on human authority, his representatives on earth. He blinds us to the fact that if God has placed a person in authority over us (parents, government officials, bosses, husbands, pastors, or apostles) then to disobey them would be to disobey God. Now of course, obedience is conditional (upon scripture and conscience) but a heart of submission and intent to obey is always appropriate and commanded. Many of us wonder why we are not being fruitful and we will find that often we have broken faith with another, usually an authority.
Ephesians 5:22-32 - Wives with husbands
Ephesians 6:1-4 - Children with parents
Ephesians 6:5-9 - Slaves with their masters (employee with employer)
Romans 13:1-7 - Citizen with civil authorities
Hebrews 13:17 - Congregant with elder or pastor
In these headship/submission spheres it is easy to harden one's heart and not submit or obey. Often we do not like to obey unless we agree with what is being required of us. We second guess the authority and are often slow to respond, feeling justified in our non-compliance. Often the authority is judged as being not good or loving and therefore cannot be trusted. We want to be the one in control. If Satan can deceive us with the secret power of lawlessness (getting us to focus on the man, his weaknesses or sin, instead of on the person's position as a delegated authority under God) tempting us to rebel, he has won. We cannot tolerate the sin of lawlessness in our own hearts and must have courage to confront it in others out of a love for God and His Kingdom fruitfulness.
Connecting to and submitting to five-fold ministry is intricately related to fruit bearing as through their ministry we receive an impartation for growth. Ephesians 4:12-15 says that as we give ourselves to being equipped by the five-fold ministry we will come to unity in the faith and become mature. Out of this maturity we will speak the truth in love and thereby grow up into Him who is the head. We will abide in Him and not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine or temptation. The apostolic heart is focused on fruitfulness and becomes the power of the spirit of Elijah where the hearts of the fathers are turned toward the children and the hearts of the rebellious towards the wisdom of the fathers. God is breaking off barrenness in his people before He returns. He wants fruit! Let us be diligent to repent of any lawlessness in our own heart and no longer shrink back from lovingly confronting it when we see it others. We can no longer tolerate this sickness in the body of the Messiah. God wants fruit! Let us be diligent to be covenant keepers, maintaining faith. We are happier and more satisfied when we are bearing fruit for God and so is He!