For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. (Luke 6:44)
I love how our God is so immensely practical. The world around us is a constant opportunity, a living ‘for instance’ of His principles, power and provision. Throughout the gospels, Jesus teaches by using rich, earthy parables and illustrations, all of which point us to the examples God has woven into the very fabric of the world to remind us of who He is and of the principles He has given us as His guide to living. Like fruit trees – a simple yet eloquent motif which offers such rich ‘fruit.’
We can all easily agree that, logically, a specific type of fruit will be found on a specific type of tree. Man may be able to fiddle genetics to a certain degree, but the original ‘life’ cannot be forged by human hands, nor would any hybrid have any kind of relevance without the original. We may ‘replicate’ within the limits God allows, but we cannot create. Reproduction remains God’s sovereign work, and His principles, throughout nature, dictate that fruit will always be of the type of the original.
Many sermons and teachings use this particular verse – in conjunction with the verses which follow – as a guideline for recognising ‘good’ fruit from ‘bad.’ This isn’t wrong, and can be a helpful guide in spiritual discernment, but on reflecting on these words I realised that if offers so much more.
There are literally hundreds of different kinds of fruit trees, perhaps even some we many never have seen before. Each type has several sub-types – different kinds of apples, for example – and each of these sub-types are easily identified. The thing about fruit is that we can recognise it right off. That’s an orange. That’s an apple. That’s a banana. Even if we don’t know an apple tree from a plum tree, show us the fruit and confusion is gone. Fruit has an important role in the way God works in the world, both physically and spiritually.
The fruit tree imagery offers us insight into us as believers. A seemingly favourite expression – particularly in sales circles – is that we should compare apples with apples. While the phrase may be overused, that doesn’t alter the basic truth of it. It essentially highlights the truth that ‘fruit’ cannot all be lumped into a single basket and judged the same. It also reminds us that the trees – the types – are very different.
So many of us strive to be like so-an-so. Yes, it’s good to use the examples of mature, strong Christians to guide us in our spiritual growth. But this is a guide only, and cannot determine our spiritual identity or our future ministry. We may aspire to be a grape vine, but if we’re created a pear, that’s only going to create conflict, hurt and disappointment. It is God alone who creates and defines the nature of each particular tree in His orchard, and by extension, the type of fruit we will bear. The example of the fruit tree is that it highlights the wide range of possibiities.
This diversity and specificity is telling. We may have four ‘apple trees’ in a fellowship group, but they retain distinctly different, very individual identities. The basic nature of the fruit may be the same, but the specific nature is very different. While some apples are perfect for munching as they are, others are grown with cooking in mind. They’re both apples, but their individual nature defines their individual purpose. God’s grace is absolute and complete. He leaves nothing to chance.
Every tree has a similiar structure – strong root system, strong stem, strong branches. They produce leaves, blossoms and ultimately fruit. That’s the ‘ideal’ scenario. Fruit trees grow best if pruned. The focus of the orchard owner is to produce the optimum harvest from each and every tree. That requires feeding, watering, fertilising, dressing and pruning. None of this is haphazard. All of this has a very specific purpose in mind. Nothing is accidental. Every single thing we encounter in our lives is part of the process of bringing forth the optimum harvest. Our God desires that all of as are fruitful. It is part of His total purpose for our lives.
I have so often seen men and women disappointed and disillusioned because they – and their leadership – perhaps did not fully understand how critical this issue of fruit is. There may be a need in a fellowship, for which a lemon tree is the right fit. But there are a couple of peach trees available, so they’re ‘shaped’ to fill the need. They may be committed, zealous, may love God totally and completely and have the right servant heart, they may be supported by the leadership and encouraged and tended by the body. Everything could be present to realistically expect success – the right fruit. But a peach tree can never produce lemons, no matter what we do. The result is painful, both for the person and the body. No matter how well intentioned, the fall out is often severe.
This is the reason why we’re encouraged to make our calling and election sure. Yes, we should be willing to serve the body. That is part of our purpose. But it is the Master Gardener who decides the how and what of it. Consider how long it is before a tree really produces fruit, and then produces a full harvest. It’s not an overnight thing. In any situation, the gardener needs first to spend time with the tree – shaping, pruning, feeding – in order to raise up a tree that will fulfill its purpose.
Willingness to serve and desire to serve are both expected of us. But it’s as important to accept that we don’t have a say in where and how that may be. It’s easy to overlook the fact that everything we will be called upon to do will be beyond our expectations. God does that to ensure that He is glorified. We can plant a top quality, superbly strong and healthy apple seedling, but if we don’t raise it right, we can expect little to no fruit. The fruit tree doesn’t decide what it’s going to be one day and alter its goals accordingly. It doesn’t strive or struggle to bring forth fruit. It’s connected to the sap, and the sap guides it into the natural, instinctive response to what is going on inside.
When asked to serve, our first response should always be willingness tempered with the truth that God alone appoints His servants. The only place to find certainty and assurance is being connected with the sap. Listening for God, listening to God and walking only in that. There will always be a fleshly uncertainty in anything, because part of us is flesh and will persist in intruding. But being sure comes from within. It’s a deep, certain knowledge imparted by the ‘sap’ – Christ in us and His Holy Spirit at work in us – that reveals what we are called to be.
It’s important to understand that our fruit can never determine what we will be – identify what we’re ‘good at’ and use that to find our calling. It may be that God will use various skills, talents and experiences that He has given us, but His call will always be bigger than that. What we achieve will never decide who we are. Our fruit will confirm our calling, not determine our calling. The particular calling God has for each of us lies not in what I think I’m called to do but what He decides. Disillusionment comes in when we determine and expect grapes and end up with bananas. We cannot alter what God has ordained in us. We can live, and even experience a certain degree of success, outside of this. But we cannot change His purpose for our lives. Only He can do that, according to His sovereign will.
What a joy it is to know that God’s ‘blueprint’ is already perfect. If we could learn to live in daily surrender to the life of Christ within us, to set aside our own aspirations and expections, things like disappointment and failure would no longer have relevance. An abundant harvest is an equally joyful thing. It’s a sign of blessing, of promise for the future, of provision and of care. The fruit we bear for Jesus is so much more than we can grasp intellectually. It is part of an eternal plan, an eternal cycle, an eternal purpose. It is provision for those in need and a promise for those still to come.
Whether an apple, orange or mango, each of us is perfectly place, lovingly shaped and carefully nurtured to reveal the full, measureless grace of God in a hungry world.
Forgive me, Father, for times when I may have tried to do my own thing, where I’ve decided a course and expected You to follow me. Help me to hear and to listen, to remain one with the life of Christ within me. Help me set aside self and follow Your truth so that I may be what You have purposed and bring forth the fruit that will glorify You and speak only of who and what You are.