As we continue our journey of identifying the essential qualities and characteristics of a Christlike disciple, we now come to the biblical reality that a disciple of Jesus is fruitful.
Perhaps the most familiar passages of Scripture that come to mind are the teachings of Jesus in the Upper Room, specifically in John 15, and Paul’s definition of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. However, before we take a look at these Scriptures, let’s pause to look at the definition of fruitful.
The typical dictionary definition of this adjective is “producing or abounding in fruit.” When someone or something is described as being fruitful, it gives one the vision of productivity described as abundant, bountiful, effective, flourishing, plentiful, and prolific. It could be descriptive of a conversation, the results of one’s work, or the overall impact of one’s life. The determining factor as to whether being fruitful is a good thing depends on the quality of the fruit. It usually means the substance and focus of the outcome are healthy and productive to all concerned. Fortunately, the dominant response to being fruitful is admiration and applause.
In the opening scene of the creation account in Genesis 1, we find that to be fruitful is the very first command that God gives to those who have been created in God’s image and likeness: Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:28).
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth….”
This Hebrew word describes an abundant increase, abounding production, and multiplication. God not only commanded humanity’s first couple to be fruitful and multiply, but He also commanded Noah and his sons to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 9:1, 7). The Lord God gave this same command to every creature on land, under the sea, and in the air (Gen. 1:22). This command appears to be God’s original intention for all of His creation.
As the One through whom everything was created sits among His disciples in the waning hours before His arrest, Jesus instructs his students on how to be fruitful in the days ahead after He is no longer with them in person.
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples…
You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. “
John 15:1-8, 16 [emphasis mine]
Let’s make several observations from this emotional and historic instruction:
Within the common Hebrew metaphor of a vineyard representing God’s people (Ps.80:8-18; Isa. 5:1-7; Ezek. 15:1-5; 19:10-14; Hos. 10:1-2), Jesus uses “fruit” eight times as a metaphor of those who genuinely exhibit and “bear” the character qualities of the True Vine.
While Jesus refers to Himself as the True Vine, He refers to his disciples as branches.
Jesus begins with those (branches) who do not bear fruit and increasingly advances to those who bear fruit, more fruit, and finally much fruit.
Bearing more fruit is essential to the vineyard’s purpose that the vineyard’s vinedresser (farmer or gardener) will prune the branches to bear more fruit. Pruning is for increased cultivation, not a means of discipline.
The key feature of a branch that is bearing fruit and increases in fruit-bearing is a branch that abides in the vine. (John uses this image of abiding in the vine seven times in this passage. Why? Because the branch cannot bear fruit of itself!)
Jesus claims those who bear much fruit prove to be His disciples, and as a result, God is glorified.
Jesus chose His disciples to bear healthy fruit that would remain and impact the lives of others.
Let’s take a brief look at just a couple of the implications of these observations:
A disciple’s responsibility is not to produce the fruit but to abide in Jesus, the True Vine. He is the One who produces the fruit in and through us as we abide in Him. As His branches, we have the sacred privilege of bearing His fruit. Therefore, we don’t bear the heavy burden of trying to produce our own fruit. Instead, as we abide and remain in intimate fellowship with Jesus, allowing His life to flow through us, we naturally will bear and display the fruit and character qualities of Jesus Himself! Jesus clarifies that if we are not abiding in Him and intentionally having His words abide in us, we cannot live out God’s purposes for our lives as disciples (vv.4-8).
Being fruitful is not an option for a disciple of Jesus. In verse 16, Jesus claims that He has chosen us and appointed us to go and bear lasting fruit. “Appointed” means assigning or designating someone to a particular task, function, or role. Therefore, we must invest time in Scripture to understand how we can fulfill this role of bearing fruit.
I would encourage you to use the following descriptions and categories of fruit and their references in Scripture as you launch into understanding your task as a disciple of Jesus.
Fruit in Our Character – Galatians 5:22-23; Philippians 1:11
Fruit of Our Words of Praise & Thanksgiving – Hebrews 13:15
Fruit of The Gospel Transforming Lives – Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:15; Colossians 1:6
Fruit of a Godly Life Trained by Discipline – Hebrews 12:11
Fruit of God’s Kingdom Qualities – Matthew 21:43
Fruit of Good & Righteous Deeds – Matt. 7:17; Rom. 7:4; 15:28; Col. 1:10; James 3:18
Fruit in Making Other Disciples – John 15:8; Matthew 28:18-20
As I close our reflection of this vital characteristic of a Christlike disciple, I want to give you a living example of one who intentionally fulfills his appointed role as a fruit-bearing disciple of Jesus in practical ways. His name is Kevin, and for the past fifteen years, I have watched him pour out his love for Jesus into the lives of young men and their families.
Kevin loves his “day job” of helping people and organizations with their insurance needs, but he is best known for coaching boys from nine to twelve years old in baseball. Some of the boys Kevin has coached are now in their early twenties, and they consider him their pastor and mentor in life. Throughout the years, Kevin has taught these young men more about character development in Christ and what it looks like to follow Jesus than about the fundamentals of baseball. He has intentionally made time in his busy schedule to listen to their struggles, pray with them, and pour God’s Word into their lives.
Since many of these boys are now in their early twenties, you may find Kevin officiating their weddings because he means that much to them. I have lost track of how many of these young men he meets with weekly for either a breakfast or a lunch so that he can be Jesus to them. Sometimes Kevin will ask these young men to write a letter or note to help them communicate what is deep within their hearts. Recently, he asked them to write a note that began with, “I wish my parents knew…” They were to finish the sentence to reveal feelings and issues they just didn’t feel comfortable talking about in person. After one young man shared his heart, he decided to change the topic from his parents to the impact that Kevin had made upon his life.
“I wish Coach Kevin knew… how much his presence in my life has shaped me to become a better man. He has shown me things my dad can’t because of the way he was raised or things in his life he has gone through over the last four years. Things like the work ethic that he has taught me, the impact he has had on my relationship with others around me, and the way I think much more long term with my actions now because of his presence in my life.”
“When you produce much fruit, you are My true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father!”
This post originally appeared at https://thebonhoefferproject.com/weeklycolumn/fruitful