More and more these days, when people ask me what I think about this or that issue or person or whatever – usually something that is a hot button issue or a controversial or new thing – I find myself saying one phrase over and over: “look to the fruit.”
It’s a phrase that Jesus said in the book of Matthew while warning us to watch for those who would lead us astray, who would lead us from the path of knowing him. It’s in Matthew 7 which is one of my favourite passages of Jesus’ teaching (okay so I always say that about all of them but I mean it every time!). Jesus is teaching us about how to live our lives, how to be and how to do – it’s clear and good and beautiful. Right at the end of the sermon, the entire crowd bursts into applause because they had never heard teaching like this and they knew he was the rare teacher who not only taught it but LIVED it. (Oh, I love our Jesus!)
So he says there in the middle of that sermon that if you want to know about the health of the tree, look at the fruit. A diseased tree won’t bear healthy fruit, no matter how good it looks to the outside eyes. And a healthy tree will bear healthy fruit.
I’ve never forgotten that story. He follows up that tree analogy with that famous teaching about the builder who built a house on the sand – the house looked fine but when the rain and the winds came, the house was blown down because there was no foundation. It’s a similar idea. Either we know Jesus or we don’t, either Jesus is the cornerstone of our lives or he isn’t – or as he says there, “Many will say “Master!” and I will say “I never knew you.” And we often only know this – even about our own selves – by the fruit that is borne or the storm that is endured.
There are a lot of people with opinions – self-appointed leaders – these days. I’m one of them, I know that. So I apply this same question to my own self, my own life, my own work – what’s the fruit??
If we want to know about the spiritual health of a person or a ministry or a church or a website, look at the fruit they are bearing – most particularly, is it the fruit of the Spirit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? No matter how lovely the tree, if the fruit is poisonous, then be aware.
And here’s something else, I’ll say: if the people who are *partaking* of that fruit are becoming poisonous, be aware.
Sometimes the tree looks healthy, and the fruit looks healthy, but everyone who eats of it comes away sick in their soul – filled with pride or envy or judgement, lust or mockery, bitterness or unrighteous anger, easy promises or shortcuts, smugness or division or hatred – all stirring up the very worst parts of ourselves, even baptizing sinful attitudes or behaviours with sacred language. The tree LOOKS healthy, the fruit LOOKS healthy, but we are dying by consuming it and rotting from the inside out.
And I’ll add this: sometimes the trees and the fruit are new to me. I’m from western Canada – I know apple trees and pear trees. Imagine my dazzled surprise to encounter a real banana tree once – I had a banana from that tree and that was the first time in my life I really TASTED a banana. It was completely different than the supermarket bananas of my northern life – this was amazing! Unfamiliar fruit from new trees can bring the best surprises of goodness, too.
Good fruit isn’t only in my local orchard, after all – why would I be surprised by that?
I’ve thought of that a lot in these past few days: look at the fruit of the tree AND look at the health of those who are eating of that tree. Is there flourishing? is there Christlikeness? is there joy? is there peace? Is there love? patience? kindness? goodness? faithfulness? gentleness? self-control? Even if it looks new or unfamiliar, look at the fruit, look at the people who are standing in the shade of that tree, would you know them by their love?
As the years go by, are we becoming more like Jesus, walking with Jesus, abiding with Jesus … or not? That is the test of our fruit. It’s a question worth asking when we consider who we are following, who is influencing us, who is shaping our conversations, who is leading us, who is feeding us – what’s the fruit? how are the people who eat that fruit? and do they look like a disciple of Jesus?
I’m foolish enough to believe that Jesus meant it when he said they – the world – would know us by our love. Our LOVE. As Paul said, may our roots go down deep into the soil of his marvellous love. We may very well be surprised by who is bearing the fruit against which there is no law, by whose leaves are for the flourishing of the nations.
Near the end of that chapter in Matthew, Jesus says, ‘These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on.’