“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16)
Muriel loved cherry tomatoes. One day she had the bright idea of planting one. It soon sprouted and began to climb all over the railing on our back steps. During the summer that vine produced more than a thousand of its kind! A bumper crop. Reminded me of the vine in John 15. But it must have been beginner’s luck because the next year there was a sparse crop of a few wizened tomatoes. No matter how we worked those vines, they refused to produce. Reminded me of many Christians.
Did Jesus mean His promise that we could consistently have a bumper crop, year after year? Maybe the vine analogy causes us to expect more “fruit” than is true to real experience? If we were talking of tomatoes or grapes, when we see the seed catalogue photographs of luscious, ripe fruit bursting out everywhere, the vine covering everything in sight, we tend to doubt the reality of it, at least for our own experience. So with Jesus’ promise of spiritual fruit. If we doubt the reality of it for our own lives, when we see someone who seems to be producing a great crop we may find it depressing because we can’t produce such a crop. Or perhaps we conclude that it’s an illusion — it’s just the camera angle. If we knew the whole truth about that successful-looking Christian, they aren’t really that good. Or — a third alternative — maybe a professional gardener would help…
Jesus’ good news is that we have one already: the Father! (John 15.1). And, if we stick with Jesus, the vine-stem, he guarantees an abundant harvest. In that kind of relationship, his life will flow and we will produce His own characteristics. The cherry tomato vine produced cherry tomatoes as the natural outcome of the flow of its own life. So with the fruit of a Christ “plant”. And we won’t have a minimal crop, either. It is by much fruit that we are fulfilled and he is honored (vs. 5,8). “Much” may mean all the varieties of good characteristics he possesses rather than merely certain ones—self-control but not joy or peace. It surely means producing Jesus’ characteristics in large measure — becoming more and more loving, for example.
He identifies two specific characteristics or “fruits,” then he identifies all of them as a cluster, and finally he adds the dimension of fruitful ministry. If we believe His promise and desire a bumper crop, we cannot close the series without a closer “fruit inspection.”
The fruit or product of our life united with Christ is called by Paul the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22,23). Jesus here specifically identifies the first two in Paul’s list: love and joy (John 15.9-17).
We are invited to share a love affair with God himself. Now he tells us this love is to spill over and engulf our relationships with one another: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (vs 12,17). And how did he love us? How do you measure the quality of love, calibrate the depth of it, gauge the intensity of it? By the sacrifice it makes. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (vs 13). Sometimes it seems more difficult to “lay down life” in small increments than in one heroic surge of self-giving. But lay it down we must, if we truly love. So there evolves a way of life in which we habitually say “no” to self-interest in order to say “yes” to the best interests of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, the lost of the world. “Such beautiful fruit! Reminds me of Jesus,” the fruit inspectors in our lives will say.
Jesus promised abundant fruit, increasing likeness to him in character and growing effectiveness in ministry for him. He doesn’t promise this to some exceptional super saint, but to everyone who stays close to him. If this is not happening, are you abiding in him? Are you even joined to him? If you do demonstrate the evidence of such a union, but not what could be called a “bumper crop” perhaps you need the gardener to prune a bit. Here’s a checklist from John 15 on how he does it:
- Are you abiding in the Word, growing in knowledge of it and obedience to it?
- Are you abiding in loving companionship with him?
- Are you responding in faith to the discipline of adverse circumstances?
As you continue to (abide) in these, your crop will grow greater every year, bumper crops of glorious fruit. He guarantees it.
We ask, “What is fulfillment and how do I get it?” A tomato vine is fulfilled only through bearing tomatoes. And it is really “filled full” when the vine is loaded with fruit. Jesus holds before us, in John 15, a beautiful portrait of ultimate fulfillment: Himself! And he describes in detail how we can have it: Himself! As you stay tight with him, His life feeds into yours and the inevitable outcome is greater and greater likeness to him. Not “falling in love,” but growing in love, from one degree of His beautiful character to another. May he ever be satisfied with a bumper crop through us!