After creating man and woman, God blessed them and said to them, “be fruitful…” [Genesis 1:28]. This was God’s first command to human beings. The Hebrew phrase translated as “be fruitful” means to grow or to increase. It’s repeated about 40 times in the Old Testament and 14 times in the book of Genesis. Twelve times in Genesis, it’s either a direct command from God or said as part of a blessing. It’s fair to infer that fruitfulness is important to God. But I believe it’s also fair to suggest that many Christians are not fruitful, at least not as God intended.
In the Gospels, there’s an odd story about Jesus cursing a barren fig tree [Matthew 21:18-22]. I struggled with this story for a long time because Jesus seemed impulsive. It looked like a petulant display of power. But now, I realise that it was a demonstration of how much God despises fruitlessness in His creation. Jesus’ actions were in keeping with His teaching on fruitfulness in John 15. There, He taught that He is the vine and His Father is the vinedresser. He also said that every branch in Him that doesn’t bear fruit is cut off by His Father [John 15:1-6]. For me, this explains why Jesus cursed the barren tree. Do you realise that this warning was directed at Christians? Do you take this warning seriously?
I find that it’s possible to assume we’re bearing fruit because of our worldly successes. Yet, those successes mean nothing if God isn’t glorified in them. Jesus made it clear that the purpose of fruitfulness in the Christian life is twofold. First, it’s to glorify His Father and second, it’s to prove that we’re His disciples. So, if you consider yourself fruitful, does your fruitfulness fulfil these criteria? It’s worth emphasising God has something specific in mind when He speaks of fruitfulness [see Ephesians 2:8-10]. Therefore, as we examine our lives, it’s what asking if we’re bearing fruit. And if we think we’re fruitful, it’s worth asking if God is pleased with our fruits.
It’s also worth stressing that attaining fruitfulness that pleases God requires His help. He initiates it by empowering us to be fruitful. We see a similar partnership between a farmer and his land. The farmer invests time and resources to weed, till, fertilize the soil, etc. He gives the soil every opportunity to be fruitful. We see a similar partnership in Genesis where God blesses the man and woman before commanding them to be fruitful. It is that blessing that equips and enables all of us to bear fruit. Like the farmer, God has played His part, it remains for us to do ours. The question is, how willing are you to glorify God with your life?
In John 15, Jesus tells us that if we abide in Him and allow His words to abide in us, we will bear fruit. These are the prerequisites of a life that glorifies God. The Greek term translated as abide means not to depart. This implies that fruitfulness doesn’t happen by chance. One must intentionally study God’s word and live it out under the Lordship of Jesus to attain this fruitfulness. Nevertheless, Jesus doesn’t compel us to do this. It has to be a decision we make freely. However, if we choose a different path, we won’t bear fruit that glorifies God [John 15:4,7]. Frequent readers will know that I ardently champion studying God’s word and living it out. It’s foundational to the Christian life, and living a fruitless life is just one of many consequences of failing to prioritise God’s word.
Having established that the knowledge and understanding of God’s word are necessary for fruitfulness, let’s remember that fruits don’t grow overnight. There’s a time when barren soil and soil with seed look similar. So, while we wait for God’s word to bear fruit in us, we may lack results. People may even mock our barrenness and question our decision to obey God. These are some of the challenges that cause some to fall away [Luke 8:13-14], so be strong and courageous [Joshua 1:7-9] and wait patiently for God [Lamentations 3:26]. Living this way requires a stubborn determination undergirded with discipline and consistency. God will honour your integrity. He sees it even if no one else does [Genesis 16:13, Matthew 6:4], and He has also staked His integrity on the promise that you’ll reap what you sow [Galatians 6:7].
Ultimately, there are only two ways to live: God’s way or every other way. I find that Christians often struggle to fully commit to God’s way. They’re neither hot nor cold towards God [Revelation 3:15-16]. Such an approach to life is unlikely to bear fruit because no one can serve two masters. So choose today whom you will serve [Joshua 24:15]. However, if the word of God finds fertile soil in you, a time will come when people will look at you and glorify God [Matthew 5:16]. Remember that it’s what happens between the time the seed is planted and harvest season that determines the quality of the fruit. So, if this is where you find yourself, allow the Vinedresser to prune you and the genuineness of your faith to be tested and refined by fire [1 Peter 1:7].
Obviously bearing fruit God’s way is tough. Yet, Jesus didn’t give an alternative. Furthermore, reaping where you haven’t sown is illegal in God’s economy. Therefore, we must give God something to work with. We must also resolve that irrespective of how many times we fail, we’ll keep striving to live God’s way. So, if like many of us, you find your commitment to God wavering, I encourage you to recommit today. It is God’s will for you and me to bear fruit, and His grace is sufficient for us to do just that, irrespective of the circumstances of our lives. It will be worth it in the end.