We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God
Two years ago we had pole beans in our garden. They grew well and had lush green leaves but we only got a handful of beans. We also had some scrawny tomato vines that produced an initial flurry of tomatoes, leading us to think we would have great production all summer, but because they were such weak vines, they quickly perished in the heat.
Neither plant was an asset to the garden. What we want are plants that both grow and produce fruit. That is what God wants from us as well. I can apply myself to knowledge about God, participating in Bible studies and analyzing scripture. If that is the extent of my effort, I am nothing but an educated fool, a big empty sack of information, all head but no heart. I may know scripture, but I use it as a weapon against others, a sword that divides instead of a balm that heals. In contrast, if I devote myself only to service, I may produce fruit, but it is fruit that comes out of my own strength and ability, and I will likely burn out. The folks that say “I’ve done my share of church work” are a good illustration of fruit without growth.
Fruit production, if it is to be sustained and Kingdom-bringing, has to be augmented with growth, and vice versa. There has to be inward growth in faith and in intimacy with God (knowing God, not just knowing about God). We don’t force the fruit. We focus on being connected to the Vine. If we do that, the fruit production takes care of itself, by God’s action in and through us.
I believe that a significant reason the institutional church does not appeal to folks is that they don’t see us growing and producing fruit. Often, the growth people see is knowledge that defends and excludes. When the focus of our “knowledge” is on condemning instead of understanding, on certainty instead of mystery, on proving ourselves right instead of recognizing our own blindness, then what we proclaim as growth is poison ivy.
In our efforts to keep Christianity “pure,” we produce vapid fruit—perfect and pretty to look at, but devoid of taste—like a Red Delicious apple. Our fruit just looks like one more activity for people to add to their already overstuffed lives. Without passion that is cultivated through a growing relationship with Christ, church gets dropped from one’s to-do list.
I would rather be part of a church filled with characters—misshapen, odd-looking fruit—than a church that looks like a bowl of plastic fruit. I want to be with those who hunger and thirst for more of Christ, who live hopeful and faith-filled lives instead of lives of pessimism and gloom. I want to be part of a church that is a living, breathing, growing plant, where fruit production is the result of being rooted and grounded in Christ.