Fruit that will last

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Reading: John 15:1–8

Text: John 15:16

I was baptised in the Holy Spirit and spoke out in tongues for the very first time many years ago, when as a student alone in my room in the Hall of Residence and reading through John’s gospel I read this verse, John 15 verse 16. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

For me, that was a precious moment and this is still a very special verse of Scripture.

This morning, as we put verse 16 under the microscope, I want us to focus not on the brilliant pronouncement that God has chosen us; not even on the stonking prayer promise in that last sentence; but on that strange sounding purpose that God has in mind for all of us as Christians - “fruit that will last”.

The context of this passage is that Jesus and the disciples had just finished their Passover meal. Judas had slunk off on his fateful mission to betray the Saviour. Peter’s impassioned claim that he was ready to die for his master had been rebuffed. Jesus had announced: “Come now; let us leave.”, and He and the disciples, probably bathed in the atmospheric light of the Passover full moon were on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Later that very same evening, Jesus would be arrested and put on trial, and just ahead lay the greatest injustice ever seen on planet earth as our perfect, sinless Saviour, Jesus Christ, was falsely convicted, brutally beaten and then savagely executed on that cruel Roman cross.

These words of Jesus to his disciples as they walked to the Garden were potent and inspirational; they were intended to prepare the disciples for the very different life that lay ahead of them as they began to fulfil their epic calling without Jesus’ physical presence among them.

Our purpose here on earth verse 16 tells us; our calling and commission, like these first disciples, Jesus declares, is to bear fruit, “fruit that will last”. Now that’s a strange thought when you think about it. What kind of fruit do you know that lasts? Try putting a juicy orange or a lovely banana into a lunch box and forgetting about it for a month or two. I don’t think you’d find it too appetising when you came to take a bite! “Lasting” is not generally a characteristic of ordinary fruit! Fruit doesn’t naturally last – if left, it rots! So, if the fruit God has commissioned us to bear is lasting fruit then it is not natural fruit at all, it is supernatural. The “fruit that will last” that each of us is appointed to bear, is fruit that God the Holy Spirit bears through us. It’s not our fruit at all. That, I think, is a daunting, but seriously exciting prospect for every one of us.

God’s purpose and desire for each of us during our relatively short time here on earth, is not that we should travel the world, make a name for ourselves, enjoy all the benefits of a wealthy lifestyle or a successful career; not that we should achieve celebrity, or fame, not that we would excel academically or in the worlds of sport or the arts, or achieve any other personal aspiration. God’s purpose for us, is better than all that. Better, because all these things bring us only a temporary earth-bound benefit.

God’s purpose is that we bear fruit that will last! Fruit that has no “use by” date! Fruit that never wears out, never rots, never dies and never disappears. Fruit, in other words, that is ETERNAL!

God is intensely keen to see us bear this kind of fruit. You can see just how keen, in the passage of Scripture we just read. In verse 2 it says of the gardener, our Heavenly Father, that: John 15:2 (NIV84) “2 . . . every branch that DOES bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” God not only wants us to bear fruit, He wants us to bear even more fruit! And, it doesn’t even stop there, look at the promise Jesus offers in verse 5: John 15:5 (NIV84) 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear MUCH fruit”; God isn’t looking for just a mingy little bit of fruit from us. He is looking to the day when as a result of some painful pruning in our lives FRUIT is turned into MORE FRUIT and more fruit is multiplied into MUCH FRUIT!

Now there’s a special blessing in all this and I almost hesitate to mention, in case you get just too over excited! But I’m going to do it anyway! This kind of fruit, this supernatural, eternal, LASTING FRUIT, actually brings GLORY to God.

Think about it! You and I, - now I don’t mean to demean you in any way at all, no doubt in your own right you are pretty special – in fact you must be because our Scripture reading says God has singled you out for blessing – “I chose YOU” he says, but even so, just imagine that you and I can actually bring glory to the great Creator God; to the one who breathes life into every living creature and holds the entire universe together by His Word according to Hebrews 1:3; to the great and matchless ALMIGHTY God. We can bring GLORY to God!

I wouldn’t dare to presume to say such a thing except that Jesus tells us it is true. Look at verse 8: John 15:8 (NIV84)” 8 This is to my Father’s GLORY, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” I don’t know about you, but that has to be a pretty important life outcome. It beats getting a handful of Olympic Gold Medal, or receiving a Nobel Peace Prize, or any other accolade you care to name. Perhaps someday, we’ll take some time to look together more closely at this whole business of bringing glory to God – it’s an absolute whopper!

But at this point though it’s good to pause a moment and ask ourselves a key question: “Do I really believe this, that God wants me to bear lasting fruit during my earthly life?”

At first sight this seems like a question that requires just a simple “yes” or “no”; but a moments reflection tells us that it is actually one of those questions where significant consequences follow our choice of answer. It is a bit like when you decide to marry someone. There is going to be the excitement of the wedding - yes, but that’s only the start, because what follows is a lifetime of consequences and commitment. Questions like this carry a cost. And we’re right to weigh up these costs as well as the benefits. So with our first question comes the supplementary: “Am I ready to pay the price that bearing lasting fruit will cost me?”

So let those questions percolate in your mind as we explore some of the issues involved. Whatever you decide, I think we could probably agree that since it affects both our life right now and our eternal future it is a question that merits some thought.

It’s interesting to note that the Apostle Paul clearly felt that bearing fruit that will last is a key priority for us as Christians. It was pretty central to both his personal thinking and to his ministry to others. Deliberating over his own future Paul reveals that he understands and is motivated by a personal calling to bear fruit, because he writes in Philippians 1:22 (NIV84): “22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean FRUITFUL labor for me.” But also, in ministering to others he urges fruitfulness. In his spectacular letter to the Romans for instance he writes in chapter 7, verse 4: Romans 7:4 (NIV84)” 4 So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear FRUIT to God.” And he tells the Philippians that his prayer for them is that they will be: (Philippians 1:11 (NIV84) “11 filled with the FRUIT of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ”— (and note this!) “to the GLORY and praise of God.” Paul then definitely endorses Jesus’ call for us to bear lasting fruit – because he made it a focus in his own life and he urged others to do the same.

We need, however, to accept that there is a personal cost, to bearing fruit that will last. It’s summarised in verse 4: John 15:4 (NIV84) 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit UNLESS you remain in me. Jesus is underlining for us that WE CAN’T ACTUALLY BEAR THIS FRUIT AT ALL OURSELVES, out of our own resources. It has to come from the Holy Spirit working through us.

Too often our response to hearing that we should bear fruit is that we take things into our own hands. We set about using our own abilities, skills and talents to seek to generate fruit for God. But, however good the results might look or seem, the reality is that at best these attempts are a poor counterfeit of what only God is able to conceive. “No BRANCH can bear fruit by itself; it MUST remain in the vine.” Fruit comes not from us, but from Jesus, as the Holy Spirit works through us.

For people like me who are strongly task-centred this is a particular problem. Our motivation is to get things done and achieve the task, but while this may have something to commend it in a general sense because it seems a whole lot better than sloth or inactivity - in practice, it is pretty useless. It is not that God rejects the use of our skills, abilities and effort; after all, they are His gifts to us. It’s just that when it comes to producing “fruit that will last” it’s the wrong toolkit because ONLY THE ETERNAL CAN PRODUCE THE ETERNAL.

“Fruit that will last” only comes about as God works through us by the Holy Spirit. Our role is simply to abide, to remain, in Him. As we do this; as we give up our independence; and submit to Him in a moment by moment way, we make it possible for God to work through us and produce the fruit that will last.

This is exactly what the illustration of the vine and the branches is intended to teach – though in practice, we can be very slow catch on. The fruit of the vine, the grapes, are not brought about by the independent effort of a branch. But so long as the branch remains joined to the vine it will inevitably bear fruit. There’s no struggle, there’s no effort, there’s no skill, because fruit is what naturally comes from the branch as it remains a part of the vine. It’s the same with us. We don’t have to work at producing lasting fruit in our lives by our own efforts, by our innate skills, or by determined application – we simply have to remain in the vine, remain in Christ. As we make ourselves available to God in this way, He uses us for His purposes.

Now here’s the thing. This is exactly what Jesus Himself did whilst here on earth as a man. He submitted fully to the Father’s will. It was not that he did not have a will of His own, He did. He simply chose to suppress it, in order to accomplish the Father’s will. The ESV translation of John 5:30 records Jesus saying: John 5:30 (ESV) 30 “. . . I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Jesus accomplished the Father’s will; if you like, he bore the Father’s fruit, by remaining in Him and this involved SACRIFICING His own will and SUBMITTING fully to His Father’s will. Our task is to learn to do the same thing.

But far from “remaining” in Christ, many of us are content just to pay Him an occasional visit in time of want or need. Our plan is to get God to work to our agenda while we insist on retaining our own independence and our own ambitions. We are very keen to seek his blessing on our desires and wishes. But the whole concept of submitting our wills to His and obediently REMAINING in Him is entirely alien.

The Greek word “meno” used in this passage translates as to remain, abide, stay, or continue to be present. It indicates a permanence of submission that goes on and on, not at all a casual, or occasional, “if it is in my interests” type of relationship. The word also implies and indeed requires a level of responsibility from US - for you and I. We need to learn to develop a relationship with Christ, like Christ had with the Father, where we bin our agenda and submit our moment by moment lives to Him. Only then are we available to bear the lasting fruit that God desires and intends us to bear.

Remaining in Christ, whatever the cost and whatever the implications for us personally, has to be our prime focus, our heart conviction, and our central desire, because this is the only way that the Holy Spirit can bear “fruit that will last” through us which is God’s declared purpose for our lives here on earth.

It’s worth just highlighting here that this has much to do with the operation of our human wills. If there were a “Part Two” to this message, and there isn’t, I think it would have to centre on the significance of our will because it is definitely our wills where the rubber hits the road. It’s our will that ultimately determines our decisions to sin or to obey, to RETAIN our independence or to REMAIN in Christ. So, our will has an absolutely crucial role in whether or not we will bear fruit that will last. And what is required of our will? It is required that our will is SACRIFICED and SUBMITTED to God’s will on a moment by moment basis and in a fully committed way.

Now isn’t this precisely what Jesus was teaching when he said those words recorded in Luke 9:23: Luke 9:23(NIV84) 23 . . . “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Fruitful discipleship involves the three key things mentioned in that verse:

1.A fruitful disciple must “deny himself”, that is, put aside their own will and wishes in favour of God’s will;

2.A fruitful disciple must “take up his cross”, that is, pay the sacrificial price of obedience and submission to God’s will and purpose for our lives; and,

3.A fruitful disciple must do these things “daily”, that is, not occasionally but on a moment by moment and continuous basis.

When we commit and submit to doing these things we are effectively dying to self and living out of the new creation life that God gave us when we were born again as Christians. We then begin to live a life like Paul who, taking this path himself, said in Galatians 2:20 (NIV84) “20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

This challenge of fulfilling God’s supreme purpose for our lives is what Jesus described when he said in John 12:24 (NIV84) “24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” The tragic corollary of NOT producing many seeds, of not bearing fruit that will last, is that God’s intended harvest, a harvest that brings Him GLORY remember, is frustrated, spoiled and lost. Do we really want to be unprofitable servants of the God who gives us “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3)? Everything we need to be used in bearing fruit that will last and bring Him glory?

Granted, some people may seem to have more ability, more opportunities and more talents than we might think we have, but whether we are a one, two or five talent servant, it is surely preferable to receive a “Well done, good and faithful servant!” rather than to hear the crushing “You wicked, lazy servant!” The message of that parable of the talents seems to be that even one talent applied with faith, obedience and diligence can provide a good return for our Master, and that there is simply no excuse at all for any of us wasting whatever opportunity God gives us for bearing fruit.

Many people suggest that these works that are “fruit that will last” are the fruit of evangelism – of bringing people to receive new life in Christ. And I’m sure there is truth in that. Others interpret the fruit as the “fruit of the Holy Spirit” in our lives such those mentioned by Paul in Galatians 5:22–23 (NIV84)”22 . . . love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.” And I’m sure that there is truth in that too.

But what really impresses me most is the thought that “fruit that will last” operates in the context of the gifts in the body of Christ and is to some extent a function of our place and role in the body. As Paul says: Romans 12:5-6 (NIV84) “5 . . . in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have DIFFERENT gifts, according to the grace given us.” Two things follow from this. First, our gifts can be as different as we are, and second, the whole body is affected if we fail to use our gifts and is less fruitful as a result – and that puts a particular responsibility on us.

Whilst any of us may be used by the Holy Spirit to bring others to Christ and all of us should be active in that area; and while all of us should be growing in Christ and demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit, each of us has a particular God given ministry or ministries, that we MUST really give ourselves to because this is where the Holy Spirit will especially use us to produce fruit that will last. So whether our gifting is in the area of service, encouragement, sharing the gospel, leading the worship, praying, caring, guiding, giving, preaching, teaching, administrating or whatever else, our responsibility TO ONE ANOTHER, as well as to God, is to contribute through the Holy Spirit in us to the fruitfulness of the whole Body of Christ.

Let me finish with what I call the sharp end of this teaching.

The Bible teaches us that when people are finally judged by God, our SALVATION will NOT be decided on the quality of what we have done. Salvation is not performance based in any way at all. Because of God’s matchless grace, and the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, our salvation depends solely on whether or not we are in Christ. But, our WORKS will be judged when determining our heavenly rewards. (1 Corinthians 3:13–15, NIV84) says: “. . . the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

Only works, or fruit, that Christ has been able to produce THROUGH us by the Holy Spirit; works that are untainted by our sin, or pride, or self-effort, will stand that fire test. These are the only works that are “fruit that will last”.

So, just as faith in the grace of God through Jesus, is essential to our SALVATION, so, a moment by moment remaining in Christ, is essential to a life filled with “fruit that will last”.

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