Tree and fruit

If you’ve looked at an interior design magazine, website or TV show in the last three to five years, you’ve seen a rise in the popularity of houseplants.

From snake plants and fiddle-leaf figs to succulents and ferns, whether real or plastic, houseplants are taking over homes across the country. And because I am a young cosmopolitan woman, I thought I’d test out my green thumb.

Unfortunately, my thumb is more of a sad, yellowish-brown color, much like the color of many of the plants in my care.

I have tried for more than two years to keep plants alive both inside and outside. My tomato plants fried in this summer’s heat and my peace lily got root rot. I even managed to kill a cactus. (If anyone is willing to offer this poor girl some plant care classes, I’d be eternally grateful.)

I doubt I would have survived in the agrarian society of Jesus’ day.

Jesus talked about plants in many of His teachings. He talked about tiny seeds growing into great plants, the relationship between vines and branches and the importance of trees producing good fruit.

In fact, Jesus and His disciples spent a great deal of time talking about fruit.

John the Baptist encourages us to “‘produce fruit in keeping with repentance’” (Matthew 3:8).

In Matthew 7:17-18, Jesus says, “‘Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.’”

And again, in Matthew 12:33, Jesus says, “‘Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.’”

When Jesus talks about fruit, He’s using a metaphor. Fruit is not referring to apples or oranges, but to the good characteristics, deeds and influence God has in the lives of people who follow Him.

Paul helps explain what Jesus means by fruit in Romans 6:22: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”

The proverbial fruit of a Christian life should be anything that leads to eternal life.

Paul later writes in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

The fruit of following Christ can be seen in having these personal characteristics.

But the fruit of a Christian life is more than personal—it’s communal. The fruit of a Christian life should produce more than good character and good deeds.

It’s a life that lives out Jesus’ Great Commission in every part of life.

If God has called you to be a parent, then the fruit of your life is to raise children who know and love Jesus Christ. If you live in a neighborhood, then the fruit of your life is to love your neighbors the way Christ would love them. If God has called you to lead a small group, then the fruit of your life is to faithfully meet with others, love them well, be authentic and vulnerable and allow God to use community to draw others closer to Him and to each other.

I heard a Bible teacher once say, “The fruit of an apple tree is more apple trees.”

What he meant was, if you are a Christian who takes the Great Commission seriously, then making disciples doesn’t end with baptism.

In order for God’s church to grow, His people must be faithful to help others continue to grow long after making the good confession. The fruit of a healthy Christian who makes disciples should be more healthy Christians who make disciples.

This isn’t just applicable to individuals. The fruit of a healthy church should be more healthy churches. The fruit of a healthy small group should be more healthy small groups.

But this isn’t always easy.

Like any gardener knows, plants take time to grow. You can’t expect to plant an apple seed and eat an apple the next day.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture about fruit comes from Luke 13:6-9: “Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”

“Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”’”

According to the foremost fig experts, it takes about four years from the time a fig tree is planted until it bears fruit. The man who cared for the tree knew how long it took for the tree to bear fruit, and was patient in waiting for it to do what God had created it to do.

The same is true for those who belong to Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 Paul writes, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

When it comes to bearing fruit, we are responsible for the tilling, planting and watering, but it is God who make all things grow. Not only does God makes things grow, but this happens in His time and according to His plan. And it only happens when we obediently and humbly set aside our own agendas and our own gardening techniques and follow His loving lead.

Bailey Foxworth is assistant editor of The Southeast Outlook.