The Fruit of Faithful Work
In the New Testament, fruit is also used as a metaphor for advancing the interests of God’s kingdom. In His parable about the sower of seed, Jesus said, “And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred” (Mark 4:20). Here Jesus seems to be talking about a kingdom worker, who is expected to multiply the truth of God’s Word that has been entrusted to him.
The Parable of the Sower resembles another of Jesus’ well-known parables, the Parable of the Talents. In this parable, the word talent does not refer to our abilities; it refers to a common silver coin of Jesus’ time.
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord (Matthew 25:14-21).
You probably know the rest of the story by heart. The servant who earned two talents, like the servant who earned five, is commended; but the servant who merely returns his one talent, producing nothing for his lord, is condemned. Once again Jesus seems to be talking about work in the kingdom of God.
When we think of kingdom work, evangelism is often the first thing that comes to mind. However, according to Jesus, this is not the only kingdom work, or even the most important. Later in the very same discussion as the story of the talents, Jesus taught about the division of the sheep and the goats. When He separates the sheep to His right, listen to what He says:
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me (Matthew 25:34-40).
The works listed in this passage are so important that Christ portrays them as making all the difference between the sheep and the goats—these works determine who is invited to inherit the kingdom and who is thrown into outer darkness. James 1:27 says, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
Powered by Love
Remember, all the works we have discussed in the last section must flow from the first kind of fruit, the fruit of the Spirit. If your good deeds are not motivated by love, but merely to gain spiritual brownie points or to satisfy or impress others, your work is wasted. Jesus said this was the problem with the scribes and Pharisees. In 1 Corinthians 13:3, Paul says, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
Our good deeds cannot be mere mechanical works; they must flow from love. However, good works are definitely part of the fruit we will bear if we are abiding in Christ and His Spirit is controlling our life.
Fruit-bearing Starts Now
Ultimately, it is not your church setting that will determine whether or not you produce the fruit of the Spirit and become a fruitful kingdom worker. You can bear fruit and grow in Christ in virtually any church setting.
This matter of putting your own life in order first is vitally important, and the emphasis on it here comes from observing the struggles of many seekers. There are literally thousands of well-meaning seekers who look like radical disciples of Jesus Christ, yet whose personal and family affairs are a disaster. In such families the sisters may be dressed modestly, with covered heads, while the men wear beards and plain clothes, yet below the surface there may be troubled marriages and rebellious children. These seekers may owe a lot of people money, forcing them to constantly ask for support instead of helping others.
Furthermore, radical-looking disciples often have trouble submitting to authority in the body of Christ, and they end up causing strife and controversy everywhere they go. My wife and I strongly support the head covering for women, yet, ironically, many sisters who wear head coverings, a symbol of submission to God’s order, completely dominate their husbands and even try to run the church. This is not just a problem for women either. Husbands often fail to set an example, refusing to submit to the expectations and leadership of the local congregation.
Unfortunately, those who have this spirit of rebellion are often totally blind to it. In their minds, they are simply standing up for truth. Because of this, if you find yourself in a situation where your stand for truth seems to place you constantly at odds with the Christians around you, it is wise to take some time out for serious, honest self-examination. Spend time in prayer, search the Scripture, and ask trusted Christian friends to help you examine your life.
If your radical Christianity is external rather than internal—if your focus is on how you look to other people—it won’t matter where you go for fellowship. You absolutely must get your inner life on track first, through the power of Christ, so you can begin bearing real kingdom fruit. Then, wherever you end up finding fellowship, you’ll be a blessing to that church and not a burden.
You Find What You Bring
As we said at the beginning of this section, if your own life is not in order, merely changing churches is unlikely to enable you to bear more fruit or solve your family or financial problems. An old story illustrates this truth well:
A couple moved to a new town and visited the pastor of a local church they thought might be a good fit for them. They were pleased to hear that the church’s beliefs were much like their own. “And what are the people in your congregation like?” they asked the pastor.
“Let me ask you a question first,” said the pastor. “What were the people like in the church you just came from?”
“Oh, they were wonderful, kind people. We never would have left them if we hadn’t needed to move for other reasons.”
The pastor smiled. “That’s just what the people are like here. I think you’re going to love us.”
Not much later, another newly-arrived family visited the pastor and asked him the same questions the first couple had. Like the other couple, they also wanted to know what they could expect from the people of the church. As before, the pastor asked them what the people were like in the church they came from.
They rolled their eyes. “You don’t even want to hear about it,” they sighed. “Those people simply couldn’t get along. Nobody would cooperate on anything, and they gossiped constantly! Our only regret is that we didn’t leave sooner.”
Shaking his head sadly, the pastor said, “I wish I could say it’s different here, but unfortunately I think you’ll find our people much the same.”
Of course, the moral of the story is that whether we fit well into a church is often up to us. It is largely our own character and behavior that determines whether we find other people welcoming and agreeable, or unfriendly and contentious. This is why you should not look to a change of churches to solve your problems. Focus first on building a genuine, obedient, love-faith relationship with Christ.