I Chose You to Bear Fruit
I Chose You to Bear Fruit
May 28, 2006
Orben’s Current Comedy, a book of laughs, has this quip: “I’m not against using preservatives in food. What I’m against as a loaf of bread that has a life expectancy greater than my own … We all choose products from our grocery store with a shelf life which has not yet expired; or at least we try to. My wife roots to the back of the mil rack hoping to find a couple of extra days of shelf life. Do you do that? I’m sure we would all show concern if the product we were about to consume was drastically expired. Right? We are guarding our life expectancy! Our message today is fruit – our fruit – the fruit God creates in us: good fruit. Fruit with a life expectancy! Turn with me to out key verse for today. We are still in John 15. So, let’s look at verse 16: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit".
Speaking of life expectancy, George Chauncey says, in Leadership Magazine, The church should be a community of dates instead of pumpkins. Pumpkins you can harvest in six months. Dates have to be planted and tended by people who will not live to harvest them. Dates are for future generations.
On the day after the night in which Jesus spoke these words to the eleven, he laid himself down on the cross and bought you with his blood. You are now his fruit and his fruit-bearer. The only fruit that will ever endure to eternal life is fruit which grows out of the cross. "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:23,24). We are Christ's fruit because he died for us. We are his fruit-bearers if we are willing to take up our cross and die with him. It is not accident that when Jesus had commanded us to go and bear fruit, he went and died. His life expectancy was up; ours was just beginning. Our call and your ministry must always stand in the shadow of the cross of Christ. The only fruit that will last is the fruit that grows on the cross.
"You did not choose me, but I chose you," Jesus says to the eleven apostles, and surely to everyone today whom he calls to minister. Why did he say, "You did not choose me." It's not literally true. They had chosen to follow Jesus. He did not drag them into his service kicking and screaming. He does not hold them with bit and bridle. They are not looking for ways to escape from his ministry. In John 1:37 Andrew follows Jesus without even being asked and he goes to get Peter and brings him to Jesus (1:41). So the point is not even that Jesus made the first contact.
Turn it around. What if Jesus had said, "I did not choose you; you chose me?" What would most likely be the point of saying that? Wouldn't it mean, "I'm not bound to you. You wanted to come along. If the going gets rough, don't come whimpering to me. It's your choice, man. I didn't stake anything on your success." But Jesus said the opposite: "You did not choose me, but I chose you." And so the meaning is: "Your presence here is my doing and so I take full responsibility. I know you agreed to join me in this work, but deep in your heart you know it was I who laid claim on you and so my honor, not yours, is at stake in this work." If that is what Jesus means, then the reason he said, "You did not choose me, but I chose you, was to encourage us that he would help us. If his honor is at stake in our success because he chose us for the work, then we can be sure he will exert all his power to make us fruitful. Jesus will not lightly let his wisdom be scorned. Therefore, he will not look lightly on our cry for help, when we say, "Lord you chose me! You are not fickle. You are not shortsighted. You are not impulsive. Your choices have the weight of eternity in them. You will not let your chosen one be ruined. Help me, Lord." Such a plea—if it comes from the heart—he cannot ignore. His wisdom and constancy and reliability is at stake.
But in what sense did Jesus choose you differently from your choice of him? In at least two senses. He said, "All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Matt. 11:27). None of us would have ever chosen Jesus had he not revealed to us the glory of the Father. Had Jesus not enabled us to see in him the image of the invisible God, we would never have come. Dead in trespasses and sins, blinded by the God of this world, we were hopelessly hell-bent until he called us by name and raised us from the dead. "The sheep hear his voice and he calls his sheep by name (he chooses them) and leads them out (John 10:3). So your choice of Christ was very different than his choice of you. His choice was a recreating, resurrecting, life-giving choice when he called you by name and you were born again and made a child of God. Your choice was all response and trust in his commitment to you.
The other sense in which Christ chose you differently than you chose him is in the call to ministry. Now all believers are chosen, and can have the assurance that Christ's honor is at stake when He chose you. We were chosen to be His children. As well, all believers are chosen for ministry. But among the saints, whose responsibility is the work of the ministry? Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us, “He is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ,”
Christ sets some people apart as pastors and teachers to devote their full-time labor to the ministry of the word and prayer in order to equip the saints. Here again those who serve do so willingly. I have chosen the pastoral ministry. But if I am where I belong, there has been a call from the Lord preceding, equipping, inspiring and finally enabling our choice of this ministry. You too have been chosen for a purpose. God called you to be His child and His hands. He gave you gifts of the Spirit to enable you to serve Him honorably. Those gifts are explained in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and verses 27 and 28. Turn in our Bible now and we will look at them briefly together. “Now all of you together are Christ's body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.
Here is a list of some of the members that God has placed in the body of Christ: first are apostles, second are prophets, third are teachers, then those who do miracles, those who have the gift of healing, those who can help others, those who can get others to work together, those who speak in unknown languages.” Now turn to the 14th chapter of 1 Corinthians and look at verse 26. It reads: “Well, my brothers and sisters, let's summarize what I am saying. When you meet, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in an unknown language, while another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must be useful to all and build them up in the Lord.” The gifts are given to all of us to use to strengthen our church. Verse 40 at the end of chapter 14 summarizes best how our gifts are to be used. It reads, “
But be sure that everything is done properly and in order.” Properly and orderly! Our God equips us so we can serve others properly and in order. Years ago, Marcy and I took gifts testing. Of the 12 gifts listed as founded in the Bible, we each had six. The opposite six of each other. While I am the teacher, she is the servant. She is the encourager; I, the administrator. I am the one with discernment, she is not. And so it goes. God knew what each of us needed to honor Him in our service. Therefore, be encouraged, be very bold in your work for Christ, for He is for you and his very honor is at stake in your success.
"And I have appointed you that you go and bear fruit." If the origin and assurance of our ministry is salvation, the immediate aim is fruit-bearing. The context of John 15:1-16 answers three questions about fruit-bearing. First, what is it? Second, how shall we accomplish it? And, third, to what end should it be pursued?
First, what is fruit-bearing? What is the fruit you are called to bear—indeed must bear? I think fruit in this chapter is a broad term and embraces two things: love for people and the conversion of sinners. If you bear fruit you love people and win people to Christ. Let's take love first. The picture in verses 1 and 2 is that Christ is like a vine and you, his minister, are like a branch shooting off this vine. And God the Father is like the vinedresser who prunes back the branches so they bear the most fruit. Since the fruit is simply the out-forming of what has passed through the branch from the vine, we should ask, What is it that we receive from the vine? Jesus' answer is love. Abiding in Jesus means abiding in his love according to verse 9—"As the Father has loved me so have I loved you. Abide in my love." "Abide in me" is now replaced by "Abide in my love," and this shows more specifically what we receive when we are united to the vine, namely the sap of divine love. And it stands to reason then that what we receive from the vine flows through the branch and crops out in the fruit of love, for the nourishment and refreshment of other people.
In Living Faith Jimmy Carter writes:
A group of Christian laymen involved in missionary work approached a small village near an Amish settlement. Seeking a possible convert, they confronted an Amish farmer and asked him, “Brother, are you a Christian?”
The farmer thought for a moment and then said, “Wait just a few minutes.” He wrote down a list of names on a tablet and handed it to the lay evangelist. “Here is a list of people who know me best. Please ask them if I am a Christian.”
The evidence of faith is fruit
There is another way to see the same thing. Verse 2 says that if you don't bear fruit you don't abide in the vine; you get snapped off and thrown in the fire (v. 6). So in order to abide in the vine or to abide in Christ's love, we must bear fruit. There is an exact parallel to that thought in verse 10: "If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love." So "If you keep my commandments" and "if you bear fruit" mean the same thing. Or at least we can say that fruit-bearing includes keeping the commandments of Jesus. And if we ask, what is it in this context that Jesus means by "commandments" the answer again is love. Verse 12: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." And verse 17: "these things I command you, that you love one another." Therefore, love is fulfilling the commands of Jesus. And fulfilling the commands of Jesus is at least part of what it means to bear fruit. Therefore, bearing fruit means loving other people. It means letting the love which we constantly receive from Christ as we abide in him flow through us and out to others for their benefit. We love others from the overflow of divine love we receive. John 7:38 says: ”If you believe in me, come and drink! For the Scriptures declare that rivers of living water will flow out from within." What a beautiful description of our overflow. The water of life wells up within us, then spills over and becomes rivers of living water, irrigating and refreshing a drought-stricken world. That is overflowing Spirit-given love. I 1 Thessalonians 3:12, Paul says, “And may the Lord make your love grow and overflow to each other and to everyone else, just as our love overflows toward you.” In the next verse he gives the result: “As a result, Christ will make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy when you stand before God our Father on that day when our Lord Jesus comes with all those who belong to him.”
In his book “In Season and Out”, John Leax says: My garden has taught me to think ahead. For it to be fruitful, I must plan. I must build soil, plant, and nurture what I have planted. It has also taught me to hold the harvest lightly. Over the course of a season I can lose a crop to spring rains that rot the seed, slugs that eat new shoots, rabbits that eat everything, hail that breaks the strong, and drought that withers the weak. I can lose a crop because of my ignorance or my carelessness. Until I have the fruit in storage, where it can also spoil, I live with uncertainty. I do my best, work faithfully, and hope.
Secondly, I think the term "fruit" in this gospel is very broad and also includes the making of new disciples. In John 4:35,36 Jesus says, "Do not say, 'There are yet four months and then comes the harvest. I tell you lift up your eyes and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages and gathers fruit for eternal life so that sower and reaper may rejoice together." "Fruit for eternal life" in John 4:36 corresponds to fruit that abides in John 15:16 which says, "I appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. This would refer then to the fruitfulness of winning others to Christ who are then guarded by God's power for salvation: fruit with life expectancy/. Or should I say “fruit that expectantly creates new life.”
But probably in the mind of Christ these two meanings of fruit-bearing, love and making disciples, merged into one. If the fruit is the out-cropping of the love of Christ in our lives for the nourishment and refreshment of others, then surely among the benefits received from that fruit would be new believers. John 13:34,35 gives one example of how this happens: "A new commandment I give you that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Let me say it again: “all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The most winning and powerful witness we can give is the reality of love. So the fruitfulness of obedient love and the fruitfulness of winning people to Christ are really not two different things. They are one. And that is the aim of all your ministry.
Henri J.M. Nouwen in Lifesigns says: “Living with ... handicapped people, I realize how success-oriented I am. Living with men and women who cannot compete in the worlds of business, industry, sports, or academics but for whom dressing, walking, speaking, eating, drinking, and playing are the main “accomplishments,” is extremely frustrating for me. I may have come to the theoretical insight that being is more important than doing, but when asked to just be with people who can do very little I realize how far I am from the realization of that insight …. Some of us might be productive and others not, but we are all called to bear fruit: fruitfulness is a true quality of love.”
Thirdly, the second question that Jesus answers here about fruit-bearing is how it can be accomplished. The answer he gives (and the word is repeated 10 times) is: "Abide in me and I in you" (v. 4). Keep yourself attached, closely attached to the vine. "I am the vine, you are the branches. He abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (v. 5). Everything that we try to do, will come to nothing unless you do it through a conscious, abiding dependence on the enablement of Christ. No matter what I say, make it your aim for the rest of your life to discover in ever deeper experience what it means to abide in Christ. It is the secret of all fruitfulness. Everything else is hay, straw and stubble!
Roy Hession in The Calvary Road.
“Victorious living and effective soul-winning service are not the product of our better selves and hard endeavours, but are simply the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We are not called upon to produce the fruit, but simply to bear it.”
There are several pointers in the text that help us discover what fruitfulness means in practice. One is in verse 7: "If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will and it shall be done for you." As I said last week, abiding in Christ involves letting his words abide in us. Notice how these two things come together: the word abiding in you and effectual prayer. Here is the first and decisive line of battle in your ministry. We must, you must resist everything that would pull us away from rigorous study of God's Word and daily of prayerful meditation to let that word sink in and abide. The inwardly abiding word is a truth of Scripture believed, cherished, and rolled back and forth in the imagination until its implications spill over into daily life as love and joy and peace and righteousness. The word will not abide within us if we are in a hurry. We pastors deceive ourselves when we are so busy doing good things that we snatch a text and a prayer on the run and think that we will be mighty men of God and bear spiritual fruit. To be very specific, almost no minister of the Gospel will be a spiritually fruitful person if he is spending less that two hours a day in prayer and meditation on the Word of God in addition to his time spent in sermon preparation. Holy, powerful, life-changing spiritual men and women of God are not made on the run. There are so few people who believe that, that the expectations laid on you in His service will probably be a constant threat to your spiritual power and fruitfulness. But Christ has appointed us to go and bear fruit. So we need to resist the expectations of others with boldness and focus our lives on where God is directing us.
Our lives must be as holy as our prayers. Our prayers are to prove their reality by the fruit they bear in the holiness of our life. True devotion in prayer will assuredly be rewarded, by God’s grace, with the power to live a life of true devotion to Him and His service,. So says Andrew Murray in Aids to Devotion.
Fourth, one other pointer toward the practical meaning of abiding in Christ is the parallel phrase in verse 9: "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love." Christ's present love for me is his commitment to give me, right now and forever, everything that is good for me. Therefore, abiding in his love means constantly receiving as from his loving hand all things good for me. It means never doubting that he is doing me good, but always resting in his kindness. There is a great freedom in Christ when you are confident that wherever you may go is a place where the Lord of all loves you, that is, will do what is good for you. Believing that and acting on it is what it means to abide in the love of Christ. And if you do these things, you will bear much fruit.
Fifth and finally and briefly, the end for which you seek to bear fruit is not just your own joy (v. 11) or the benefit of your people: it is that God the Father might be glorified. Verse 8: "In this is my Father glorified: that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." The chief end of man and the chief end of ministry is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God is committed by the very nature of his divine righteousness to always act on behalf of his glory. He wills to display it and magnify it. And that brings us back to where we began. "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." The honor of Christ is at stake in whether you, whom he chose, bear fruit. But not only that, his father is glorified when you bear much fruit. And therefore his glory is at stake in the fruitfulness of your ministry. Therefore, every day of your life you can pray with tremendous confidence: Have mercy upon us, O God, and help us, Lord Jesus, lest your name be dishonored and your glory diminished.