“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
I have a knee jerk reaction whenever I hear someone try to succinctly state what the Christian life is all about. Because we are talking about life, any description cannot be succinct. Any attempt to summarize the Christian faith and life will inevitably leave something out. Given the nature of this brief, hastily written, belated midweek message, I know I will omit a thing or two as well, that’s why I keep writing week after week.
Still, in preparation for my sermon this week on Matthew 21:18-22, the story of Jesus cursing the barren fig tree, my mind has been racing around the idea of how the Christian life is about being fruitful. The fig tree represented Israel. The tree’s show of fullness and health only masked it’s emptiness; there was no fruit to be found. Israel’s pomp and hyper-religious production only masked it’s emptiness; they failed to recognize their King, they had turned a house of prayer into a marketplace and den of thieves. What had been meant to be a light for the world had become a Sun-Tan salon for the spiritually superior, with the ensuing cancer eating away at the soul of the nation.
Those who are called God’s people are meant to be fruitful; to be a blessing to the nations, to be the light of world, the salt of the earth. This was Israel’s calling, and the fig tree stood as a symbol, a parable, of the curse that would come because of their fruitlessness.
The message serves as a warning to the Church today. Are we fruitful? Is the evidence of God’s Spirit working among us showing forth in a growing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – showing in the fellowship of the congregation and in the individual lives of its members?
This isn’t a call to work harder at being a better Christian. The Pharisees and Priests in Israel, the “religiously serious” had a pretty good handle on how to work harder at doing right by God – and Jesus called them whitewashed tombs.
No, the answer to fruitfulness in the Christian life is not doing more stuff. And here’s where I might narrow the focus a bit:
The purpose of the Christian life is not in the doing, it is in the being. Christ did not come so that we could be better people, so that we could have the encouragement to try harder, or so that we could have a better example of how to live.
No. Christ came to make us a new creation, to cover our brokenness with his perfection, so that our lives would become lives of thanksgiving and praise to God for such a gift of salvation. The fruitfulness that Christ is looking for in the life of His church, in the lives of His disciples, is not the product of harder effort, but of true fellowship with him.
This is what Jesus is getting at in our reading from John. We are branches grafted into the vine. Our strength, our fruitfulness, does not come from the branch, from ourselves, but from the vine which is our source of life. When we are connected, fellowshipping, in union with Christ, our lives will bear the natural consequence of that union: fruitfulness. When we are absent from Christ, when we fail to listen and obey His word, when prayer and fellowship with Christ is forsaken, then we will cease to bear fruit.
Fruitfulness is the natural consequence of faithfulness to Christ.
We have some friends who like to burn scented candles in their homes. When you go to visit, the aroma of their candles permeate and saturate your being. When you leave, you carry that aroma with you.
So it is with Christ. The beautiful aroma of sweet fellowship with Christ permeate and saturates your life, until everything you do is an overflowing of that fellowship, and comes forth like fruit from the vine.
May your fellowship with Christ be seen in the fruitfulness of your life.