“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 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. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” Matthew 7:15-20.
Jesus warned his disciples to examine the fruit of false prophets and the “tree.” Unfortunately, some Christians take this charge as license to go fruit pickin’ when dealing with other believers. In a conversation with friends a few weeks ago, I heard this complaint once again: “She (a former co-worker) always let everyone know how spiritual she was, but she was the most judgmental person in the organization, and the biggest troublemaker. I wouldn’t want to go to her church.” What a devastating charge. Her biggest witness to others was that she was picked at others’ fruit, and rejected it.
Anyone who has a garden knows that different plants produce different fruit, even within the same species. Different types of peach trees produce different types of peaches, and so on. Likewise, Christians will bear fruit differently. One might struggle with “longsuffering” but have an easy time with “goodness.” Another might be “patient” as can be but struggle with “kindness.” Yet, they are both bearing fruit in the Kingdom. Some will bear fruit, but before it is mature, the winds of life blow and they lose some of it. Shall I judge my brother because of his failure? Do I put down my sister because her fruit isn’t up to my quality? I think not.
The Apostle Paul listed the fruit that comes from living in the Spirit of God: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22,23). Friends, our job is to produce fruit in keeping with God’s glory, but this doesn’t happen by our own strength. We are able to bear fruit because we are grafted in to the body of Christ. The life that flows from the Father, through the Holy Spirit, is what gives us the ability to do so, but it is an individual task (John 15:4). I need to be so concentrated on my own fruit that I have no time to judge another. And when I am bearing fruit, I can encourage my brother and sister. I can help them grow in faith and fruit!
Although Jesus teaches us to examine the fruit of “prophets,” he also teaches us to refrain from judging others. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).
John the Baptist claimed that “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:9); however, John doesn’t do the cutting. Sorting through the “trees” is God’s job. Separating the goats from the sheep is a divine task. Dividing the wheat from the chaff is done at God’s command. The Father prunes the branches that produce no fruit (John 15:2).
Friends, we come from different churches, backgrounds, traditions, and yet we have something in common: the blood of Jesus Christ. When we usurp God’s roles we cause factions and dissensions, both listed as acts of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:19). When we appoint ourselves as fruit inspectors, picking at the fruit borne by our brothers and sisters in Christ, we tear down the faith of others, rather than building it up.
While there may be a time for correcting a brother or sister, we do so at our own peril if we have not judged ourselves first, if we have not examined ourselves to be sure we are producing fruit worthy of the gospel. “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).
Pastor Mary Kay Glunt