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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Bearing Much Fruit

Fifth Sunday of Easter


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.


“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

John 15:1-8


I don’t know about you, but when I wake up in the morning it takes a while to get my juices flowing. I need a glass of orange juice or a cup of “percolator juice” to get me going. “Juice” – we use that word a lot in our language, especially as slang. If you want electricity to flow, you have to turn on the “juice”. When you want to pass someone on the highway, you step on the gas and “give it the juice”. An interesting bit of gossip is “juicy”, and so is a profitable, “juicy” contract. If you’ve had too much alcohol, you’re “juiced”. And even milk is known as “moo juice”! And this sermon will be okay if I “juice it up” a little!


Juice is an important part of our lives and our language. We need juice, literally and figuratively – in our spiritual lives, too! As branches connected to Jesus, the True Vine, we need His juices flowing through us if we’re going to bear fruit and bring glory to God.


People ask, “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” and if they don’t know the answer, they experience frustration and failure. This “identity crisis” has destroyed a lot of people.


But the Christian doesn’t need to have an identity crisis. Jesus tells us who we are, and why we’re here! We are branches, branches connected to Jesus, the True Vine. And we are here to bear fruit. Once we accept this simple fact, we’re on our way to a life that’s meaningful and useful.


How did we become branches in Christ, the Vine? By Baptism, and by trusting Him as our Savior and Lord. By faith, we have a living relationship with Christ. We’re not just members of a religious group; we are living branches, grafted into the living vine. And just as branches get their life from the vine, so we believers get our life from Jesus.


If a person doesn’t have this living union with Christ, they can’t bear fruit. Fruit is the result of life. You can manufacture religious substitutes, but they won’t be what God calls fruit.


The reason God saved us is that we might bear fruit in this world. We’re living in a dark and hungry world where people are starving for spiritual reality. Branches don’t bear fruit for the branches to eat – branches bear fruit for others to eat! One of the great joys of life is sharing this fruit with others. That’s why we’re here!


Fruit-bearing is a gradual process: first there are the leaves; then the flowers; and then the fruit. God provides the soil, the air, the sun, and the water. Day by day the branches develop; day by day the fruit is produced. If we look for instant fruit, we’ll be disappointed. Fruit has to be cultivated. And the branch must remain in the vine and draw on its life juices.


So – the reason God made you, and saved you, is that you might bear fruit in this world. And listen to this: He has put you where you are so that you might accomplish His special purpose! There’s fruit to be produced where you are that nobody can produce but you! It’s a privilege and a responsibility to be one of Jesus’ branches!


Now let’s “juice it up” a little by getting practical. What’s Jesus talking about anyway? What’s this “fruit” that he wants us to bear? Well, it takes many different forms – we’ll just look at some of them.


First of all, leading others to Christ and helping them grow is fruit. Paul wrote to his friends at Rome, “Often I have planned to come to you… in order that I might obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.” (Romans 1:13)


There’s a lot of pictures in the Bible of the ministry of witnessing and leading others to Christ. Proverbs 11:30 says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.” The word “wins” here calls to mind a hunter taking his prey. Sometimes we have to track down a lost soul in order to “take him” for Christ! Jesus compared evangelism to catching fish. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17) Paul compared the evangelist to an ambassador (2 Cor. 5:20) and Jesus said the soul-winner was a harvester. (John 4:35) Zechariah (3:2) pictures the soul-winner as a fireman, snatching a burning stick from the fire.


All of these pictures are true, because the ministry of leading others to Christ has many aspects to it. There are times when soul-winning is a dangerous, dramatic experience as we snatch sticks out of the fire. At other times we calmly and patiently sow the seed and ask God for a harvest. Sometimes others work with us and we cast the net into the sea and catch many fish. Again, sometimes we share a personal witness with one soul, and as faithful ambassadors share the Good News.


But in all of these pictures, one factor is constant: life! The hunter, the fisherman, the harvester, the fireman, and the ambassador must have life to do their job. And this life can only come from Jesus Christ. As we are united to Him, His life flows in us and through us, and we bear fruit.


“I am the vine, and you are the branches.” We’re not the ones who do the work; Jesus does it in us and through us. We make ourselves available to Him, and He makes His life available to us. Paul put it this way in his letter to the Corinthians: “I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (I Cor. 15:10)


It’s a joy and a privilege to lead others to Christ. It’s not a result of just memorizing verses or passing courses – though those things help – it’s the result of letting Christ’s life flow through us and bear fruit. So Jesus said, “No branch can bear fruit by itself, it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4)


Another kind of fruit Jesus helps us to bear is sharing what we possess. When Paul gathered a missionary offering from the Gentiles for the poor saints in Jerusalem, he called the offering “fruit”. “After I have completed this task,” he wrote to the Christians in Rome, “and made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way.” (Romans 15:28)


One of the characteristics of the early Christians was their joyful sharing of their possessions. It wasn’t communism – it was Christian compassion. “Selling their possessions and goods,” we read in Acts, “they gave to anyone as they had need.” (Acts 2:45)


God hasn’t commanded us to follow their exact example, but He has encouraged us to share what we have with others. As John asked in his first Epistle, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (I John 3:17)


Giving to God, and giving to others in the name of God, is not something that we do; it’s the result of what we are, and what He has done for us! When a branch is receiving life from the vine, it can’t help but give! The branch exists to give! For the branch, giving and living are synonymous. To live is to give; to give is to live. Believers can’t selfishly hold on to whatever material blessing God gives them. Branches abiding in the True Vine can’t help but give!


Christian character is another kind of fruit, and it’s described in Galatians 5:22-23: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Who doesn’t want to have those qualities in their life? Who doesn’t wish other people had those qualities in their lives?


The world has substitutes for these Christian graces, but it can’t duplicate them. Certainly, unsaved people enjoy love, but not that deep agape love that comes from the heart of God! The world manufactures entertainment and even happiness – but it can’t manufacture that deep joy that comes from Christ! You can buy sleep, but you can’t buy peace! All of these qualities are spiritual fruit that only the Holy Spirit can produce in us, and only as we are branches connected to Jesus, the True Vine.


Each of us wants to improve ourselves. We have weaknesses we’d like to be rid of, and we have strengths we’d like to improve. How do we do it? By being branches in the Vine! As the life of Christ comes in, we find old things passing away and new things taking their place. Just like the dead leaves that hung on the live oak trees all winter – now the new growth is pushing those dead leaves off.

We’re not saved by our good works. “We are saved by grace… through faith” (Eph. 2:8-9) But the result of salvation is always service. And Paul continues, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:10) Each Christian has his own ministry to fulfill, and no Christian is competing with any other Christian in the will of God!


Some of the branches produce their “good works” fruits in their own homes. Others serve Christ in stores and offices, in factories or in the cabs of trucks. The student, the teacher, the contractor, the policeman, the nurse, the self-employed – and on and on – all of these who are Christians serve Jesus Christ by accomplishing the good works He has planned for them. In the Christian life, there’s no such thing as “secular” and “sacred”. As Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (I Cor. 10:31) A Christian pilot can serve the Lord just as much as the missionaries he’s flying to the field.


This truth elevates your vocation, whatever it is, and makes it a ministry for the Lord. And that includes the kitchen sink and the diaper-changing table. God can use you in any honorable calling to bring glory to His name. You can be “fruitful in every good work” and serve Jesus Christ.


Just briefly, one more kind of fruit we can bear: praising and thanking God. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way: “Through Jesus, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His name.” (Heb. 13:15)


The Old Testament worshippers brought the fruit of their fields for a sacrifice to God. The New Testament worshippers bring the “fruit” of their lips. By our words, and our worship, we praise and glorify God. As branches abiding in the Vine, praising and thanking God becomes a natural thing. The hymns, the scripture responses, the scripture readings, and sermon commentary, the prayers – all of these things are the “fruit of our lips.”


These, then, are some of the different kinds of fruit God wants us to bear in our lives: witnessing and winning souls; Christian character; sharing our gifts; good works; and praise and thanks. And the Lord makes it clear that this fruit-bearing is to be a continuous experience: “Fruit… more fruit… much fruit.” Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”


The secret of living is fruit-bearing. God didn’t create us, and Christ didn’t die for us, so that we might go through life getting! God created us, and Christ died for us, so that we might invest our lives giving! If we refuse to bear fruit, we’ll miss the true meaning of the Christian life. If we yield to Christ, and permit His life to create His fruit through us, then we’ll really live.


Right now, we are either wasting our life, spending our life, or investing our life. We’re the ones who determine which course we’ll follow. May God help us to invest our lives in Him, bearing much fruit to His glory.


Amen

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