Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad

and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. (Matt 12:33)

Jesus is providing some important lessons in this comparison of our lives with fruit-bearing trees, and the first one is that we were created to produce fruit. We may also provide shade and a perch for the birds, but our primary purpose is to produce fruit for God’s kingdom.

We all bear fruit. The real question is, what kind and what quality?

Good fruit is well-developed, reaching its full potential. It’s firm, able to withstand wind and weather, pestilence and disease. It endures and flourishes because it is firmly attached to the branch, and the branch is strong enough to hold it because it is firmly attached to the vine or trunk.

Bad fruit is under-developed. It’s been twisted by impure motives, blemished by greed or pride or ambition, infested with bitterness, envy or legalism. It’s shrivelled by unforgiveness or made rotten by self-righteousness. It’s soft and easily attacked or dislodged because it’s only loosely attached to the branch.

The second lesson is that the quality of the fruit starts with the integrity of the tree. The tree doesn’t have to be perfect (good thing!!), but it does have to be genuine. Only a sincere commitment to Jesus as Lord will provide the careful nurture that produces nourishing fruit for our spirits and those of the lives we touch.

God knows the exact state of the tree that is my life, and the resulting fruit-production. Unfortunately, I have a great capacity to blur the picture. Usually the distortion comes from my circumstances or my state of mind. When things are going well both in me and around me, I may be quite satisfied with my fruit. When they’re not, I can write off any kind of production as well below standard, if not completely rotten. So how can I accurately evaluate the health of my tree and, by extension, the value of my fruit? These questions, answered honestly, help me to move more in line with reality:

  • Does the fruit I’m producing come from what God led me to plant, or what I chose to plant? My “good ideas” and not always “God ideas,” and the results are very different.

  • Do I do the work, or do I allow God to do the work through me? When I’m in charge, sooner or later things tend to fizzle on a grand scale. When I remember to pray for God’s leading and then pay attention to it, the result is far better.

  • Do I measure success by volume or by nutritional value? Piling up production is of little value if the fruit is just empty spiritual calories. I need to spend my energy on what will feed a need, and only God knows what that looks like.

  • What are my motives? Am I producing fruit so I’ll feel worthy? To meet the expectations of others? To gain status or authority? Or am I producing fruit for God’s purposes?

  • Am I willing to wait? Some fruit takes years to produce; am I too impatient for quick results? Do I give up cultivating long before I should expect a crop, or do I trust that God is working and then keep working alongside Him?

When I’m feeling like my life is fruitless, it helps to take a hard look at why, and then take the answers I find to the throne of grace. There I can honestly confess my mixed motives and mistakes, knowing I’ll find mercy and love and new direction. And that in itself is the beginning of fruitfulness.