by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
What does it mean to have a fruit-bearing faith in God? And for that matter, why should we even care?
In His outpouring of love, God wishes nothing higher for humanity than that we should, by His grace, grow in His likeness for the sake of our own personal wellbeing…and for the wellbeing of God’s entire creation. God, as three persons in loving community (Father, Son, & Holy Spirit), wishes primarily for us to live for the sake of others, pouring out love for others in the same way that God continually pours out love on behalf of the other. We were actually made for this lifegiving way of unity with God. And one of the ways that God instructs His beloved people about this pouring out of love is with using the illustration of vines, trees, and grain…all bearing fruit. Not only is the bearing of fruit an expression of God’s self-giving love, but so also, the harvesting of that fruit an expression of God’s love. So, throughout the bible, God mentions fruit-bearing quite a bit. It’s something He insists is what it means for us to be a part of Him!
From the very beginning, God instructed Adam & Eve to “be fruitful and multiply,” giving them the role of loving management over the outcome of every living thing on earth (Genesis 1:28). As a young couple, learning how to be a family, God assures them that they weren’t created for their own selves…and not merely for each other…but rather, as persons created in the image of God’s self-offering love, they were to fulfill together, an unselfish role for the sake of the world. This is to help them to grow into God’s likeness, because that’s the way God, as Trinity, lovingly cares for His creation. To this day, that very concept is still emphasized in the Orthodox Wedding Ceremony, when the priest prays several similarly-minded prayers of blessing for the couple, like: “Give to them fruit of the womb, fair children…bestow on them a rich supply of sustenance, so that having an abundance of all things for themselves, they may, for others, abound in every good work that is good and acceptable before You.”
The Psalmist, King David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, stirs up his readers with a snapshot of the Lord, Jesus Christ, who’d be born a thousand in the future: ‘Blessed is the Man whose delighted continual meditation is on obeying the Law of the Lord. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that produces its fruit in its season…’ (Psalm 1:1-6). And of course, Jesus’ living His life in this way, eventually, in its season, bore forth the kind of fruit that would have a transformative effect on millions of people throughout the world. The Lord, Jesus, as God in human flesh, shows us exactly what it looks like to be unified with His Father, and the Holy Spirit. During His lifetime on earth, Jesus was continually in the Temple and the synagogue, delighting Himself with meditating on God’s Law. He became entirely focused on obeying and loving God with all His heart, soul, strength and mind…and with loving His neighbor as Himself. Jesus spent His whole life as God’s ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:18-20), working to reconcile creation back to Him. In fact, Jesus did all of this to the point of self-sacrificial suffering and death. But the Psalmist isn’t just talking about Jesus. He’s also describing what people who claim to be united with Jesus do. There’s a great blessing of fruit-bearing that comes to us, when we delight ourselves with daily meditation on the “streams of water” of God’s teaching…and we then go out from there obeying it. There’s an enormous, fruit-bearing blessing that comes to us when we continually pour ourselves out in a discipline of the sacramental, and liturgical life of the Church (The Law of the Lord—“loving God with our whole heart, soul, strength and mind) …and then, in a discipline of loving self-sacrifice, when we, as a continual movement with loving God, also pour ourselves out in love for our neighbor in tangible ways (The Law of the Lord—“loving our neighbor as ourselves”).
At the beginning of His teaching ministry, in His sermon on the mount, Jesus cautions his listeners about the dangers of being inattentive to such to fruit-bearing, saying, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:19-21). Likewise, at the end of His ministry, in some of His last words to His disciples just before going to His death, Jesus highlights this by saying, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). And Jesus further emphasizes this in that same scene saying, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:16).
Notice further the outward nature of the cultivation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Saint Paul says, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” (Galatians 5:22). In the context of the surrounding text, this fruit was never meant to be something that I produce for myself, in my prayer-corner, as I merely repent and weep for my sins, trying to enter the Kingdom of God. To approach it that way makes us more like the Protestants who believe that faith is an individualistic thing, expressed in that old country song that says, “Me and Jesus got our own thing going. Me and Jesus got it all worked out.” To view the acquisition of the Holy Spirit in such a self-absorbed way is a perversion of the Orthodox Christian faith. Rather, in keeping with the entire fruit-bearing message that God gives us throughout the scriptures, these combined virtues express one single fruit that’s outwardly focused, beginning with love. To acquire the Holy Spirit, is to become unified with God’s mission of lovingly reconciling creation back to Him.
There’s a moving passage in one scene of Jesus’ ministry where we get some insight into His very heart. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His field to bring in His harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).
As you grow to become unified with Jesus, becoming what God created you to be—to be a self-offeror, bearing the fruit of His love into the world—can you also (at our Lord’s request) begin praying this prayer, “asking the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His field to bring in His harvest”? Is it possible that in praying this prayer, you find your heart attuned to resonate with His? And thus, looking around at the world surrounding us, do you also see (with the Lord’s heart) the way people around you are harassed and made helpless by the devil and his demons, like sheep without a shepherd? Are you too, like Jesus, moved to compassion? Then perhaps, like the prophet Isaiah (6:8), you can selflessly and lovingly learn to say, “Here I am Lord. Send me.”