One of our first memories in Colorado was pulling over to a fruit stand on the Uncompahgre River near Ouray. A western Colorado orchard had set up a little stand, and their fruit was on display. We were impressed at the size and quality of the fruit they had grown. We learned that the hot days and cool nights of the Grand Valley lead to very high quality fruit—that and a lot of careful guarding and tending on the part of the fruit farmers. Beautiful fruit rarely happens by accident, because it results from a lot of diligent, intentional actions along the way.
In Philippians 1, Paul tells the church his prayers for them include a petition for their spiritual fruit. He has just expressed a desire that their love might abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that they may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until Jesus comes again. While all of this is happening, he prays that they may be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Christ Jesus—to the glory and praise of God.”
Fruit is a familiar theme in the New Testament. In John 15, Jesus used the analogy of himself as the vine, and his followers as the branches, saying that those who abide in him bear much fruit, but apart from him we can do nothing. Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit (who indwells every follower of Christ) as: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, good ness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). In these teachings we see that we are not the source of these qualities. Rather, intimate relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit is the source. Our remaining in relationship with him is what taps us into the supernatural resources we need to bear much fruit. Apart from him, we can do nothing, Jesus states. It is not that humans are incapable of producing good deeds, it is that deeds apart from an abiding relationship with Christ produce only temporary fruit, and tend to glorify the individual in some way (I will look good; I will feel better about myself). In contrast, the fruit that Paul speaks of draws its nectar from the Spirit of God, and nourishes for eternity.
Though we cannot produce eternal, spiritual fruit apart from relationship with Christ, this fruit does require some tending. We need to know and understand what God thinks and how he feels about people and the world. It is a common practice for people to say things like, “I think,” or “I believe,” without scriptural basis for these thoughts and beliefs. To paraphrase Augustine, such a person does not believe the gospel, but himself. Time in God’s Word is the way we can build an internal library; the Spirit can then direct our listening hearts based on what God thinks—not what we decide or the culture tells us to believe. In this way, we can tend the fruit of the Spirit; adopting God’s perspective on things and people changes how we act and feel. It causes us to bear fruit, abundantly.
It is my prayer, as we abound more and more in knowledge of Scripture and depth of insight, that we will be able to discern and remain blameless, looking for his coming. As we do, may we be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus. And may God receive the glory.
“This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11