The Fruitful Life
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant…” Matthew 25:21
With all my heart, I long to hear those six words. At the end of my days, when all my words, actions, and efforts are measured, I can think of no trophy more desirable than this. My hours, my days, and my life is built unto this glorious end. God knows I fall short, often and awesomely; nonetheless, this is my aim, and for this I strive.
As I consider how to achieve such a lofty goal, there is one passage more than any other that guides my day to day living. John 15:1-11, a section of Jesus’s words from the Last Supper, when he said the following to his disciples…
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
In this passage, I see four things worthy of our attention as we seek the “Well Done” of our Father.
1-All fruit comes from Jesus.
Jesus’ metaphor of the vine here communicates many things, but none more so than this: a fruitful life flows only from Jesus. As there can never be fruit on a branch apart from a vine, so it is with us – the spiritual fruitfulness of our lives is utterly dependent upon Jesus. His power is the definitive lynchpin. Where it fails to appear, fruit is impossible. Without Him, our aims, effort, and gifts are irrelevant. He alone is the great originator, and our need for Him in bearing fruit is quite literally infinite. In Jesus’ words, “apart from me, you can do nothing.”
2-Fruit always follows abiding.
While the fruit is utterly dependent upon Jesus, quite interestingly, this metaphor also clearly teaches us we are not uninvolved. God has ordained human action in the process of bearing fruit. We have a role here, a critical verb to fulfill – to abide. Abide means to reside, remain, and stay. It connotes endurance, similar to the idea of faithfulness and steadfastness. It’s an active verb to be sure, but its action is all wrapped up in the work of inaction. In a sense, we could say that abiding means to not go, to not leave, and to not move on. We are to stay put.
The fruitful live flows from Jesus as we abide in Him. Ten times he repeats it, driving home this essential truth – to have fruit, we don’t have to try to have fruit. We simply have to cling to Jesus, and then He brings it by His own power. The fruit comes naturally as we abide. Our spiritual utility in the Kingdom of God depends not on the strength of our skills, but the strength of our grip. As we cling, His power flows to grow the fruit.
3-Fruit leads to pruning.
The metaphor extends past the plant to the gardener – God the Father, who serves as the vinedresser, tending to the vine with a watchfulness that is looking for fruitfulness (v2). Where fruit is missing, the gardener goes to work (the imagery here is terrifying – take away, throw away, fire, burned…). But where He sees fruit, he also goes to work with another interesting verb – pruning.
Viticulturalists (yes, that’s a thing) have an entire science devoted to the art of pruning. There’s pinching, topping, hedging, thinning, and suckering – all unique techniques to artfully cut the vine to promote fruitfulness. In effect, they cause intentional temporary harm to provoke intensified lasting fruit. To the untrained eye, it looks like destruction. To the trained hand, it’s the most careful and intentional care.
Don’t miss the metaphor. Want a fruitful life? Want to hear those glorious words, “Well done, good and faithful servant?” Buckle up for some heavenly pruning. With his perfect hand, God providentially prunes the fruitful branches, that they might become even more fruitful.
4-Fruit brings great glory to God.
Verse 8 says, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” God looks beautiful in the abiding life. Hands clinging to Jesus, channeling supernatural power for spiritual fruit, earning the painful pruning for even greater fruit, leading to an abundantly fruitful harvest brings great glory to God. Is there anything more that we want?
And don’t miss it. God makes himself responsible for all the result and nearly all the effort. He has left us one simple, small, critical place in the process – abiding. We are to stay put, to reside, to refuse to move on. We cling to Jesus with all our might, holding on tight as He does all of the rest. Truly, He glorifies Himself, as we cling to Him.
So… Want the “well done”? Cling. Reside. Abide. Apart from Him, we’ve got nothing.