Wednesday, August 22, 2018

What is Fruit?: The Multiplication of Reproduction

This is the final installment in the “What is Fruit?” series. We first looked at why the metaphor of fruit is used to represent our good works—works are not the root of our salvation, but the product of new life already in existence. We then looked at why works are still important, as they are the natural consequence of salvation and betray that we are Christ’s. Last time, we looked at the patience and work required to see fruit germinate. This time, we look at how plants reproduce.

“It’s not the seeds in the apple. It’s the apples in the seeds.”

This was widely considered one of the most memorable lines from my years going to Youth Congress, a summer youth retreat my home church used to go to at The Crown College of the Bible. Dr. Mitch Campbell, a brilliant orthopedic surgeon on staff at the University of Louisville’s medical school, was one of the preachers at Youth Congress for several years I went. He has some memorable sermons, some of which were pretty unconventional, but I think this one sticks out to many people.

Dr. Campbell was describing how our fruit, to us, may not seem much, even if we labor for it. Our fruit may only have a handful of seeds. But his quote sums up so well the principle of multiplication.

Seeds come from the fruit on a plant, and they are planted to produce more fruit. Those seeds become plants, which produce fruit with seeds, and those seeds are planted…Do you get the picture?

Each seed that comes from that fruit can become a plant of its own and produces fruit with seeds of their own. If an apple tree has five apples, and each apple has five seeds, there are 25 potential trees hanging on that tree, and that’s just the first round. Then there can be 25 more potential trees on each of those 25 trees.

Multiplication is God’s way of population. God’s instruction to His creation:
And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. –Genesis 1:22 
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. –Genesis 1:28
Probably the greatest photo ever taken at Youth Congress
God’s plan for populating the Earth was to multiply. It began with two humans who multiplied, and then their offspring multiplied, and so on. Now there are some 7 billion of us.

We see this repeatedly in Acts:
And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied… –Acts 6:1 
Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied. –Acts 9:31 
But the word of God grew and multiplied. –Acts 12:24 
And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region. –Acts 13:48-49 
So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed. –Acts 19:20
One specific biblical example we can look to for a line of conversions is the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. The eunuch became a convert under Philip’s ministry. Philip, it is assumed, was converted under the apostles’ ministry in Jerusalem. The apostles were apostles of Jesus. Another example is Timothy’s church. Although little detail is found about it, there were obviously converts from Timothy’s ministry, who was a convert of Paul’s ministry, who was an apostle of Jesus. I’d bet there were people in Timothy’s ministry who had their own converts.

I’m sure there are various reasons for the explosion of Christianity in the years following the resurrection. Persecution. Services where thousands were saved. The signs and wonders following the apostles. But we have to look at multiplication as being a big reason. All of Asia Minor did not hear the gospel directly from Paul’s mouth (Acts 19:10). But some people did, and they spread the gospel to people who spread the gospel.

We can all probably look at a line of people in our own lives that started with one person. Unfortunately, this isn’t widespread, but it is supposed to be. It is God’s desire and His plan:
(As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever. Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness;) –II Corinthians 9:9-10
Reproduction cannot take place if we are not producing fruit. Christianity will not grow unless we obey God in reproducing other Christians.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive study of multiplication. Rather, it is a fitting end to the study of the metaphor of fruit in the Bible. Plants reproduce for the growth of the “species.” It was God’s design to use multiplication to populate the Earth. In the same way, He uses multiplication to populate the Kingdom of Heaven. It is our responsibility. And it is an encouragement. God takes our work of reproducing other Christians and turns it into so much more.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

What is Fruit?: The Patience and Time Required for Germination

This is the third of four parts in the “What is Fruit?” series. In the first post, I examined the original question. There is a reason that the fruit metaphor is used in the Bible. Fruit is the product of an already-existing life. Works are not the root of our salvation. They are produced out of the new life in Christ. In the second post, I remind us that, while works are not a part of salvation, they should be evident in the life of a Christian. They are the sign that betrays that we are children of God. A Christian life without fruit is either unhealthy or dead. In this third post…

It was last summer, one of the most up-and-down periods of my life. It had been a while since I had seen my friend Brooke, who was a key person in my support network. Our schedules weren’t working out, so we talked on the phone one evening. She began to talk about her role in her church with a group of girls, who were beginning to really open up to her after some months of gaining their trust.

“That’s the thing about fruit,” I told her. “It doesn’t develop immediately. It takes time for it to show up.”

I’ve covered why the fruit metaphor (fruit equaling works) is used in relation to salvation. Works are not what save us, or give us new life, but they come as a natural result of the new life we already have. I’ve also discussed why they betray that we are children of God, and that healthy Christians will have fruit as a result of salvation, even though they themselves do not save nor are joined with faith to save.

Here’s another thing about fruit: It doesn’t happen right away. There has to be a period of growth, and there will be seasons of hardship. And when fruit fully matures, new fruit has to grow (John 15:2).

We can see this in the lives of people in the Bible. Peter chose to follow Christ, but he regularly showed his spiritual immaturity:
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. –Matthew 17:1-6 
And [Jesus] began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men. –Mark 8:31-33 
And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? –Matthew 14:25-31 
These trees have produced fruit before and will again, but are facing a
barren season right now.
Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit… –John 13:3-10a
And, of course:
Then took they him, and led him, and brought him into the high priest's house. And Peter followed afar off. And when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the hall, and were set down together, Peter sat down among them. But a certain maid beheld him as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked upon him, and said, This man was also with him. And he denied him, saying, Woman, I know him not. And after a little while another saw him, and said, Thou art also of them. And Peter said, Man, I am not. And about the space of one hour after another confidently affirmed, saying, Of a truth this fellow also was with him: for he is a Galilaean. And Peter said, Man, I know not what thou sayest. And immediately, while he yet spake, the cock crew. And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly. –Luke 24:54-62
Peter just didn’t always get it. But did being with Jesus have an effect on His growth? We see it in his confession that Jesus is the Christ. We see it in his willingness to get out of the boat. And after Peter has an encounter with the risen Christ, things really change. Mind you, this is not Peter’s conversion. Peter chose to follow Jesus some three-and-a-half years earlier. But this is a new experience, and it leaves an impression. We see Peter boldly stand up on Pentecost and preach about this risen Jesus:
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel… –Acts 2:14-16
In the next chapter, Peter heals a lame man, and when the people around him gawk and are astonished, he looks at them and starts preaching that the man was healed in Jesus’s name, the same Jesus that they crucified, and they need to repent and be converted. Then he gets dragged in front of the Council and does the same thing!
Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. –Acts 4:10-12
The Council forbids Peter and the apostles to preach in Jesus’s name. But they do it anyway, and they get arrested:
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him. –Acts 5:27-32
But even then, we still see Peter make mistakes. When God told him to take the gospel to the Gentiles, he questioned God several times. At one point Paul has to correct him (Galatians 2). So Peter takes a while to mature, then still has shortcomings and dry seasons.

We also see a necessary time of growth in Paul’s life after salvation:
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. –Galatians 1:15-18
The widely-accepted theory about this passage is that, after “Saul’s” miraculous conversion, God brought him into the wilderness to instruct him. Charles Stanley has this to say:
After Paul’s conversion, he disappeared into the desert for three years, during which time the Holy Spirit instructed him in the ways of God. He emerged, ready to communicate divine truth. 
The Lord speaks to believers so that they will comprehend the truth, conform to the truth, and communicate the truth. These same steps form a roadmap to discipleship. What happened during Paul’s desert years was only the beginning of a life-long process—God renewed his mind and transformed him into the image of Christ. For the apostle, that change began with connecting his rich biblical knowledge to the revelation that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.
There is no perfect comparison because Paul was being endowed with special revelation which he then would communicate to the various churches he plants. Today we have the entire revelation of God through the scriptures, part of which is comprised of Paul’s writings. However, it is important to note that, before Paul ever sees fruit in the form of reproducing other Christians, there was a period of growth in which he sat at Jesus’s feet and learned from Him.

This isn’t an excuse for fruitlessness. This is a realistic perspective of our lives and others’ lives. We may wonder why we aren’t where Peter or Paul were at the end of their lives. But we have to remember that they didn’t start that way. There was a period of growth. We see Peter struggle for several years before Pentecost, and even afterwards there were times that he had to be corrected. The same will be true of us.

We also have to keep that perspective about others. We can’t look at a young Christian and expect the spiritual maturity of one who has been a Christian for years.
Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. –I Peter 2:1-3
I remember where I was as an underclassman versus where I was as an upperclassman, and it helped me in my relationships with younger students in ministry. If they have older people to mentor them and are actively pursuing God, they will mature spiritually, just as anyone will in those circumstances.

Another thing related to the germination of fruit: It will take time for our fruit to develop. And it may not involve only us:
I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. –I Corinthians 3:6
Alex (second from left), I, and a few friends in search of train cars that had
slid into a creek in Indiana. We found them months later on a second try.
Of course, the context of this verse is that we are not the ones that bring the fruit. God is. But, we can glean from this that it isn’t always just one person that brings someone to salvation or helps a Christian mature. I’d say it rarely is. I remember stories from Beach Reach in which a spring breaker would get saved later on in the week after several encounters with other teams. I can think of several people who played big roles in my friend Alex’s conversion when I was a sophomore, and many who played smaller roles.

And on top of that, this often takes time. My grandpa became a Christian after years of hearing the gospel. It was months of being around ministry and conversations before Alex was saved. That’s the reality of the incubation of fruit. We don’t harvest in June. The fruit matures until it is ready to be gathered. It doesn’t happen overnight. But it does happen. Christians mature, and people we have spoken to and prayed for over months or years come to be children of God.

In what is, finally, the last post of this series, I will examine what comes next. I wasn’t planning a fourth post, but as I wrote this one I was excited by the significance of the seeds in fruit. It is critical in understanding evangelism and how we reproduce other Christians. Don’t think addition. Think multiplication.

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