When Paul exhorts the Philippians, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” (chapter 4 verse17), he shifts the focus from material giving to eternal things.
Not that there is anything positively wrong with the things of this world as gifts from God, for almost straight away he encourages, “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians chapter 4 verse 19), but rather that the emphasis must fall on our relationship with Jesus.
What this means in practice has been a source of difference amongst believers. An important teaching of Christ is a case in point.
What is Fruit?
Sincere Christians have long disagreed about the content of “fruit”. Taking John chapter 15 verse 5 as an example, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing”. Is this a promise of many converts, or growth in virtue.
Having known various effective evangelists who were not special at “abiding”, encourages me towards the second option. There is in fact a deep connection between the person of Christ and spiritual fruit. Let’s take the first three fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians chapter verse 22-23, love, joy and peace.
Jesus said, “as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John chapter 13 verse34), “my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John chapter 15 verse 11), “my peace I give to you” (John chapter 14 verse 27).
The fruit in the life of a follower of Jesus is nothing less than a share in his own life, a communion with the nature of God (2 Peter chapter 1 verse 4). Rich fruitfulness depends on two great spiritual realities.
At the centre of Paul’s great exalting prayer in Ephesians chapter 3 is the longing “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (verse 17). Given that the essence of faith is trust, in what does the believer trust so that the indwelling presence of Christ becomes ever more intense?
We must believe “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians chapter 2 verse 20) is real. In relating to God my old self has been killed off.
Secondly, we are called to affirm with our whole heart that what Jesus prophesied about his own life is already an accomplished reality, “if it (a grain of wheat) dies, it bears much fruit” (John chapter 12 verse 24). Stop thinking of yourself as a mere “thirtyfold” Christian (Mark chapter 4 verse 20). The key to maximum fruitfulness is faith accompanied by the power of the Spirit.
In his exultant Ephesians prayer Paul asks, “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (chapter 3 verse 16). A power encounter with the Spirit will infallibly impart the life of Christ to your heart.
We can be sure of this because “through the eternal Spirit (Jesus) offered himself without blemish to God” (Hebrews chapter 9 verse14). If the Spirit empowered Jesus to die to bring forth a great harvest (John chapter 4 verse 35) he will certainly bring forth much fruit in us.
I remember once being so encountered by the peace of the Lord (Philippians chapter 4 verse 7) that I earnestly believed I might die. So let’s repent of devaluing the measure and intensity of the Spirit’s power; “he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans chapter 8 verse 11).
Lacking persecution and fat with material goods (Deuteronomy chapter 32 verse 15) Western Christians live in a time of great spiritual deprivation. We must look evermore to Christ with whom we have been crucified, believe in the ability of the Holy Spirit, and ask that we “may bear fruit for God” (Romans chapter 7 verse 4).
This is a prayer that will most definitely be answered. Not just for us, but that Jesus himself might have ever more intense joy in his Church: “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians chapter 3 verse 20).
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 7 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.John Yates’s previous articles may be viewed athttp://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html