"17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (Matthew 7:17-19)
God instructs us to be fruit inspectors.
I have no idea how many different varieties of fruit are cultivated commercially, but a cursory glance on the internet came up with a figure for apples of 7500 varieties grown throughout the world, and the information that the tomato is probably the world's most popular fruit. Apparently somewhere in the region of 60 million tons of tomatoes are produced per year, well ahead of bananas, apples, oranges and, in fifth place, watermelons.
Since plants cannot move from place to place, they have developed ways to make certain that their seeds dispersed over a wide area; this is important because if the seeds were to develop close to the parent plant, the young plants would not receive enough sunlight to grow. They would also compete for light, water and minerals. It is much better if the seeds germinate and grow in another area. Fruits are one means of achieving this aim.
"16 By their fruit you will recognise them…." (Matthew 7:16).
There is no part of nature that does not cause us to wonder, but of course there are spiritual lessons that we have to take into account as we pick our apples from the tree, or harvest our sun-ripened tomatoes from greenhouse or garden. It is in these words from Matthew's Gospel that we begin to see how the Creator's design for the spreading of a plant's seeds might be a picture that we can relate to in our Christian lives.
If we ignore the anomalies of such as the seedless grape, then the sole purpose of a fruit is to assist a plant in achieving a very important purpose, the continuation of life from one generation to another. It does this generally through other birds or animals, by providing the means through which they will perform the task. In other words, the plant not only has to show fruit but it is also dependent upon others. Without that assistance the future is not promising - seed that is merely dropped to the floor around a plant will eventually become overgrown, weak and choked.
Jesus used the example of fruit because he knew it was a picture that his listeners could relate to. It remains a relevant picture for us, and indeed it is one that our Celtic ancestors would have understood because they had a clear vision of the need for mission. Yes, mission. It was not enough for them to draw close to God in the quiet and lonely places of the world they inhabited; they had a yearning to spread the Good News of the Gospel message not only to those in their immediate vicinity but further away. Why else would those Christian saints risk their lives sailing to distant lands?
These saintly folk had spent time in study, prayer and fasting. They had grown in knowledge and faith; become fruitful, and through the prompting of God's Spirit they took the sweetness of the Gospel to distant places, sowed the seed and watched it grow. In a very real sense it could be said that the lives they led and the message they proclaimed were as effective as any fruit in dispersing the seed and ensuring that there would be a continuing harvest from generation to generation. Without their fruitfulness our ancestors would not have heard the Good News and we in turn would not know of the love that our Creator God has invested in us.
I read somewhere that two signs of a prosperous nation are that firstly that it produces enough fruit to feed its own people, and secondly it has abundance left over to export to other nations.
So often it is the fruitfulness of others that causes us to be drawn close to God - it is this same fruit that we should be willing to export to a world full of people who are starving.
Mentioned previously was the fact that within nature, a plant often needs help to distribute its fruit and seed, and of course there is a straight analogy here with the Christian community. We are not created to be isolated Christians, or if we are then we are not very effective. Nurture, growth and fruitfulness happen within communities where there is there is a loving and effective fellowship of believers working together.
God didn't plant us so that we might look good sitting in a church pew. He had an expectation that we might show fruit in due season! Jesus doesn't bless us, teach us and feed us through his Word and Spirit so we can become pretty plants to look at in the garden. No, he looks for fruitfulness!