Some Serious Pruning

It is a biblical principle that everything reproduces after its own kind. This is true in the physical world, going back to the first chapter of Genesis and right until today. Orange trees reproduce oranges (and orange trees), not apples (and apple trees), and dogs reproduce dogs, not cats. The same is true in the spiritual realm.

As Jesus said, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-20)

We can judge a ministry or a movement or a theology or an ideology by the type of fruit it produces.

Of course, there will always be outliers and exceptions. Not every single piece of fruit on a good tree will be perfect 100 percent of the time.

But without a doubt, a healthy tree will produce good fruit while an unhealthy tree will not.

Earthly Wisdom and Heavenly Wisdom

Jacob (James) also made this important observation about true wisdom, writing, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:13-16)

Now, contrast this “wisdom” that is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” with heavenly wisdom. Of this, Jacob says, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:17-18) What a beautiful picture!

Now, let’s think about this for a moment on a very simple, natural level.

What kind of fruit am I producing? What kind of fruit are you producing?

Calmness begets calmness but agitation begets agitation.

When you’re in a stressful situation and the person in control exercises calmness, that produces a sense of calmness for everyone else. “Calm down, folks! Everything will be alright.”

In contrast, if the person in control is highly agitated, everyone else will become agitated. “Things are going from bad to worse! Time to panic!”

In the same way, kindness begets kindness but harshness begets harshness.

When you’re kind and gracious to someone, they’re more likely to respond with kindness. When you’re harsh with them, they’re more likely to be harsh with you.

This is common sense, not rocket science.

We Can Examine an Ideology by Its Fruit

That’s why it’s fair to examine a ministry or movement or theology or ideology by the kind of fruit it produces, generally speaking.

Again, we recognize that there will always be exceptions to the rule, but what is the rule? What is the norm?

If a couple has 10 children and 9 of those kids grow up to be exemplary human beings, with the other one being a bit of a jerk, you immediately have two questions: 1) What did those parents do to produce such amazing kids? I can learn from them! 2) What went wrong with that other kid? He obviously didn’t listen to his mom and dad.

I have dealt with Christians in one particular theological camp and found a significant percentage of them to arrogantly and condescendingly mock others outside their camp. This has made me ask myself, “What is it in their theology that produces this bad fruit? Why the cynicism? Why the extreme narrowness?”

But this is low hanging fruit and all too easy to expose.

Are We Correct, But in the Wrong Way? What Fruit are We Producing?

What about some of our own political or social rhetoric? What kind of fruit does it produce? It is one thing to state our differences plainly and clearly and to confront the destructive views of those we oppose. It is another to produce a spirit of animosity and disdain for those with whom we differ. That is not from above but from below.

It’s the same with the spirit of our own religious exclusivity. (To be clear, I am a religious exclusivist, believing that salvation can come through Jesus alone. I’m talking about the spirit of our exclusivity). Does it produce arrogance, smugness, and self-righteousness? Or does it produce humility, gratitude, and compassion for those we believe to be lost?

We can have a right doctrine (or ideology or theology or political conviction) but a wrong spirit. We can be on the right side on an issue but carry ourselves in a wrong way.

What kind of fruit am I producing? What kind of fruit are you producing?

Let us judge our trees by their fruit. We may have some serious pruning (or replanting) to do.

Michael Brown

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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