It’s much easier to notice the behavior of others, than to see ourselves in light of God’s Word. This morning I was really struggling with this, so the Holy Spirit pointed me to this Scripture: “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.” (Luke 6:43-44) The AMP translations says, “each tree is known and identified by its own fruit”.
Christ’s statement is fairly obvious. It doesn’t require much explanation. All of us who have ever done much gardening or fruit picking know that sick and weak trees produce a meager crop, and the fruit such a tree does produce is often paltry and tasteless; maybe even bitter. To produce sweet and luscious fruit is not accident of nature. It takes a gifted farmer, a lot of hard work and a refusal to compromise.
If you want good fruit to be produced from your life, it is going to take exactly the same sort of hard work. Good fruit from a follower of Jesus Christ is no accident. It takes a lot of hard work and a refusal to compromise.
To be a Godly Christian, every word that proceeds out of our mouths must be like a choice piece of fruit. Each word is a gem. Each word is chosen carefully. Each word is spoken with love. Our speech is to be seasoned with grace and truth (Col. 4:6), with love and respect so that it seems as if Jesus Christ Himself is speaking through us (1 Peter 4:11). And since He lives in us, that’s in fact what we must do.
So how do we develop this kind of fruit in our lives? How do we cultivate our hearts so that only sweet and choice words proceed from our lips? Let’s learn a lesson from orchards. The fruit experts say that you don’t necessarily get better fruit from bigger or more beautiful trees. Lots of trees may be beautiful to look at, but they don’t necessarily produce the best fruit. Orchard experts say that when you see a tree full of lush foliage, it probably indicates that lots of nitrogen is being used to cultivate that tree. Lots of nitrogen, though great for foliage, produces sour fruit.
So the orchard experts purposefully plant certain weeds around trees and let them grow as much as they want. Why? To get rid of the nitrogen, and if they use the correct weeds, those weeds leave behind a special blend of nutrients that is perfect for fruit growing. Also, when it comes to insecticides, fruit experts have found that other insects are better. Bad bugs are eaten by good bugs. Fertilizers are rarely used, because they cause too much growth too quickly, and therefore produce weak trees and fruit with no flavor. When fertilizers are used, they are used only in minute quantities. Watering the tree is an art form, following a carefully worked out, highly regimented routine.
Trees even need winter. Not freezing cold, but certain trees need between 600 and 900 hours of temperatures below 45 degrees in order to produce the best fruit. And frequently, you will see orchard experts out there early in the growing season, cutting away most of the brand new, just formed fruit. It may seem silly to throw away over half your crop, but they know that it is better to get 50 peaches bursting with juice and flavor than 500 small and sour peaches.
Here is what all of this means for you and for me. Just as a full and lush tree does not necessarily produce the best fruit, so also a person who looks flowery and behaves like they are spiritually rich, may in fact be the worst trees to gather fruit from. In Rev. 3:17, Christ warns certain Christians who are rich and wealthy that though they appear to have it all together, they really are poor and destitute. It is not how you appear, or how you act, or how you dress that matters. What matters is your heart. And this is revealed by the fruit you produce.
And you know those weeds and bugs in your life? That test of your patience? That lack of money? That sickness? That stressful situation at work? The difficult neighbor? God, the orchard expert, put those there for a reason. They strengthen us. They keep the bad bugs of sin out of our core. They use up the bad nutrients in the ground where we are planted, and leave better ones behind (fruit of the Spirit), like “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).
Those times of dryness and times of barren winter are also for our benefit. When it seems like we could use a good spiritual fertilizer or a watering, God knows what we need to produce the best fruit. He sends people to water our life, and He calls us to a regimented schedule of daily watering through His Word so that we can produce the best fruit. And then there’s the pruning. God only wants the best fruit to proceed from us; sacrificing some of the early fruit will encourage the remainder to grow big and sweet. Most take 5-7 years before they begin producing a good crop of fruit. And that’s only if they’ve been well tended.
This is why it is always good advice for new and young Christians to grow where they are planted. To speak little, and learn much. To get daily watering through the Word. To prune their words so that only the best will come forth. God is in the fruit producing business and we are His trees. He wants good fruit so He goes to great length to make good trees. He factors in the age, the soil type, the sun exposure, the temperature. He waters, prunes, and fertilizes as needed. When Christians become good trees, they naturally begin to produce good fruit. This is the truth of Luke 6:43.
Luke 6:44 contains another truth about fruit production. “Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.” Christ talks about figs and grapes which were two of the more common fruits of Israel. Fig trees, if they are well tended and taken care of, can produce fruit for over 100 years. If we make sure good words and edifying words proceed from our mouths, we may produce fruit for hundreds of years to come – even after we are dead and in heaven.
On a fig tree, the fruit appears before anything else, even before the leaves or flowers do. The fig trees never actually have any visible blossoms. This is because the blossoms are inverted and actually grow and develop inside the fruit. It is pollinated by a tiny wasp known as a Blastophaga. This stingerless insect no bigger than a gnat enters through a little opening at the bottom of the fig and so pollinates it from the inside.
This is just how we as disciples of Christ produce fruit also. The flowers form on our inside – often where no one can see them – and are pollinated by the invisible and silent Holy Spirit. The fruit results of inward change that is unseen by any human eye. This is why we cannot judge people by outward appearances or behaviors. We do not know what is going on in the hearts of others people.
The thorns provide insight into Christ’s words also. The thorns which cover the branches have sharp, pointed tips and serrated edges. Because of their toughness, flexibility and painful thorns, this plant makes wonderful fences in the Middle East, just as effective as barb wire at keeping the animals in a certain area and out of others. Jesus hints that some people are like these thorns. They may grow in weird ways – not physical ways, but maybe they head off on odd, theological tangents. But don’t try to correct them, for they are tough and flexible, and those who get too close, get pricked. Nothing hurts them, but they hurt plenty of people with their sharp words. And just like a fence, they often keep people away from Christianity rather than lovingly draw them in.
The final plant that Christ mentions in verse 44 is the brier or bramble. The bramble bush throws long and strong arching stems across huge tracts of land – often impeding the traveler. When it blossoms, the bramble brings forth rosy flowers that develop red, ripe fruit very similar to our blackberry. But if you’re going to pick that fruit, be careful. Along with the fruit and the felt covered leaves, are long prickles and thorns. So the bramble is again like lots of Christians. They have good fruit, but it takes a skillful hand to get any of it. And for the most part, human brambles just impede the traveler and get in the way of the pilgrim more than anything else.
Christ’s point in verse 44 is that the type of plant you are determines the type of fruit you produce. Figs grow on fig trees, and grapes grow on grapevines, but neither can be picked from thorns or bramble bushes. Those only produce thistles and briars. The fruit they do produce is hardly worth the effort. It is undesirable, even painful and irritating fruit that can jab others while trying to pick the fruit.
But remember, this passage was not given so that we could judge others. Christ taught it to help us judge ourselves first. So maybe you’re the thorn bush. That’s something you should consider. Do people always seem to get into arguments with you? Do people seem to avoid you and say as little as possible when you are around? Maybe your words are quite sharp, so watch your words. Don’t be sharp or blunt. Don’t’ be a thorn or a thistle. We’d all rather have a grape than a thorn. We all prefer figs to thistles. The words that come out of your mouth reveal what kind of tree you are. This is what Jesus reveals in the first part of Luke 6:45. All people bear fruit, and the fruit they bear reveals their heart.
- Life Application Study Bible (NIV)
- You Are What You Say