Of Fruits and Factories

Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

-John 15:8 Factory

There’s what I do, then there’s what I am.

Both count, and I don’t want to get into too much hair splitting here, because I really do think actions essentially, though not completely, indicate what we are. But they’re not a complete indication, so yes, the difference between inner and outward righteousness is surely there. I can do the right thing with the wrong attitude; be good in action, bad in heart.

Or looking at it another way, I can be a factory, putting out good product with regularity, but bearing little or no fruit. Or I can be a garden, fruit bearing and beautiful, my produce the outcome of my abiding in the vine.

I’ve been a factory before. Now I covet the garden life. Funny, or maybe scary, how easily you can slip from fruit bearing to mass production. Here’s how I’ve seen it happen, both in me and others: God gives His gifts by grace, a la Romans 12:6, and we start exercising them. Gifts of teaching, preaching, healing or song flourish as they’re administered and recognized, and with time a lifestyle of using our gifts develops. That’s great, and why not? What’s given should be used.

But the gifts of the Spirit are never meant to operate without the fruit of the Spirit. And at first they don’t, at least from what I’ve seen. Early days of ministry are so often marked by humility and infectious joy, as the person God has gifted operates with gratitude and holy awe over being chosen and used. But with times things can get fuzzy. Disappointments come, pressures mount, the newness of service gives way to routine, and old problems of the flesh that were kept at bay are suddenly barking and biting.

Just ask yourself how many ministers or gifted laypeople you’ve known who fit this profile, and that’s where it all goes south. Since the gifts are given without repentance (Romans 11:29) they may keep operating, even when the person using them is becoming less Christ-like, more carnal, high on output, low on fruit. Garden becomes factory, still functional but less beautiful, spewing pollution along with product. Really, isn’t that why many people have left the Church, if not the faith? Listen to their stories about the hypocritical pastor, the judgmental elder, the gossipy administrator, all of whom could be capable and carnal at the same time as easily as we can walk and chew gum.

The hurtful events stumbling way too many sheep over the years are sober reminders that Christians long on gifts but short on fruit can be as destructive as a man who’s good with a gun but morally crippled. He’s competent; he’s also armed and dangerous.

So what’ll it be? I hope we don’t choose between fruit and gifts, since both are crucial. But I can sure see the value of prioritizing. So I’ll start with what Paul commended as the good stuff: Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance, and faith. (Galatians 5:22-23) Let, them Lord, thrive in, and come from, me. Then the gifts, whatever they may be, can operate joyfully under the authority of the fruits, one never being compromised for the other, both valued and nurtured.

There’s my garden, beautiful and profitable, helpful to some and harmful to no one. That’s where fruits and gifts can flourish, and it’s a place I’d wish for all of us.

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