|Original Photo by Flickr user Kjunstorm|
The context of this passage about fruit is Jesus' warning to beware of false prophets who "Come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Mt. 7:15).
Jesus wanted his followers to know that there would be some people who would try to deceive them claiming a message from the Lord. The Jews would have immediately understood his reference to false prophets and to wolves. They had suffered at their hands many times in the past.
When I read this passage about false prophets, I thought about a passage I read in Jeremiah recently. In Jeremiah 28, a man named Hananiah tried to convince the people that Jeremiah was wrong about the destruction coming to Jerusalem at the hands of God. He claimed to speak for God when he said that God would "break the yoke of the king of Babylon" (Jeremiah 28:1-4).
Jeremiah's response was direct.
"Amen! May the LORD do so! May the LORD fulfill the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the LORD's house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon. Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: from early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the LORD only if his prediction comes true." (Jer. 28:6-9)In response to that, Hananiah broke the yoke Jeremiah was wearing by direction of the LORD to symbolize that God would break the yoke of the Babylonians. "At this, the prophet Jeremiah went on his way" (Jer. 28:11).
But God sent him back to Hananiah.
"Listen, Hananiah! The LORD has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies...." (Jeremiah 28:15-17).When I read that story several weeks ago, my heart went out to all of the people who were torn between believing Jeremiah's true words from God or Hananiah's false words. How were they to know who to trust when both were claiming to speak for God!?
And my heart went out to all of the people living today who face the same reality. It's not hard to see that we face a similar situation today. People claim to speak truth from direct revelation or even from the revelation of the written word...and so many people claim these truths in direct opposition to others who are also claiming God's word as the basis of truth! Both sides accuse the other of misinterpreting the scriptures. I remember a woman in Jamaica crying when we knocked on her door and offered a Bible study. She was so upset because several different people claiming Christianity's truth had been knocking on her door and they all said different things. She had no idea who to trust and who to believe.
How are we as followers of Christ supposed to know who to trust? Obviously, we go straight to God's word, but what about when two sincere students of God's word claim truths that oppose each other and it is not just a matter of opinion, but one that bears more weight and importance?
By pointing to their fruit, Jesus gives us a very good place to start. What is the purpose of the teaching? Is it self-serving or self-sacrificial? Does it lead one to closer obedience to the plain truths of God's word or does it force a choice between being obedient to a difficult-to-interpret passage over a plain one? Does the teacher live what he teaches? Is the teacher obedient to Jesus' commands to love as He loved us?
What does his fruit look like?
I think it is worth taking the principle a step further since as Christians we are all called to be priests and teachers (1 Peter 2:9, Hebrews 5:12-14).
Do I ask out loud or even in my mind for the preacher to preach messages that are pleasing to me instead of challenging to me? Do I claim to want to know more and more about God and His word and stand ready to defend His word, but balk at the idea of defending the widows and orphans? Do I claim the Spirit of God in my life and set myself up as a teacher in word or in example, but fail to actually carry (bear) the fruits of the Spirit- Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? (Galatians 5:22-25)
What does my fruit look like?
May we strive to be bearers of good fruit instead of simply bearers of a pleasant message of comfort and salvation without sanctification. May God give us the discernment to recognize wolves in sheep's clothing and may God give us the courage to look inside our own lives and allow Him to weed out those wolfish, self-seeking tendencies in ourselves. May we trust and may we become the Jeremiahs who speak the difficult but true messages of God's word. And may we never listen or spread the messages of the Hananiahs.
It should be very sobering truth to us who accept Jesus' teaching that "every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."