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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Faithfulness and Fruitfulness

* Frank Jenner video.

Faithfulness and Fruitfulness

Joh 15:5   I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Joh 15:16   You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide...

Have you ever felt discouraged in your Christian walk... or ministry? Have you ever wondered... “Am I bearing fruit?” Or, have you ever asked yourself... “How do I know that my labors for Christ have been fruitful?”

You know... I can think of many times when I've questioned myself in this way. I haven't seen people coming to Christ as I would like. You know, you always hear these great stories about people winning many to Jesus... but when you don't experience even a trickle of converts yourself... it's easy to begin to wonder if something's wrong. After years of ministry... what would appear to be a lack of fruit in soul-winning... can begin to wear on you.

Think of what Frank Jenner felt. Never knowing if your faithful labor for Christ ever bore any fruit!

And after thinking about this... I've come to understand that part of the problem is a misconception of “fruit”. Soul-winning isn't the only fruit hanging from the limb. Matter-of-fact... it's not even listed in the Apostle Paul's passage about the fruit of the Spirit.

Gal 5:22-23  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  [23]  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

And because many people have this misconception about bearing fruit... then I think it'd be a good idea to take a look at the biblical idea of fruitfulness.

For example... when John was approached by the Pharisees about baptism... he told them to... Luk 3:8  Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ You see... they wanted to be baptized... but there wasn't any evidence of repentance. Instead... they trusted in their descent from Abraham. The implication here is that true repentance produces fruit that can be seen.

And then Jesus told us in... Mat 7:17-18   ...every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.   [18]   A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.

Simply put... Good trees = good fruit. Bad trees = bad fruit. Good trees don't produce bad fruit... and bad trees don't produce good fruit.

He also told us that when the seed of the Word of God is sown upon the repentant and regenerate heart... it will bear fruit.

Mat 13:23   As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

We can see from his letter to the Philippian believers... that the Apostle Paul was concerned about the fruitfulness of his ministry, when we read... Php 1:22  If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.

But we see that he was also deeply concerned about the fruitfulness in the lives of believers throughout Colossae and the whole world...Col 1:6 the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth

So what is it that determines the nature of fruitfulness? Is my fruitfulness measured in direct proportion to my own labors? Or am I to simply remain faithful and let whatever happens... happen?

Well thankfully... the Bible gives us a lot of information concerning this relationship between faithfulness and fruitfulness... and the first thing we need to understand is that even though we are Christ's ambassadors on this earth... the work isn't “our” work... it's...

I. God's Work

Joh 15:5   I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

1Co 3:6-7  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  [7]  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

As tempting... and as easy as it is... we simply cannot think of fruitfulness like a bank account. We can't think along the lines that if I put some away... here a little... there a little... then eventually I'll have X amount, or I'll be able to produce x, y, z results.

Nor can we think that, “Okay... I need more love.” And then I work on getting more love that I can demonstrate... But then, because I spent so much time working on love... my peace began to slip. So now I have to work on getting more peace. But as I work on that... I discover my patience is disappearing. So now I've got to concentrate on that.

Can you see the cycle that I'm getting at here? These are simply false notions concerning the nature of fruitfulness. It's not something that I can do... but it's what God does in me and through me. Any fruit that I produce on my own... is only plastic fruit. It's useless. It may look good from a distance... but the fact that it isn't real is easily seen upon closer inspection.

Good fruit though... isn't created through my own efforts... The Bible says that all my efforts... all my own righteous acts, only amount to dirty, filthy and nasty rags. No... good fruit is produced through me because I'm attached to the Vine. I'm one of the branches and therefore I get my nourishment from the Root... which is my Source.

The Root provides me with everything that I need to remain faithful and fruitful in this life. And when I come to understand this truth... my Christian walk becomes just that much easier... because my focus has changed from me... to Him.

And when Christ becomes the focus of your life... then things becomes less about “you”... and more about being committed to Him, and willing to be used by Him in whatever way He pleases.

So... fruitfulness is ultimately God's work. But we must also understand that we do play a part in His work... by giving Him our...

II. Due Diligence

Pro 12:24  The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.

We simply can't fall into the trap that says, “Since it's God's work... it doesn't matter what I do... or if I do anything at all.” God does His work... through men and women. We are His hands and feet and voice in this world.

Keep in mind that the same Apostle who wrote... 1Co 3:6  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

Also wrote... 1Co 15:10b  ...On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
Our almighty and all-powerful God can do whatever He wants... through any ways or means He desires. Just as He spoke a word and all things came into existence... He could just as easily cause all people to simply believe the gospel. He chose however, to save those who believe... 1Co 1:21b  ...through the folly of what we preach...

And this has been His method from the beginning. His truth has always been proclaimed to mankind through mankind. From the OT patriarchs and prophets... to the NT apostles and saints... God has used the careful and persistent work of men to spread His truth to the world.

Yes... this is God's work... but He does it through the due diligence of those who believe. So... give it all you got... knowing that without Him, you can do nothing!

Now... another aspect of faithfulness that leads us to fruitfulness is our...

III. Gifted Skillfulness

Rom 12:6-8  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;  [7]  if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;  [8]  the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

All too often we tend to view our fruitfulness in comparison to others. Remember what I said earlier about all the great stories of other people winning multitudes to the Lord... but not seeing those same kind of results in my own life and ministry? Can you see where that's using someone other than the Lord as my standard.?

2Co 10:12b  ...But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.

You know... there are a lot of things in this world that I'd love to be able to do... but I'll never do them because God simply hasn't given me the gifting or calling to do them.

As a child... I wanted to be a Rock-n-Roll star. That never happened. I'd love to be a much better guitarist... but I don't have the time or desire to put in the time that it takes... I'll never be an astronaut... sports star... nuclear physicist... or brain surgeon. And the chances are pretty good that I'll never preach to thousands of people in stadiums like Billy Graham.

But you know what? With the exception of maybe that Billy Graham thing... I'm ok with all of this. I truly believe that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing... where I'm supposed to do it.

I look at it this way... God didn't call the Apostle Paul to bring about the conversion of Caesar... but rather the conversion of some of his prison guards... and some of his household (Php 4:22).

Our fruitfulness isn't dependent on circumstances or status. The gifts that we've been given will differ among us according to the grace, or the call... that's been given to us. I've been called to preach, teach and exhort... while someone else may be called to teach and serve.

Some are leaders... while others are servants and givers. The Lord may give us one gift... but more-than-likely He'll give us several giftings over the course of our lives and ministry.

But look what else he says concerning these gifts... Rom 12:6-8  ...let us use proportion to our faith Or... “according to the measure of our faith.”

Now what that means is that each of us will operate according to the measure of the ability that's given to us. Each of us has been given a measure of light, knowledge, faith, and experience. And by this measure... we are to live up to our gift and call, and should never set our marks short of it.

And when we remain faithful to what we've been given... the promise is that we'll be given more.

Mar 4:25   For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Now... one final thing I want to remind you about is that our fruitfulness comes at different...

IV. Times and Seasons

Consider once again the testimony of Frank Jenner. He evangelized for years without knowing the effect he had. We simply cannot know when spiritual fruit will appear.

You know... I've been involved in prison ministry for many years now. I've talked to many men about Christ. I've encouraged many more in their christian walk. Over the years I've tried to disciple them so that one day... after they got out of prison... they'd have the training and spiritual strength to remain faithful to Christ... find a church home... and continue living godly lives in Christ Jesus.

I've had many of these guys tell me over the years that they appreciated my efforts as a volunteer... while they were still in prison. However... after they got out... I never heard from any of them again.

Many times I've told the guys to call me... or get in touch with me somehow, to let me know how they're doing. And I promised to take them out to eat their first steak dinner... or I'd help them any way I could. But for years...I never heard a peep from any who had gotten out.

Until a couple years ago... I decided one day to take a part-time job at an Allsups in Canadian, TX. Now the job itself didn't last more than a few weeks because it just wasn't what I was called to do. But my first couple weeks there were real interesting.

You see... by the second week on that job... I had had two different people come up to me and ask if I was that guy who went to the prison in Pampa and played guitar, sang and preached. After telling them that, “Yes, that's me”... both of them told me that though I really didn't know them... they remembered me... and wanted to thank me for being faithful in that ministry. Both of them told me that I had a positive influence on their lives... and they just wanted me to know that.

Folks... I was on cloud nine. I had actually begun to wonder if anything I did made any difference at all. And you know... I'm not alone in this. For example... think of the saints that are listed in Hebrews 11... They all had different outcomes in their lives of faithful labor...

Some triumphed... while others subdued kingdoms. Some stopped the mouths of lions while others quenched the violence of fire. Some escaped the edge of the sword... while other suffered torture... scourgings and mockery.

There were those who wandered in deserts... and those who lived on mountains and dens and caves. They endured prison... stonings... and being sawn in two. None of them received the promise... but seeing it afar off... they remained faithful to it to the very end... thereby receiving the fruit of their labors in glory.

Christ will give to each of us who overcome... the victor's crown. And in the resurrection... along with all the other saints... we'll receive the full fruit of our labors for Him... And then we'll take those crowns and accolades that we receive... and lay them at His feet... because ultimately... all of our fruitfulness comes through our union with Him.

He is our life-giving and fruit supplying Vine. Apart from Him... we can do nothing. But with Him, we... Php 4:13  ...can do all things through him who strengthens me.

* * * * *
In closing... I want to ask you the same question that we heard Mr. Jenner ask so many people... but instead of just letting you walk away... you'll have the opportunity to respond during our invitational song.

If you were to die today... would you go to heaven... or hell? There are only two options here... The choice is yours... and the consequences are eternal.

Believe in Christ and you'll go to heaven.

Any other response... well...

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