Summary: Charismatic activity is no substitute for godly living.
A TREE AND ITS FRUIT
“By their fruit you will recognised them”, (Matthew 7: 16, 20).
Matthew wrote his Gospel for Jewish-Christians - Jewish-Christians who were forced to separate themselves from their Jewish brothers and sisters because of their new found faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Matthew speaks in terms of “their synagogues” and “your synagogues”. It was quite a difficult time for the Jewish-Christians as they regretfully had to distance themselves from Jewish brothers and sisters. The result of the distancing and separation was hostility. It was an uncomfortable transition for Jewish-Christians. Indeed, many Jewish-Christian were literally expelled from the Jewish synagogues.
As the Jewish-Christians emerged, forming their own faith communities, they needed instruction and help. Matthew, the tax-gather turned disciple, provides the necessary help in his Gospel. Matthew’s Gospel focuses on many pastoral concerns. Not least of those pastoral concerns he addresses is, people who claim to be something they are not. In this instance, Matthew highlights a group of people who tried to creep into the newly established faith communities, that is, false prophets (v. 15). These false prophets seemed to be over enthusiastic in their utterances and activity (v. 21). We do not know who these false prophets were, but by the way Matthew writes, we know that their presence was rather destructive and hurtful to the emerging Christian communities. They looked okay on the surface, but underneath they were something else. Hence, Matthew cautions twice, “by their fruit you will recognise them” (vv. 16, 20).
Further, Matthew clearly illustrates what he is concerned about. He asks the question, “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? (v. 16). Obviously, Matthew is saying, that the prophet who is false will display in some way the wrong kind of behaviour. The ‘fruit’ of his life will show in some sort of badness. The suggestion that is apparent in the text is that the false prophet is up to no good. He is an evil doer (v. 23). Matthew is encouraging the Christian community to know who they were. Matthew is encouraging the faith community to check out the bona fide of all who come in the name of the Lord (v. 21). I have a friend in Inverell who often said, “While we are told not to judge one another, we can go fruit picking”. By their fruit you shall know them!
Matthew, more than hints that we are looking for ‘good fruit’ (v. 17). What is that good fruit? I think it is Paul who teases out for us the ‘fruit’ of godliness – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5: 22). Matthew states, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit” (v. 18). Godliness is incompatible with evil.
Matthew indicates that ‘charismatic’ activity – prophesying, casting out of demons, many miracles is no substitute for godly living. There is a difference between ‘doing’ and ‘being’.
The uncomfortable thought that Matthew brings to our attention is that it is possible for the ungodly, the evil doer, or wolf to infiltrate the church community, and co-exists with the godly, or sheep, that is, the unrighteous with the righteous (v. 21), however, eventually judgement comes (v. 23). They are cut down (v. 19)! They are exposed for what they are and dealt with. Whilst, the judgement is to be God’s, the individual believer is always to exercise discernment, “a bad tree cannot bear good fruit”, (v. 18).
Jeremiah the prophet recorded an object lesson. Two baskets of figs were compared – “One basket had very good figs, like those that ripen early: the other basket had very poor figs, so bad that they could not be eaten” (Jeremiah 24: 2). The good figs represented God’s people who were loyal and true to God. The bad figs represented those who were disloyal and false. The good figs tasted delicious, whilst the bad figs were unedible.
The two baskets of figs were placed in front of the temple of the Lord (Jeremiah 24: 1). I have two baskets of fruit today. One contains good fruit and the other contains bad fruit. In this sanctuary today the two baskets become an object lesson to us. May we learn the lesson! To “Watch out”(v. 15).