Summary: Examinations for times of unfruitfulness (Material adapted from MATT PERMAN at: http://whatsbestnext.com/2011/08/does-god-require-faithfulness-or-fruitfulness/; and Jimmy Larche at: http://www.jimmylarche.com/fruitfulness-abiding-in-christ/)
Struggling church- “God has not called us to be successful. He has just called us to be faithful.”
This one is in the same vein: “God wants faithfulness, not fruitfulness.”
These statements are half true. There is a Yiddish proverb that says: “A half-truth is a whole lie”
God wants both faithfulness and fruitfulness. 3 things to start to bring clarity to this issue:
Faithfulness is the path to fruitfulness. The wording here is slightly off. The wording implies that we have to choose between faithfulness or fruitfulness. This is a false choice and a radical misunderstanding. Fruitfulness comes through the path of faithfulness, and no other way. In this sense, we truly can say “God wants faithfulness only.” We can say that, not because fruitfulness is optional, but because faithfulness necessarily results in fruitfulness.
Faithfulness always results in fruitfulness. The NT has no categories for the unfruitful Christian. The unfruitful Christian simply does not exist. Notice, for example, how Jesus talks in the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. The two men who doubled the talents the master gave them were called “good and faithful servants.” In other words, they proved their faithfulness by their fruit (5 talents to 10 talents, 2 talents to 4 talents). They were successful at the task that they had been assigned, and they were rewarded by the master. The last servant did nothing with the talent given to him and this brought no fruit. He was called “wicked and lazy” in contrast to the two men called “faithful.” God wants to see results. Our faithfulness is demonstrated by our fruit. God does require fruitfulness. But that fruitfulness is certain to follow if we are faithful. This is, of course, simply the doctrine of justification and good works. We are not justified by our works, but those who have been justified by faith will live a life of good works, good fruit (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Faithfulness is a form of fruitfulness. Faithfulness is one of the “fruits” that God produces in us and requires of us (Galatians 5.22). Faithfulness is a form of fruitfulness. This is an important point not to be overlooked. Related to this, another component of our fruitfulness is our character. Talking about the godly responses to the situations we are in, whatever they may be. This is a form of fruit that is not necessarily visible (like seeing souls come to Christ), but our character matters and is important. If we have poor character drive people away.
Still, the lack of visible fruit is frustrating and discouraging. Look at the first statement, God has not called us to be successful, just faithful. Is it healthy to take our eyes off of the attendance, baptisms and cash? What do we mean by successful? If we mean the Great Commission, then when we see no one coming to Christ, no baptisms, then we have to question ourselves. Jesus has given the church a job to do. We will either succeed or fail at it. Using this definition, every church should want to be successful. What is the alternative? The opposite of success is not faithfulness, but failure.
In John 15, Jesus identified His followers as branches who are expected to bear fruit. It’s disturbing when the branches are bare, when there are no visible results from our labor for God’s kingdom. Are we going to be like the branch “that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:6). Before we go into a spiritual schizophrenia...
Thesis: Examinations for times of unfruitfulness
Our spiritual devotion
John 15:3 talks about being clean. Started at our baptism but continues through today. Are we clean with God? Are we confessing our sins to God? “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;” Psalms 66:18, NIV. “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” Proverbs 28:13, NIV. Along with this, are we compromising morally? The Lord will not bless those who are doing evil. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Matthew 3:8, NIV.
John 15:7 says his words must remain in us. Faithful in feeding on the Word? “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” 1 Peter 2:2, 3 Are we truly abiding in His daily presence? Are we letting His words abide in us? Are we carving out a daily quiet time to pray and hear from God? We can’t abide in Christ without daily meditation on the Word of God and intimate time with Jesus in prayer and solitude.
Bearing fruit comes through our connection and relationship with Jesus, the Vine. We were joined to Jesus at our baptism. We are intimately connected to him and received from him all that we need to sustain our lives. We are connected to him when we come here to worship, and when we hear his Word. It doesn’t matter how much we think we know about the Bible or how many times we have read it, we need the life-giving nourishment that God’s Word offers. As we read it and study it, God’s Word offers us strength in the face of new situations. In communion, the Lord’s Supper, we are refreshed and freed from the guilt of our sin. The Holy Spirit works through these and enables our life in Christ to grow, to be made stronger, and to bear fruit. Without the connection to the vine, the life giving sap and nourishment is unavailable and we slowly start to die. Apart from me you can do nothing!