Christians want spiritual fruit now!


Fig TreeWhen Christians don’t see spiritual fruit quickly, we think something’s wrong. How does God see things?

Here’s a story Jesus told that gets at the issue:

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” Luke 13: 6-9

You could call this the parable of the impatient vineyard owner. If he has been growing fruit for any length of time, he should know that it takes four or five years before a fig tree bears fruit. So what’s his problem?

You could also call this the parable of the wise gardener. He knows better than to challenge his boss on a day when maybe he had a bad night’s sleep, maybe he’s had a fight with his wife, but clearly something is making him irrational.

So instead of offering a challenge, he offers an alternative. Let me try a couple of things over the next year. If those don’t work, then go ahead. Cut it down.

What non-gardeners may not know is that what he’s proposing to do is to continue what he’s been doing. Fig trees prefer two things for success: a constrained root ball and organic fertilizer. The gardener is saying he will dig around the tree to keep its roots from growing too large. That will keep the tree from growing too large. And he will continue to apply fertilizer, which in those days was exclusively organic, to nourish the tree.

If you’ve ever lived downwind of an organic farm, you know that organic fertilizers have an aroma all their own. Things like manure and dead fish are rotten and they smell that way. And yet, they provide what plants need to grow.

Here’s my takeaway for the formation of spiritual fruit.

  • First, it takes time. If you want sweet spiritual figs in the life of young Christians, expect to wait a while.
  • Second, it may require constraints. We’re used to thinking about the constraint of pruning that strengthens the vine by limiting how many directions it grows. But this story describes strengthening a tree by constraining the root ball. For this particular fruit a smaller tree must be maintained by limiting the extent of the root system.
  • Finally, it requires a particular kind of fertilizer and this is still true today. Fruit requires organic fertilizer: dead, stinky stuff. If you’re keeping your young Christians out of the dead, stinky stuff – if you’re keeping yourself out of the dead, stinky stuff – you won’t see fruit.

Time, constraints, and dead stinky stuff. Not what we like to look for in our fast-paced, “you can have it all” super-hygienic lives. But if we want fruit that will last, these are what we must choose.

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About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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3 Responses to Christians want spiritual fruit now!

  1. savedbygrace says:

    my take on the fig tree and its fruit, goes all the way
    to the garden of Eden when the first Adam sinned and
    covered themselves with fig leafs.

    it speaks of self righteousness.

    when Jesus wanted to eat fruit from the fig tree and found none,
    Jesus cursed the fig tree and it died

    it simply means, self righteousness must be set aside.

    remember Jesus said, I am the vine and you are the branches.
    without the branches being connected to the vine, it cannot bear fruit.

    Jesus is our righteousness. so in the same way, we are to be connected to Him.

    the fig tree that does not bear fruit speaks of the Law
    the Law cannot bear us righteousness.

    Grace produce righteousness through faith.

    we walk not in the Flesh/Law but rather
    we walk in the Spirit/Grace.

    “for the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
    – Galatians 5:22-23

    – grace and peace

    • So true that we walk in the Spirit! I think, to follow your point through, that this particular story shows that one way grace produces righteousness through faith is by faithfully doing the things we know produce righteousness. (As in Rev. 2:5 “Repent and do the things you did at first.”) It is complicated to describe the way God’s work in us combines with our efforts to allow God to work in us, but I think most of us understand that God can’t do anything to grow fruit in us separate from our willingness to let it happen. We joke that we don’t dare to pray for patience because we don’t want God to send opportunities for our patience to be tried, and that’s kind of the issue. These spiritual fruit often grow under pretty stinky and constraining circumstances. We don’t like the circumstances. But if we don’t take the circumstances, we don’t get the fruit.

  2. savedbygrace says:

    @”that this particular story shows that one way grace produces righteousness through faith is by faithfully doing the things we know produce righteousness”
    …………………………………
    very good statement.

    by merely believing Jesus to be our righteousness alone
    is faithfully doing the work of God (john 6:29)

    @”but I think most of us understand that God can’t do anything to grow fruit in us separate from our willingness to let it happen.”
    ……………………………….
    yes very true.

    the times the fruit bears, we aren’t consciously aware of them happening.
    all of a sudden we realized “how did i loved my mother in law who i hated the most?”

    @”We joke that we don’t dare to pray for patience because we don’t want God to send opportunities for our patience to be tried, and that’s kind of the issue. These spiritual fruit often grow under pretty stinky and constraining circumstances. We don’t like the circumstances. But if we don’t take the circumstances, we don’t get the fruit.”
    ……………………………….
    oh the good ‘ol days
    “Lord give me patience right now!”

    i honestly prayed that prayer.. don’t laugh.. LoL.

    but when the true gospel came, oh boy it bore fruit

    I then realized, Patience it the fruit of the Spirit.
    not my effort to keep my cool.

    self control is the fruit of the spirit
    not my ability to control my self.

    the fruit of the Spirit is the proof that the Spirit is in us.

    I use to own self-control and patience via years of training and self discipline
    but it breaks on tough times. plus it didn’t necessarily mean the Spirit lives in me.

    the way to get the fruit is through the Spirit living in us.
    as the fruit is the produce of the Spirit and not our self effort.
    like it says
    hurt people hurts but
    loved people loves

    ‘we love because He first loved us’ – 1 John 4:19

    – grace and peace

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