Even the longest summers come to a close and here in the northern hemisphere autumn is now upon us. The school run is blocking the roads, the tan is fading, the days are getting darker. Yes, it’s autumn.
Of course, beyond and above all this is creation’s glorious shift from green to brown and gold. With that comes the whole idea of harvest where, in our urbanised world, we have to increasingly explain that food doesn’t originate from factories. It is good to be reminded of our dependence on creation. There’s a lot of mileage in thinking about harvest: it is, to coin a phrase, a topic full of fruit.
Actually, fruit is on the first and last pages of the Bible and there are at least 200 references in between. Particularly worth thinking about at this season is the way that the idea of fruit is applied to our own lives. The very first psalm sums up the godly person as someone who is ‘like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers’ (v.3 niv). It’s a wonderful image. There are many other references, especially in the New Testament, about the need for God’s people, in particular, to bear fruit.
It seems to me that we can apply this idea of bearing fruit to two of the most influential and widespread lies told to us by our culture. The first lie concerns who we are. Promoting the ideal of self-expression, it says in seductive tones, ‘Just be who you want to be.’ On this view you don’t have to change anything about yourself, just be authentically who you are. The second lie of our culture concerns what we are to want. Promoting the ideal of self-fulfilment, it says with equal persuasiveness, ‘Just want whatever you want.’ Don’t be constrained by convention or tradition: the world is for your taking. That Western society suffers from an epidemic of dissatisfaction and depression may suggest that these ideals on who we are to be and what we are to desire are inadequate.
Interestingly, the idea of bearing fruit is relevant to both lies. With regard to the first lie of self-expression, the wisdom of the Bible calls us not to be content with what we are but to seek to be changed for the better. Indeed the New Testament offers us the challenge of imitating Christ. As part of encouraging this ‘aspiration to transformation’ we have the commands that we bear ‘personal fruit’ in our lives. So Paul says in Galatians 5:22–23 (niv) that
‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’.
The Christian, of course, is helped here by the fact that these goals are not attained by hard work alone but are the out-flowing of letting God’s Spirit work within us. Our lives are to show this ‘personal fruit’ and autumn is as good a time as any to check whether we are producing it.
With regard to the second lie of self-fulfilment, biblical wisdom rejects this too, and encourages us instead to seek what we might call ‘public fruit’. The goal of our lives is not to seek what we want for ourselves but what others need. We are to bear fruit for others. Now, of course, the two types of fruit are linked: it is out of the personal fruit that the public fruit comes. Transformed lives give rise to transforming actions. In thinking about ‘public fruit’ let’s not restrict the meaning. Some Christians bear spectacular fruit: building vibrant churches and transforming communities. Wonderful! Yet others may bear less spectacular but no less worthy fruit: bearing difficulties and circumstance with grace, battling with corruption in some organisation, administering justice in a fair and honest way, steadily and faithfully stewarding God’s resources. We are summoned to different callings each with different fruit. As with some wonderful market stall, God’s fruit comes in all shapes, sizes, colours and flavours.
The gospel begins with us coming to faith in Christ and putting our trust in him. That is the root of our faith. Nurturing faith with prayer, Bible reading, worship and fellowship will enable that good root to produce good fruit. Let’s let autumn inspire us to bear good fruit in our life and to bear it for others. Let’s be fruitful!