What is fruit exactly?
That's a provocative question that longtime friend, Linda Slaton who leads a global ministry at Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, raised in an email response to my museletter from Aspen. I ran into Linda in our hallway this past week and told her I had been musing about her email for a month or so and asked whether I could use her question to provoke the readers of my museletters as she had for me. She said yes.
So let's start with Linda posing the questions in her email and my attempting to answer (with some wisdom from my friend and mentor, Peter Drucker). Here goes:
LINDA SLATON – “Lately, I've been mulling over the question, What is fruit, exactly? When I read John 15 and the parable of the Sower, I realize that I don't think I've ever heard anyone preach/teach on the nature of Fruit. Well, except for the obvious passage on fruit of the Spirit –love, joy, peace, etc. But is that what Jesus means exactly when He tells us to bear fruit, much fruit, fruit that lasts, 100X?”
Linda raises an important question. Important enough for Jesus to say that we would recognize His disciples by their fruit. “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?,” Matthew 7:16 NIV) It is pretty important for Christians to understand what Jesus considers fruit.
PETER DRUCKER -Peter Drucker's short two word answer would be CHANGED LIVES. Here is the way Peter put it in his book,Managing the Nonprofit Organization: In describing nonprofits, Peter said, “Forty years ago when I began to work with nonprofit institutions, they were generally seen as marginal to an American society dominated by government and big business …. We now realize that (the work of churches, hospitals, and other nonprofits) is central to the quality to life in America, central to citizenship, and indeed carries the values of American society in the American tradition. We know that the ability of government to perform social tasks is very limited indeed.” On another occasion, Peter said, “Nonprofits may be American's most important export to the rest of the world.”
Peter continued, “Nonprofits do something very different from either business or government. Business supplies either goods or services. Government controls. The nonprofit institution neither supplies services nor controls. Its product is neither a pair or shoes nor an effective regulation. Its product is a changed human being.”
LINDA SLATON – “So, I started thinking — maybe the key lies in the qualification (Jesus) gives it –Fruit is that which lasts. So, what lasts?, I ask myself. What extends into eternity? Is it simply souls? (Although now that I think about it, 'simply souls' is somewhat of an oxymoron.) Surely “fruit that lasts” goes beyond leading someone to Christ. That act alone is but one of many things that lasts, right? Maybe fruit is fulfilling the Great Commission — making disciples and teaching them to observe all that Christ tells us. So what does it mean to 'make disciples?'
ME – I have come to the conclusion that whenever I leave this world to join my son, Ross, in heaven, that the only fruit of my life I will leave behind on earth is that which I have invested in the lives of other people. That fruit, I believe, will endure on earth for generation after generation in the lives of disciples that God allows me to serve. One of my Top 10 Values (#5) states, “The fruit of my work grows up on other people's trees.”
LINDA SLATON — “I read a definition of a disciple that I think is spot on: a disciple is a person-in-process. Maybe to make a disciple means to prompt movement one degree closer to God in their process? One fraction further down the path to freedom, oneness, joy, unity in Christ? Movement toward Christ is lasting. So, maybe fruit and disciple-making are essentially the same.”
Linda concluded her email with a list of “things that have lasted – have stayed with me and will most likely remain with me throughout eternity.” There were 24 items on her list. She concluded by saying, “All that to say, Bob, some fruit that lasts with me, you planted. 100X is a super life vision. So, I thought of you today as I read the Parable of the Sower.”
Another of my Top 10 Values (#4) is “Giving is not a result – changed lives are.” I keep score in a paste-in book I call a “Book of Days.” That book might easily be called a Book of Changed Lives – a new church planted, a career changed from success to service in midlife. It is my storage of “treasure in heaven that moth and rust doth not corrupt.”
King James Version Matthew 6:19 – Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.