Note: This sermon is now part of two separate series.
Foundations of Our Faith
- What Kind of Savior Are You Looking For? - John 12
- Feelings You Never Forget - Matthew 28
- Created to Bear Fruit - John 15
- Caesarea Philippi - Confronting Reality - Matthew 16
- The Lamb Who Became a Shepherd - Revelation 7
Vintage Faith sermon series
- Created to Bear Fruit
- Your Choice: Discipline or Pruning?
- The Cath Lab in the Vineyard
- Four Baskets, One Choice
Main focus of this message
From God's point of view, your purpose is very simple. Just as a grape vine must do, the main purpose of our lives is to produce fruit. Even more fundamental of a lesson, we must never forget that the owner of the vineyard is in charge, in control, and focused on receiving as much fruit as possible from his vineyard.
Scriptures: John 15:1-8
How important is the teaching of John's 15th chapter? Remember the when of this passage. Jesus had just washed the feet of his disciples, led them through a final meal, instituted the Lord's Supper, and now walked with them to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he will soon pray, and later be arrested. By the time the sun finds its way to mid-day, the very next day, Jesus will be on a cross.
Jesus knew the timetable. He was using care with every word. And just here, just then, he used an object lesson from the garden. Amidst the olive trees was a grape arbor. The vines of that day were just beginning a season of growth. The signs that a gardener, or a vinedresser, had been there, however, would have been clearly obvious. The vines would have been tended, pruned, cleaned, and tied to the arbor. The season of growth would have been a season of care, and would have been a prelude to the season of harvest.
There's the tale of an older woman who had finished shopping and returned to her car. As she approached her vehicle, however, she saw four men inside her car! The increasing crime rate in America had disgusted her, and she had long prepared for this very moment. She dropped her shopping bags, drew a handgun from her purse, and screamed, "I have a gun, and I know how to use it! Get out of the car!"
The men did not wait for a second invitation. Doors were opening, bodies were flying, and four men ran like crazy from the gun-toting grandmother.
Despite her Clint Eastwood imitation, the woman was shaken by the experience. It took her a moment to gather her shopping bags and get into the car. She kept an eye out for the hoodlums, but they didn't return. She put the gun back in her purse, and got her keys. For a moment, she thought the problem was her trembling hand, but no matter how she tried, she simply could not get her key to turn the ignition. In time, she took a better look at the car. It didn't seem as familiar as it once had. About that time, she noticed an identical car parked four or five spaces away, and realized that she'd just become part of America's crime wave. She'd stolen someone else's car!
According to the story, she transferred the groceries to her own car, and drove to the police station to turn herself in. The desk sergeant to whom she told the story nearly fell off his chair laughing. He pointed to the other end of the counter, where four very frightened men were reporting a senior-adult carjacking. After she made a full apology, no charges were filed.
The lesson: Be sure you know what you own, or be prepared to be embarrassed!
(Read John 15:1-8)
I. The vineyard belongs to God
There is no mistaking this principle. Jesus said, "I am the vine, you are the branches." ... At the very beginning of the passage, he says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener." My Father is the vinedresser. He is the owner of the vineyard.
It seems all of us are born with selfish instincts. It doesn't take long for a toddler to learn a couple of powerful, one-word sentences.
Have you been amazed at the feelings of ownership a toddler can have? If he gets his grubby little hands on an empty, plastic butter dish, it won't matter what Mom intended for the dish. "MINE!!!" screams the selfish little man, and the battle is on. It wouldn't matter if the object were a piece of trash, or a priceless work of art. Once his hands are on it, it's "MINE!"
How ridiculous. Little children can't comprehend the value of things, or that someone worked hard to buy a work of art. Children can't understand responsibility, time, earnings, or value. But they immediately understand the concept of possessions.
We don't grow out of it just because we have a third birthday. By the time a person is 30, or 50, or 70, he has usually had a chance to look up to the heavens, curl his grubby little fingers into a tiny fist, and say, "But God, it was MINE!"
"But God, that was my good health. It was mine. I want it back. I don't want the disease. I'm tired of the way I feel. I'm scared of the surgery. I'm sick of the treatments. It's not fair that it costs this much. God it was my health ... it was MINE!"
"But God, I earned that money ... why did the stock market have to do that, now? That was my retirement ... It was MINE!"
"But God," says the man by the fresh grave ... "she was mine."
"But God," says the mother staring at the empty room of her 18-year-old son. "He was just a little boy, and I liked him that way ... he was mine."
"But God," says the young adult, "this was my future. I planned it. I worked for it. I went to school for it. I've made the promotions. This was all mine. I don't want to change in midstream."
"But God," says the church member, "I gave years of my time to that church. I gave thousands of dollars, and more sweat than I could count. Now it's changing. It's not what it was. God, this was my church, and I want it back."
"No," says God to the 2-year-old in all of us, "it wasn't yours at all. She wasn't. He wasn't. The church wasn't yours. You're not even yours! It all belongs to me, for I am God."
From the moment God issued the first of his Ten Commandments, he told us that he was a jealous God, that he would tolerate no other gods, that he would never relinquish his right to be God. In the vineyard, we find another opportunity to realize that God is in control, God is in charge, and we are not. We cannot find our purpose without realizing our place.
Obviously, in a garden, the branch doesn't tell the vine what to do. On a farm, the plants don't tell the farmer how to get the job done. Can you imagine a plant telling the gardener, "NO! I'll do it my way!" No, the gardener knows best for the plants, and cultivates, works, cuts, removes, fertilizes, waters, covers, sprays ... for very good reasons. And a good plant simply trusts the gardener.
There may be no harder principle to put into practice for many believers than this first one. We all tend to be control freaks. We feel better if we're in control. If four adults are in the car, usually at least three people are thinking: "I should be driving."
When it comes to this spiritual notion of bearing fruit, the bad news is that the Lord demands that you release control. There is no option. You and I have no more right to tell God how to do His business than a plant has a right to give us instructions. It just doesn't work that way. So that's the bad news. You have to give up control.
The good news? That means you don't have to carry the weight of being in control! You don't have to carry the weight of the branch! Your only job is to bear fruit.
II. God wants as much fruit as possible from your life
It's impossible to miss. Your job is to "bear fruit."
Of the major application points in the lesson Jesus was giving, this one is overwhelmingly simple. Your purpose is to "bear fruit," and the mission of your life is to discover how you're to go about that process.
This sermon is an excellent opportunity to ask the question: "God, why was I born?" This is the season to look hard at the question, to find the answer - if you've not already found it - and to do exactly what Jesus asked. Bear fruit!
III. Bearing fruit is a life-long effort
Though we may have assumed "bearing fruit" relates only to evangelism, this idea is not reserved only for the single individual who might hear a person pray a prayer of salvation, or the single person who might have the privilege of baptizing a new convert. Everyone in a church plays a role in "bearing fruit," with each person exercising his or her God-given gifts.
People with the gift of evangelism must be about their work of bearing evangelistic fruit. But what about the teachers of Christians, or those with the gift of hospitality? What about those gifted to work with small children, who are too young to "accept Christ" right now, or those who are Christian senior adults, who accepted Christ long ago? Do they get no credit for "bearing fruit?" what about those with the gift of prophecy, who have a way of counseling that is blunt, biblical, and wonderfully healthy?
It's important to have the right tools, if you're going to have a fruitful life. According to the story, a psychologist at Stanford University once tried to show that we live for productive results, or what Jesus referred to as "fruit." This researcher hired a logger and said, "I'll pay you double what you get paid in the logging camp, if you'll take the blunt end of this axe and just pound this log all day. You never have to cut one piece of wood. Just take the end that is blunt and hit it as hard as you can, just as you would if you were logging." After half a day, the man quit. The psychologist asked, "Why did you quit?" The logger said, "Because every time I move an axe, I have to see the chips fly. If I don't see the chips fly, it's no fun."
Jesus didn't simply command that we bear fruit. He also promised the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the "gifts" that the Holy Spirit would bring. Each of us is distinct in the body of Christ. While some may have the gift of evangelism, others have the gift of teaching. Some are natural-born - or even "super-natural-born" greeters, while others comfort. Some have the gift of counseling, and others are gifted in areas of administration.
The mix of gifts means that none of us should try to create a carbon copy of another's work. Instead, develop your God-given gifts and bear the fruit you were meant to bear. Or as the frustrated logger might say, if you find teaching a Bible study class to be a very frustrating experience, quit cutting wood with the blunt end of an axe!
Or consider the "fruits of the Spirit" from Galatians 5:22-23 - love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control. When you pull this off, aren't you bearing fruit? Think not? When Jesus gave a basic, single command just a few steps away from the vineyard, he said, "Love one another." That happens to be the very first fruit of the Spirit! Frankly, there are lots of ways to bear fruit.
Titus 3:14 - Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good (NASB: maintain good works), in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives. (HCSB)
Psalm 1:3 He (the righteous man) is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (HCSB)
Do you realize the joy of this? Every thought, every action, every attitude, can be a good work, another grape on the cluster. "By these things the Father is glorified!" If it's only for winning people to Christ, we could go our entire lives with precious few moments when we think, "OK, I'm getting it." Jesus didn't intend for any of us to live in that kind of guilt and disappointment. He intended for us an "abundant life." So bear the fruit that God intended for your individual purpose.
Bearing fruit, however, requires a lifelong commitment of work and discipline. No plant "casually" produces a lot of fruit. Instead, it's a slow process, a structured process, a process that produces fruit only "in season." That's why "self-control" may be listed last among the fruits of the Spirit. Perhaps it's at the top of the tree, the most difficult fruit to harvest!
In every garden, in every vineyard, there's an opportunity to be discouraged. Weeds thrive, insects feast, mildew flourishes, and disease finds an outdoor home. In every life, likewise, there are elements that can hinder the production of healthy fruit.
It would be easy, with all the negative elements in our lives, to become discouraged in the vineyard of John 15. It would be easy to quietly think, "I can't. There's too much guilt. I've tried it before. I'm frustrated in the search. I'm tired. I'm exhausted. I don't want to bear anything more."
If so, listen to a wonderful truth. If you let the vinedresser direct your path, you'll not be tired in the work of bearing fruit. You'll not be stressed. you'll not be confused. You'll simply bear fruit, and enjoy the process.
Think of the object lesson Jesus used. Have you ever seen a grape vine that was stressed out? Or have you ever seen a cotton plant that couldn't decide between producing cotton or bananas? Could you imagine a blueberry bush crying in her bedroom, banging her little blueberry fists on the bed and crying out, "I just can't do this anymore!?"
No, those kinds of things just don't happen, because plants produce fruit naturally. They have the wonderful, loving, guiding hand of the gardener, and they don't have to do anything except what they were designed to do.
Frankly, if you're exhausted in your life's work, you may be in the wrong line of work. Healthy branches don't get stressed. They simply bear fruit. You may be trying to make bananas come out of apple buds. You may be stressed because you're doing some unnatural work. Wouldn't you like to bear the right kind of fruit, and not worry if you've got the right tools, the right gifts, the right timing, or the right calling?
The owner of the vineyard doesn't want you to do something unnatural. He wants you to produce fruit naturally, and he's already given you all you need to do a great job at what you were designed to do.
Danny Simpson lived in Ottawa Canada. The year was 1990, and Danny was desperate. He didn't have the resources he needed to survive. He was short on cash, and shorter on skills. He had run out of time and options, so Danny took the gun that had been handed down through his family's line, went to a bank, and robbed it of $6,000 in a hold-up.
Danny wasn't very good at robbing banks, and he was promptly arrested. At the trial, two significant things happened. First, Danny was sentenced to six years in prison. His opportunities to succeed in life dropped to minute proportions. But second, as the courtroom looked closely at the evidence, folks really looked at the weapon he'd used. It was a .45 Colt semi-automatic, the kind gun collectors look at with salivating stares. it was an antique, this gun, made by the Ross Rifle Company in 1918. And it's value? About $100,000.
Did you catch that? Danny robbed a bank for $6,000, all the time holding $100,000 in his hands! In other words, Danny already had what he needed, without even knowing it.
God will not ask you to bear a certain kind of fruit without equipping you to bear that fruit. God has given us His Word, through the Bible, as the ultimate resource. No matter the question, the answer is in the Bible. And you've got it. You've got more than you need, already.
What you may really need is trust, and a reason to go back to the first principle, from the first instruction. "It's not about you," Jesus said ... "It's about me. I'm the vine. Not you. You're just the branch. My Father is the owner of the vineyard. Not you. He'll make the gardening decisions. He'll do the pruning. He'll call the shots. That's his right, and not yours."