“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:43 – 45
The seaside town of Anglesea, on the Great Ocean Road, is a special place for our family. Up until certain restrictions were introduced this year, we would attend Family Camps there. It was also the place where I first met my wife, Ros, as we prepared to run a Beach Mission at Anglesea. We have so many memories from our times there.
One of those memories I have takes me back a lot further, long before I met Ros. It occurred at a holiday house that we used to stay at with our friends during the summer holidays. Because we visit that area quite frequently, I’ll often pass that holiday house that looks quite different now – something like 40 years later – and I look down the driveway to a particular tree and I remember an incident with a sense of wonder and amazement.
When I think about that tree and I remember the day of the incident, I’m reminded of how blessed I am, and how my life could have ended up so much different – in fact my life could have ended all together on that day.
I’m not great at identifying trees. It had broad branches with soft leaves, but was very dense and so great to hide in. But the best thing was that the broad branches went up in layers; almost like different floors of a building, making it easy to climb. My brothers and I would spend hours in that tree, climbing and playing; basically, just getting out of sight from the adults.
At the very top of the tree, the final level was just amazing. The thick branches formed a small platform where 2 or 3 people could comfortably lounge. It was like you were being held in a giant hand, and from up there you could see across the roofs of the houses.
But one day – I did the sort of thing that young boys do when they believe themselves to be invincible and don’t think through their actions properly. There were a couple of us at the top, and one of the other guys was coming up to join us. We thought we would try and be funny, and as he approached the final couple of levels, we would slip away in the branches before he got to the top.
My route involved a short leap, at the top level of the tree, to a branch about a meter and a half away, where I could then easily climb down out of reach of the guy who was coming up. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, it did – I missed the branch. I remember the experience so well – it was like being in a dream. But I woke from that dream flat on my back on the driveway of the house next door.
So, you can see why whenever I pass by, I look up the driveway, I see the tree, and I remember how blessed I am. And maybe it reminds me of a lesson or two that I learned from that tree.
Jesus used the illustration of a tree to teach us a very important lesson too. In Luke 6 Jesus is speaking to a great crowd of people when He says:
“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. (Luke 6:43 – 44)
Jesus is giving an illustration – contrasting two trees to help us to understand our Spiritual Life. Our whole life in fact.
He is showing us a good tree, a fruitful tree, full of life, productive, vibrant, and healthy. And He shows us a bad tree, a barren tree, unhealthy, unproductive, useless, and dead.
If Jesus used one of these trees to describe you, which would you prefer? That is easy isn’t it. We want to be the healthy tree; the fruitful tree – the tree that is full of life. But how do we know if that is a picture of us? And importantly, how do we ensure that we stay healthy and fruitful? How do we ensure that our life is as healthy as it possibly can be? That is the question we are going to wrestle with here.
What does a fruitful life look like?
The first question we have to ask is, what does a fruitful life look like? The Bible makes this very clear. The entire Bible is full of illustrations of women and men that are clearly shown to either be fruitful and full of life, or barren and essentially dead or dying. But ultimately, and possibly most clearly, it is what Paul teaches us in Galatians that gives us the clearest description. He writes:
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19 – 21)
These things are all evidence of a barren life – a Spiritually Lifeless life – and the consequences of this are understood when Paul says that those who practice these things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast Paul describes the life of a person who is Spiritually healthy. He continues:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22 – 26)
Live a fruitful life
The fruit in our life, whether it is idolatry, jealousy, selfishness or whether it is love, joy and peace and the like, all comes in response to circumstances that hit us.
There is nothing right or wrong about the circumstances. The same circumstance can happen to different people and will end up with a different response – a different fruit. The issue isn’t the circumstance – it is the response of the individual.
For example, two people might be given a million dollars. One person might spend some on a holiday for their family, some to pay off their mortgage, and a lot to support good causes and the church and so forth – and we’d say that was a good response – a fruitful response. While another person might waste it on other things like gambling or spending it all on themselves. Identical circumstance – different fruit.
Let me explain it better from a story from the Bible.
Most of us know the story of King David. He was an amazing guy – the youngest in the family, faithful in looking after his father’s sheep, even fighting off wild animals. Later he will be anointed as the King of Israel, but he won’t become king for many years. Throughout that time, he shows amazing faithfulness and loyalty to God and King Saul, the current king, under whom he humbly serves until he is forced to flee for his life.
Following the death of King Saul, things begin to go well for David. He is appointed king of Israel and God continues to bless him and the Israelites and the nation goes from strength to strength.
One day the Israelite army is off in battle, and things are going so well that David thinks, “I don’t even need to be there.” So, he stays home, and he is in his palace at night with nothing to do. Looking out his window he sees a beautiful woman bathing on the roof of a house nearby – and what does he do? Oh, oh!
By the end of this story, David has committed adultery because the woman whose name is Bathsheba is married. In order to cover his sin, he has her husband Uriah, who is one of the leaders in his army, murdered. How did this happen? How did a man who loved and honoured God, who had done so many amazing things – so many faithful and fruitful things – go so badly? What went wrong?
The circumstances were all good. Things were going really well, but then an opportunity arose for David to respond to those circumstances, and he made a bad decision. His response was bad.
Now, it is easy for us to stand at a distance and point out what went wrong and what David should have done. Instead of making a sinful response, he should have done the right thing. He knew God’s law; he knew that adultery and murder were sin, and he should have obeyed God.
The Bible tells us that there are consequences for our sin – there are always consequences for sin – and there is blessing when we obey God and His Word. If we obey God we bear fruit. If we disobey God and sin, then the fruit is barrenness and death.
So, the answer is simple right? Change your behaviour! Easy, isn’t it? Is it?
How many of you can say that changing our behaviour isn’t as easy as it sounds? There is a reason for that. In our picture of the two trees – one that is full of fruit – the other that is barren – simply changing behaviour by adding fruit to a barren and lifeless tree would be hard work. It wouldn’t be enduring or lasting. There is a word I have for that (actually two words) – FRUIT STAPLING! It would be a bit like taking fruit from a tree that is full of life and stapling it to a lifeless tree. What will happen to that fruit? It will shrivel and die and there will certainly be no more fruit added to it naturally.
We must ask the question, “Why isn’t the tree producing fruit in the first place?” In the same way we ask the question, “Why isn’t the person’s life producing good fruit?”
In our story, why did David respond in the wrong way? Why did David – who loved God and did so much good – respond sinfully and do so much evil in the end? The answer is about motive. It is about the heart.
When Jesus said, “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.” he continued by saying:
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)
David had been a man who loved and followed the Lord, but he had allowed his motives to change. He had begun to focus on himself rather than putting God first. If he put God first, then he would want to please God. But by looking to please himself this led him to sin.
The Bible calls the motive to please our self “Idolatry.” When we think of the word IDOLATRY we often think about the worship of other gods – of idols. But an idol is anything that we give first place to ahead of God Himself. Even if that idol is ‘our self’ – our own pleasure.
What can we do? Is there any hope for us? Was there any hope for King David?
Along comes Nathan who tells David a story to expose the fact that he has sinned. David’s actions had demonstrated that his heart was sinful. Like Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil.”
By knowing the truth which Nathan came to tell him, David had an opportunity to put things right. You and I, when we know the Gospel Truth, have the chance to ask, and allow God to fix the state of our heart. That is by knowing and applying the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus.
The diagram below is called ‘The Three Trees’ for this reason. The first two trees represent the fruitful tree and the barren tree. The third tree is the Cross of Christ Jesus. Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our sin. When we repent of our sin and accept salvation in Jesus, our sin is forgiven, and our heart is made clean.
The Bible makes it clear that every person’s heart is by very nature a heart tainted by sin. The Bible says:
The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. (Jeremiah 17:9)
There is no one righteous, not even one. (Romans 3:10)
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
The only hope for us is to repent of our sin and let the blood of Jesus that he shed on the cross, wash us clean. That is what King David did. He prayed and he asked God to forgive him, and we even have the words of his prayer to show us.
“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin… wash me and I will be whiter than snow … create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:2, 7, 10)
David didn’t know the complete picture of how Christ would come and die in his place, but he put His faith in God who alone is able to save. He trusted God and His Word, and His heart was cleansed. The truth of the Gospel brought about a change of heart.
His repentance led to a heart change where David’s motive was to please God; not please Himself. And that is what leads to a fruitful life.
If you want to live a life that is fruitful – and remember the blessing that comes from this kind of fruit – Kingdom fruit – lasts for all eternity; it isn’t just about arriving in heaven. Jesus speaks about storing up for ourselves treasure in heaven where it cannot rust or decay or be taken away.
That is what this is talking about. The answer to this is knowing God’s Word. Applying the Truth of God’s Word to our lives so that we are living a life that is centred on God and focused on pleasing God. We will make mistakes along the way, but God is gracious and loving and forgiving when we humbly repent.
When David sinned, I suspect he sensed that something was wrong. Nathan came along and told David the truth of God’s Word. David recognized this and repented. David knew God’s Word is true and when we follow it, we will be blessed and when we disobey there would be consequences. David knew that the only thing to do was to repent, to obey, and to please God. We must do the same.
Knowing when we do this, we please God, and when we please Him, He blesses us! That is the promise of God’s Word! God’s blessings are the best and many of them are Eternal.
If you want to live a life that pleases God and is full of blessing, then remember the Three Trees. The fruitful tree – that is a picture of a life that is full of fruit – an indication that the blessing of God rests upon us.
Remember the barren tree – the consequences of a life that focuses on pleasing ourselves.
Then, remember the third tree – the Cross of Jesus that saves us from sin. When we realise we have been living to please ourselves, we can repent, and God will forgive us and give us strength to live a life that pleases Him and is fruitful.
So, when we are faced with consequences, let us ask the question – ‘What response pleases God?’ ‘What would I do in this situation that would be pleasing to God and give Him glory?’ If we struggle to find the answer to that we can normally find it as we pray and read the Bible. Sometimes it is good to ask a trusted friend.
Then there is only one thing left to do – to obey. Sometimes when we do, we don’t seem to see the fruit straight away, but it comes. It always does. Because that is the promise of God’s Word.
The diagram of the three trees is a simple but powerful reminder of the importance of living a fruitful life and how we can do this.
If you have never received Jesus as your Saviour and you know that you have sinned, that you have lied, or cheated, or done things that the Bible calls sin and separates us from God. We have all done these things and they keep us from experiencing God and having Eternal Life.
But Jesus died to forgive our sin. He made a way for us, and we need to accept His gift of Salvation, and doing that is as simple as ABC:
A – stands for Admit that you have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard.
The wages (penalty) of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
B – stands for Believe that Jesus is God and died on the cross for your sin and rose again.
Christ died for our sins, (He paid the price) just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
C – Call on Jesus to save you personally. Confess that Jesus is your Lord and Saviour. ASK HIM!
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Acts 2:21)
None of us want to stand before the Lord Jesus with a heart that has not been washed clean, because if we do then we will be judged for our sin. Yet none of us have to. Jesus died to take that judgment from us. What we all must do is earnestly put our faith in Him for our salvation.