Fruit Grows on Trees, Not on Small Plants
About the Fruit of Faithfulness
The fruit of the Spirit is "faithfulness" (Galatians 5:22). The
characteristics of the Spirit are called "fruit" because it must be
cultivated and grown. It takes faithfulness, which is demonstrated by
endurance, for any of the fruit to be grown. But how is faithfulness
grown? This is important for us to understand if we are going to bear any
Fruit grows on trees, not small plants. A small plant may sprout and
produce vegetables in a single season, but a fruit tree takes years to
develop before it will bear fruit. This is why we are told it takes "faith
and patience" (Hebrews 6:12) to inherit the promises. One reason why there
is so little true fruit of the Spirit in the body of Christ today is
because of the lack of faithfulness; faithfulness is demonstrated by
endurance over time until fruit is produced.
I hear many complaints about how pastors and leaders tend to interpret
faithfulness as how committed people are to their own vision. This may be
true, but this is not necessarily wrong. In fact, to be faithful to
someone else's vision is crucial for developing the maturity in Christians
so that they too can bear fruit.
Know Your Own Purpose & Destiny
For many years, I have championed the need for people to know their own
purpose and have their own vision, but this vision, if it is real, must
fit together with a corporate vision. Also, the more significant the
calling that we have, the longer and more difficult the time of serving
someone else's vision will usually be before He will free us to pursue our
This is because we are the branches, and He is the vine. A branch cannot
bear fruit without abiding in the vine, so His life must flow through us.
We receive His life by grace, and we are told plainly that "God resists
the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6 NKJV). It takes
humility to serve someone else's vision. Without humility, we cannot
expect His grace.
The greater the purpose that you have, the more difficult you can expect
your call to serve someone else's vision to be. Because King David was
called to not only be a king but to establish a throne that the Scriptures
say even the Lord Jesus sits upon (see II Samuel 7:12-16), the greatest
level of humility and faithfulness was required of David. He had to remain
faithful to serve a king who not only had drifted from the will of God but
began to oppose the Lord, killing his priests and even trying to kill
David. However, David remained faithful to Saul even after Saul died.
It is an amazing thing to see how King David rewarded those who honored
Saul by recovering his body and giving him a proper burial, but he went
even further than this. It was the practice of kings who ascended a throne
in those times to kill all of the offspring of any potential rivals. King
David did the opposite and actually honored Saul's offspring, even
allowing them to eat at honored positions at his own table. David remained
faithful to Saul, even when Saul became unfaithful. By this, King David
became one of the greatest examples of godly faithfulness in the
Of course, one who exceeds even David in faithfulness is the Lord Himself.
He has remained faithful to man, even through all of the unfaithfulness
and opposition of man. As the primary work that the Lord is doing in us is
to conform us to His image, we can therefore expect to be called on to
remain faithful to those who have been unfaithful to us. How many of us,
knowing that our best friends were all going to deny us and betray us that
very night, deserting us when we needed them the most, would still desire
to have one more meal with them and even wash their feet to demonstrate
our commitment to them?
Conforming to His Image
If we react to those who disappoint us or are unfaithful to us, then we
are still immature. Everything that the Lord allows in our life is for the
purpose of conforming us to His image, and if we want this to happen, we
can expect to have to go through the same things that He did.
Paul the apostle prayed to be conformed to the image of the Lord's death
(see Philippians 3:10), and his prayer was answered. He died with all of
his unfaithful friends having likewise scattered from him, and most of the
churches he had given his life to serving had already gone into apostasy.
Paul probably died wondering if he had really accomplished anything
through his life of sacrifice, but true sacrifice has a power to bear
fruit that actually cannot be destroyed.
Paul had probably forgotten long ago about the few letters he had written
from prison. But because Paul lived for the eternal instead of the
temporary, there was an eternal quality to those letters that made it
impossible for them to be destroyed. Those few letters with eternity in
their hearts are probably still bearing more fruit for eternal life than
all of the efforts of all who are in ministry today. But would they have
been remembered if Paul had not been so faithful, even to the end, even
unto death? Probably not.
We must resolve that our own faithfulness will not be determined by what
others do. We must resolve to remain faithful, simply because it is the
right thing to do. Even if it looks as if we will be alone and we cannot
see any fruit from it, it is still the right thing to do.
Of course, the ultimate test of faithfulness would probably be in relation
to a spouse. But is this not what the Lord Himself is daily going through
with His bride? How many of you would have liked to have heard from your
fiancÚ on your wedding day, "Darling, I am going to be totally faithful to
you 364 days a year. I only want one day a year to mess around."
"You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is
hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the
world makes himself an enemy of God." -- James 4:4
What's Your Focus?
How many of His people have not devoted themselves more to being joined to
this world and successful in the world than being joined to Him? Is this
true of us? Then we, too, are being unfaithful to the One who in all of
creation deserves our faithfulness the most.
If you have a question about whether this is you or not, ask this
question: what do you spend most of your time on, and what has most of
your attention? Are you more focused on how to get ahead in your job or
profession, making more money, or acquiring the things of this world more
than knowing the Lord, getting closer to Him, and doing His will? If so,
then at the very least you have lost your first love, and you are in
spiritual adultery with the world.
It is also possible to be more devoted to our church or our ministry than
to the Lord Himself. As ministers, we are called to be the friend of the
Bridegroom who is helping to prepare the bride for Him, but how many in
ministry are really just using the bride to serve themselves and their own
ambition? Isn't this the most profane of all unfaithfulness?
In this way, we are not only unfaithful ourselves, but we are seeking to
have the very bride of Christ joined more to us than to Him! By this, we
are committing adultery with God's own wife!
This is a trap that causes many in ministry to fall, and this may well
deserve the worst judgment on that day. What husband would want a wife
that was so busy serving him that she had no time for him? What husband
would want a wife that loved her job or her house more than she loved him?
This, too, is an issue of faithfulness.
Many of us in ministry are disappointed at the lack of faithfulness of the
people to our vision, when we ourselves are basically being unfaithful to
the Lord, and the people can see it. They will ultimately be as faithful
to us as they can see that we are faithful to Him.
Why do we so easily desert Him for that which has no true satisfaction?
For the last three years, Jack Deere and I have scheduled an
around-the-world ministry trip each summer to try to serve as many
countries as we could in the few weeks that we have.
Each year, Jack is usually in the middle of some study that we spend time
talking about, while sharing dozens of hours in airports and on airplanes.
This year, Jack found a study on "happiness." The findings of this study
were not only very interesting, but they were quite surprising. The study
revealed that the amount of material possessions, or the lack of them,
actually had no real bearing on a person's happiness.
Materialism is a Trap and a Deception
I pondered this quite a bit on that trip, especially in Africa, where it
seemed the majority of the population had so little. Then, as if to
emphasize this, while we were in Johannesburg, South Africa, my wife and
daughters visited the famous township of Soweto. They had a wonderful
guide who took them to Nelson Mandela's house and to the other historic
sites of this shanty town where the revolution in South Africa had begun.
The guide was showing them the typical house, which usually had two rooms.
One room was the kitchen where there was an open fire and where all of the
children usually slept. A friend, who was on the tour, remarked how sorry
he was for them to have to grow up in these conditions. The guide was
surprised by this comment, saying that they should not be sorry for this
because they had a very happy family, and the memories of his childhood
were not of deprivation, but of all the good times they had together.
I grew up in a very unhappy family, with difficult and confusing problems,
one of which was continued and serious financial stress. Because of that,
I have been driven to do better for my own family. However, three times we
have had to move from "dream homes" to much smaller and more difficult
conditions, and every time I have witnessed the barometer of our family's
happiness go up instead of down, and often quite dramatically.
Our over-devotion to materialism is a trap and a deception that is robbing
us of true life. So, how is it that we could be more faithful to that
vision than to the Son of God? It is a righteous thing to want to provide
well for your family, but we must guard against this becoming an idol that
eclipses our devotion to the Lord. When it does, the fruit will be bad for
ourselves and those we are providing for.
We were all created to have fellowship with God, and there is never going
to be anything else more interesting or fulfilling than this. The main
thing in our life is to keep the main thing -- the main thing. How is it
that we are so easily distracted from this? Unfaithfulness.
All True Ministry is Servanthood
The Lord develops faithfulness in us in many ways. One primary way is by
having us devote ourselves to the visions and purposes of others. This is
what all true ministry is: servanthood. This is quite a lost art in
ministry today, but it will be recovered. When it is, we will discover
that there is really nothing as fulfilling as serving the Lord and helping
others succeed in their purpose. It is hard for the immature to see this,
but this is actually the path for us to succeed in our own purpose.
Paul the apostle lamented that there were many teachers but not many
fathers (see I Corinthians 4:15). That is true. A true father will get far
more satisfaction from seeing his children succeed than even from his own
success. This is why the true measure of an authentic New Testament
ministry is for one to reproduce their ministry in others and have them
succeed. If it was the nature of God to empty Himself of all of His glory
and to lower Himself to become a man to serve the very ones who had
rejected Him, then, we who were made in His image will also do this.
So, if the Lord requires the immature to go through a time of serving
someone else's vision before letting them pursue their own, and if we are
on the true path of true ministry, then our main devotion will not be to
get others to support our vision as much as being devoted to helping those
entrusted to our care to be prepared and released into their own purpose.
True ministry is never just faithfulness to our own vision, but serving
others. In the Lord, that is the only way to fulfill our own vision: by
serving Him and serving His people -- servanthood. True faithfulness to
the Lord is just as He stated in Matthew 16:24-26:
"Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, let
him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes
to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake
shall find it. For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole
world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his
Faithfulness to a Corporate Vision
Faithfulness to someone else requires the laying aside of our own
self-centeredness, even the fulfilling of "our ministry," and giving
ourselves to the purpose of another. The Lord has made us so that this is
the only way we can truly find our own purpose and fulfillment. There is
no greater bondage than self-centeredness and no greater freedom than
being the Lord's slave. However, the truly faithful will remain steadfast
when it becomes hard, regardless of how much time it takes. True
faithfulness will see the job through to completion.
Every leader learns fast that it is quite easy to get people motivated to
start a job, but there will not be many left to see it through the hard
work to completion. The resurrected Lord told five hundred people to go
back to Jerusalem to wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit, but after
just twelve days there were only one hundred twenty still there. The Lord
knew this would happen, and He often causes things to take longer than we
would like to thin out the crowds, getting rid of the unfaithful because
anything of true significance must be built on faithful people. This is
why He requires that we not only have faith but also patience to inherit
True Christian maturity requires that we learn faithfulness to a corporate
vision, something that originated in the heart of someone else, which may
or may not be the main thing on our heart, but this is needed before we
can expect others to be committed to our vision. Few visions and purposes
of the Lord can be accomplished by just one person, so it does require a
joining together of others to accomplish them. However, the basis of our
faithfulness must be to the Lord Himself above all other things, keeping
Him as our first love. That is the basis of all true faithfulness.
One of the primary areas that demonstrates faithfulness is in our
financial giving. Most Christians even have a knee-jerk negative reaction
to this, but it is true and biblical. This is the reason why the Lord
Himself was watching those who were giving in the temple. Jesus, being the
true representative of the Father, demonstrated by this that this was
something important to the Father. This is because where a person's
treasure is, there will their heart be also.
When I was once inquiring of the Lord about how to know who to add to our
staff for a position, the Lord said that I should look at his record of
giving to see if his heart was really with us. Since then, I have
concluded that this probably is truly the best barometer of a person's
faithfulness. If their hearts really are with the Lord, they will put
their treasures into His work. If their hearts are with you in what you
are doing for Him, they will invest there. If they will not put their
treasures there, then you can be sure their hearts are not really there
The very thought of this will cause a strong reaction in some, but those
are the ones that you do not want to count on because they are the ones
who will demand the most and give the least. When difficulties come, they
will be the first to become disgruntled and the fastest to desert. In my
observations, this has been true every time. Money is usually the ultimate
idol -- what we put our trust in above the Lord, and where we put our
treasure, this will be where our hearts really are. That's why if we are
true shepherds, we have a basic responsibility to teach financial
faithfulness to those entrusted to our care.