[S]eeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf,
[Jesus] went to see if He could find anything on it.
When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.
And He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And His disciples heard it …
As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots.
Mark 11:13-14, 20 (Brackets mine)
It’s a serious business, the fate of this fig tree. As serious as the business of Christ’s calling His followers – then and now – to wisely and obediently bear spiritual fruit here on earth as we live out an “already” representation of His “not-yet” Kingdom.
The post you’re reading this week is an expanded, remodeled edition of three brief sets of notes I scribbled as an aside to a technical research assignment from several years ago. When I uncovered these notes earlier this week, it seemed an opportune time to reap some fruitful applications from them. Especially with fall – and fig season – just a few weeks away.
So what’s the significance of Christ’s words regarding this famed fig tree from Mark’s Gospel? Is there, in fact, any significance at all? Perhaps Jesus – dusty, tired, starving from a day’s travel with 12 equally dusty, tired, starving apostles – simply lost His cool when this tree thwarted His meal plans. Go ahead and laugh. Have you ever had yourmeal plans thwarted? It tends not to bring out the most positive traits in a dusty, tired, starving person. I speak from experience that isn’t altogether pretty.
In all seriousness, every word spoken, every action taken by Jesus Christ did and does and will always hold significance for His followers. We can bank on the fact that this encounter with this fig tree is no exception, largely because Mark uses ink to include the statement that Jesus’disciples heard it. With that piece of the puzzle snapped securely in place, I would like to suggest that a second piece – that of this fig tree representing the spiritual life of the believer – fits into the overall picture as well.
So let’s look at three aspects of application for the passages of Scripture covered in this post:
- What Christ’s call to us means in terms of our own bearing of spiritual fruit;
- What His call does not mean within those same terms; and
- The example that He Himself set for us to follow in answering that call.
As for that in the good soil,
they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart,
and bear fruit with patience.
Jesus calls us to bear fruit, to bear fruit abundantly and to bear fruit with patience.Obviously, as we saw in the first passage of Scripture used in this series, that we determine to bear this spiritual fruit is a big deal to Him. It stands to reason, then, that as His followers you and I have a solid understanding of exactly the types of fruit we’re called to bear. His Own Heart will cover each of these in detail in a future post; for now, here are the basics as listed by the Apostle Paul inGalatians 5:22-23:
- Gentleness; and
Now, if it’s so important to Christ that every believer bears these traits – this fruit – in his or her life, the fact if said importance begs a serious question of Western culture; Why isn’t every Christ-follower – as a figurative fig tree – blossoming to his or her full Christ-centered potential?
As hard as the answer is to write or say – to read or hear – the fact is that the fruit a follower bears in the Savior’s image is directly proportionate to his or her dedication to Jesus Himself. What we put in to our Christian walk – as well as where we take it and what we do with it when we get there – is directly proportionate to what we get out of it. In other words, our ability to bear this fruit is absolutely a matter of what the Apostle Paul deems “pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). As representatives of Jesus, we flourish by our obedience, but we wither – that’s right; our sanctified lifestyle regresses – each time we exercise knowing disobedience toward Him in any of these areas.
The nurturing of said dedication, however, requires the Christian community as a whole to work together to tend each other. Without a caring commitment to each individual one that helps comprise the whole,the bottom line is that careless things happen. There’s neglect or unintentional ostracizing of a fellow Christian, for instance. Or a church becomes so pre-occupied with its projects that it fails to recognize needs within its own congregation. Or one Christ-follower’s well-intentioned but spontaneous suggestion comes across as criticism that lowers the self-worth of the other person. The list goes on, but whatever the circumstances, nine times out of ten:
souls pull away;
trees cease bearing;
and testimonies suffer,
because of ill-handled treatment and circumstances, miscommunication and misinterpretation. And sometimes because of just a flat-out jab of Satan on wearied human minds and bodies.
So how do Christ-followers as a community come together in a deliberate effort to enable each fig tree in the Kingdom to bear fruit to his or her full potential? I’m glad you asked.
Because it’s true, you know, that through Christ we equip other believers to bear fruit when we nurture their spirits. But we nurture theirs only as adequately as we nurture our own.
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Talking the talk of obedience is an important early step on the path to striving toward a Christ-like image in our lives. It’s when we walk the walk, however, that we open the door for God to allow us to bear rich fruit and strengthen others in the process.
Re-read James 2:17 above, then zero in on the single word, “works.” Some English versions of the Bible translate that word as “action,” but when James the half-brother of Jesus penned his book in its original Hebrew language, the word he used here can also translate into our English equivalent of “fruit.”
“Fruit” in the context of the sometimes-controversial James passage both makes sense and also sheds new light on it as well as Mark 11:13-14, 20. Faith and the bearing of fruit go hand-in-hand, but obedience forms a necessary conduit between the two. The Apostle Paul says that because Christ-followers live in the Spirit, we must also keep in step with the Spirit(Galatians 5:25). This living to which he refers is synonymous with our faith in the Son of God and His once-for-all atonement of our sins. Keeping in step displays the fruits that grow within us as we learn to walk in willful obedience to Jesus’ commands.
Consider as an example this true story. A race car driver’s perspective on life – and Jesus – changed in the blink of an eye when the driver survived a serious crash at Daytona International Speedway. Afterward, the image and lifestyle he worked so hard to build no longer fulfilled him; in fact, he found himself in time heading with his wife to church more often than he headed to the track. Their pastor began visiting the couple’s home and on one occasion posed a direct question to him.
“Your car is sponsored by a beer company,” he observed. “Is that the image you want?” When the shock of the inquiry and the brief indignation that followed wore off, the driver found himself under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. No, the driver decided, that wasn’t the image he wanted. While he didn’t indulge in alcohol himself, he realized that by having this sponsor on a car – not to mention on his uniform – that adults and children alike looked at with eyes of wonder and admiration, he was bearing the wrong kind of fruit.
He also began to wonder what kind of example his current lifestyle would set for his own child should he and his wife, after four miscarriages, finally have their prayers answered. He soon found himself wondering how would he be able to accept a paycheck from a product he wanted his kids to absolutely avoid?
The driver tried without success to convince his car’s owner to seek other sponsors. When the owner refused, the driver in obedience to God and commitment to principle left the team and accepted the fact that he would never race again. Imagine his amazement when an offer came just weeks later from another car owner. The driver took a deep breath and asked his first question – “Who’s the sponsor?” – which turned out to be the company of a well-known household cleaning product. In a matter of a few short years with his new team, he came full circle: from the crash that changed his life to standing in Daytona’s Victory Lane. When he and his wife conceived twice, he gave up his career for good to, in his words, be a responsible steward of the gifts God had given him.
His faith fostered obedience to Christ, which in turn produced fruit – good fruit – on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. It also gives me food for thought. I wonder what would happen if, as followers of Christ, we each took seven days to evaluate the quality of the spiritual fruit we bear – choosing on each of those days to ask God to “pick” a piece of non-bearing fruit from our lives – jealousy, bitterness, doubt, etc. – and lead us toward replacing those traits with seeds for fruit that bears bountifully because it’s rooted in His Holy Spirit. And what if we then purposed to stand in obedience to Him by planting, watering and nurturing that seed, letting it sprout in Son Light, and watching in humble wonder the miracle of fruit He produces in us?
Jesus Himself set the ultimate example of what it means to bear rich spiritual fruit throughout the 30+ years He walked this earth as a man, culminating with His voluntary, sacrificial gift of going to the Cross to die for each of us and pay the debt we could never pay and defeating death in His glorious resurrection.
On that note, I’d like us to draw this week’s post to a close by considering the quality of our own levels of obedience to Christ in light of His level of obedience to His Father in giving to each of us everlasting life through the fruit He bore at Calvary.
I’d like you to take a few minutes to listen to Michael W. Smith’s version of the Christian worship song, Above All, and watch the lyrics as they roll on your screen when you access the video here. They will serve as our method of quality measurement: first of all, they beautifully spell out the role of Jesus in creation and – more importantly – in our individual lives; secondly, they have serve as an unfailing compass guiding one’s Christ-like obedience to God. I encourage you to make the song a part of your daily praise this week. You may want to keep a list or even journal your way through this as I did.
After all, it’s serious business – the fate of a fig tree.
– Copyright 2018 Carole Anne Hallyburton. All rights reserved.
Photo courtesy of Biblewalks.com