The first call, command and commission that God gave to humanity was to ‘be fruitful and fill the earth’. In the last post, we looked at how we are to fill the earth with fruit (Isaiah 27:6), how this commission fits into the great plan of God to make all things new, to transform the wilderness of our world into his garden, filling the world with his goodness. In this post, we are going to look more closely at those words ‘be fruitful.’ At one level, the words were simply an encouragement to reproduce biologically. At a deeper level, though, they were not just about populating the planet but about filling the earth with a quality of life that expressed the nature of God.
Fruit is the natural produce of the inner process of life within a plant. The fruit comes from the life. We can’t make ourselves bear fruit; we simply have to make sure there is life flowing through us and then fruit will come. The spiritual life that flows through us comes from knowing God intimately (John 17:3) and from staying closely connected to Jesus (John 15:5). We bear good fruit, poor fruit or bad fruit depending on what life is flowing through us – a bad tree will produce bad fruit and a good tree will produce good fruit (Matt.7:18).
So what does this good fruit look like? The Bible tells us.
…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.Gal.5:222-23
This is about how we live and who we are. God is far less concerned with what we achieve and far more concerned with who we become. Living by the Spirit doesn’t just mean we do great things but we become the kind of person God created us to be. Of course, God wants us to be fruitful in all areas of life, but a fruitfulness of soul, a rich inner life with God that transforms us and affects how we relate to others, is at the heart of it.
In an older version of 3 John 2, we read the words:
Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.3 John 2
I suggest that this idea of ‘prospering’ is the same as the idea of flourishing and being fruitful in life. And here the old apostle is praying that they’d be fruitful in ‘all things’. God wants you to be fruitful in your family and in your work. Fruitfulness at work is one of the ways we partner with God to make all things new, releasing the potential in creation as culture-makers who transform the world. And I believe God wants us to be ‘in good health.’ But at the heart of it all is a fruitful soul! A rich, flourishing, prospering inner life with God – what Luke called being ‘rich toward God’ (Luke 12:21). This stops us from confusing being fruitful with being successful. Crucified as a common criminal, Jesus was seemingly not successful by any criteria of the world. But, in fact, he was the most fruitful: this death was the seed falling to the ground that it might produce a harvest (John 12:23-24).
So may we ‘be fruitful’ in all things, but at the heart of all things may there be a fruitful soul.
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.John 15:8