Bearing fruit in every good work.
In Saving Private Ryan, three of Private Ryan’s brothers were killed in action during the initial Normandy invasion and in order to spare Mrs. Ryan any more grief, orders were given to Captain Miller to lead his squad into danger behind enemy lines to find and retrieve Private Ryan. Captain Miller’s squad suffers heavy casualty as they sacrifice their lives for Private Ryan. In the final battle scene, Captain Miller lays fatally wounded and with his dying breath says to Private Ryan, “James, earn this. Earn it.” In Colossians 1:9-13, the Apostle Paul admonishes us to earn the sacrifice that Christ had paid for us by living a worthy life:
…since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9 – 13 NIV
Many years ago, my wife and I lived in East Texas and down the road from us in Garden Valley, Texas lived an old-time, fiery evangelist named Leonard Ravenhill who inspired the likes of Keith Green of Last Days Ministries and Ravi Zacharias, Tommy Tenney, and many others. I was able to hear Mr. Ravenhill speak several times and each message was so powerful and uncompromising that I would immediately go to our prayer chapel to pray. Mr. Ravenhill had a life motto that is inscribed on his gravestone; it states: “Are the things you are living for, worth Christ dying for?”
In order to live a worthy life, one that is worthy of Christ’s sacrifice, Paul admonishes us to focus on four things:
1. Bearing fruit in every good work
When you envision the Garden of Eden that God created for Adam and Eve what do you see? Do you see a small garden with only a handful of scrawny plants with dry, withered fruit? Or do you envision so many plants that it would take a lifetime to discover and try each fruit? Fruit without any blemishes and so ripe that they are bursting with juice? When we look around us, it’s easy to see that God loves variety. In fact, it is mankind, not God, that demands uniformity and crushes variety and creativity.
In 1989, I was travelling with a missionary team across Europe, visiting both Eastern and Western Block Nations, when an enthusiastic young man approached our team on the train we were traveling on and asked, “Have you heard the good news? They’re opening the Berlin wall.” Our team traveled through the night and arrived in Berlin the day after the border crossings were first opened, prior to the dismantling of the wall. We were privileged to stand at one of the checkpoints and witness history being made as people walked into freedom for the first time.
Often during my trips throughout communistic Russia, Romania, Hungary, and Poland, I was shocked to see the vast differences between an American grocery store and a communistic grocery store. Instead of shelf after shelf of variety, many shelves were empty and those that did have products would often have only one variety. When we visit an American Super Market, were accustomed to seeing entire rows of products. Our cereal aisles alone are filled with every imaginable breakfast cereal available. Frequently, under communism you’d see only one variety of food, or detergent or even toilet paper. Much of the variety & individuality we know had been removed from society.
When it comes to each of us producing fruit, God loves variety that stems from our unique giftings and personalities. Jesus said: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8.
While living a worthy life requires us to bear fruit, sometimes our fear of failure hinder us from being fruitful as we don’t want to dishonor God. We use the excuse that others are more qualified, better equipped, or more knowledgeable. We see our own mistakes and failures and wonder how God could ever use us.
Several years ago, my wife and I built our first real home in Indiana. Prior to this, we had lived mostly in apartments and a trailer. In order to save money, we opted to have only our front yard sodded and then seeded the backyard. As the seed grew, so did the weeds in areas where the grass was thin. We contracted with Chemlawn to come and fertilize and kill the weeds. However, no matter how many times they sprayed, the weeds continued to spring up. On one occasion, when a Chemlawn technician was reapplying weed killer to the same area, the technician said something rather profound: “Instead of focusing on the weeds, you should be planting more grass.” Sometimes, we get so focused on the weeds in our lives instead of directing our energies to producing more fruit.
According to the Apostle Paul, the first step in living a worthy life is to produce fruit. When we bear fruit, we demonstrate to the world what Christ has done for us and we bring honor to God.
In the next post, we’ll examine step two of living a worthy life by “knowing God.”