Feasting with God #15
The Tree Is Known by Its Fruit
Text: Matthew 7:16-20
16[Jesus said,] “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
I can remember, when I was little, my parents and I would walk around town, and occasionally there’d be a bush with some bright red berries growing on it. I only ever had to ask once whether I could pick some to eat, though, because the danger that the poisonous fruit posed was impressed upon me by my parents.
It’s important to know what kind of food is good for you, and what might be not so good, or even dangerous. In the text above, Jesus was speaking of the danger that is posed by false prophets. In today’s world, when a buffet of teachings are easily accessible from the library, T.V., the radio, and the internet, this warning is all-too applicable. There are some good and nutritious teachings, but mixed in with them are some poisonous and deadly ones.
But we can know what to watch out for if we pay attention to the fruit. As a child, I didn’t know the difference between a delicious cherry and a poisonous little red berry. Thankfully, my parents were there to teach me the signs. In the text, Jesus demonstrates to us that we also need to be able to recognize the signs: “You will recognize them by their fruits.” What fruits are these? They are what the various preachers and teachers do, how they live their lives—but more than this, it is what they preach.
St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). That’s how we are to judge whether what is being preached to us is healthy or poisonous: does it match up with the true Gospel that we already know? Does the preacher tell me of my sins? Does he point out how inherently flawed is human nature since sin entered the world? Does he emphasize above all this the work Christ did to live a perfect life, and then to die on the cross in my place? Does he tell me that that Jesus Christ rose again from the dead, to lead me and all believers to new life in him? Does he tell me that I am promised by God, out of no worthiness on my part and due to nothing I have done or ever can do, that I will live eternally in heaven? Does he tell me of grace alone? If to any of these questions the answer is “No,” then recognize that fruit, and avoid that teaching.
God wants to feed our souls. He is personally concerned for our spiritual well-being. Because of that, he has created a garden for us to live in, where we can find plenty of nutritious fruit to strengthen our faith. It’s like a new Garden of Eden, and we can take the fruit of his true and saving Word, of his Baptism, and of his soul-nourishing Lord’s Supper. These are the healthy fruits, and they are given to us by healthy trees. Avoid the poisonous, diseased trees and their deadly fruits, holding instead to these gracious things of God.
All the true and healthy trees—the pastors, teachers, and loved ones who tell you the Gospel Truth—are planted as branches of the vine of Christ, as he says, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5a). When we cling to that truth, therefore, we become branches as well, and of us Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b). Nourishing ourselves on these true things, we grow strong in our foundation in Christ, and are also then enabled to bear fruit to nourish others. In this way, God feeds his people on earth.
Hear the prayers of your people, O Lord, who desire to be grounded in your saving truth, to be nourished by your gracious Word and Sacraments, and to serve you by bearing fruit to others. Do not abandon us to the wolves and diseased trees, but keep your Word and Sacraments with us forever, for in them we come to and remain strong in our faith in your Son, who lived and died for us. In his name we pray. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.