"For the message of the cross . . . is the power of God" (1 Cor 1:18 Lesson Twelve
by Given O. Blakely
"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing . . . By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples . . . You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you" (NKJV). "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing . . . This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples . . . You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name" (NIV). John 15:5,8,16
As a preacher or teacher of the Word, you are in the FRUIT-BEARING business. "Fruit," in this case, is kingdom life produced outside of your own person. Remember, the Holy Spirit bears fruit IN you (Gal 5:22-23). He also bears fruit BY you. Rom 1:13; Col 1:6).
While our text was spoken to Christ's Apostles, it is not confined to them. They are not the only fruit bearers in the Kingdom of God. God has revealed that we are "married" to Christ in order "that we should bear fruit to God" (Rom 7:4). This is fruit, or spiritual results, that are for the honor and glory of God. It is not fruit for the church, or a religious institution, but for God! Every aspect of salvation, particularly preaching and teaching, relates directly to God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ.
The wholehearted embrace of this single perception will revolutionize your preaching and teaching. Your responsibility is primarily to God. You are not to be engaged in an effort designed to boost your ego, strengthen a religious organization, or put your name in lights.
As apparent as that may appear, much of today's "preacher-training" is designed to accomplish those objectives. They really, as a rule, have very little to do with bringing fruit to God. This is a tragic situation. You should discern from our texts the seriousness of the subject. It involves Divine appointment, revealed objective, and the glorification of God. While the quality of fruit is critical, Jesus speaks of "MUCH fruit." Discipleship even depends upon this activity!
CONNECTION WITH JESUS
Fruit bearing begins with a vital connection with the Lord Jesus Christ. "I am the Vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." This is a Kingdom Law! Jesus is the appointed means of producing fruit for God--but it is produced through individuals maintaining their identity with Him. The preacher or teacher himself has fellowship with the Son of God! I cannot overemphasize the importance of this.
In the Western world, an institutional emphasis dominates religion. The sad truth of the matter is that fellowship with Christ does not rank high in such an focus. However, it does with the Lord, and He has graciously informed us of that criticality.
Preaching and teaching is an extension of Christ Jesus' life: "I am the Vine, you are the branches." Results that are recognized by God require a vibrant connection with Christ. "He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit." Notice that the abiding is reciprocal: "He who abides in Me, and I in him." Without this vital affiliation, bearing real fruit is not possible. ". . . for without Me you can do nothing." Belief of this will affect the way you prepare and deliver a message or a lesson. To be a great preacher, you must be close to Jesus!
"He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit . . . "By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit . . . " Throughout Scripture, the result of Christ's vicarious atonement is associated with abundance. Salvation is not a small objective! God has invested much of Himself in the matter. He has appointed Jesus to bring "MANY sons to glory" (Heb 2:10). He has institutes a salvation that shall reach to "all the ends of the earth" (Psa 67:7; Isa 52:10).
Many of us have been called to labor in relatively small circles. But we must not allow ourselves to be unduly influenced by this situation. The salvation of God is not a small work, and the activity into which He has called us is not to be associated with smallness. The Kingdom of God had a small beginning, but it will not stay small. It began like a small stone, but will become a mountain that fills the whole earth (Dan 2:31- 45).
God is not looking occasional results! He has undertaken a "great salvation," with a "great God and Savior." a "great High Priest," and undergirded by "exceeding great and precious promises" (Heb 2:3; Tit 2:13; Heb 4:14; 2 Pet 1:4). Only the concept of "much fruit" can only fit into such spiritual greatness!
Do not miss the vital associations Jesus makes with "much fruit." First, this is a mark of being a disciple. "By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples" (John 15:8). A disciple is someone that follows, and is taught by, the Lord Jesus Christ. The disciple is associated with the Master. In modern parlance, the Master is the Teacher, and the disciple is the student.
What does this tell you? Primarily, that you are taught by Jesus while engaged in His work. Jesus teaches, so to speak, while He is on the move with His disciples. If you unplug from His work, you also are removed from His tutelage!
Second, The Father is glorified by the disciple bring forth "much fruit." "By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit . . . " Among other things, this confirms the Father is dishonored by a lack of fruit. He is looking for more than a profession from His people. They have been called into co-partnery with Him (1 Cor 3:9). God Himself is "working salvation in the midst of the earth" (Psa 74:12). At the moment you become idle, and non-productive in His Kingdom, you are no longer walking with God.
What Is Much Fruit?
If "much fruit" is so critical, just what is it? It is a numerical count? From time to time, that is involved. The day of Pentecost was associated with significant numerical results (Acts 2:41). After the healing of the blind man at the gate Beautiful, five thousand men responded to the Word of God (Acts 4:4). Philip's powerful preaching of Christ brought the entire city of Samaria to faith in Christ (Acts 8:6-8). But those are not the only kind of results recorded!
Philip, used of God to spark a revival in Samaria, was sent by God to a desert to preach the Gospel to one man (Acts 8:26-38). Paul took time to proclaim the Gospel to a group of women gathered near a river, on the Sabbath day, for prayer (Acts 16:13-15). Peter declared the Gospel to Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:30-48). Paul and Silas made known the truth of God to a jailor and his family (Acts 16:26-41).
"Much fruit," in this case, is a term of proportion. This condition is depicted in the parables of the talents and the pounds. In both cases, the investment given to the stewards was returned with considerable growth (Matt 25:15-28; Luke 19:13-25).
In the case of the preacher and teacher, fruit might be described as follows. As we sit at the feet of Jesus, He begins to open the truth to us in all of its glorious facets. As we perceive these things, we declare it with power to others. When the realities we have seen are also seen in them, that is fruit! As faith is given to them, that is fruit! What Peter saw at Pentecost, when it was proclaimed, was seen by 3,000 additional people. Proportionately, that is "much" fruit!
In these lessons, I have labored to show you how preaching is to be approached. You are to preach from your own treasury, declaring things you have seen. Bearing fruit has to do with other people seeing those things also, because you have declared them.
In preaching, you are not primarily trying to change people. That result is in the area of "increase," which belongs to God, not you. Many a ministry has been spoiled, and finally abandoned, because the preacher or teacher was trying to change people. As a result, his preaching and teaching was more philosophical than a proclamation. Let the Lord Jesus state the case for you, as He did for Saul, when He called Him to be an Apostle. "But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness . . . Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me" (Acts 26:16-18). That is bearing fruit!
Paul took up the commission with vigor. As he himself said, "To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see . . . " (Eph 3:8-9).
Succinctly stated, bearing fruit involves the insights and benefits you have received from God being experienced by those within the perimeter of your influence. In these sessions, we have focused on preaching and teaching. However, this extends into other areas as well; i.e., giving, showing mercy, exhorting, administrations, etc. God deposits His riches within the believer, making him a custodian of the same. As he handles his stewardship honorably and to God's glory, God is glorified by the extension of those gifts in others. Too, the disciple, having proved himself a worthy steward, will be given more by the Lord. As it is written, "For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him" (Matt 13:12). Thus fruit will continue to increase.
FRUIT THAT REMAINS
The Lord summons us into Kingdom activity that produces lasting fruit. Hear the Lord Jesus with an attentive ear! " . . . but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain . . . "
Fruit that does not "remain" brings no glory to God! The institutional church has grown accustomed to fall-outs--God has not! The Kingdom of God is not a Kingdom of dropouts! The salvation provided by God through Christ Jesus is not calculated to fail! Those who fall away do so because they have turned away from the Gospel. Such have turned away from the truth and abandoned the Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of the world!
For fruit to "remain," therefore, individuals must be "rooted and grounded in love, and become "able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height," brought to "know the love of Christ which passes knowledge", in order that they may be "filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph 3:17-19). If this is not accomplished, the fruit will NOT "remain."
This is why holy men of God labored to bring the saints to maturity. They engaged in energetic efforts to "establish" the people of God in the faith (Rom 16:25; 1 Thess 3:2,13; 2 Thess 2:17; 3:3; James 5:8; 1 Pet 5:10). They knew God has given preaching and teaching gifts to the body of Christ to equip the saints "for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ."
They labored energetically, in accord with Divine intent, to bring the people of God "to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." Knowing of the aggression of the devil, their ministry targeted a condition where the saints would "no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting." These men so declared the Word of God as to make the truth of God an integral part of the believers. Thus, they would be found "speaking the truth in love," thereby enabled to "grow up in all things into Him who is the head; Christ." They knew that experiential connectivity with the Lord Jesus was absolutely essential. As the appointed Head, He is the only One "from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share", can experience "growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Eph 4:12-16). This is how fruit "remains." It is by solidifying the relation of Christ and His people. This is primarily accomplished through the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. That is more than a mere recitation of the facts, although that is a necessary repeated activity. It also involves declaring the implications of that glorious Gospel--showing how it impacts upon both thought and conduct. This is what is accomplished in the Epistles. Suffice it to say, professed preachers who do not ground people in the truth of God are actually enemies of the cross. They do infinite damage to the body of Christ, robbing it of its resources, giving the advantage to the devil, and making a departure from the faith imminent. As a servant of God, you must avoid embracing lifeless views of preaching. Avoid the fads of the times, and the tips of those who exploit people to their own advantage. If your fruit does not remain, you yourself will "suffer loss" (1 Cor 3:1 Cor 3:15). But that is not all! God will, in such a case, have been robbed of glory by your activity, Jesus dishonored, and the saints handicapped. Preaching the Word of God is a most serious activity. Keep it that way! God will bless you when you put your heart into His work. The people who hear you will profit spiritually by what you have to say. The Holy Spirit will be able to work with your words. The elect angels will also find satisfaction in your presentation. Your's is a noble work!
The closing words of our Lord in this section are challenging. Avoid embracing a theological view which robs them of their power. "I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you" (John 15:6).
If you are serious about the Lord, these words have a glorious sound to them. You may imagine they have no application to you--but that is only an imagination. Cast it down with the spiritual weaponry God has provided (2 Cor 10:4-5). Think of the breadth of the promise: "whatsoever you shall ask." Consider the directness of the petitions: "whatever you ask the Father." Ponder the relation of the Lord Jesus to this matter: "whatever you ask the Father in My name." Contemplate the glorious nature of the promise: "whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you."
Do you dare to believe something of that magnitude? We are speaking of things appropriated through ASKING! That brings the promise within your grasp! You are not asking out of selfish interests, or to accomplish carnal objectives. The petition flows out of your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ! "In My name," means the earnest appeal has been made because you have the "mind of Christ." Your fellowship with Him has compelled you to make the request! Your involvement in His work has caused you to see the need for thing for which you ask!
To put it another way, as you are engaged in bearing fruit, you will sense your natural poverty. You will therefore flee to the Throne of all grace to appropriate resources required for fruit bearing. And how will the Father react to such supplications? You have the promise from the Lord Jesus Himself. He will "give you" what you ask!
Earlier in this very passage, Jesus made a similar commitment. "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you" (John 15:7). Earlier in the evening during which our text was spoken, Jesus said, "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:13-14). After our text, Jesus again confirmed the truth now being proclaimed. "Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you" (John 16:23). With stirring and challenging words, the Savior exhorts His disciples. "Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:24).
Now, be up and laboring in the Kingdom. Honor God by your preaching. Magnify Christ in your teaching. Bring believers to maturity by what you say! Throw yourself into the noble work of preaching! Your work will provoke earnest prayers that Christ has guaranteed will be answered. Your fruit will thus remain to God's glory. In that fruit you will be demonstrated to be Christ's disciples in truth! I thank you for being a part of these sessions!
THE ART OF PREACHING
In your preaching, discipline yourself in both study and presentation. Approach your subject with a thoroughness that will honor God and clarify the Kingdom to people. I would caution you concerning a snare common to preachers and teachers. It is this: avoid giving the people all of the details you have garnered in your preparations. When you have a love for the truth, you will be tempted to share everything you have gleaned with the people but that is not what preaching is about. You must give the people the RESULT of your study, not the study itself.
The preacher or teacher is something like a spiritual baker. He has an abundance of ingredients before him, from which something spiritually digestible is to be prepared. If the baker is making a cake, he must draw from many ingredients; i.e., flour, salt, sugar, flavoring, baking powder, water, milk, and eggs. Each of those ingredients is taken from a large supply; i.e., a bag of flour, a bottle of flavor, a container of salts . . . etc. What the baker must do is take an appropriate amount of each ingredient, and mix it together in a unique and proportionate way. To get the cake to the eater, he does not hand out a bag of flour, a bottle of vanilla, and a keg of salt. He puts it together so it will smell good, taste good, and be satisfying. He must become an expert in mixing!
That is what you are doing as a preacher. You are drawing on the vast resources God has supplied in His Word. Your role is to mix various texts together so they become spiritually digestible to the saints. For example, avoid long and distracting introductions. That is like a baker commenting at length about the ingredients themselves, but never putting them together. Ask the Lord to help you in apportioning truth to the profit of the saints. Avoid preaching that is like giving people a bowl of flour, or a cup of salt. Make sure your conclusions are not so drawn out they detract from what you have said. That would be like a cake baked too long, and thus not able to be eaten.