What does “bearing fruit” as a follower of Christ really look like?
I wrestled with that question this summer as I had the chance to teach (in two different languages!) on Paul’s prayer for the church in Colossians 1:9-14. I would like to share some of what I learned with you, specifically focusing on the following phrase in his prayer: “…bearing fruit in every good work.”
One of my favorite places in Eastern Europe is a certain vineyard (pictured above). Standing there on a recent visit, I was reminded again of Jesus’ words to his disciples:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you 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” (John 15:5,8)
So we know that Christ’s desire for us is that we live fruitful, flourishing lives. But what kind of fruit does he want us to bear?
Author Tom Nelson suggests that there are three types of fruit: the fruit of intimacy, the fruit of character, and the fruit of contribution. I believe these categories are helpful and logically flow from one to the next.
First, the Christian life begins and is sustained by a relationship with Christ. God wants to be with us. God wants to be with me. Amazing! Being connected with the Vine in relationship is the only way to experience true life. Maintaining that relational intimacy is a type of fruitfulness.
As we are in relationship with Christ, his Spirit works in us to transform our character to be more like his. This is the fruit of the Spirit we read about in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. As we spend time with Christ, his character rubs off on us.
As we grow in Christ-likeness by abiding in him, we are increasingly able to contribute to this present world and to his kingdom that is being revealed. In short, we are able to produce, both in a physical and spiritual sense.
Let’s come back to Paul’s prayer for the Colossians, which pulls this together and clears up some potential distortions regarding fruitfulness:
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… 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 (Col. 1:9-14).
If we are to live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing unto him, we must know God and his will (intimacy), be strengthened in our innermost being (character), and bear fruit in every good work (contribution).
The word “work” in this passage means “work, task, employment, deed, action.” God does not desire for us to grow in intimacy and Christ-likeness (who we ARE) while not actively engaging with the world around us (what we DO). He wants us to also be productive. Certainly, what we do should involve explaining the good news of Jesus to those around us. However, it also means living out and incarnating that good news in whatever social and cultural spheres he has placed you. One of the primary spheres in which that happens is in your profession.
Just as the Fall and sin affects all our relationships—God-man, man-man, man-creation, and man-self—so the gospel brings about reconciliation in each of those areas. As citizens of the kingdom and ambassadors of the King, we have the privilege of joining his work of reconciliation—in all its dimensions—through our work and vocation.
Again, Tom Nelson aptly sums up:
Indeed, the good news of the gospel is that Jesus came not only to save our souls but to redeem his broken creation and to transform all aspects of human existence. The gospel shines the light of grace and truth into every nook and cranny of human life.
One practical application in this direction is to pray something along the lines of: “God help me to connect my work to your greater work of reconciliation.” The prayer can become even more specific: “Help me to connect this meeting, this task, this role, this relationship to your greater work.” As we seek God’s will in this way and are moved to obedience and action, I believe that we will experience what it means to bear fruit in every good work.
Editor’s note: Learn more about the biblical purpose of work in How Then Should We Work?
Have you been encouraged by IFWE blogs? Help us spread the word by becoming a monthly IFWE partner!