A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, on October 23, 2011.
16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.
We’ve been meditating for several weeks about the factors and obstacles to fruitful living for God.
- In the Parable of the Sower at Matthew 13, Jesus proclaimed that God’s grace and truth are extravagantly distributed across all kinds of people.
- Despite the extravagantly distributed grace and truth of God, people can choose to live with pedestrian morality. Or they can embrace God’s grace and truth at such a superficial level that they aren’t willing to endure the trials and tribulations that go with being agents of divine love and truth. Or we can allow weeds of worry and anxiety about worldly ambition, success, or personal comfort and pleasure to choke the growth of divine grace and truth in us and prevent it from maturing to fruitfulness.
- But when we nurture and cultivate divine grace and truth by being united with God’s love, we will produce fruitful lives for God’s glory. We become agents of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, and self-control/justice. This is the fruitful living God intends for us. This is what we are called to be as followers (disciples) of Jesus.
- Jesus taught at John 15 that every person who is united with God’s life and love (abiding) is intended to produce this kind of living. This is so fundamental, basic, and essential that God removes unfruitful branches and God prunes (reduces) fruitful branches so we can be even more fruitful.
- The metaphor of the vine, branches, and vine-grower confronts us with a fact too often ignored about spiritual life. Fruitfulness in divine grace and truth involves obedience and submission to the divine commandment of love and the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
- Fruitful living for God involves obeying the influence of the Holy Spirit and the commandment of love to produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, and justice in our living and relationships. It’s defined by the consequences of our interactions and involvements, not the fact, size, or whatever prestige we place on institutions, rules, and regulations. Obeying the love commandment and leadership of the Holy Spirit makes us followers of Jesus. When we follow Jesus we will be fruitful because of the essential relationship between that obedience and God’s glorious purpose for our living.
But Jesus emphasized something else that we shouldn’t gloss over at John 15:16: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.“We’re chosen and intended for fruitfulness. We’re commissioned/ordained/sent into the world for continuous and lasting fruitfulness. And fruitfulness is what God honors by our prayers.
We’re chosen and intended for fruitfulness. But we sing I have Decided to Follow Jesus. We challenge people to make “decisions” to become followers of Jesus. We’ve been saying that obedience to the love commandment and the influence of the Holy Spirit makes one a follower of Jesus and fruitful for God. So what in the world did Jesus mean by saying “You did not choose me but I chose you”? And if Jesus chose us to become fruitful, does that mean people who aren’t fruitful weren’t chosen? If that’s the case, how can God rightly hold them accountable for unfruitfulness when they weren’t “chosen”?
The answer goes back to the Parable of the Sower. Remember that it begins with the Sower extravagantly distributing seeds of divine grace and truth in all kinds of people. That’s the “Ultimate and Divine Decision.” What we call the “grace of God” is God’s choice to reveal divine love and truth to all kinds of people. Jesus reminds his followers that they simply responded to the call of divine grace that he presented from God.
God presents God-self to us. God calls us. God invites us. God loves us. We didn’t choose to love God first. God chose first to love us. God chose to create us to be instruments and agents of divine love and truth so that we would produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, and justice in our relationships and in the world. God chose to create us for this kind of living. Jesus reminded his followers and us that the call to love first came from God, not us!
Our part in the matter involves deciding to exercise our moral freedom to become obedient to God’s choice and command. You and I have the freedom to accept or reject God’s purpose for our living. We choose whether to obey the call to become fruitful agents of divine love and truth. With every breath and heartbeat, we choose whether to become and live as people of love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, and justice or to become and live as something very different.
And God is entitled to hold people responsible and accountable for refusing to live by the love commandment. God has the divine authority and moral right to do so because God chose and intended that we would live that way.
- God created us to be loving, not self-centered.
- God created us to be instruments and agents of joy, not sorrow.
- God created us to be agents of divine wellness/peace/shalom, not instruments of dysfunction, disorder, and suffering.
- God created and called us to be agents of gentleness, not indifference.
- God created us to be agents of generosity, not intolerance and pettiness.
- God created us to be agents of faithfulness, not instability.
- God created us to be agents of justice, not oppression.
God has the divine authority and moral right to hold us responsible and accountable when we refuse to live as God intended!
We’re created/chosen/called/commissioned for continuous and lasting fruitfulness. Jesus said “… I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” We’re called to follow Jesus in continuous and lasting fruitfulness for God. We aren’t called for episodic fruitfulness based on whether it’s comfortable or convenient. We aren’t called to be divine agents of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and justice based on whether it’s popular or acceptable. We’re called to make a continuous, dynamic, and lasting difference in the world as instruments and agents of God’s love and truth.
Jesus hasn’t called you and me to become divinely fruitful on Sundays and be spoiled the rest of the time. We’re not called to be people of divine love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and justice in religious buildings and something besides that in banks, government buildings, factories, schools, and other places. We’ve been called to shine the light of divine fruitfulness so that darkness will be dispelled everywhere and all the time. We’ve been called, chosen, and sent into the world be fruitful salt in a world full of rotten situations produced by the deadness that results from trying to disregard and disobey the divine love commandment. We haven’t been called to be rotten fruit in a dead and rotting world.
“Rotten fruit” is my term for people who look like they are following God, but whose living produces something very unlike the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
- Rotten fruit are people who talk about God’s universal love and grace in church but who make sure they don’t live or allow their children to associate with people who’re different.
- Rotten fruit sing about the wideness of God’s mercy while working to discriminate against immigrants.
- Rotten fruit pray that the world will be healed from war, disease, and poverty. Meanwhile, they’re promoting militarism, resisting efforts to make access to health care not turn on whether people can pay, and working to help maintain policies and practices that contribute to poverty and reward people who profit from it.
- Rotten fruit includes churches and religious ministries whose primary emphasis is on building their institutions with their rules and regulations rather than on nurturing and equipping people to become agents of divine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, and justice.
We avoid becoming rotten fruit by continuous obedience to and reliance on the living power of God’s Spirit. Whenever we turn religion into anything other than loving God and obeying the commandment to love others the way Jesus loved, we’re likely to become rotten fruit, if we are ever fruit in the first place.
God honors our prayers for fruitfulness. “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.” It is always important to understand the context for all of a statement when we’re trying to interpret part of that statement. Divine fruitfulness is the context in which Jesus mentions prayer. Jesus said we’ve been chosen for divine fruitfulness. We’re divinely appointed and commissioned for continuous and lasting fruitfulness (“I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last …“). This is the context in which Jesus then says “… so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.”
It would make no sense for God to create us to become agents of divine love and truth, send Jesus into the world to show us how agents of divine love and truth should function, provide the Holy Spirit to empower and equip us to become agents of divine love and truth, and then refuse our prayerful dependence for assistance in being fruitful agents of that love and truth.
- God will give us whatever we need to become agents of divine love.
- God will give us whatever we need to become agents of divine joy.
- God will give us whatever we need to become agents of divine peace.
- God will give us whatever we need to become agents of divine patience.
- God will provide what we need to become agents of divine kindness.
- God will provide what we need to become agents of divine gentleness.
- God will provide all we need to be agents of divine generosity.
- God will provide what we need to be agents of divine faithfulness in an unstable and untrusting world.
- And God will provide what we need to be agents of divine justice in a self-centered, materialistic, power-crazed, and oppressive world.
God will answer our prayers for fruitfulness because God created us for fruitfulness.
But we have no business asking God for strength to be unfruitful. We have no business seeking divine help to be rotten fruit. We have no right to expect God’s help in being dead branches. And we certainly have no business expecting God to help the weeds we’ve allowed to grow in our lives that choke our potential to become fruitful.
So when political officials and candidates end their remarks with “God bless the United States [or whatever political jurisdiction they’re trying to impress],” does it make sense for God to honor that as a prayer? God has no divine obligation or moral duty to bless unchecked materialism, military adventurism, and exploitation and victimization of vulnerable people and the endangered creation. Throwing “God bless …” into a prayer or speech doesn’t show we want to be fruitful if we’re being disobedient to the divine love commandment. It merely shows the speaker is such a political opportunist and the audience is so gullible as to expect God to bless death, deadness, and rottenness.
Are you praying to become fruitful or praying that God would bless you in rottenness? Are you praying to become fruitful or praying to be sanctified in deadness? Are you praying to become fruitful while refusing to follow the Holy Spirit in obeying the love commandment demonstrated by Jesus? God chose us, calls us, commissions us, and will provide for us so we can be agents of divine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, and justice. Jesus said we can trust God to help us become fruitful.
We shouldn’t expect God to help us become more of what God never wanted. Amen.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a retired state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion, and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.