When Dr. Jerry Falwell, Jr. personally endorsed presidential candidate Donald Trump he said something about the fruit by which Mr. Trump could be known. He said---
"Matthew 7:16 tells us that by their fruits you shall know them. Donald Trump's
life has borne fruit, fruit that has provided jobs to multitudes of people in
addition to the many he has helped with his generosity. I've met three of his
children in the last week and I can tell you they are personable, kind, humble and
successful in their family lives and in their vocations. A real credit to their father
and to the Trump family."
It was a convenient way to add a spiritual veneer to the endorsement, quoting Scripture. But, I'm not sure Jesus' comments envisioned anyone's capacity to accomplish even worthy things with their wealth or produce a clan of personable, kind, humble, and successful children. Jesus certainly wasn't applauding people who do nice things. In fact, his words were a warning about false teaching and people who tried to look like sheep but were really ravenous wolves. Not being in the Trump camp I'm indifferent to Falwell's endorsement, even when it is adorned with Bible verses. At the same time, it's a prime illustration of how contemporary culture misunderstands and misapplies the idea of bearing fruit.
The idea of fruitful living is a keen biblical and therefore spiritual image. Adam and Eve were blessed by God and told to be fruitful and multiply, indicating lineage as evidence of his promise. God brought the nation of Israel to a land of milk and honey capable of making his people a fruitful garden under his abiding care. Jesus extended the idea of fruit bearing beyond the various measures of life success, even the production of children, with the expectation that Christians would bear fruit by living their lives in a way that honored him. In it's broadest context bearing fruit is living a life that yields positive results. As Christians we know this fruitful life is the result of being attached to the vine, Jesus Christ the Lord. He said---
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it
abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are
the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit,
for apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:4-5, ESV
in that same passage Jesus added---
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go
and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the
Father in my name, he may give it to you.
John 15:16, ESV
Jesus expected his followers to produce lasting fruit that would influence the world.
The Apostle Paul explained fruitful living for Christians by listing the fruit that should grow in a believers life. He wrote---
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23, ESV
These qualities should mark the lives of those called by Christ. Fruitful living is producing these traits in every aspect of our lives.
Some are calling us a post-Christian culture and we need but look around us to see how the concept of fruitful living has morphed into something quite different. In a purely secular sense fruitful living is the Jerry Falwell, Jr. model, being successful and doing worthy things with the produce of your life. In many ways it is a materialistic, consumer ideal. One liberal wonk recently praised Planned Parenthood for their outstanding fruit, the way they used their technology to help women kill the babies they didn't want. Throw the old lineage promises out the window with that one.
But, it's a missing life puzzle piece for many of us today because our idea of fruitful living is so self oriented. It's most visible in the way people are treated, the sudden absence of compassion and kindness around us, the loss of common courtesy and respect, and the way we are taught to produce much and hoard it. Even more, this culture, with the missing life puzzle pieces of truth and personal growth, has few aims and aspirations to guide us beyond what is happening right now.
Fruitful living is aiming higher. It is wanting to produce something greater and higher, something beyond ourselves to enrich the lives of those around us and those who will follow. When we're in it just for ourselves, the ideal is lost.
And fruitful living is just another missing life puzzle piece.