Father, thank you for being the Author of Life. We celebrate Micah’s birthday. Thank you for one year that You’ve been with him and You grew him and all of us here, we’ve been a recipient of all the blessing of a new birth. Thank you for DY and Elaine. Give them wisdom and strength and perseverance as they raise this little one in Your Name.
Father, we also pray for Elaine and for the baby. We praise you for again for the gift of life. We just pray for a safe and a problem-free pregnancy. We pray for no infections, no complications. We pray for a healthy baby to be born a few months from now so that we can praise You again.
Father, we ask You now to speak to us, Your children. We pray that You clarify what You want us to hear, what You want from us, and how we can glorify You, Father, through our lives. Thank you, Lord. In Jesus Name, Amen
Easter is coming in a few weeks. So I encourage you to read John 12-17 over and over for the next few weeks. And then when we get to Passion Week, we can read John 18-21 as well as other corresponding parts of the gospels. But there’s just so much in John 12-17, the messages that Jesus preached in His final week. I think it would be such a blessing if all of us just abide in those words while asking the Lord to speak to us.
How do we glorify the Father? What does our Heavenly Father want from us at the end of our lives? When we appear before our Father, our Judge, what does He want? I’ve been thinking about this because I am a father of three boys. What do I want for Timothy, Jeremiah, and Elijah? In the end, do I want them to show me a college diploma from a top school? Is that what’s going to glorify me, make me proud, make me pleased? Is that what I’m after? Is it to have a successful career, to be respected in the community, is that something that I would be glorified about, or pleased about? Is it to accomplish some grand goal and have a legacy? And maybe even a pastor, is it to win many people to Christ and I have that kind of “fruit,” would that make me proud?
According to Scripture, there’s only one answer, only one way that the Father is glorified. He is glorified when we bear much fruit. And what kind of fruit is it? We are the fruit.
24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
What kind of fruit is Jesus talking about here? Is Jesus saying, I am the fruit? No, this is a different kind of fruit. This is the fruit of salvation. This is the fruit of believers. And only Jesus can produce salvation. Therefore, we are His fruit. He is the Vine and we are the branches connected to the Vine. He is the Savior. He is the Shepherd. Only He can produce this kind of fruit.
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
In verse 22, Paul mentions fruitful labor. And what kind of fruitful labor is this? On first glance, we might make the mistake of assuming this, too, is the fruit of salvation. That because I preached to you, because I went on missions, I was the evangelist, I was the missionary and and I led you to Christ, therefore, you are my fruit. And I can say that is what Paul meant by fruitful labor. Your salvation is something I can take credit for. I can receive glory and God is happy with that kind of a fruitful labor.
There are many ministers who make the mistake of concluding that they are the ones who ultimately led to that person’s salvation. So that when that person shares a salvation testimony, that minister wants to hear his or her name. And at the end of their lives, these ministers will come before the Father and say, here are my fruit. And that is such a misreading of these verses.
Paul knows that only one person can get credit for the fruit of salvation. Only one Person, and that is the Lord Jesus. He is the only one who saves. And so what is Paul talking about here when he says, fruitful labor. He’s not talking about conversion.
25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith
Verse 25 – “for your progress and joy in the faith.” We can help each other to progress. We can help each other to mature. We can encourage and edify one another. That is something that we can do as brothers and sisters and we should do as brothers sisters, but never can we claim that this person is my fruit. And yet churches, like on church anniversaries, they celebrate how many salvation decisions, how many baptisms as if they can claim credit for these decisions. They are glorifying themselves, and saying, this is my fruit, the fruit of my church. That person better thank me because I am the one who preached to them. That is such a misreading of God’s word.
1 Cor 3
5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
Sure, we are planters of seed. We are those who water the seed. But in the end, we are nothing. We’re just servants. We’re just participating. The one who gets the glory is the Person who produces the growth, the increase, and that is God alone.
You can live your life in such a way where the the focus of your life is your labor. And that could be secular labor. That could be Christian labor. You can live in such a way that the focus of your life is what your hands produce. And as long as you’re fruitful in your career, you’re fruitful in your ministry, and you have a lot of things to show for your life, then we assume that when we get to heaven, the Father will be so pleased. Because we are good stewards, because we produce some fruit of our labor. We served at the church. But that alone does not guarantee that the Father will be glorified through your life.
John 15 is our main text for today, a text that we come back to frequently at our church.
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 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. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
Jumping down to verse 16…
16 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.
So is this fruit talking about the labor of our hands? Is it talking about what we accomplish through our careers? Is this talking about ministry success? Is that the fruit, serving the Lord very hard, is that the fruit that the Father will be glorified by? No, the fruit is us.
If you understand this truth, you will be set free from a life of works. If you agreed and believed and took Jesus at His word, all the pressure of your life to produce will be off. In terms of working hard, being diligent, these are good things. Serving at the church. These are good things. But they cannot be ultimate. Because you will produce a certain kind of fruit through the labor of your hands, but the end, when you show up before the Father, He’s going to be looking for an entirely different kind of fruit. And if you don’t have this kind of fruit, He won’t be glorified.
There’s a progression here. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away. And every branch, verse two, that does bear fruit, He prunes. So those who have some fruit, you see some change and others see the change because you’re changing. There is some fruit. And to such people, the Father, the vinedresser, the Gardener, He prunes your life. So these are people with some fruit.
Then in the same verse, verse two, He sees some fruit and the Father prunes so that there’s MORE fruit. There’s a progression there. There’s SOME fruit in the beginning, the Father prunes, then there’s MORE fruit. But how is the Father glorified by this? Verse 8 – the Father is glorified when you bear MUCH fruit.
So SOME fruit in the beginning, the Father prunes on an ongoing basis. You produce MORE fruit. But at the end of your life, if you have MUCH fruit, then the Father will be glorified. It has nothing to do with what you accomplish in this life. It is all about who you’ve become.
Martha and Mary. We read about them in Luke 10 and John 12. And the interesting thing I want to point out is this. The first time that Jesus meets Martha and Mary, Martha is serving and Jesus rebukes her. And then John 11 happens. Lazarus is raised from the dead. Again, Jesus is invited to a dinner hosted by Martha, Mary and Lazarus. And again Martha is serving, but this time, Jesus doesn’t rebuke her. So the problem is not that Martha serving all the time. The problem is that Martha is serving with the wrong heart.
38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Compare that with John 12:2.
2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.
And the key thing I want you to notice is that in accounts, Martha is serving. But the first time Martha is serving, Jesus points out that there’s something wrong with Martha. She is distracted with the serving, and internally, Jesus says, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.
You can do life in such a way that you’re so focused on the fruit of your hands. And for guys, it’s our jobs. You’re so focused on being productive in your work and that can be a distraction. For a pastor, it’s the same thing, but just a different context. I could be so distracted as a pastor because I have to produce. You know, I have to produce a church that is growing in number. The same thing. We could be distracted because of our service in a secular sense. We could be distracted serving at the church.
Especially in a church context, if you serve really hard, what gets masked is your heart. That while serving, you could be anxious. As a pastor, you can be anxious — how come no one’s coming? When is the last time someone accepted Christ and got baptized? That causes anxiety for pastors. And the same goes for your work. Not making progress, being stuck can produce anxiety. Especially for men. We have an innate sense in us that we should be productive and that’s God-given. Adam was supposed to produce, he was supposed to increase and spread God’s glory.
The problem is the Fall happened. So all that we produce with our hands is tainted by the Fall and we will be frustrated in our work. It doesn’t matter how great your job is. At some point, you will be frustrated by the fruit of your hands because your work is cursed. It’s under a curse.
And so as we serve, as we produce, as we work — secular society or in a church setting — we can be anxious. And is God pleased if you’re productive at work or you’re productive at church while you have an anxious heart? Is God pleased? If you’re stressed all the time, you’re constantly worried, what if I get laid off? Who’s going to pay the bills? If that’s constantly on your mind, is God pleased? You could be serving really hard at the church, but if you’re anxious, is He pleased? No, He’s not pleased.
What if you’re troubled, like there’s a lot of negativity swirling in your mind? You’re troubled, you’re stressed, you’re burdened. But when people look at you, you’re producing. Your boss thinks you’re doing a good job. You’re serving at the church on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, is our Father pleased?
I served the church for two-plus decades and I can tell you, I was just like Martha. I was so distracted with service. I was so stressed that the service go well, and I wanted to be productive. I wanted to be fruitful in my service. And people were on my case. I had micromanagers making sure that I was constantly productive in church. And I would get in trouble if I was lazy, or if I missed something. There so much anxiety and a sense of feeling troubled inside while I was doing the Lord’s work. So was the Lord pleased? He wasn’t pleased.
What does the Lord want? He wants me to be fruitful in myself because I am abiding in Jesus Christ, His Son. And that is what Jesus says.
16 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…
Is this talking about going and making disciples of all nations and producing a steady flow of fruit so that there’s no ministry season of fruitlessness because here it says this fruit should abide. This fruit should always remain. Is this talking about ministry and going and doing things in terms of serving the Lord through missions or ministry? No, Jesus says clearly that we are to go and wherever we are, there’s fruit. Because we are the fruit. We’re just showing ourselves. We’re showing the Christ in us, Jesus with us. And we’re abiding in the Vine.
So wherever we are, we’re fruitful. And this fruit remains. It doesn’t matter what situation you’re in. You’re you. We make the mistake of thinking, I’m anxious, I’m troubled, therefore, there’s a problem with my circumstances. I need to change my circumstances. And you can live your whole life just jumping from place to place to place. The problem is it’s the same you moving to the next town, moving to the next city. It’s the same you. So the same anxiety and feeling of being troubled inside will follow you wherever you go.
But if you really believe me, and you really believe Jesus that the one fruit that glorifies our Father is you, and you focus on just abiding in Christ, submitting to the Father’s pruning, staying as close to Christ as you can, and you believe the Father will be glorified because there will be some fruit, to more fruit, to much fruit, and wherever you are, there’s fruit, then you would be so free.
I think about my boys. What do I want for them? Do I want them to have a smooth life? Do I want them to have a successful life? Do I want a life where they accomplish many things and they have many achievements to show me at the end? Is that what I want for my boys? No, I want them to be the kind of person such that you place them in any circumstance and they are thriving.
You put them in a Christian school because maybe that’s what they need and they’re going to thrive. Or, you put them in the most secular, the most liberal, the school with the potential to brainwash you the most, yet even there, I want them to thrive. Because the Lord is leading them there.
If they have a great marriage, I want them to thrive. But let’s say they have a bad marriage, still, my prayer for them is that they will thrive. It’ll be hard, but I pray that they will thrive.
Suppose they have great careers, I pray that they wouldn’t be tempted. I pray that spiritually they would thrive. Despite all the temptations and the potential to fall into the love of money, I pray that spiritually they will thrive. If they had no money and they are scrubbing toilets, barely scraping by, my prayer for them is still they would thrive. I pray that they would have internal character, that they have fruit because they are the fruit. No matter where you put them, their life is full with God’s favor and blessing.
If there’s a revival and churches are filled and they’re leading these churches, I pray that they would thrive while serving in this way. What if it’s the end of the world and the all the nations hate them? And even close family members fall away, maybe even I fall away, my prayer right now is that they would thrive.
No matter what situation they’re in, they will thrive because they are the fruit. We are the fruit. And that is the secret of the Christian life, that if you believe that you are the fruit, you will focus on Jesus. That means, you will allow yourself to be pruned because you recognize, this difficulty that I am facing is the Father’s pruning. And you’re not resisting Him. You know this painful situation that you’re in, the Father has willed for me to persevere through in order to be pruned.
If you don’t like this discomfort, you could resist and move away from the discomfort and the Father can’t prune you anymore. And so your fruit bearing stops. You have to be able to perceive whether or not this difficult thing that I’m in is the Father’s pruning because there’s some fruit, but He wants more. And if you believe that you are the fruit, not only will you submit to the Father’s pruning, but you will continue to abide in the Son.
There’s no other secret. There’s no shortcut. As best you can, you follow the Son. You listen to the Son’s voice. You allow Him to shepherd you. And send you. Every day you wake up and ask, Lord Jesus, lead me. And if that’s the number one goal of your life, that I want to glorify the Father by maximizing the fruit, you will not be confused anymore. Like people might read Paul, it’s not true but people might read Paul and think, Paul was so productive in his ministry, therefore, I should be a minister like Paul.
Did they might misread Paul? Because I certainly misread Paul. I looked at what he did and I tried to imitate what he did with the wrong heart. Like Martha, I was serving, but I was anxious and troubled. And the Father was not pleased. Only one thing will please the Father. It’s you. A fruitful you. If your life produces much fruit at the end of your life, that proves that we are disciples.
While everybody else is anxious, we never stress. We’re never stressed, never worried about anything. If other people look at your life, they conclude, you should be stressed. People look at your bank account, people look at your church, people look at how your career is going, and they say, if they were in your shoes, they would be so stressed. They would be having ulcers. They would be having indigestion, but you you’re not stressed. You’re not anxious. That’s what the Father wants. That’s what I want for my boys. No matter where you place them, no matter what situation they’re in, they will thrive. They’ll be so at peace. There’s no troubling internal turmoil.
Many people in their middle age, they have a mid-life crisis. They look back on their lives and ask themselves, what have I produced? Nothing. I’m going to do something crazy and they get a motorcycle. I’m going to have a fling. It’s like, what have I done with my life? And so I have to do something.
We have to let that go. It’s not about what you produce. The priority is you. You are the fruit.
And of course, like Martha in John 12, it was proper for her to serve, but by then she was serving with the right heart. Jesus doesn’t rebuke her. The anxiety, the inner trouble and turmoil was gone. She was at peace. She was gladly serving. There’s no pressure. There’s no sense that God will get on my case if I’m not serving. No, there’s none of that. She is just gladly, voluntarily serving.
And there will be a time when all of us will serve. But I pray it will be a time when you yourself are flourishing. And if you’re married, you’re flourishing as a couple. And if you have a family with kids, I pray that your whole family is flourishing. Like if that’s not happening for a pastor, does it make sense for me to invest all my energy in the ministry? If I am not flourishing, if Jackie’s not flourishing, and the kids are not flourishing, yet I’m traveling all the time, going on mission trips. Does that make sense? There’s a timing for for serving the Lord.
The Lord wants to make sure that that when He puts you to work, you’re not going to get confused about what is the priority. Is it the fruitful labor? Or is it me? I’m not confused anymore. I know the priority at this church when it comes to me is me. My flourishing. And I pray that for each one of you, the priority for you is you, that you would grow and become just like Jesus. And that means the Father will prune you. That means Jesus will be near you and you’ll be near Jesus. And when it’s time to work, we will work, but we’ll work with the right heart.
Father, forgive us for always confusing the issue. We follow the world and we follow the religious system that focuses on our labor when in the end, You only look for one thing. You look for fruit, our fruit. We are the fruit. And this fruit proves that we are disciples who stayed close to Jesus and who submitted to the Father’s pruning.
Father, some of us, or maybe many of us in this room, are going through a difficult season where we feel like we’re dying. Help us to discern, Lord. If you’re calling us to move, or if you’re calling us to stay and undergo the difficulty because You, Father, are pruning. The pruning process is painful. And Lord, help us not to be people who run away from pain if it’s from You, Lord. If you’re pruning us, Lord, help us to submit. And we pray that it will be short, that you will shorten the pruning.
Father, forgive the Church. We distract the people with service the same way that Martha was distracted because of the service. And we give the people a false sense that they are growing and maturing because they’re active in the church. Even if we lead hundreds or even thousands to Christ, yet we are anxious and troubled, are you pleased, Lord? From John 15, clearly, there’s only one way to please You. By bearing not just some fruit, not just more fruit, but much fruit. That is what pleases You, Father. That is the only thing You’re looking for.
We want to focus on the fundamentals — remaining in Christ, abiding in Christ, staying connected to Christ. Help us, Lord. This is the essential thing that will bring us peace. Change us, Lord. Have mercy on us, Lord.
We want to meet you, Lord Jesus, as we partake in the Lord’s Supper. This is a physical act, but spiritually, we pray that we can reconnect with You spiritually, Lord Jesus, because You are the Vine and You are the Source of Life. You are the Bread of Life. You are the Living Water. May this bread and this cup which represents Your very body and blood that cleanses us, nourish us. We want to reconnect to you, Lord Jesus.
At the end of our lives, we may not have much in our hands. The world may scoff and ridicule us, and say, you’ve done nothing. But if we are changed, Father, You would be so pleased. We will prove that we were disciples of Jesus all the way through.
Help each of us to be disciples of Jesus no matter where you place us. Whatever situation, bad or good, difficult or easy, we pray that we will thrive. Exciting or boring, it doesn’t matter, we pray that we would thrive.
Help us, Lord Jesus. May this truth sink in. It is so hard for us to believe this. Help our unbelief, Lord. In Jesus Name, Amen