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Adapted from sermons by Barnabas Chong—Singapore

Gardening can be a very fruitful pastime, whether you are planting, watering, or waiting for fresh flowers, fruits, vegetables, or herbs to grow. Before planting a fruit tree, you will make sure it is a fruit you like and hope to, one day, harvest and enjoy. To see the end product takes time, however, and after years of nurturing, watering, pruning and harvesting, it is very disappointing when the fruit turns out to be bitter or sour. Your time and effort has been a waste, and you might be tempted to cut the tree down.

In fact, our Christian life can be likened to the planting of a tree, an image Jesus spoke of in the Gospels. But we need to understand why we ought to cultivate our faith, why we must bear fruit, and how to do both.

We know that spiritual cultivation is important and, for that reason, many of us attend spiritual convocations. In such an environment, we hope that we can nurture ourselves to bear good fruit. Whilst this is good, it is also important to examine ourselves: I believe in Jesus, I attend services, yet how much effort do I put into nurturing my tree of faith? Does my tree have any fruit on it and, if it does, is it sweet and beautiful, or bitter and dry?

The Parable of the Vineyard: Act Now, Not Later

In Luke 13:6–9, Jesus spoke a parable concerning a man who came to his vineyard to seek fruit from his fig tree. Unfortunately, the fig tree had no fruit on it. He did not just come once; he visited the vineyard three years in a row and still the tree bore no fruit. If you were the owner of this vineyard, how would you feel about the fig tree? The owner wanted to cut it down—after all, it was wasting nutrients from the land, as well as the time and effort needed to tend it. Put in a similar situation, we would also cut down the tree to plant other, better, fruit-bearing trees.

This parable tells us that the Lord Jesus views each and every one of us like this fig tree. It is easy to say to ourselves, “I will bear fruit for Jesus later, when I have time.” However, think about it from Jesus' perspective. After some time, He will look at your tree of faith and, if there is no fruit, He will want to cut it down. He will not look at the excuses you might give. Instead, He will give you a year, two years, three years. If your tree of faith bears no fruit, it proves you are wasting the ground, wasting time, and wasting the efforts of others and yourself. At this point, “When I have time,” will be too late.

As Christians, when we are planted in the vineyard, we must start producing fruit—this is the main point of the parable. However, thank the Lord, God still gives us a chance if we do not. In the parable, the vineyard keeper delayed the owner from cutting down the fig tree and asked for one more year's grace to see if, with more nurture and care, the tree might bear some fruit. Despite our unfruitful nature, God still gives us a chance, today, to start producing good fruit for Him, and we must grasp hold of this opportunity with all our heart, mind, and soul.

After acknowledging and realizing our need to bear fruit, we can turn to Jesus who, in John 15:5, tells us, "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.” Jesus is the true vine; we are the branches. This connection is very special and very close. When we (as branches) are connected to the vine (Jesus), our source of life and the ability to bear fruit comes from Jesus. This is what it means to abide in the Lord Jesus: to bear fruit for Him. However, this abidance can be difficult to understand if you look at it in physical terms. Jesus is no longer with us, in the flesh. How can we abide in Him? In John 15:7, Jesus says, “If you abide in Me...My words abide in you” (emphasis added). Today, if we want to abide in Jesus, we must not search for a physical connection. True abidance comes from abiding in God's words—meaning, believing in Jesus and keeping His word in our lives.

Abide in Jesus: God's Word

The next question we can ask is: How do I view the word of God? Does His word move me? Does it compel me to act, to transform myself, to bear fruit? Sometimes we attend services and feel as though the speakers preach nothing new. We find the verses have been often cited, we become distracted and sleepy. When it is prayer time, it is hard to pray earnestly after listening to a “boring” sermon. Perhaps the speaker is at fault. However, more often than not, the way we view God's word affects how we receive it. If God’s word does not occupy an important position in our life anymore, we will not listen to it.

Conversely, if a manager at work speaks to you, his words will seem especially significant because they might result in a promotion. You will, therefore, pay more attention and take his advice. When you communicate with others, you might even find yourself echoing his words, and the manner in which they were said to you, because they have become important to you.

So how much do you esteem God's word today? Attending services on a regular basis does not necessarily mean you hold God's word as a priority. Of course, the more you attend services and listen, the more likely you will be exhorted by His word, but this is not always the case. It also depends on your heart to listen.

The Parable of the Sower: Understand Your Heart

In Matthew 13, Jesus gave us the parable of the sower. He compared those who listen to God's word to four different types of ground. The first seeds fell by the wayside, and the birds came and devoured them. The second fell on stony ground, but because there was not much earth, the roots grew superficially and, when they sprouted, immediately dried up. The third fell among thorns, and as they grew, they became choked by the thorns. The last of the seeds fell on good ground and grew, reaping a great harvest of hundreds upon hundreds.

The seed is the word of God, and the four types of ground represent our hearts. Which is your type of ground? It is important to always ask ourselves whether we have truly listened to the word of God. After studying Jesus' explanation, we must acknowledge how we receive God's word, and make a change.

Let us look at the seed that fell by the wayside. Jesus explained that when a person hears the word of God but does not understand it, Satan will snatch it away. Not understanding God's word has nothing to do with the language it is spoken in, or whether you understand the vocabulary. Jesus used simple language, and preachers and teachers in the church will explain the truth slowly and clearly. Not understanding the word of God, therefore, means having a hardened heart. When we walk on a path, soil that has often been trampled underfoot is hard, and nothing will grow on it. Similarly, those whose hearts are hardened do not understand God's word, not because it is difficult, but because they do not wish to understand. When your heart becomes hard, nothing will enter, no word will reach you, and nothing will grow.

The second lot of seeds fell on stony ground. They had a chance to grow, but what happened? A person may encounter difficulties in life, hear God's word, and immediately receive it with joy. However, when he meets with more difficulties, he may not endure, and give up on God. Many Christians are like this. Perhaps you received Jesus, looking for grace and mercy. After being moved to be baptized, you notice the difficult areas in your life are still there, with no improvement. Joy turns to murmuring against Jesus, and you forget God's words of comfort and strength. When your heart forgets God's word, what has grown will become weak and wither away.

The third lot of seeds fell among the thorns. As well as difficulties, a person may encounter the riches and deceitful pleasures of life. As Christians, are we affected by worldly values when we receive God's word? In many affluent societies, we are taught from young to pursue after our individual desires, and that nothing is more important than putting yourself first. This can be seen from the need to gain top marks at school, or to get that parking space, or to win a promotion ahead of others. When this value system becomes more important than the humility and servitude God teaches us, we must beware, lest the cares of the world choke our hearts.

Lastly, the fourth lot of seeds fell on good ground and bore fruit—thirty, sixty, and a hundred times more than expected. A Christian whose heart is like this good ground is someone who accepts the word of God and allows it to grow in his heart. Today, that is what it means to have a grounded faith: when faith takes root, it will bear fruit. Moreover, good ground is cultivated when weeds, stones, and obstacles are removed on a daily basis, in order for the fruit to grow healthily. Likewise, in order for us to bear fruit, we must remove the carnal desires that have no place in a godly heart. Paul reminds us, in Romans 7:4–5, that "when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.” If we want to bear fruit that is sweet, acceptable to Jesus, and worthy to be harvested, we must beware not to produce fruit grown from our own sinful desires.

Prepare to Bear Fruit: Remove Carnal Desires

Carnal desires are the selfish and overwhelming passions that cause a person to sin. Before living a life in Christ, we would have been subject to these passions. However, after baptism, these passions have been “crucified” on the cross with Christ (Gal 5:24), freeing us from their control. Ideally, as Christians, we ought to live without these desires after receiving the cleansing of water baptism. Otherwise, how can we live truly victorious lives?

The reality is that many of us are unable to crucify the flesh with its passions and desires. This is not because Jesus' baptism is ineffective; rather it is because we have taken these desires from the cross and kept them close to us. We have treated them as something pleasurable and precious, causing us to continue sinning. Yet, we thank the Lord for His merciful grace! Paul encourages and reminds us that when you "[w]alk in the shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Gal 5:16).

The Lord Jesus has given us the precious Holy Spirit, who allows us to put to death our flesh with its passions and desires. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit reminds and helps us to put these lusts and desires back on the cross. Without the Spirit, we will not be able to do this.

Abide in the Holy Spirit: Bear Fruit

Upon self-examination, ask yourself the question: Do I really want to bear the fruit of salvation? Am I really putting in the effort to battle against my carnal desires? Instead of falling back into our old ways and half-heartedly following God, we must acknowledge that a weak or lazy attitude will not bear acceptable fruit for Jesus. Today, we must resolve to get rid of excuses, and make the concerted effort to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

By regularly attending spiritual convocations, by encouraging one another and having fellowship often, we can help each other to overcome our sins and abide in the Holy Spirit. That is why the author of Hebrews reminds us to meet together often. Stir one another up to do good works, to overcome weaknesses, and bear good fruit. On a practical level, during spiritual meetings, take the opportunity during breaks to share our faith with one other. Pray together after meals, which will encourage other brothers and sisters to join in. Talk about the teachings we have received, and how we can implement them in our life. Reflect over God's words during teatime, and sing hymns together whilst washing up or cleaning the church.

How to Bear Good Fruit: Tribulation and Discipline

Lastly, we also bear fruit when we endure tribulations and God’s discipline. Peter encouraged the members, saying:

Though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious that gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. (1 Pet 1:6–9)

Although none of us would wish to face trials and tribulations, Peter explains that it is a must for the salvation of our souls. Through tribulations, God refines us and our faith to be purer and more genuine. As a result, we will become the perfect ground which will bear fruit for the Lord. Knowing that this end result is good, we must have a positive attitude when facing trials. Instead of murmuring against God, blaming Him for not helping us, or being frustrated at our lack of understanding, believe in the good will of God, that these trials perfect us in His eyes.

Moreover, sometimes God also disciplines us. Hebrews 12:11 tells us that “no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” At times, when needed, our heavenly Father acts like an earthly father—disciplining us when we have turned the wrong way. This is painful for us to accept, but by accepting and by enduring, we bear the peaceable fruit of righteousness.

In conclusion, we must examine the quality of the fruit that we bear—is it sweet and pleasing to God? If we do not want to be cut down, then we must bear good fruit. We can only do this by being connected to the true vine—by living our lives according to God’s word. In order for the word of God to grow, we should cultivate the soil of our hearts, so that it is unhardened, and unaffected by the stones of tribulations and the thorns of worldly cares. If we remove our carnal desires and leave them on the cross, then, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can yield much good fruit for Jesus. And even when we face trials, tribulations, or punishment from God, we can rejoice that God is giving us the opportunity to bear the fruit of righteousness. Therefore, whilst the owner of the vineyard has granted you the time to change, now is the time to bear fruit, before it is too late!