12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
The Narrow and Wide Gates
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
True and False Prophets
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
There is an old joke about a man and his wife who go to heaven. On arrival they are shown around and are given a lovely house to live in, with sea views to one side, mountains to the other and a spacious, beautiful garden. When their tour is over, the woman says to the man, ‘This is lovely. This truly is heaven.’ Her husband replies, ‘Yes, but just think, if we hadn’t eaten all those fruit and vegetables we could have been here ages ago!’
We are all encouraged by Jesus and by Paul to search for and show the fruit of the Spirit. Paul tells us that ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ (Galatians 5:22-23).
Yet there is good fruit and bad fruit, as Jesus indicates in this passage from the Sermon on the Mount. He is speaking both spiritually and practically. The way to life involves passing through a narrow gate, and progression is seen through changed lifestyle (our fruit).
Jesus’ advice on how to recognise goodness and true faith in others is as accurate today as it was then. Indeed, the principle has found its way into many aspects of life, so that assessment, peer review and evaluation procedures are extremely common. Children, teachers, employees, managers, even pastors, are nowadays treated to various forms of ‘review’ by those who oversee them. The principle that underlies it all is the idea that the fruit of someone’s labours can be assessed, evaluated, even quantified, so as to reveal that person’s worth.
Fruit in Jesus’ time and place, as now, needed plenty of water. Barren trees yielded no fruit and soon withered, perhaps even dying. The incident in which Jesus cursed a fruitless fig tree reminds us of this fact (Matthew 21:18-22). Just as it is physically true that a tree without water bears no fruit, so it is with the fruit of faith, which must be nourished with the living water of the Spirit of Christ. In the life of faith, the spiritual and the physical combine when we think of fruit, for good spiritual fruit cannot be produced by a physically rotten tree: those who do not live according to Christ’s law can hardly yield the fruit of love and peace and self-control.
As followers of Christ, in word, deed, and in spirit, we need to pay attention not only to the health of our bodies but also to the fruit of our faith, yielded each and every day.
Lord of heaven and earth, may we, watered by the living water you pour upon us, bring forth the fruit of faith and life lived out according to your holy will. Amen