Ministry for Mission: Sent like Jesus (4)
“By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” John 15.8
“But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’” Luke 13.8, 9
“A comparison is here drawn between the owner and the vine-dresser: not that God's ministers go beyond him in gentleness and forbearance, but because the Lord not only prolongs the life of sinners, but likewise cultivates them in a variety of ways, that they may yield better fruit.”
- John Calvin, Commentary on Luke 13.6-10
The glory in work
We’ve been making the point that all believers are called to the Kingdom and glory of God, and that where this “meets the road” with each of us is in the daily relationships, roles, and responsibilities that make up our sphere of influence – our Personal Mission Field.
For the glory of God to be known in and through us, we must take up those works of ministry that allow us to be vessels of God’s grace and truth to the world. But this doesn’t just happen. God understands this, and so He has placed in His churches pastors and teachers to equip the saints – mind, heart, life, and skills – to do those works of ministry that glorify God and build His Church. We who are called as shepherds of the Lord’s flock will be wise and faithful servants as we provide God’s workers with the equipping they need to fulfill His calling for their lives.
The work each of us has been given to do is greater than the job at which we work. We must work at growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, loving one another, being faithful and diligent and excellent in all our work, contributing to the building-up of our local church, and resisting the devil whenever he comes to distract, depress, or deceive us. The focus of pastoral ministry must be on equipping God’s people for all these various works, leading and aiding and encouraging them to bear much fruit and thus prove that they are true disciples of the Lord. They do not earn the badge of “disciple” by doing good works to glorify God. Because they are disciples, and the Spirit of God dwells in them, works of loving service issue from them as Christ is formed in and overflows through them to the people around them every day.
But what fruit?
What kind of “fruit”, as Jesus names it, should we expect to see growing in those we are called to equip, so that they can bear that fruit in ministry to the people around them?
The fruit of the Spirit, of course. Jonathan Edwards points out in Religious Affections that in true disciples, all the fruit of the Spirit are present and growing. We want all God’s people to bear all the fruit, and that increasingly, and not to be content merely to express one or two of them from time to time.
We also expect the tokens of love for God and neighbors to be present, and this means learning and walking in obedience to the Law of God (Matt. 22.34-40). People who are not instructed in the Law will love on the basis of sentiment or convenience, rather than of a clear understanding of what God requires. The Law of God – and all His Word – teaches us what is necessary to increase in love for God, as well as how best to love our neighbors. To ignore, minimize, or otherwise reduce the Law of God in the work of making disciples is to close the door on the Holy Spirit’s core curriculum (Ezek. 36.26, 27), and to leave the saints to figure out for themselves what the requirements of love are.
Since we are also called to be witnesses for Jesus, we must know what that entails and be equipped and encouraged to make the most of every opportunity to speak to others about Him.
And underneath all this are those daily disciplines of time in the Word, prayer, meditation, singing, and so forth by which we keep our soul oriented to God and feed it with the spiritual nutrients that lead to the various forms of spiritual fruit.
Jesus expects such fruit from all His disciples, and it is the duty of pastors and teachers to help coax such fruit from the people they are called to serve.
Cultivating the fruit
Jesus’ parable about the fig tree provides instruction for pastors and church members concerning how we may expect to bear much fruit. Let us make four observations.
First, the expectation is that believers should bear fruit. As a fig tree is expected to produce figs, so believers in Jesus are expected to bear fruit. We must make that clear. We must insist on it. We must even check in with the members of our flock from time to time to see how this work of bearing fruit is proceeding, and to help and further encourage where we can.
Second, persistent unfruitfulness should be a concern of those entrusted with the work of bringing the Lord's orchards to fruitfulness. They must not simply blink at unfruitfulness as though it were a matter of no consequence. A day is coming when those who have borne no fruit will be cast out of the Lord’s presence, their professions of faith in Him notwithstanding. Where little or no fruit is in evidence, or where God’s people seem indifferent to the calling to bear much fruit, pastors and teachers must take corrective steps.
Third, where there is a lack of fruit, pastors should make every effort to encourage it, even by extraordinary personal measures, if need be. Get personal with people. Single out the men of the church for equipping and training. Call on everyone to make disciples in their own sphere. Help individual believers identify the opportunities and needs for fruitfulness in their own lives.
Fourth, those who have been identified as being unfruitful in their profession must be warned and encouraged to make every effort to make their calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1.5-11). The Lord is seeking fruit in those who profess faith in Him. The fruit which comes from abiding in Christ will lead us into those works of ministry that glorify God. All the people of God must be equipped and held accountable for bearing such fruit. And this means that those who oversee the Lord’s orchards and fields must be diligent to bring forth the fruit of repentance and good works in all who believe.
If any one should say that the vinedresser is the Son, this view also has a suitable reason on its side. He is our Advocate with the Father, our propitiation, and the gardener of our souls. He constantly prunes away whatever is harmful and fills us with rational and holy seeds so we may produce fruits for him.
- Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Homily 96
T. M. Moore
Personal Mission Field
This is the fourth of several installments of this series on “Ministry for Mission”, in which we will be investigating the believer’s calling to a Personal Mission Field. If you’d like a preview of the topics we’ll be considering, watch this brief video.
Resources for Shepherds
Visit our new website and the Resources for Shepherds page especially prepared to provide shepherds with a variety of resources and opportunities for improving their skills. You can even add your own items by clicking the submission form and posting a resource of your own.
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).