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Be a Fruitful Tree
The Christian life is the abundant life—filled with rich, spiritual growth!

Here are seven interesting facts about plant and tree growth:

• Trees are the longest-living organisms on Earth; Methuselah, a bristle-cone pine tree in California, is estimated to be 5,000 years old.
• The world’s tallest tree is the coast redwood (Sequoia), mainly found in California.
• A notch in a tree will remain the same distance from the ground as the tree grows.
• Bamboo is the fastest-growing woody plant; it can grow 35 inches in one day.
• The single-seeded fruit of the giant fan palm can weigh 45 pounds.
• Orchids have the smallest seeds; it takes more than 1 million seeds to weigh 1 gram.
• In the Netherlands, in 1634, a collector paid 1,000 pounds of cheese, four oxen, eight pigs, 12 sheep, a bed and a suit of clothes for a single bulb of the Viceroy tulip!

The Bible has a great deal to say about growth: two trees grew in the Garden of Eden; Israel grew into a great multitude; Samson’s hair grew and grew; grass and crops grow—sometimes weeds and tares do, too. We grow in the womb. In biology, growth is one of the requirements to be even categorized as alive.

Spiritually, God tells us to grow as cedars of Lebanon. Christ emphasized the need for Christian growth in John 15:5: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit ….”

Verse 8 tells us: “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” God desires that we do good works and bear holy, righteous fruit in order to glorify Him (Matthew 5:16).

Just as nature produces both good and bad fruit, so humans can produce fruit that may or may not be acceptable to God. Matthew 7:20 says, “[B]y their fruits ye shall know them.”
How does this growth process work? How do we bear godly fruit?

How Fruit Grows

To understand spiritual growth, consider the marvelous process of how physical fruit develops. First, a blossom is pollinated. After a few days, a tiny green, flowering bud appears. The sap in the plant or tree supplies it with nutrients. As the fruit continues to receive nourishment, it slowly grows, develops and matures. Finally, after many days, weeks or months of growth, it ripens and is ready for harvest.

In the Christian life, a similar thing happens. But unless we are truly converted members of God’s Church, we cannot bear the kind of fruit that really pleases Him (Romans 8:9; Hebrews 11:6). Once begotten in God’s Church, His Holy Spirit works in our minds to produce spiritual fruit.
“Abide in me, and I in you,” Jesus said in John 15:4. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” As God’s Holy Spirit flows into our lives, like the sap of a tree, it motivates us to think and act like God. His Holy Spirit stimulates our growth. God produces our fruit.

“[Christ] Himself is the main Vine—comparable to the trunk of the tree,” Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in the November 1961 Plain Truth. “What we produce by being alive—if anything—is the ‘fruit.’ If we cut off from the Vine, Christ, we cannot produce anything worthwhile, just as a branch severed from the grapevine cannot produce grapes.”

When we act on the prompting of the Holy Spirit, our spiritual “buds” of fruit are energized, and we grow. As we continue to act and respond to each new stimulus (showing love, gentleness, meekness and other fruits of God’s Holy Spirit), we begin to form habits of obedience to God and His way. The fruits of God’s Spirit ripen and mature through use, practice and experience. Given time, they become ingrained patterns of righteous character.

Lifelong process

In speaking to His disciples about the necessity of bearing fruit, Jesus said: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain …” (John 15:16). If we are to continue bearing fruit, we must keep up the effort! The character God is building in us must be maintained.

Elsewhere God commands: “Let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1). Like trees that bear fruit continually (such as lemon, orange or grapefruit), the fruit produced by God’s Holy Spirit should never end. It should be a perpetual harvest. Even though millions may eventually “eat of our fruit,” the supply should never run out!

Sometimes we become discouraged because we do not grow as quickly as we think we should. We grow frustrated because we do not see tangible fruit being borne. One reason might be that we start to respond in a given direction but stop too soon. Perhaps we have become weary of well doing (Galatians 6:9).

Remember, it takes time for fruit to grow. For instance, a plum tree may take years of cultivation, pruning and nurturing before the results begin to show. Even then, the first year of harvest may not be the best. The same is true in a Christian’s life. The fruit we produce in the first few weeks and months after conversion may not be as much, or of the same quality, as we will bring forth later. Like a tree, we go through various stages of physical growth: taller, wider, older, wiser! We can never let down; rather, we should be constantly increasing our efforts!

“But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23). It all depends on how diligent we are, how much we strive to become godlike, how well we respond to the inner working of God’s Spirit.

God is closely measuring everything we do, both individually and as a Church, looking for fruit. In the parable of the pounds, Christ tells His servants, “Occupy till I come.” He wants His servants to grow, to work, to use whatever resources He gives us to the maximum! Those who grow and produce, God rewards (Luke 19:16-19). Those who don’t, lose the resource they started out with (verses 20-23). God will give that person’s pound to the one who gained the most! (verse 24).

God is the husbandman working with each of us—watering, nurturing, dunging, cultivating, weeding and pruning—for the purpose of bringing forth the fruit He wishes us to have. If you are growing slowly, do not be discouraged and give up! Give God time to work His purpose in your life. As a tree grows, it may produce more fruit, though the yield each season may vary. With God, things usually start small and then grow exceedingly large (Zechariah 4:10; Matthew 13:31-32).

In like manner, the more zealously we practice the way of God and do good works, the more fruits of righteousness God will be able to produce in and through us. Before it is fully ripe, a peach, for example, is hard, tart, green and inedible. For it to become ripe and ready for use, it must go through a long process of development.

Perfect!

The Christian’s goal is to become perfect: ripe, mature, sweet, juicy and nutritious! Matthew 5:48 says, “[Become] ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
God created a variety of fruit for us to enjoy in the natural world: apples, oranges, bananas, pears, figs, cherries—the list goes on and on, and we don’t even know them all! Since the physical world is a type of the spiritual (Romans 1:20), it follows that God intends for us to produce a similar variety of spiritual fruit.

Galatians 5:22-23 describe nine of these main spiritual fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. The number 9 is used 49 times in Scripture. That frequency (7 times 7) symbolizes divine completion or finality. When we are tuned in to God’s wavelength and we act on the influence of His Spirit, these fruits will be evidenced in our habits, reactions and patterns of conduct that characterize our lives. They will be part of our every thought and action, causing us to become more like God.

The word perfect used in Matthew 5:48 is teleios, which means “to become mature, whole, complete or entire—fully developed … completeness of Christian character.” In some places the Greek word translated perfect even means “ripe” (e.g. Luke 8:14). Becoming perfect—mature, whole and complete—is a lifelong process. It may take years from the moment we are begotten until we are fully mature and ready to be born into the Family of Almighty God! (Proverbs 4:18).

The important thing is that we must “ripen” day by day. Our fruits of righteousness are not just one-time acts. The fruits of God’s Spirit are expressed again and again in our daily lives until we actually take on God’s likeness. As we continue to allow God’s Spirit to motivate our behavior, we will take on, little by little, “the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).

True righteousness is not achieved quickly. It involves intense effort over a long time. Some show only the appearance of a tree, but they don’t bear healthy, abundant fruit. Others produce blossoms and buds, but through neglect allow the flow of the Holy Spirit to stop. Any fruit they had produced up to that point withers and eventually drops off.

Still others let the cares of this world or persecution drain off their spiritual strength so that they become unproductive and fruitless. Christ warned about that. He even used one occasion to curse a barren fig tree, which shocked His disciples (Matthew 21:19-20).

“Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit,” Christ said in John 15:2. We must examine our lives daily to be sure that we are connected to the Vine—tied to Christ and God the Father in a vital relationship of love—to produce the abundant crop God desires.

The real test of a true Christian’s character and his or her right standing with God is the fruits he produces (Matthew 7:20): how he lives, what he says and does. It involves the totality of his being. What kind of fruit tree do you and I represent?

If you are newly baptized, you may be only in the blossoming or budding stage. “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). But for those who have been in God’s Church many years, or even decades, our branches should be laden with many beautiful varieties of spiritual fruit. Are we barren Christians? Or are we productive ones?

God’s Work is always growing, and each of us must keep pace with that growth. We must pour our hearts into the Work and be excited about the growth of the Philadelphia Church of God. Members whose hearts are in the Work get excited over new initiatives and projects.

Growth is paramount! When God gives His Holy Spirit, He expects continuous growth! It’s all about growth! God is building a Family that will produce fruit for all eternity!
If we always stayed the same, why would we need to be measured? (Revelation 11:1). We need to take a test from time to time and readily allow God to fully measure us.

Growth occurs slowly over time, but can be greatly accelerated by two methods. These can be painful, but we must learn to rejoice in them both.

1: Grow through TRIAL

Even in the midst of a hard trial, we must see it for the blessing that it is! A great way to test our growth is by how happy and positive we are in our trials.

We must strive to see clearly what God is doing with us. Each of us in God’s Church is a vessel, or temple, of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). If that vessel, or temple, gets polluted by Satan, self or society, God has to clean it up so that, through His Spirit dwelling in it, He can accomplish His Work! God allows us to experience trials to build His holy, righteous, perfect character!

When you have a trial, you must not just “grit your teeth” and wait for it to be over; you must grow! Love, joy and peace lead the list of fruits of the Spirit, fruits by which God is judging us. Do we really evidence love, joy and peace even in the midst of trial?

If we learn now to lead full, happy, purposeful physical lives, to master and overcome our afflictions, God knows we can be happy for all eternity in His Kingdom. John 10:10 says, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

When Christ returns, He wants to find His servants “so doing” (Matthew 24:46)—actively and aggressively making changes in themselves, successfully solving serious problems! Not simply “marking time,” putting up with our weaknesses, and rarely, if ever, overcoming. Instead God wants ever increasing joy and the sense of purpose that comes only with growth.

When you face problems, trials and tests, remember that attitude is everything. Do we allow fiery trials to destroy our faith? God needs to know. If we allow them to consume and decimate us, we reflect attitudes of fear and faithlessness, and we will get burned when trials arise (2 Timothy 1:7).

How do materials like gold and silver react to the same fire? The hot flames purify them, removing their imperfections and flaws! If we have a sterling silver or sparkling gold attitude in the heat of a trial—rejoicing in the test—we will really thrive as Christians, even if we don’t survive physically!
Even in the face of trials, a Christian should not become unhappy and frustrated. The Apostle James wrote: “[C]ount it all joy when you fall into divers temptations [trials]; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (James 1:2-3).

We are commanded by our Creator to rejoice in the long-term good that a trial will produce. Know that God is absolutely in control, allowing a problem for our ultimate spiritual good. Trials can be traumatic, but they need not destroy the overall contentment and joy we have in knowing we are now learning how to live so we can reign for all eternity with Christ!

We must understand and despise the carnality we see in our own hearts and minds. We must be willing to change and admit our weaknesses and our faults so we truly grow! Striving to overcome is then viewed as an opportunity, knowing that we are qualifying for an eternal goal, which is the foundation of our happiness and the happiness of others.

Learn to thrust your problems into God’s hands through prayer and to meditate about the positive aspects of His way. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

2: Grow from correction

Admitting error—accepting correction—is growth! Like a fruit tree, to produce optimal levels of fruit, we must sometimes be pruned (cut back). We must be honest with ourselves! Do we really love to be corrected? Hardly anyone does! Receiving correction in the right attitude is one of life’s most difficult challenges. A true Christian should like—even welcome—correction, as it helps us to grow.

It is easy to see someone else’s faults, but it is not so easy to recognize our own. We often resent being told about our shortcomings, especially if we see that the person who corrects us has his own problems to overcome. But the overriding purpose of this human life is spiritual growth as a result of change! Growth is impossible without reproof, rebuke, admonition and correction.

“All scripture is … profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Revised Standard Version). Everyone of us must study the Bible with an honest desire to be taught and corrected by it. Yes, there’s much encouragement and inspiration in the Bible; it also has interesting history. But in this passage, the Apostle Paul focuses on the fact that it gives us reproof, correction and instruction.

When studying the Bible—the primary way God corrects us—we are studying God’s mind. God’s Word is alive! It lays us open; it exposes our inner heart (Hebrews 4:12-13). “[T]he word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword ….” Of all the ways for God to correct us, Bible study is truly the most gentle and painless.

If we study for correction, God may get through to us with a gentle tap. He will not need a mallet. Verse 31 of 1 Corinthians 11 says, “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.”

2 Timothy 2:15 states, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Paul exhorts us to study positively to get God’s view as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11). Some people study with a negative mind, solely to disprove—they are uncorrectable! God will only open our minds to understand if we study to show ourselves approved. We must seek His will and desire to know what He thinks on virtually every topic.

Sometimes correction comes from a person—a minister, family member, spouse or friend. How do we respond in each case, no matter the source? God says, “He who heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof [or correction] goes astray” (Proverbs 10:17; rsv). Are we on the “path to life,” or are we going astray because we reject reproof?

Herbert W. Armstrong often said that he regularly asked God for correction. We should all pray the same prayer. Remember: The more we are converted, the more we will welcome correction. Some of us think we get too much correction, but God gives us exactly what we need. (However, many of us tend to give others more correction than we should!)

To receive correction in the right spirit, we must be willing to admit we are wrong—and that is hard for the carnal mind to do. Get down on your knees and ask God to help you see your faults. Ask Him to see where you need to change, and then be willing to change. Psalm 51:10-11 say, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.” King David wanted correction, even if it meant suffering. He was willing to accept it, no matter how it came. He was a man after God’s own heart. Jeremiah 10:24 says, “O Lord, correct me … not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing.” It takes courage to pray this way, but a begotten child of God must have a lot of guts.

Obedience to God is synonymous with wanting to be changed and corrected by Him. Growth spells conversion, and it results from applying the teachings we learn.

Christ said that unless we become as little children, we shall not enter His Father’s Kingdom. What childlike qualities does Christ desire in us as physical adults?

Children are generally more teachable and also adapt better to change. They put their trust in those who are watching over them, and they usually do what they are told, even though they may not always agree with it. Christians must be like this, too.

The degree of our conversion is determined by how well we respond to correction. We have to be malleable in God’s hands in order to grow. Be grateful when you are corrected, accept reproof with humility, and make the right changes. Afterward, forget the mistakes God has forgiven. Don’t burden yourself with guilt, which can only hinder your growth. God’s people all make mistakes from time to time; we all sin and err in judgment occasionally. By the very fact of our humanness, we are prone to stumble. That’s what the process of conversion is all about: Christians strive to overcome their human nature and bring their lives into harmony with God’s commands in every way.

Spiritual growth requires that we admit sins and faults, confess them before God, and turn from them. False Christians and Laodiceans refuse to admit their mistakes, and in doing so, they resist the Spirit of God and miss out on their opportunities for great Christian growth.

Proverbs 15:31 says, “The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise.” The wise are those who listen to God’s counsel, submit themselves to His authority, accept correction, and live by His every word. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), and when we sin, we must be corrected. Hebrews 12:11 says, “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Accepting correction is growth, and if we love it, we will live forever!

God’s sons must think and act like their Holy Father! That is a regal and majestic standard! What capacity we have to grow! “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

“Now what is spiritual growth?” Mr. Armstrong wrote in the January 1978 Plain Truth. “Just as the physical embryo-fetus must grow physically large enough to be born, so the Spirit-begotten Christian must grow spiritually or he will never be born of God. But spiritual growth is character development.” Rejoice in trials and correction, and use them to GROW like never before!