I squirmed in the pew as the teacher read the Scripture from the pulpit. I became increasingly uncomfortable as he taught the lesson. Embarrassed and confused, I searched for the nearest exit. Although I knew I misunderstood what he said, it didn’t stop me from feeling like a failure.
Each time I heard instruction about the same passage, knots formed in my stomach, and I left church believing I was a bad tree.
At the end of Matthew 7, Jesus is completing His Sermon on the Mount using contrasting illustrations to serve as warnings: a narrow way to God versus a wide way to destruction (7:13-14), a good tree versus a bad tree (7:15-23), and a firm foundation of faith versus a shaky one (7:23-27).
Matthew 7:17 is the verse that frequently disturbed me: “Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”
The teaching I received on this passage was sound, but I heard it wrong in my head which caused me to jump to the wrong conclusion in my heart.
During my hardest days–when angry words lingered in the air longer than the aroma of last night’s dinner, when rule-breakers were more common than rule-followers, when days passed with few spoken words–it was easy for me to think I was a bad tree because I was in the throes of a bad parenting streak.
The King James Version of Genesis 35:11 is the traditional origin of children being called the fruit of the loins. Throughout the Bible, God commands His people to be fruitful and multiply. As believers, it’s natural to think of our progeny as fruit.
But in Matthew 7:17, Jesus didn’t imply that fruit referred to children, nor the trees parents. What a heavy load to bear if He had.
If we tell ourselves we are bad trees with bad fruit, we will walk around under a brick of self-defeat, closely trailed by self-condemning voices and spirit-breaking heartache.
When the clarity of this passage washed over me, I was refreshed by its truth. The weight I felt disappeared and I was able to understand the meaning of “good fruit.”
Fruit is a major term used in the New Testament, and it is never equated with outward works. The good and bad fruit of which Jesus spoke represents the product of a godly (and ungodly) life or virtues of character.
In the passage, He warned about false prophets and the bad fruit of their teaching. I was wrong to believe it meant anything else.
The flowering blossoms of faith bring forth good fruit in believers. When we grow deep roots in the Word of God and draw nourishment from the River of Life, we will be a good tree with good fruit- pleasing to God and edifying to others.
Loving God and others is proof of our goodness. Galatians 5:22 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Coming to understand that poor choices made by others do not make us bad trees nor them bad fruit is like slowly dripping sap: sweet and satisfying.
If we spend time telling our children about Jesus, teaching them the difference between right and wrong, and lovingly guide them toward godly living, then, in the eyes of God, we are blameless and guiltless for the poor choices they make as adults. When we think otherwise we are believing a lie instead of God.
The truth is within easy reach and ripe for picking: we are not responsible for anyone’s choices but our own.
Our decision to follow Jesus prepares the soil of our hearts for the planting of faith, hope, and love. When we are faced with a choice to make–for something good or bad–the seeds of faith will sprout into Christ-likeness, causing us to choose the way of hope and love every time. The fruit of the Spirit will be evident to others and will point them to Jesus.
If our loved ones are producing bad fruit (though we are not responsible for it), we can ask the Gardener to snip and cut the dead areas out of their lives in order to promote wiser choices.
God is the only One who can do the same work in their lives as He did in ours.
When God does the pruning, a tree will produce good fruit: faith, hope, and love.
While we wait, our roots must grow deeper in trust for the Gardener to work in the lives of our children as He has worked in ours. When we step aside and allow Him to do the pruning, feeding and growing, good fruit will be produced in their lives.
The fruit in their lives is a result of God’s work in their hearts, not ours. God knows each limb and branch that needs discarding. He makes the perfect cuts and supplies the perfect nourishment in order to establish the good roots that will grow them into good trees.
We are solely responsible for own choices. When the fruit of the Spirit is evident, then we are good trees!
Waiting with you,