Faithfulness vs. Fruitfulness

By Rev. Jeff Miller, District Superintendent

I often feel the tension.  Both concepts are biblical.  Some days they seem to work well together like perfectly matched gears in the forward movement of the Kingdom.  Other times they feel like a tug of war between two concepts that are each wrestling for supremacy.  What are these two concepts that seem at times to strain against each other? It is the push and pull of faithfulness versus fruitfulness. 

Which is more important? What are the dangers in each? Is there a balance and, if so, how can I find my way to that fulcrum?  I think all of us who long to serve the Lord well have felt the anxious pull and strain of these two important concepts.  And I suspect we have all seen those who fall out of balance.

Some lean strongly into the end zone of fruitfulness.  We need to score. We must have goals and objectives.  There are good biblical mandates for this:

·         The Great Commission

·         The urgency of Matthew 24:14

·         Jesus is not willing that any should perish

·         Unfruitful branches are pruned and burned

·         A fig tree is cursed for lack of fruit

·         Paul would have given up his own salvation to just see more come to faith in the Savior

·         The future separation of the sheep and the goats

·         Our works will be found to be gold and silver or wood, hay and stubble to be burned off

And on it goes.  Those, like me, who are achievement-oriented will easily slide toward this end of the spectrum.  We need to see results.  We have the next mountain to climb – at any and all cost. Our intent is noble but sometimes, we must admit, it is not clear exactly whose objectives we are pursuing with zeal and passion.

Others tend toward the other end of the continuum: faithfulness.  Of course, our calling is first to obedience, not objectives.  We will one day be commended as good and faithful servants, not good and effective servants. I can remember a previous Alliance president observing that if Noah had been a C&MA licensed worker we would have taken away his credentials.  All those years of ministry, preaching and incarnational living and not a single convert to show for it.  Even his family was a bit suspect.  Yet there he is in the Hall of Faith because of his faithfulness in a God-ordained building project.  Just as I have seen abuse on the fruitful side of the equation, I have seen imbalance on the faithfulness side as well.  We have all come across some who coast in their faith – some who are mediocre, ineffective, failing for a variety of reasons.  They all too easily can hide behind the mantra that just being faithful is enough.

I have wrestled with this a lot in recent months.  I have come to a couple of conclusions.  My first conclusion is that Abba is about both faithfulness and fruitfulness.  He expects them both from us.  Both are biblical and right.  However, very often He defines fruitfulness different than I do.  His expectations and timelines are often quite different than my own.  When that happens, guess who has misjudged the expected goals and outcomes?  I am not saying that the Lord has lesser expectations than I do.  In fact, they often are enormous, amazing, supernatural goals.  Yet they are often as different from my hopes and anticipations as my English is different from German, Chinese or Swahili… as different as my foresight is from His eternal perspective. 

I need to begin to see fruitfulness through His perspective.  How is that done?  That leads me to my second conclusion.  It is amazingly simple and astoundingly obvious.  Therefore, it somewhat irks me that I haven’t clearly seen it until a speaker at a recent retreat laid it out there.  Jesus, in one simple sentence, merges faithfulness and fruitfulness into a perfectly clear equation for ministry posture.

The sentence is found in John 15:5.  The Lord says it this way, “I am the vine and you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.”  It is really quite simple (and quite challenging).  Faithfulness is defined as deeply abiding in Christ.  If/when I am fully abiding in Him, He guarantees that I will bear much fruit. Fruit as He defines it, not necessarily as I expect it.  However, when I fully abide in Him I will see fruitfulness the way He does.  What do I need to work at? Abiding in Him.  If I’m not seeing fruit, the first thing to analyze when I open up the hood is not diligence (faithfulness) nor effectiveness (fruitfulness) but ‘abiding’.

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it shall be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” John 15:7-8