I have few and simple aspirations in this life–to raise my kids to know my Lord; to teach other kids to understand God’s Word; to write things that will be helpful to others; and to have a pumpkin patch.
Yes, I know, that’s a frivolous and irrelevant desire. But there’s something deep within my soul that yearns for a garden full of lovely vines, great yellow flowers, and beautiful, round, orange pumpkins. I have for the past three years attempted to achieve this humble goal. The first year, my vines were devastated by a plague of squash bugs. I studied out the best ways to deal with insect pests and treated the ground accordingly. The second year, my vines were sickened by blight and rotted away. Again, I studied the problem and thought I had it licked.
Not one to give up easily, I again planted a pumpkin patch last spring. I had received special heirloom seeds through a friend and I planted them with care, using all the knowledge I had gleaned from my past two, unsuccessful attempts. Oh, and my dreams seemed to be coming to pass! Lush, beautiful vines grew, luxuriant and healthy. No thorny squash bugs appeared to threaten my garden, and no black or moldy signs of blight crept in. Then the blossoms appeared, huge and yellow and wonderful. I was filled with joyful anticipation–I would be harvesting pumpkins this year! Pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin pudding, decorations for our Sukkah during the Feast of Tabernacles, jack-o-lanterns for my kids.
Then the flowers dropped off and the fruit appeared. Brown. Misshapen. Wrong.
It seems my heirloom seeds were not pumpkin seeds after all. I had cultivated a healthy crop of butternut squash.
Okay, this is where my analogy inevitably falls down, because there’s really nothing evil about butternut squash. I like butternut squash, and we ate butternut squash. Lots of it. All summer. Because there was a lot of it. If you want some, I’ll send them to you, because there’s a lot of them.
But when what you really need are big, lovely, round, shiny, orange pumpkins, nothing else will do.
In Matthew 7:6, Jesus warns us, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?” A horticulturalists could, I am sure, have told me that my seeds and my vines were not pumpkin seeds and pumpkin vines–but look at pictures of the two and tell me, could an ordinary person really tell the difference? Well, I certainly couldn’t, until the fruit began to grow. I’m afraid it’s the same with people. It’s impossible, sometimes, to tell who is genuinely serving God out of love for Him and desire to serve Him, and who is serving for other purposes. Sometimes it’s hard to discern the difference in ourselves. The sincere pumpkin vines blend in with the butternut squash vines, and who can disentangle them before they begin to show their true natures through their fruit?
In Matthew 13, Jesus warns us again through the parable of the wheat and the tares. He planted good wheat in good ground, but the enemy planted tares in amongst the wheat. These two plants look exactly alike until the wheat begins to form heads and bears good grain; the tares remain fruitless and are without use. How to root out the tares without disturbing the fruitful wheat? It can’t be done by human means, Jesus said. Let them remain together until the end, and then He will Himself sort things out. But in the meantime, He tells us to be discerning. By their fruit you shall know them–we are not the judges, but we are responsible for being alert to deception, both in others and in ourselves.
So, what is this fruit we’re to be looking for? John the Baptizer tells us to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8) This is always a good measure for ourselves. Are we truly repentant for our sins, or do we try to excuse them away or sweep them under the rug and hope no one (God!) will notice.
Paul tells us to be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:11) Are we living righteous lives through the power that Christ gives–lives that bring glory and praise to God? Or are we trying to live good lives in our own strength, bringing glory to ourselves? And again, in Colossians 1:10, Paul prays that we “may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” Are we continuing to strive to learn of Him? Or are we complacent in our present knowledge, content with what we have rather than longing to go deeper?
“Being filled with the fruit of righteousness” and “bearing fruit in every good work”: what are these righteous good works we’re to be cultivating? Jesus tells us this Himself in John 6:29: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He has sent.” Believing in Jesus is the foundation of bearing good fruit. The little book of First John is all about the work God expects of us, and it boils down to two things: to “believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He has commanded us.” (1 John 3:23)
Believe in Jesus and love one another. There’s the gospel in a pumpkin shell. So what kind of fruit are we bearing?