TRA 7th December 2003
THE PROMISE OF PRODUCTIVE LIVING
Last Friday evening, a table of Wesley Mission people were among 500 people at a black-tie dinner to hear the judges' choice of the Entrepreneur of the Year. These were the finalists from Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales, known as the Eastern Region. Next month, the winner will compete against the finalists from the Western Region of Australia. We were amazed at what some people had achieved. They had lived productive lives, bring credit, helpfulness and employment to so many people.
Like Jason Hart. Jason came from Melbourne. He founded Protocom Development Systems Pty Ltd, when he was nineteen years of age. Today, twelve years later, it is a multi-million dollar information technology security company internationally recognised by US analysts as the leader in password management solutions. His company serves a 1000 companies covering each continent of the world, including the USA Reserve Bank. Or Brand Hoff, who in 1984 mortgaged his home to establish his business of electronic records management. His company recently won a contract to install software on 400,000 USA Navy computers world-wide. Or John McGrath, who commenced a real estate company fourteen years ago, and is today Australia's most successful real estate business. Last year he achieved more sales than any other company, closing $1.5 billion in sales. Or Tom Misner, who loves teaching music, and has set up an audio teaching college in the 1990's. Today, his colleges operate in 36 locations round the world, teaching 13,000 students and possessing a turn-over of $400 million dollars. Each of these know how to live productively.
How can you live productively as a Christian? What is the proof that you are living as a disciple of Jesus, being effective and efficient in what you do for God? For the business entrepreneur, the answer lies in the number of sales, the financial turnover, the number of products made and installed. But what of the Christian? How is your activity to be assessed and measured? By the number of children you have taught in Sunday School and influenced towards effective Christian living? As a Christian musician, by the quality of worship you have produced enabling people to worship with all their hearts? As an elder, by the people you have cared for and visited at times when their spirits were low? These are all correct methods of indicating the effectiveness of your Christian living.
Some would say that your discipleship is proved when you have acknowledged Jesus as Lord, for the Bible says, "If you confess with your mouth "Jesus is Lord" and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." Romans 10:9 Others will say, "Yes, but it is not enough just to call Him Lord. Jesus Himself said, "Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord", will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 7:21 Some will say that words are important, and other will place the emphasis upon actions. Then there will be those who argue that you prove your discipleship by your love for others. Jesus said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:35
On the negative side, it could be said, "If you have an angry temper or a nasty disposition, you will not live a productive life as a disciple of Jesus, for the Bible says "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Ephesians 4:31 The fruits of the Spirit are important, especially love, joy and peace. Although each of these qualities of productive living is true, there is need to go a step further.
Another test is mentioned in scripture. This test is one of the great promises of Jesus. It is this: "This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." John 15:8 That means: to be productive disciples, we have to produce other disciples. Christians are born to reproduce. We are saved in order to bring others to salvation. We are redeemed in order to redeem others. To do this we are called upon to abide in Jesus. "Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:4-5
1. JESUS GIVES US A TASK.
In John 15, Jesus gives us a task, a warning, a relationship, and finally a promise. The task is obvious in the first words of this passage. "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." V1-2
This purpose is outlined in other passages, as in verse 16: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last." Christianity centres on many verbs. It begins with an invitation, "Come to Me." It grows when Jesus calls, "Follow Me." It ends with the command, "Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them My disciples." Matthew 28:19 The final command is to go, and bear fruit. The sign of our discipleship is that we have heard His words, and have obeyed Him.
When Jesus told the disciples that His Father was a gardener and that He was the vine, He was in the Upper Room of John Mark's home. Jesus had been with the disciples outside the city wall and they had walked through the main gate. Over the massive gate there was a great old vine. It was no ordinary vine. It was the symbol of the Jewish faith. In Scripture, Israel is often referred to as the vine. The Israeli Tourist Bureau has vines and grapes in its symbol today. The scriptures say that sometimes, God prunes it. Sometimes it withered, and sometimes, to grew as the true faith. Jesus was saying that He was the true vine. He was in the Father and the Father was in Him. He was the inheritor of all the promises of Israel and stood in their highest traditions. Jesus gives us this task: Go and bear much fruit. That calls for productive living.
2. JESUS GIVES US A WARNING.
With the task, Jesus gives a warning. v2 "Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." If we are fruitless, we are useless. He expects us to be the kind of Christians who will witness to others, to encourage them to become Christians.
The branch that bears no fruit will be pruned off. He takes up the theme again, v6, "If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." That is a drastic warning. If we do not produce fruit for Jesus Christ, if we are not productive for the Kingdom, if we are not useful, eventually we shall be cut off from the vine. But if we are fruitful and useful, there is still the pruning to promote greater growth and fruiting. There are two aspects. The dead branch is broken off and burned; the fruitful branch is pruned back to enable greater growth.
When my wife and I lived in the country town of Ararat, Victoria, in the main street was a general store and, outside the store, growing out of the gutter, was the big, thick, round trunk of a vine. It grew up and weaved its way right along the front of the general store. Every year it was pruned back so hard that I was sure that it would never survive. It was planted on that spot by Edward Henty, one of the earliest of Victoria's pioneers. He brought it from Tasmania, but Tasmania got it from England. Two hundred years earlier it had been taken across the Channel from France, and centuries before that, in the days of the Crusades, it had been brought from Palestine. For centuries, that old vine had been pruned and kept fruiting. Today outside the Supermarket that replaced the old general store, there is the grand old vine, still bearing much fruit. What does this say to your life? It says this: if you are a fruitful, useful Christian, there will still be cutting and pruning. There will be some suffering. Every Christian knows what that means. We have to endure pruning in life.
Here is a word of encouragement. If suffering has come into a fruitful Christian's life; if there have been cutbacks in this area or that area; if there has been trimming here and hurt there; you ask, why? The answer is, in the wisdom of God, He wants each Christian to bear more fruit! Those of us who have known the suffering of pruning can say, "I know. I understand, and because that pruning took place years ago, I have been more use to the Kingdom. I have been pruned and become more fruitful." We must take the warning with the promise: be fruitful lest you be broken off, and if you are fruitful, expect some pruning. It is God's good way of enriching you so that you will bear more fruit.
3. JESUS GIVES US A RELATIONSHIP.
Jesus develops the theme in verses 4 and 5 when He speaks about the relationship we shall have. If we are pruned by God, it is to allow His Spirit to flow through us in a more effective way. We are to remain united with Christ so that He will remain united with us. "I am the vine; you are the branches." This is one of the most beautiful and best known verses in the Bible. I regularly attended the Christian Endeavour Society as a teenager. When our names were called at the monthly Consecration Meeting, each one had to stand up and respond with a text. One of our members was Wendy Bell. Every time her name was called, she would jump up and say, "I am the vine, ye are the branches." She never forgot that verse. In this important word, Jesus is saying, "We relate to one another, you and I. You are a branch of Me." Without the branch, the vine cannot bear fruit. That means He depends on us! But also, without the vine, the branch cannot survive. The branch and the vine depend upon each other.
"If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." v5 Our relationship is one of mutual dependence and helpfulness. He needs us, and we need Him!
4. JESUS GIVES US A PROMISE.
After establishing a mutual relationship, Jesus concludes with a beautiful promise. It is in verse 7, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you." How do we qualify for that promise? By abiding in Him! How do we lead a fruitful life? By continuing in Him! There are two levels. First He said, "Remain in Me." That is the spiritual relationship between the Christian and his or her Lord. Secondly, He says, "and My words remain in you." We are to take His word, read it, feast on it, take it within ourselves, so that His word produces much fruit. This provides the basis for effective prayer.
The Christian will maintain his or her spiritual relationship with Christ by abiding in Him, feeding on His word, and by praying regularly. Our original question was: "How do you develop a productive life?" The answer is: By your words of testimony, by your deeds of kindness, by your loving care for others, and by your Christian character. This produces fruit - new Christians. Because you remain in Him and His words remain in you, the message from Jesus is, "This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." v8 The promise of Jesus is that you, the believer, can live productively as any entrepreneur, provided you abide in Him and allow yourself to bear much fruit! Jesus wants productive Christians! This is the promise of productive living we each can claim.
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