When these people eat with you in your fellowship meals commemorating the Lord’s love, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. (Jude 12 NLT)
Finally accepting defeat, I yanked the bare twigs I called a fig tree out by the roots. Clumps of rich dark soil released their hold on the spidery tentacles and returned to fill the void in the pot. I stood back and pondered what to plant in its place.
Five years earlier when I visited a friend in South Carolina, I had delighted in the taste of figs fresh off a tree. I immediately researched the viability of growing them in Pennsylvania. The internet assured me I could indeed grow figs in my climate zone if I took special precautions.
I planted my brown turkey fig tree in an enormous pot with drainage so I could shelter my precious plant in the garage over winter. For warmer months, I dragged it to the sunniest area of my property, a place of prominence in my front yard.
That first spring when leaves budded and unfurled, I could almost taste the harvest to come. In June, with joy, I spied tiny fruit sprouting. In July, for no apparent reason, the figs shriveled and the leaves browned. By August, my neighbors probably wondered why my landscape included a few bare twigs in a huge pot.
Each year after the first disappointment, I investigated how to better care for my fig tree. The master gardener at the agricultural extension office proffered advice which I used to baby my fledgling fig. Every spring, with renewed hope, I anticipated a harvest. Every summer I suffered the sting of its barrenness when the plant failed to deliver on its promise.
I can’t help but wonder at the disappointment God must feel when people He loves, planted and watered within His Church, fail to produce the fruit of His Spirit.
Jude offers several comparisons to help us understand. Shepherds who never care for their sheep. Clouds that do not refresh the earth with rain. Trees that produce no crop. All just like my fig tree. What a letdown!
Even worse, Jude says these barren people in our midst can be dangerous to our spiritual wellbeing. He describes them as complainers, braggarts, and flatterers and warns they may lead us to stray from God’s righteous path (Jude 16).
No doubt you’ve encountered some of these folks within your church fellowship. Jude tells us three ways to respond. We should encourage one another to grow in faith. Pray guided by God’s Spirit. Wait patiently and hope in Jesus (Jude 20-21).
Beyond these activities, God gives us grace and mercy to shower upon anyone whose faith falters. “But do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives” (Jude 23 NLT). With God’s wisdom, we walk the fine line between hating the sin and loving the sinner, all the while guarding our hearts in Christ Jesus from temptation.
How can we love the sinner in our midst? We start with humbly remembering the grace we received from God for our own transgressions. Then we share the gospel, open God’s Word together, and offer hospitality. We don’t need to set a perfect example. Instead, we model dependency on our Father, even in our weaknesses.
God doesn’t want anyone to be like my poor fig tree that never gave a harvest. Let’s ask Him to reveal any barrenness in our own hearts and help us drink deeply of His Living Water. He will enable us to produce an abundance of not only grace and mercy but also the other fruits of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT)
Dear Father, You have planted the seed of life within me and nourish me with the Living Water of Jesus. I have everything I need to produce Your grace, mercy, and love for others. Please show me any areas of my life where my fruit is withering on the vine of sinfulness. Root them out and refresh me so I may live up to the promise of Your Word. Amen.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Maksym Belchenko
Annie Yorty writes and speaks to encourage others to perceive God’s person, presence, provision, and purpose in the unexpected twists and turns of life. Married to her high school sweetheart and living in Pennsylvania, she mothers a teen, two adult children (one with intellectual disabilities), and a furry beast labradoodle. She has written From Ignorance to Bliss: God’s Heart Revealed through Down Syndrome. Please connect with her at http://annieyorty.com/, Facebook, and Instagram.
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Originally published Monday, 11 September 2023.