Marketers want you to consume. Christ asks you to produce.
Fifteen years ago, we launched Boundless — passionate about directing the hopes and questions of the young adult years to a God who does "exceedingly, abundantly more than we can ask or imagine." Between us, we've written hundreds of articles, blogs and Q&As on relationships, marriage, children, time, money, planning, work, prayer, Scripture and more. But we've come to see a common theme throughout much of our writing that we've never focused on specifically.
We believe it's an essential message to guide you in your Christian walk throughout all of life — a simple encouragement bringing clarity for those who wonder what to do with their life, who seek direction in work, in education, in relationships, and in ministry calling.
It's the first two words the Bible records God speaking to humankind, and it's an expectation He maintains throughout the Bible: "Be fruitful."
Theologian Andreas Köstenberger explains that the bearing of fruit is God's "primary creative and redemptive purpose." "By this my Father is glorified," Jesus said to His disciples, "that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples" (John 15:8). "We are to be productive," says R.C. Sproul. "….the idea of being productive is not the invention of capitalism; it is the mandate of Christ. He saves us in our futility and calls us to be fruitful."
This is what God expects of His creation, what proves we are Christ's disciples and what glorifies the Father. So, are you fruitful?
Perhaps the greatest impediment to fruitfulness is that we are notoriously conditioned to be consumers. It's easy to take for granted just how much we are habituated to consume and how that affects our ability to be fruitful. Consumption, of course, is a normal part of life. We need food, clothing, housing, and many other necessities. What challenges fruitfulness, however, is a preoccupation with consumption that outpaces the corresponding role we are to play as producers.
A couple of years ago we visited the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. One of the most fascinating sections of the museum told about the birth of modern marketing. It explained that efficiencies in industrialization resulted in a supply of goods that outpaced demand. As a result, manufacturers needed to encourage people to desire, and then buy, things they didn't necessarily need.
Modern marketers are now highly advanced in that science, carefully cultivating our appetites as consumers. Consider in 1950 there were 50,000 consumer goods for sale. Now? You can choose from 24 million consumer goods, and that's just on Amazon.com. Writing at the Huffington Post, George Washington University professor Amitai Etzioni said, "A culture in which the urge to consume dominates the psychology of citizens is a culture in which people will do most anything to acquire the means to consume — working slavish hours, behaving rapaciously in their business pursuits, and even bending the rules in order to maximize their earnings. They will also buy homes beyond their means and think nothing of running up credit-card debt." Not surprisingly, the average U.S. credit card debt now stands at $15,325.
Far from satisfying our longings, consuming increases our appetites, leaving us always wanting more. Self-reported happiness levels peaked in surveys in the United States in 1957, a point in which Americans consumed half as much as they do today. This consumer anxiety and unhappiness spreads as it moves beyond our purchasing decisions and into our attitudes toward education, work, relationships and faith. "No longer merely an economic system, consumerism has become the American worldview," writes Skye Jethani in Leadership Journal. The most damaging reality about this spread is how it keeps us from grasping the hope of the Gospel. Jethani goes on to explain that consumerism is now, "the framework through which we interpret everything else, including God, the gospel, and church."
Our souls need the truth Jesus revealed to His disciples the night of the Last Supper:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. ... As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:1-11, ESV).
There's so much we could say about these words, but we'll focus on three encouragements: abide in the vine, trust the pruning of the vinedresser, and pray for fruitfulness for God's glory.
Abide in the Vine
The primary appeal Jesus makes to His disciples in these words is to abide in Him as their source for life. "The union between the branch of a vine and the main stem, is the closest that can be conceived," J.C. Ryle writes. "It is the whole secret of the branch's life, strength, vigor, beauty and fertility. Separate from the parent stem, it has no life on its own."
In fact, Christ clearly says, "Apart from me you can do nothing." We have to humbly concede that we are dependent on Him for everything. As Paul writes to the Colossians, "For by him [Jesus] all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:16-17).
Additionally, it's only through uniting to the obedient life, substitutionary death and victorious resurrection of Christ that we can escape the death we deserve for our disobedience and "works of the flesh" (see Galatians 5:15-25). Notice Jesus' warning: "If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned." Like Judas, who even as Jesus spoke these words was in the act of betraying Him, many people associate with Jesus, but are proven to be lifeless branches that aren't truly abiding in the vine.
So what does it look like to abide in Christ? Jesus explains that abiding in Him means having His words abide in us as well as following His commands as He followed His Father's commands. Fruitfulness comes from our regular consumption of Scripture (and the kind of meditation and trust that causes those words to abide in us) and from obedience — humbly following Jesus as Lord of our lives.
Trust the Pruning of the Vinedresser
Marketers have taught us to believe that there are many things we deserve, that we are always right, and that we should have things our way. But God lovingly saves us from that kind of self-centered nonsense. When He saves us, He also graciously conforms us into the image of His Son. "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away," Jesus told His disciples, before adding, "and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." God prunes fruitful vines to produce more fruit.
"Just as the vine-dresser prunes and cuts back the branches of a fruitful vine, in order to make them more fruitful, so does God purify and sanctify believers by the circumstances of life in which He places them," J.C. Ryle writes. "By trial He weans them from the world, draws them to Christ, drives them to the Bible and prayer, shows them their own hearts, and makes them humble. This is the process by which He 'purges' them, and makes them more fruitful." This goes against every consumer impulse in us, but it's the most loving work God can do for us. "Fruit is the thing that our Master desires to see in us," Ryle adds, "and He will not spare the pruning knife if He sees we need it." This is clear in Hebrews 12:11: "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."
Feel the burn. Accept deprivation of some of your desires as God's good design and not as His failure in your life. Embrace the pruning and bear more fruit.
Pray for Fruitfulness for God's Glory
As you abide in the vine, reading and meditating on the nourishment of the Word; as you obey Christ as He obeyed the Father; and as you embrace God's pruning work, pray. Notice Jesus' words: "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." And then He concludes by saying, "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full."
What a generous gift. What an amazing offer to someone who is exhausted by the consumer treadmill, being constantly manipulated by marketing, and consistently being disappointed by promises made by brands who knew they were only selling the equivalent of sugar water. "Ask whatever you wish." "Joy." These are words our souls need. John Piper summarizes these Scriptures by saying, "God designed prayer to give His disciples the joy of bearing fruit while God Himself gets the glory." So pray boldly for fruitfulness marked by joy and all for God's glory.
You may be asking what kind of fruit you should specifically pray for. Theologians have brought different thoughts to this question. Some believe the "fruit" Jesus describes is obedience while others see it as sharing the Good News. Other theologians take an "all of the above … and more" approach. "[T]he 'fruit' in the vine imagery represents everything that is the product of effective prayer in Jesus' name," D.A. Carson writes, "including obedience to Jesus' commands (John 15: 10), experience of Jesus' joy (v. 11), love for one another (v. 12), and witness to the world (vv. 16, 27). This fruit is nothing less than the outcome of preserving dependence on the vine, driven by faith, embracing all of the believer's life and the product of his witness."
This is why we should pray boldly for fruit throughout our lives that brings glory to God — in our learning, work, life in a local church body, neighborhood relationships, friendships, dating relationships, marriages, parenting, mentoring, engagement in the public square, and more —in other words, every sphere of life where God for His glory is re-commissioning us as His creation to "be fruitful."
One book about cradle-to-grave marketing says those born in the industrialized world are "born to shop," but for those God has redeemed, we've been born again to be fruitful. This is our calling. Abide in the vine through Christ, trust God as He prunes you, and pray that He will produce fruit that will last in every area of your life for His glory.
Copyright 2013 Steve and Candice Watters. All rights reserved.