One of the trees in my bonsai collection is a calliandra – more commonly known as a “pink powder puff.” “Pink powder puff” doesn’t sound particulalry manly, so let’s stick with more scientifically precise terminology!
My calliandra bonsai ought to look like the one pictured above. But, it doesn’t. I’ve owned the tree for almost ten years, and it hasn’t yet produce a single pink powder puff yet. I’ve watered. Fertilized. Pruned. Re-potted. I’ve tried more sun and less sun; more shade and less shade. I’ve begged and pleaded. I’ve done everything short of singing to it.
Still no puffs.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad looking bonsai – not my best, but not bad. But, a calliandra is SUPPOSED to produce pink powder puffs… and, dang it, I want my powder puffs!!!
My non-blooming calliandra reminds me of a teaching of Jesus,
“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” (Matthew 7:16-18, NIV)
“By their fruit (or pink powder puffs) you will recognize them.”
Jesus used the metaphor of a tree and it’s fruit as a warning against false teachers. You may recall, Jesus was frequently critical of religious leaders, who appeared outwardly pious, but were inwardly mean, stingy, and ungodly. Basically, to paraphrase, Jesus said, “Look for the fruit. If the fruit is good, trust the source. If the fruit is bad, no matter how religious or pious the person outwardly seems, be wary. Be very wary.”
This teaching could also be applied in reverse. Sometimes, a person may not seem particularly pious or religious. But, “look for the fruit,” and you might discover more in them than immediately meets the eye.
Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5, NIV) He was talking about love.
Galatians 5:22-23 says, “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT)
You might think of other “fruits” of the Christian life – tithing, service, study, worship, and varieties of other “Christian” behaviors. But, at least according to these two passages, the fruit of abiding in Jesus, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, is mostly related to our character. And, character has everything to do with how relate to others; how we treat others. The bottom-line seems to be, a fruitful Christian has a character something like Jesus’.
As you may recall, the people most condemning of Jesus’ religious behavior (healing on the Sabbath, associating with sinners, touching the sick) were specifically the ones Jesus warned us about. The religious leaders, who constantly opposed and criticized Jesus, “appeared” perfectly religious – they tithed with exacting precision, they prayed loud eloquent prayers in the public squares, they associated with the “right” people, they avoided sins and sinners like a plague, they washed their hands vigorously, and they dressed impeccably. But, Jesus compared them to freshly white-washed tombs – fresh and clean on the outside, but filled with death and stinking decay.
In stark contrast, Jesus was open-handed and open-hearted with EVERYONE. He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes. His followers were commoners. He embraced the sinful and the sick. He honored outcasts – like Samaritans, gentiles, and even a Roman Centurion (the commander of the enemy occupiers!). Jesus was consistently welcoming, kind, and compassionate. He spoke of love, demonstrated love, and embodied love. He even loved and forgave the ones who nailed him to a cross.
Recognize the goodness of a tree, by the good fruit in produces. Recognize a godly person by their character. Is a person’s character more like Jesus’, or like the Pharisee?
My point isn’t to judge – the Bible is pretty clear about that. My point is, perhaps we place so much weight on outward morality and behavior, and far too little on character. Though I strive to live a consistent, faithful, obedient, moral life, I would much rather be known for my kindness, generosity, mercy, and love, than how much I tithe, or how little I cuss, or how many verses of Scripture I’ve memorized. I do tithe. I don’t cuss… very much. And, I do know a fair amount of Scripture by memory. But, do I love? Do I love like Jesus?
What kind of fruit am I producing? What kind of fruit are you producing?