Sunday Morning Greek Blog

February 12, 2012

Fruit (καρπός)

Filed under: 1 Corinthians,Biblical Studies,Matthew Gospel of,New Testament — Scott Stocking @ 6:38 pm

From the “Word of the Week” Files

Fruit is a common metaphor (word picture) in the NT. Occasionally biblical authors use the word in its literal sense, but more often than not it has spiritual significance. One of John the Baptizer’s warnings to the religious leaders was, “Produce fruit (καρπός) worthy of repentance” (Matt 3:8, my translation). Jesus uses this concept in the sermon on the mount (Matt 7:15–20) to refer to the deeds of the false prophets. In Gal 5:22–23, Paul describes the “fruit of the Spirit,” which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Note here that “fruit” is singular in the Greek.)

In many occurrences of the word, there is a direct or implied contrast with the old way of life. In other words, fruit has to do with how you allow Christ to live in you. In the three passages cited above, fruit describes the result of a life changed by Christ. Fruit is about integrity more than anything else. Do people see Christ when they look at you? Do they understand that your life is a reflection of the workmanship of God, or are you working in your own strength to appease God?

The Scriptures say “God made it grow” (1 Cor 3:6). You can’t take credit for spiritual fruit; if you could, it wouldn’t be spiritual. This is not to deny the value of self-control and discipline, however. The point I am making is that it is one thing for an alcoholic to say he has not touched a bottle for five years, but quite another thing to say that Christ-in-you has crucified that old desire and replaced it with a new desire for a relationship with him. Good deeds reflect a life transformed by Christ. They should not be an attempt to prove you are better than another. That’s Pharisaic legalism. Nor should they be some sort of status symbol. Each one of us has unique gifts: some are used visibly and some are used behind the scenes. All gifts in the body of Christ work toward the greater good. When we are faithful to our individual callings, God is able to work them all together to cause growth.

This brings me to my final point. Fruit is something very personal. It has to do primarily with the results of your own relationship with God. This shatters one common myth about “fruit” in the NT, that it refers to evangelistic conquests (i.e., leading someone to Christ). Matthew 3:8 and other passages never imply that a successul Christian life means you’ve got converts notched in your belt. God is the only one who can take credit for converts, because he does all the work. We are only agents of his grace. To judge yourself or someone else based on the number of converts you or the other have been “responsible” for is to put yourself in the place of God.

For those who may have trouble with this last concept, I offer this quote from the opening paragraph of the “Fruit” article in the Expositor’s Dictionary of Bible Words, published by Zondervan Press: “For Christians who are convinced that ‘being fruitful’ means winning others to Christ, the description of fruit in Scripture may come as a surprise.” Fruit is not about winning others to Christ, but about totally and completely surrendering yourself to Christ and his grace so that he can prune you and cause phenomenal growth.


Scott Stocking

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