Matthew 7:16-18 – CHRISTMAS TREE OR FRUIT TREE?
Strange to chop down a tree, decorate it with fake fruit and place it in the living room as if it is growing. Smells real, but cut off at the roots and propped up. Replace the apples with brightly coloured baubles, fancy lights, garlands, ornaments, tinsel, ribbons and candy cane. Place a toy angel or star on top of the tree for religious significance and presents around the base. Then after a while, throw it out or burn it. Christmas trees are seasonally profuse and then of no use.
John Stott says “The Christian should resemble a fruit tree, not a Christmas tree.”
When Jesus speaks of false prophets in Matthew 7:16-19 I thought of John Stotts analogy with Christmas trees. They look attractive, exciting, different. They set the stage to get us emotionally involved but they don’t really have anything lasting to offer, nothing that will sustain. Matthew 7:16-23 (NLT) says “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions….”
WHAT IS BAD FRUIT? Rotten? Poisonous? Imitation? Baubles and bells – attractive alternatives? All the above. It looks good but has no life. Teaching which has dangerous consequences for my life and no correlation with what God is saying. In the context of Matthew so far, bad fruit is related to the negativity and judging attitudes of the Pharisees, their hypocrisy and reputation-driven public displays and wrongly motived “good” works, their legalistic unbending traditions (Matthew 3:10), their self-righteousness, and their unforgiving, rigid, harsh and pettyminded outlook on life, expressed in words and actions.
Sometimes it is what we say and begin to believe about ourselves which isn’t true. I can become my own false teacher. My own negative attitudes distort who I am in Christ and can be a powerful influence in my life. An over inflated view of myself is just as bad. Romans 12:3 (NLT) says “… Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.” It’s always worth asking “What characterises my life? How does God see me? Am I living a fruitful life? What kind of influence do I have on others? What positive difference am I making in the world? Do I belong to a fruitful Church?”
WHAT IS GOOD FRUIT? Tasty, nutritious, useful, performs what it was designed to do, carries seeds of the same kind as the tree. Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT) speaks of fruit which is actively outworked in our actions and motivated by the Holy Spirit. “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”
Of course I know that a Christmas tree is just a traditional decoration. So at certain times in the year I tolerate counterfeit reality. What is disturbing is that there are times when I am also tempted to accept what amounts to false teaching of false prophets because at first it is so appealing, so glamorous and promises a candy cane, sugary kind of love, joy and peace which has no substance. It gives me an emotional high and helps me justify my sins with cheap grace. But long-term I discover no sustenance from the fruit these trees bear and I am left craving for the next quick fix.
I soon find that there are no Christmas tree substitutes for the Cross and repentance (Luke 3:8). No fancy lights to substitute for the light of the world. Jesus simply says “I am the light of the world. If you follow Me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12 NLT). No brightly wrapped presents to substitute for the gift of eternal life and forgiveness of sins. Romans 6:23 (NLT) says “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” No candy cane junk food quick fix substitutes for developing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). The invitation that Christ gives is simply to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). Christmas Tree or Fruit Tree?
PS You may not have seen the face hidden on the edge of the Christmas tree? Side on. Looking down. Not all is as it seems. Sometimes what is concealed is an important part of the picture.