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September 2010

Bearing the Best Fruit

Consider two churches: the church at Antioch and the church at Corinth. From the few references we have, the church at Antioch seemed to be a mature church with excellent teaching and ministry. It was in Antioch that believers were first labeled as "Christians." Saul and Barnabas were teachers and prophets at this church. The ministry at this church was to both Jews and Greeks, which was remarkable. There were teachers and prophets at Antioch and it was this group that, by the Holy Spirit, eventually sent Saul and Barnabas out on their journey.

Later on in his journey Saul (now Paul) started ministering in Corinth. He had a lot of opposition but God spoke to him to continue in Corinth for a while.

Acts 18:9-11
9One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." 11So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

Later, when we read in the letters to the church in Corinth, we find a group of believers who seem to be very carnal. They have division and factions among themselves. Some of them are getting drunk at communion while others are going without. Instead of being eager to use the gifts of the Spirit to build each other up they are just eager to be seen using the gifts of the Spirit. It is, at least on the surface, a very immature church.

There are those who pastor "mature" churches where people operate in unity and harmony. Many people are impressed with these ministries. There are those who pastor "immature" churches where there are problems. People usually aren't that impressed with those congregations.

What is interesting is that there are no letters to the church in Antioch included in the Bible. There are rather long letters to the church in Corinth, which include some of the most quoted scriptures of all time. It was Paul's ministry to this "immature" church that produced writings and teachings needed by so many people throughout the ages, not his ministry in Antioch.

I understand that all of Paul's life was connected and we probably have many of his teachings from Antioch in his letters to the various churches. My point is simply that the best fruit may not be what is apparent at the time. The best fruit comes from just being obedient to the Holy Spirit. When Paul was in Antioch he bore the fruit he needed to there. When he was in Corinth he bore the fruit he needed to there. He didn't avoid a ministry like Corinth because it looked immature. He was obedient to pastor and serve God's people. And God had many people in Antioch and many people in Corinth.

Isaiah 53
Who has believed our message
       and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
       and like a root out of dry ground.
       He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
       nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by men,
       a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
       Like one from whom men hide their faces
       he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he took up our infirmities
       and carried our sorrows,
       yet we considered him stricken by God,
       smitten by him, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
       he was crushed for our iniquities;
       the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
       and by his wounds we are healed.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
       each of us has turned to his own way;
       and the LORD has laid on him
       the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
       yet he did not open his mouth;
       he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
       and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
       so he did not open his mouth.

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
       And who can speak of his descendants?
       For he was cut off from the land of the living;
       for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
       and with the rich in his death,
       though he had done no violence,
       nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
       and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
       he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
       and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

11 After the suffering of his soul,
       he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
       by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
       and he will bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
       and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
       because he poured out his life unto death,
       and was numbered with the transgressors.
       For he bore the sin of many,
       and made intercession for the transgressors.

There was nothing in Jesus that would cause people to desire him. He was despised and rejected. Yet his obedience in this path has given us eternal life. There was not a lot to desire in the church at Corinth yet Paul's ministry there has given us some incredible, life changing scriptures.

It is a good thing to evaluate your walk and service to God occasionally, but be careful about judging the fruit according to what people would desire. Just be obedient and you will bear the best fruit.