by Jon Bloom
(Editor’s note: This is the 6th in a 9-part series on The Fruit of the Spirit & Evangelism, based on Galatians 5:22-23.)
When you think about being a fruitful evangelist, what comes to mind? When Jesus tells you, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8), what do you picture as fruit?
Do you see lots of people coming to faith in Christ through your witness? Or do you see the faithfulness of sharing the gospel whether or not anyone responds?
It’s an important question.
When Jesus spoke those words above, he was hours from death. Most of the crowds that had flocked around him before were gone. All he had left were eleven faithful apostles with him, and a handful of others making themselves scarce. After three years of preaching as a “faithful witness” to the gospel (Rev. 1:5), Jesus didn’t seem to have much left to show for it. It didn’t look like his faithfulness had been very fruitful.
Years ago, I heard someone quote Billy Graham as saying something along the lines of, “God rewards faithfulness, not fruitfulness.” Rev. Graham was addressing the BGEA staff.
What he meant was that God is not impressed, like humans are, with the external appearance of our influence—the things we often think of as ministry “fruit” or “harvest.” With all seriousness, he told the staff that when the Lord rewards his servants on the Great Day, some of them sitting in that room would receive larger rewards than he will.
Is it true that God rewards faithfulness, not fruitfulness?
In the sense that Rev. Graham meant—the appearance of fruitfulness—the answer is clearly yes. We are easily deceived by appearances. We can attribute a lot more kingdom fruit to others or ourselves than is actually real. This was Jesus’ point when he said, “I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor” (John 4:38). If we get to participate in a season of harvest, we might be mainly reaping the fruit of others’ labor.
But in reality, pitting faithfulness against fruitfulness is a false dichotomy. The Bible teaches us that faithfulness is a form of fruitfulness: a “fruit of the Spirit is…faithfulness” (Gal. 5:22). Faith is a gift of the Spirit (Eph. 2:8) and faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit. “God is faithful” (1 Cor. 1:9) and as his adopted children, he is causing us, by his Spirit, to be conformed into his image (Rom. 8:29).
Faithfulness is acting in accordance with the trust that another has placed in us. It is fulfilling a responsibility we have been given. As Christians, we are stewards who God has “entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thess.2:4) and “it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2).
The fruit that God is looking for and will reward is the fruit of the character of Christ (Gal. 5:22-23). And one very important fruit he will look for is faithfulness. Did we stay at our post? Did we share the gospel as best we could with those he sent to us? Did we trust him and his promise that if we abide in him we will bear much fruit (John 15:5), and not the mere appearance of things?
Whether the harvest of souls in our experience appears large or small in our eyes or the eyes of others is mainly out of our control. Like Jesus, it may be that much of our fruitfulness in soul winning will come after we are gone. For when it comes to the conversion of souls, some are called to plant, others to water, but it is always God who gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:6). And if we get the joy of reaping, then it may say much less about us than we might think.
So seek to bear the fruit of faithfulness in your gospel stewardship today. It is a fruit of the Spirit and that is the fruit the Lord will reward. And leave the fruit of soul winning itself to the God, who decides what is planting, what is watering, and what is reaping.
Jon Bloom (@bloom_jon) serves as president of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched in 1994. He is also author of Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith.