(A) Introduction (Read the passage.)

This short passage is not difficult to understand. Its meaning is pretty clear. Jesus describes how to distinguish between a genuine and false professor of Christianity. They can be told apart by their fruits. A genuine Christian is like a tree or bush that bears good fruit while the false Christian is like a tree that bears bad fruit. In the words of Matthew's parallel account: "Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them." Mt7v20. AV. I use the AV because I have quoted the text in this form on many occasions.

(B) Some bad fruit: the marks of the false professor.

Bad fruit has at least one of the following characteristics. It will be:

(1) Disappointing.

There are fruits that promise much: hips, haws and the red berries of the rowan tree. There is much to commend the rose hip. It has a pleasing shape and an attractive shiny red colour. However, only bite into it and you soon discover that it flatters to deceive. The rose hip has a disappointing flavour and texture.

John wrote of the Christians at Sardis: "I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead." Rev3v1.

People like that still attend church. They give a pleasing impression - being smart, respectable and of good reputation - but they are dead at heart. So called Christians who go through the motions and observe the forms have no living faith, no true devotion and no spiritual vitality. They are a great disappointment both to God and the genuine believer.

(2) Indigestible

There are some fruits that you can eat. The acorn and elderberry are edible after a fashion but you wouldn't want to eat them. They are indigestible and a diet of acorns would eventually make you ill. Acorns are good for pigs and elderberries for blackbirds but neither are fit for human consumption.

Dry, indigestible fruits like thistles and acorns are a bit like Christians who give God second best. They share much in common with the Christians at Ephesus of whom the angel said: "You have forsaken your first love. Rev2v4.

So today there are low grade Christians from whom all the vital juices seem to have been squeezed out long ago. They offer God second best. Such people reserve their best efforts for work, leisure activities and family. There is no real commitment to Christian service. Sadly the advice of Jesus is neglected: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Mt6v33.

(3) Hot

Fruits like chillies are too fiery to eat. The hottest chillies would cause considerable distress to anyone foolish enough to eat one raw.

Some professors of Christianity are too hot, too fiery, too extreme - fiercely fanatical like Paul before his conversion. Through the centuries a minority of Christians have pursued heretics like Paul hunted down the disciples of the Lord - breathing out threatenings and slaughter. Acts9v1. AV

Happily the days when Protestants burned Catholics and Catholics burned Protestants are over. However, there are a few professing Christians left whose role in life consists of denouncing the error of fellow believers. Others are over zealous on behalf of a factional interest or even their own interest. Diotrephes was hot, yes very hot in maintaining his pre-eminence as elder in the church Gaius attended. John wrote of him: Diotrephes who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. 3Johnv9.

(4) Hard

A fruit may have a fine, noble appearance but try sinking your teeth into it and, oh, it's so hard! The horse chestnut has splendid fruit. The conker is magnificent - such a lustre, such a warm brown colour - but it would be hard work eating one.

There are some hard Christians! They are orthodox, sincere, moral, Bible believing but so legalistic - all rules and regulations - with no room for compromise. Paul faced a group like this who came to Antioch from James in Jerusalem. They took a hard line with the Gentile converts: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." Acts15v1. There was no budging them. Such was their influence that even Barnabas and Peter stopped having communion with the uncircumcised Gentiles. See exposition on Acts15v1to5.

The leadership of the Wee Free Presbyterians did not cover themselves with glory when they terminated the membership of Lord McKay, the Lord Chancellor, for attending the funeral of a friend in a Roman Catholic Church. I have to say such behaviour beggars belief. It is completely at variance with the example of Jesus - the friend of publicans and sinners. I learned recently of a man who had his membership rescinded for preaching a sermon on 'Election.' I don't expect I would have agreed with the sentiments expressed in the sermon but I disagree even more with banning someone over such a matter. Paul was in conflict with the Christians at Corinth over a whole range of issues but he never advocated excluding those who opposed him.

(5) Sour

Certain fruits are good to look at. The sloe, crab apple and wild plum are superficially very appealing. They lose their appeal as soon as you taste them. I have tried eating a plump, ripe sloe many times and on each occasion it is so sour that it puts my teeth on edge.

No church is without a sour professor or two - discontented, critical, grumbling and complaining Christians. I knew a couple who on first acquaintance seemed keen and committed Christians. They were even appreciative of my sermons! However, whenever they entertained me to lunch they spent the whole time running down first this one and then that one. It left a sour taste in my mouth!

Those that leave the bitterest taste are the hypocrites. Jesus sums them up to devastating effect: "You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean." Mt23v27.

(6) Poisonous

One of the good things about a sloe is that you discover quite quickly it's sour taste and spit it out. But fruits exist that are colourful, juicy, sweet and poisonous. The yew berry looks very appetising but it contains a tiny kernel that is highly poisonous.

Right from the start of the church there have been charming, clever, charismatic and persuasive professors whose influence has been deadly. Paul dealt with those who said, "Everything is permissible," at Corinth. Some of the professors there were distorting Paul's teaching on freedom to justify the use of prostitutes and the practice of attending feasts in the temple of idols. Paul also had to combat a faction that denied bodily resurrection. He wrote: And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 1Cor15v14. The church at Galatia had a different problem. Visiting preachers had convinced the Galatian Christians that circumcision was essential to salvation. Paul wrote: You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Gal3v1.

The deadly influences that Paul sought to remedy persist in the church. Liberal churchmen in the USA pander to feminism and the homosexual lobby - anything goes! A number of Protestant scholars are intent on removing the supernatural content of the gospels - including the resurrection of Christ - notwithstanding Paul's cautionary words. There are a surprisingly large number of Christians for whom it is not enough to believe in Jesus to be a 'proper' Christian. It may not be Jesus and circumcision but it is Jesus and Roman Catholicism or Jesus and Calvinistic doctrine. If Paul was alive today he would say: "You foolish Roman Catholics! You foolish Calvinists! Who has bewitched you?"

(C) Some good fruit: the marks of a genuine professor.

Good fruit and genuine Christians will share at least some of the following characteristics. They will be:

(1) Humble and sweet.

I have a great admiration for the bramble. The bramble is not perfect! I have been scratched on many occasions by its thorns. But it grows on the poorest soils, needs no cultivation and its fruit is available to all. And what fantastic fruit it is - sun-kissed - juicy and sweet. There is not much can beat a blackberry and apple tart!

Some Christians are just like the bramble. They too are humble, able to grow in adverse conditions and thrive without a lot of fuss - professors who are the same to everybody - good humoured, sweet natured and generous.

I think Barnabas - the son of consolation - was a professor like this. My friend Ivy certainly was. She was not rich, nor clever and had no prominent position in our fellowship. Ivy did not have a lot to say in church meetings. When she did speak she often mispronounced words to everyone's amusement including her own. She worked hard doing housework for below the minimum wage! Ivy was genuinely humble; generous with what little she had, kind-hearted and good-natured. Our chapel was full to overflowing at her funeral

(2) Refreshing.

On a hot summer's day it is very refreshing to bite into a juicy pear, a ripe greengage or a succulent Victoria plum. It is one of my small joys to pick greengages from the overhanging branches of my neighbour's tree and to eat them still warm from the sun.

Christians that refresh the spirit are contented, thankful, cheerful and joyful. Happy is the church that has several professors of this sort in it. It is clear from Paul's letters that he was usually like this. It is impossible to read his letter to the Philippians without detecting his exuberance. Well, I am pleased to say that there have been some happy Christians in my own fellowship - none more so than Peter. It is a real tonic to listen to Peter thank God in prayer for all his benefits. Peter is one of those Christians whose company does the heart good.

(3) Health giving

Fruit is undoubtedly good for us! We all know the saying, 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away'. Citrus fruits - oranges, limes and lemons - are a rich source of vitamin C and were used to eradicate scurvy in the British Navy.

Christians who maintain the church in good health are faithful and loving. It is important to be both faithful to God's word and to the brethren. Thank God for those Christians who through loving advice, encouragement and appreciation are able to get the best out of others.

Aquila and Priscilla were faithful. Luke records how they helped Apollos: When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. Acts18v26.

We have all experienced Christians who help us when things are going badly and our confidence is at a low ebb. I know that my brother, when he was struggling and discouraged as the pastor of an inner city church, was greatly helped after Dr Ian Brown and his wife decided to work with him. I love Corrie ten Boom's references to her father in her autobiographical book, 'In My Father's House.' On one occasion, when Corrie's mother was ill and the shop was doing badly, she said to her father, "Father, what must we do? Everything is so terrible." Her father replied, "Don't forget, Corrie - underneath are the everlasting arms. We won't fall." Thirty years later when Corrie was lying beside her sister in a Nazi concentration camp, wanting to say a few words to comfort her, the good counsel of father came back to her. Corrie said, "Betsie - remember what father told us: "God is our dwelling place. Underneath are the everlasting arms." Betsie replied: "Oh, yes, Corrie ...... and they will never leave us."

(4) Nourishing

There are a group of fruits that have a very high food value; figs, dates and bananas are nourishing and sustaining.

We need in the church Christians who edify - who build us up in the Faith. God uses such to sustain us in the way and bring us safely home to glory.

Believers are strengthened through the teaching, testimonies, conversations, prayers and example of their Christian brethren. How the apostle Paul excelled in this role. His inspired letters have nourished generation after generation of Christians. We can see Paul's desire for the churches in his wonderful prayers: And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God. Phil1v9to11.

I owe quite a lot to my two friends Pastors John Skull and Joseph Hewitt. Their company has always been edifying and their conversation seasoned with salt.

(5) Convivial

All fruits, but some in particular, can be used to make a convivial drink. We associate apples with cider, grapes with wine and elderberries with home made vintages! I rarely go and visit my friend Peter Webb without sampling his home made elderberry wine!

Some Christians are especially good at providing hospitality. I think it involves more than cooking a meal to be really hospitable. It also helps to be warm, welcoming and sociable. Someone who is going to make a really good job of entertaining must enjoy doing it.

The church needs members who have a gift for friendship and fellowship. A zest for life and high spirits are infectious and intoxicating.

When Paul reached Puteoli on his way to Rome Luke tells us: There we found some brothers who invited us to spend a week with them. Acts23v14. This puts to shame those Christians who are unwilling to entertain a visiting preacher to lunch. It is no small thing to entertain someone for a week! But just imagine how encouraged Paul must have been by this manifestation of brotherly love.

Whenever I preach to the small fellowship at Barton Mills Arthur and Gill invite me in for a meal. They are among the most hospitable Christians I know. I appreciate their company and kindness and I pray earnestly that their efforts for the Lord might result in others joining their church.

(6) Perfect

Some fruit looks wonderful and it is as good as it looks. A ripe peach has a glorious colour and a lovely bloom - and what flavour! A red cherry is a rich, glowing, shiny crimson. How delightful to bite into a red cherry - the slight but juicy crunch and the burst of flavour.

There is nothing hypocritical about a red cherry. It doesn't flatter to deceive. It lives up to its promise.

Jesus said to his disciples: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Mt5v48. It is impossible for us to be without sin but we should aim to be perfect in the same way that a red cherry is. We should be men and women of integrity. We need to be true, sound, honest, consistent Christians who live up to their profession. Followers of Jesus should be without hypocrisy - 'What you see is what you get!'

My grandfather Reed was a man of integrity. He loved the Lord and enjoyed talking to my father about spiritual things. My grandfather practiced what he preached. He was a humble, considerate and generous man. He used to give such good measure on his greengrocer's stall in Ipswich that his wife gave him the sack! He supported many obscure little charities. He would write to me on my birthday and along with a postal order give me a gentle reminder to trust in the Lord for everything. My grandfather was known by the fruit he bore. I wish I were more like him!