Suffering and Fruit
As we bring the bearing fruit series to a close, I just want to explore one more area together. Suffering.
(For anyone who is suffering right now, I really hope this article doesn’t come across as cold and callous to you. A better balm than this article might be to turn to the Psalms and use them to pour your heart out to God in lament. Then find a trusted brother or sister in Christ and cry out to God together.)
The Relationship Between Suffering and Fruit
There is an undeniable link between our suffering and our fruit bearing.
The chastening hand of God, enables us, somehow, to become “partakers of his holiness”, and will afterwards bring about a harvest of the “peaceable fruit of righteousness”. We are already positionally holy and righteous in Christ, but here it speaks of us growing in our practical holiness and righteousness.
Jesus says that those branches that are fruitful may be “pruned” so that they might bear more fruit.
Our trials, the testing of our faith, produces patience (steadfastness/endurance/perseverance - not waiting for the bus patience, but running a marathon patience) which will lead to us becoming more mature.
Does Suffering Produce Fruit?
Somehow suffering and fruit bearing connect. But please, please, please understand this; suffering does not automatically or inevitably produce fruit in us. The old adage “trials can make you bitter or make you better” comes to mind. The same sun that melts the ice, hardens the clay. Suffering can turn us into saints or it can turn us into dragons.
Back to James 1
There are certain commands attached to this idea of suffering and being fruitful; count it joy, let patience have its work, ask God for wisdom. The implication is, if we don’t do these things, then we won’t mature.
Back to John 15
Jesus did say that pruning could lead to more fruit. But he also said that not abiding in him would lead to no fruit.
Back to Hebrews 12
Again there are commands attached to receiving this chastening in such a way that it will lead to fruit; endure, submit, don’t despise it.
Suffering does not produce fruit. It is Christ, the True Vine, working in us by the Spirit that produces fruit in our lives. In order for our suffering to lead to anything good in us, we must yield, submit to and trust God in our suffering.
Rejoice in Suffering?
Hebrews 12 is right; chastening is not pleasant, but painful. We don’t rejoice because of our trials, we rejoice in our trials. The same Spirit who wrote “count it all joy” in James 1 also wrote the Psalms. We lament in our suffering, we cry out to God broken hearted, we weep before him, we plead for him to hear us and act. But we can also rejoice, knowing that, somehow, God is going to work it for good.
Suffering is a result of the fall. Pain, sickness, death. Broken relationships and others sinning against you. None of these things are the “very good” of creation.
However God, in his loving wisdom, can use the very consequences of sin to reverse sin. He used death to destroy death. He used the wrath of men to bring him glory through the cross and resurrection. God is up to something in our suffering - and that’s why we can rejoice.
Suffering is our good and loving God, withholding his good and loving gifts, in his good and loving wisdom for his good and loving purposes.
But How Does Suffering Lead to Fruit?
Our suffering is one of the means Christ lovingly uses to expose us to ourselves. We are sinful and we are weak; and we tend to be very ignorant of the depths of both.
In 2 Corinthians 12 Pauls tells us that he had some kind of thorn in the flesh. He acknowledges it as a messenger of Satan and describes it as a torment. But instead of God lovingly removing it, he calls Paul to joyfully endure it. This torment left him weak and broken. But he learned to see it, not just as a messenger of Satan, but as a tool of God. He learned to boast in it (v9) and take pleasure in it (v10) because in this area of suffering he realised two things: it stopped him from becoming conceited (v7) and it allowed him to experience the strength of God (v9-10). He didn’t boast or take pleasure in the thorn but in the opportunity it gave him to see God graciously work his strength into Paul.
Suffering can chisel away our pride, our independence, our boasting. Suffering can humbles us. Suffering can remove the myth of permanence of earths treasures. Suffering can leave us feeling helpless and desperate. Suffering can expose the lie that we might find ultimate refuge, joy, and satisfaction in created things.
Theologians call all of this God’s severe mercy. He shows us all these things, not to shame us, but to humble us and give us a deeper sense of our need for His grace in our lives. He shows us that the things we run to for life are broken cisterns, dry wells, salt water and mirages, so that we begin to learn by experience that he truly is the only source of Living Water.
As we turn away from all of these empty things and turn to him then our intimacy with Christ will grow, and as a result, our fruitfulness will grow. As we run to him with our discovered weaknesses and sins, we discover and experience more of his grace, mercy, gentleness, patience, love and we grow to love him more and desire him more, and as a result, our fruitfulness will grow.
Suffering and Root Work
Spurgeon said “I’ve learned to kiss the waves that throw me up on the Rock of Ages”. It’s there, solid on the Rock of Ages, that we are able to bear the fruit that Christ wants to produce in us.
Suffering, then, helps us with the Root Work; we take our suffering to Jesus through scripture, prayer, fellowship and gathering and root ourselves to him by faith and hope.
In suffering we really only have two options:
Option 1 - we can flee to creature refuges.
We can run to people, to entertainment, to lusts, to work and a myriad of other idols to find peace, comfort, satisfaction, distraction. And find ourselves growing bitter, hardened, despairing, hopeless, empty.
Option 2 - we can flee to Christ our true refuge.
We can learn to hide ourselves away in him by rooting ourselves to him by faith and hope. And as we do we will find ourselves becoming more like him.
Bearing Fruit Series:
Up the Apples and Pears (Christian Fruit, article 1)
Pulling a Martha 1 (Busy but Fruitless, article 2)
Pulling a Martha 2 (Responding to Christ's Love, article 3)
Not Needed, Loved (A True Perspective of Service, article 4)
Wild Grapes and Empty Fig Trees (What our Flesh Produces, article 5)
Plastic Fruit and Bushy Branches (Legalism, Hypocrisy, Pride and Judgement, article 6)
The New and True Vine (Jesus, the only God-pleasing, fruitful human, article 7)
My Hope is Built on Nothingness (How to Abide 1, article 8)
Don't Stop Believing (How to Abide 2, article 9)
Amazing Grace (The Beginning, Middle and End of the Christian Life, article 10)
Thine be the Glory (Why God Does what He Does, article 11)
How to Root (Some Practical Suggestions for Root Work, article 12)
Suffering and Fruit (The Connection Between Suffering and Fruit Bearing, article 13)
Alan Campbell is from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He came to Christ as a young adult. He co-pastors at Blurton Baptist, Stoke-on-Trent. Alan loves speaking at universities and equipping churches and campus ministries to share the gospel in a post-modern context. He is passionate about helping the believer to root their identity more and more into the person and work of Jesus Christ. Alan is happily married to Victoria.