读经：诗105:12-22 林后6:3-7:1 赛3:1-5:7
How to Live a Fruitful Life
Alfred Nobel (1833–1896) is best known for the Nobel Peace Prize. Less well known is the fact that Alfred Nobel also invented dynamite. As well as a chemist, engineer and innovator, he was a weapons’ manufacturer.
In 1888, Alfred’s brother Ludvig died. A French newspaper erroneously published Alfred’sobituary. It condemned him for his invention of dynamite, stating: ‘The merchant of death is dead… Dr Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.’
Alfred Nobel was devastated by the foretaste of how he would be remembered. His last will and testament set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel prizes. He gave the equivalent of US $250 million to fund such prizes. Alfred Nobel had the rare opportunity to evaluate his life near its end and live long enough to change that assessment.
Have you ever wondered what difference your life might make? How can your life bring blessing to other people? How can you change the world for the better? How can your life be of ultimate lasting value? How can we lead fruitful lives?
1. Fruitfulness comes from faithfulness to God
Psalm 105:12-22If your life is to be fruitful you have to stay faithful to God in the difficult times. It is relatively easy to be faithful to God when all is going well in life. The test comes when you face fierce temptation and great trials.
As the psalmist gives thanks to God for his faithfulness to his people, he recalls the life of Joseph.
Joseph’s life was immensely fruitful (see Genesis 37–50). Pharaoh ‘made him master of his household, ruler over all he possessed, to instruct his princes as he pleased and teach his elders wisdom’ (Psalm 105:21–22). We will read tomorrow that, as a result, ‘The Lord made his peoplevery fruitful’ (v.24a).
But, Joseph’s fruitfulness came at a price. In the early days it did not seem like his life would be at all fruitful. He was ‘sold as a slave’ (v.17). ‘His feet they hurt with fetters; he was laid in chains of iron and his soul entered into the iron’ (v.18, AMP). Joseph went through betrayal, slavery, temptation, imprisonment and a great deal of suffering.
Yet in all this he remained faithful. The reason for Joseph’s faithfulness was that he trusted that God was in control, even in the bad times (Genesis 45:5–8; 50:20).
Not only did Joseph remain faithful to God despite his seeming abandonment, but he also remained faithful to his family in forgiving them, rather than blaming and rejecting them. Ultimately, his faithfulness led to great fruitfulness.
Lord, forgive me for the times when I have been unfaithful to you. Help me to be faithful to you even in the difficult times of temptation, disappointment and discouragement. Thank you for your amazing faithfulness to me. May my life be fruitful like that of Joseph.
2. Fruitfulness comes from the Holy Spirit
2 Corinthians 6:3-7:1Your life should be immensely fruitful, because the Holy Spirit lives within you. You are ‘a temple in whom God lives’ (6:16, MSG). Just as in the Old Testament God dwelt in the Holy of Holies, so now he dwells in you and me by his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit produces beautiful fruit in your life (Galatians 5:22–23).
Paul’s life was arguably one of the most fruitful in the history of the world. He describes himself as a servant of God (2 Corinthians 6:4). In his lifetime he made many rich (v.10). The ‘riches’ for Paul were the spiritual riches of being in Christ. His life continues to make many rich. The fruit of Paul’s life has lasted 2,000 years and will endure into eternity.
Like Joseph, Paul’s fruitfulness came at a price. He lists some of the things he endured: ‘hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating… slandered… distrusted; ignored by the world… beaten within an inch of our lives… immersed in tears… living on handouts… having nothing’ (vv.4–10, MSG). As I look at Paul’s life, I feel so challenged. It puts all my problems into perspective.
In all this suffering, Paul remained faithful ‘in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God’ (vv.6–7a). He remained ‘genuine’ and ‘always rejoicing’ (vv.8,10). He says, ‘We are penniless… in reality we have everything worth having’ (6:10b, J. B. Phillips).
Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘We have spoken freely to you… and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you’ (vv.11–12a). He is open and vulnerable with the Corinthians and pleads with them to open their hearts to him in the same way. He says, ‘Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!’ (v.13, MSG).
Paul had explored his own inner territory. He had taken a journey into the places in his heart and soul where buried treasures lie. He had carefully examined them and brought them out for display.
To act with integrity we must first know who we are. We must know what we stand for, what we believe in, and what we care most about.
Bear Grylls writes, ‘People tend to think that they have to be funny, witty or incisive on stage. You don’t. You just have to be honest. If you can be intimate and give the inside story – emotions, doubts, struggles, fears, the lot – then people will respond.’
The Holy Spirit is the one who sets us free to be ourselves. He is the one who produces fruitfulness in our lives.
Paul does not want anything to spoil this fruitfulness in the lives of the Corinthians. He pleaded with them, ‘Don’t become partners with those who reject God’ (v.14, MSG). (He made it clear earlier that he was not suggesting that they remove themselves from the world, (1 Corinthians 5:9–10). Rather, he is warning of the danger of long-term partnerships with those who reject God.)
Many people have ignored these warnings, for example in terms of marriage partners, and have ended up within months or years no longer going to church and then eventually losing their faith. It is heart-breaking to watch.
‘So,’ Paul writes, ‘leave the corruption and compromise; leave it for good’ (2 Corinthians 6:16, MSG). He goes on, ‘Let’s make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without. Let’s make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of God’ (7:1, MSG).
Lord, thank you for the example of Paul’s life. Help me to see all the challenges I face in perspective. Fill me with your Holy Spirit and the power of God. Enable me to be pure, patient, kind and truthful and to love sincerely with a wide-open heart.
3. Fruitfulness comes from closeness to Jesus
Isaiah 3:1-5:7God loves you. He wants you to stay close to him. He wants you to be a branch in his vine – producing fruit.
When we are unfaithful to him, it is like being cut off from the vine. We become unfruitful. Isaiah writes, ‘The one I love had a vineyard, a fine, well-placed vineyard… He looked for a vintage yield of grapes, but for all his pains he got junk grapes… He looked for a crop of justice and saw them murdering each other. He looked for a harvest of righteousness and heard only the moans of victims’ (5:1–7, MSG).
Much of the first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah are about God’s judgment: ‘God enters the courtroom. He takes his place at the bench to judge his people. God calls for order in the court, hauls the leaders of his people into the dock’ (3:13, MSG).
God’s people have been unfaithful to him: ‘You’ve played havoc with this country. Your houses are stuffed with what you’ve stolen from the poor. What is this anyway? Stomping on my people, grinding the faces of the poor into the dirt?’ (vv.14–15, MSG).
They have enjoyed great material riches, which have led to pride, immorality and greed (vv.16–23).
Isaiah sees a coming judgment, and on that day ‘the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious’ (4:2).
This was only partially fulfilled at that time. Like many other prophecies, it points forward to what we can now see was achieved through Jesus, who was the true ‘Branch of the Lord’ (v.2). Jesus is the Branch from the vine of God. We are the branches from the vine of Jesus (see John 15:1–8).
Jesus is the true branch and the true vine. He is the one who was totally faithful and fruitful beyond any human being (even Joseph or Paul!). He now invites you to be part of his vine, to stay close to him and to bear much fruit – fruit that will last (John 15:8,16).
Lord, I want to lead a fruitful life. Thank you that you have made that possible. Keep me close to you, faithful and filled with the Holy Spirit, bearing fruit that will last.
2 Corinthians 7:1
‘Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit.’
I need a detox before the start of the term. (Not just cutting down on chocolates… but possibly cutting them out completely!)