Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20)
When taken in light of the previous few chapters, this passage is convicting for me as a leader because I don’t think our human nature has the same definition of “good fruit” that Jesus does. In today’s society, I think we evaluate leaders, including ministry leaders, based on things like eloquence of speech, the leadership model they use, how charming and personable they are, and how much their organization or ministry grows and/or earns. I know I can even fall into the trap of evaluating myself by those those things. And while it’s obviously not wrong to look at secular techniques and practices to improve what we do as churches or individuals, it’s important to remember that our success is not based on the same criteria that Apple or Google or McDonald’s are judged by.
When we evaluate leaders, we judge them by their fruit, and in this context, “good fruit” is what Jesus has been talking about for the past 2 1/2 chapters: internal righteousness based on a relationship with God. False prophets are those who, like the Pharisees, preach a need for outward righteousness based on one’s works, or when taken in light of yesterday’s passage, those who lead you down the easy path to the wide gate. They are concerned with what you do, how much you give, and how they can use you, your money, and your gifts. As a result, their organizations bear the same fruit and are characterized by selfishness, concern for the outward appearance, and works-based righteousness.
The one bearing good fruit, the one that is focused on the internal and eternal, is characterized by “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). He is concerned not only with his own internal regeneration, but that of his followers as well.
All of us have been put in some avenue of leadership, whether it be over a ministry, a family, a business, or just being in a position of influence among our friends. In each of those areas, I need to ask myself what fruit I’m bearing. Am known for my intelligence or my love? For my athleticism or my joy? For my style or my self-control? For my charisma or my faithfulness? I also need to ask myself what my goals as a leader are. Are they based entirely on numbers and credit and career advancement or on planting seeds in the lives of others and nurture them so they can also bear good fruit.
Heavenly Father, as I serve in the positions of influence where you have placed me, keep my focus on the gospel and allowing it to change me and the people I lead and serve. Help me to define “good fruit” as Scripture does, not as the world does. Let my life be characterized by the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of self-righteousness.