The Sweet Fruit of Righteousness

God has always been looking for the fruit of righteousness in His people. It delighted His heart to see them bring forth such fruit, because it was a reflection of His holy character in them. Likewise, in this day of grace He expects more godliness and Christ-likeness in us, for that is what this fruit speaks of; and it still delights His heart to see it in our lives. Four times in the scriptures we read of the fruit of righteousness. Once in the Old Testament and three times in the New. (In Philippians chapter 1 verse 11 the proper reading is ‘fruit’, in the singular). In this article we will consider these four references.

1) Amos 6. 12

In those sad days of Amos the people of Israel, that is those in the northern kingdom, sought after other gods. They had set up their idolatrous religion in Bethel and Dan. Over and above that they practised social injustice whereby the rich were crushing the poor, 4. 1; 8. 4-6. There was also an abhorent moral decay in their lives manifested in consumerism and material indulgences, 6. 3-6.

Amos, a simple man from among the herdsmen of Tekoa in Judah, was sent by God to them with a serious message. It contained an invitation to repent and turn back to the Lord and seek Him, 5. 5-6. The message also contained a clear warning of a coming judgement, v. 6. Furthermore, the Lord accused them, in light of their moral and spiritual breakdown, of turning sweet justice into wormwood and leaving off righteousness in the earth, v. 7. He summed up their poor status by saying, ‘Ye have turned judgment into gall and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock’, 6, 12. While Jehovah expected the sweet fruit of righteousness and justice to be brought forth by the people who were called by His name, He found only the bitterness of idolatry, moral decay and social injustice. How it must have grieved His heart of love, kindness and compassion, not to see any of these lovely characteristics reflected in His people!

In the days of our Lord’s sojourn on earth He addressed the leaders of the people much in the same terms, ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone’, Matt. 23. 23. How about us in this day of grace? How do we feel about the weak and the poor in the flock? Do our hearts go out to them in their spiritual and their material need? Or are we indifferent to their plight? Shouldn’t we recognize our duty to the weak and damaged lambs of Christ? Paul writing to the Thessalonians says, ‘Now we exhort you, brethren … encourage the fainthearted (margin), support the weak, be patient toward all men’, 1 Thess. 5. 14. May the Lord give us caring, tender hearts so that we would be considerate of the afflictions of our brothers and sisters, Jas. 2. 15-16, and do our best to alleviate their sufferings.

2) Philippians 1. 9-11

This is one of Paul’s prison prayers. Here, he supplicates the Lord on behalf of the Philippian believers. He prays that their love may abound yet more and more. In the original, the word used for ‘love’ is the agape love; it describes a love that originates in the heart of God. It is a sacrificial, selfless love that cares deeply for its loved ones. It is so unlike the world’s concept of love which seeks only its own. It is a love that is shed abroad in believers’ hearts by the Holy Spirit, Rom. 5. 5. Here, it is likened unto a mighty river that can overflow its boundaries. Yet this love needs to be guarded by a wholesome measure of knowledge, v. 9, the source of which is necessarily the word of God. This should not be just mere head knowledge, which puffs up, but an experiential acquaintance with the word, whereby the believer has already lived it out in his day-today walk. Such knowledge will equip the child of God with tender moral tact in dealing with others, here referred to as ‘all judgment’. Thus, the original exuberance of enthusiastic love, so characteristic of new believers in Christ would be tempered and mellowed by the sensitive and more mature judgement of older believers.

And if such a balanced state of love combined with knowledge prevails among us, we will have our moral and spiritual perception sharpened so that we can discern things that differ. For this is what is meant here by the words of the apostle, ‘That ye may approve things that are excellent’, v. 10. In Hebrews chapter 5 verse 14 we read, ‘But strong meat (solid food) belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil’. This ability to discern things that differ should not give us a sense of personal superiority, but should teach us humility and cause us to be sincere, transparent and without guile or hypocrisy, v. 10. This in turn will guard against us becoming stumbling blocks for others.

What sweet fruit of righteousness will then fill our lives and delight our heavenly Father! This in essence is the work of the Holy Spirit reproducing Christ in us. And, indeed, we ought to realize that we cannot, in our own power, achieve such a goal. This is only possible ‘by Jesus Christ’, v. 11, as He lives His life in us, Gal. 2. 20. Furthermore, that fruit is not meant to draw attention to ourselves. It should be entirely unto the praise and glory of God, v. 11.

3) James 3. 13-18

This passage deals with a regrettable but not infrequent occurrence in the local assembly, namely the presence of rivalry between believers. And, if indeed such a situation existed, how should the wise brother who is endowed with knowledge behave? He is not expected to flaunt his knowledge in order to gain a superior standing, nor is he to partake of the activity of envying and strife. But he is to show in a practical manner a life lived in meekness and wisdom, full of good works to the glory of God. It is so easy to be caught up in ‘party spirit’ which divides and scatters the people of God. But a spiritual believer should recognize such a tendency and refrain from it. Scripture here warns against glorying in such activity, for this glorying would be tantamount to lying against the truth.

James goes on to describe the source and character of the (so called) wisdom that promotes striving and envying as a lifestyle. As to its source, it could not have descended from above, that is to say from God Himself, v. 15. It is patterned after the course of this world which glories in self-exaltation and adversarial behaviour; it is therefore earthly in character, v. 15. It is sensual pandering to human sinful instincts of pride and self-satisfaction, for it results in drawing disciples unto oneself. This will end up dividing God’s people into factions and cliques. Its real source is the devil, v. 15, for, like him, it is wilful and acts in rebellion against God. Where this philosophy prevails there is confusion and every evil work, v. 16. Needless to say such behaviour should not even be named among the people of God.

By contrast, the wisdom which is from above, i.e., divine in origin, is pure, for it finds its source in God who is light and in whom is no darkness at all, 1 John 1. 5. It is conducive to peace and does not promote strife, and because it starts with the God of all peace it is therefore peaceable. Characterized by gentleness, it never resorts to harshness or rudeness, cf. Phil. 4. 5. It does not promote stubbornness, prejudice or strong-mindedness. If a believer is so inclined he will be easy to be entreated; he will not be one who takes a stand and refuses to budge from it, always willing to change his mind if so convinced of the truth, v. 17. God, who delights in mercy, is honoured by such wisdom because it is full of mercy and manifests itself in good fruits, v. 17. There is no taking of sides or respect of persons in this wisdom, for it is without partiality; what an antidote for ‘party spirit’! v. 17. It is simple, transparent and without hypocrisy, without double talk and without double-facedness, v. 17.

Adopting this heavenly wisdom in assembly life demands self-control and hard work in total dependence on the Lord on the part of those who are in leadership. As peacemakers they have to sow in peace and not in strife, v. 18. They have to show to the rest of the flock how this course is more pleasing and glorifying to God. This in itself does not exclude anyone else in fellowship from the same responsibility of shunning strife and envy and of endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, Eph. 4. 3. It is incumbent on every child of God to follow the same course, and certainly the blessed results will be the sweet fruit of righteousness that brings glory to God, v. 18.

4) Hebrews 12. 9-11

The subject of this reference has to do with chastening we receive from our heavenly Father. He is said to chasten whom He loves and scourge every son He receives, Heb. 12. 6. It is His prerogative to discipline and chasten, yet we should consider it our privilege to be subjects of such dealings from Him. This chapter in Hebrews describes three possible reactions of the children of God to their Father’s chastening. We are warned in verse 5 not to despise it. To despise it means to make light of it or to try to ignore its significance. If we were to do so we would miss out on understanding the gravity of the situation that brought it about. Then we are told in the same verse that we should not faint under pressure of His rebuke. Fainting will cause us to fall into the sin of self-pity. We will be asking the familiar question, ‘Why me?’, just like Elijah who fled for his life and then desired to die. This reaction will cause us to be more occupied with self than with the lesson we ought to have learned. The third and preferred reaction is to be exercised by chastening, asking the Lord Himself to give us an understanding of why we are facing His loving scourge at the moment, and pleading that He will kindly teach us the lesson why He has sent this into our lives. He is interested in making us grow to be more like Christ. Therefore He would like to see us as partakers of a greater measure of His holiness through His loving correction, v. 10.

However, not every difficulty or trial we pass through is a chastening from God, for we are sometimes the authors of our own troubles. We need to be always watching how we conduct our lives and walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, Eph. 5. 15. Scripture argues that our earthly fathers, to whom we gave reverence, have corrected us for the few days of our childhood, and that it was according to their own wisdom and knowledge. Should we not then rather subject ourselves to the all-knowing and only wise God our heavenly Father and live? And though it is often grievous and not joyous to be in the midst of the trial of chastening, yet by trusting in the wisdom of our Father, it ultimately yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness. However, note that the condition for blessing is only when the child of God has been exercised by it.

In summary: caring for needy saints, love guarded by knowledge, sowing in peace in the assembly and being gratefully exercised by chastening are the means of producing the sweet fruit of righteousness in our lives.


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