When Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, he was not always talking about heaven or the afterlife. The Kingdom of God is something we should strive for now. He told the people of his day that the Kingdom of God has come to you, has come near to you, has come upon you, is among you and can be taken away from you. It is like a mustard seed, like yeast, He seemed to be talking about something that starts here and now, when we make God king.
Regardless of how we see the Kingdom of God, I think we can agree that it is something we should strive for. God decides who it belongs to, and Jesus told us that God can and will take it away. In Matthew (21:42-44):
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
So there it is. Whatever the Kingdom is, it will be taken away from those who do not produce its fruits, and given to those who do. The early church certainly saw this as the Kingdom being taken away from the Judaism and given to Christianity, but does the Christian church always produce fruits of the Kingdom? If not, it will be taken away. We need to understand what the fruits of the Kingdom are.
Jesus never answers the question directly, but he does talk a lot about fruit, which is clearly a metaphor for good works generated by our faith in Christ. Earlier in Matthew (7:16-20), Jesus says of false prophets, “You will know them by their fruits. … A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire.” That might not tell us what the fruits are, but Jesus does go on to tell us what they are not.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me you evildoers.’” (Matt. 7:21-23)
Fruits are not deeds of power. Preaching or prophesy in the name of Jesus is not a fruit per se. Even casting out demons is not fruit. None of this is fruit unless it is the will of God.
I think we fall into that trap. I’m told that I’m a pretty good preacher, but I know that God can make anyone a good preacher. The fruit that Jesus is looking for is not preaching skill, or Bible knowledge, or church success. I do think that these things are in the Kingdom of God on this earth, but they are not its fruits.
The book of John quotes Jesus on fruit. In John 15 Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.” Stop right there – we can be a branch in Jesus, and yet bear no fruit, and be removed. “Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” (John 15:1-2) Again, we can be a fruitful branch and still be pruned, but only so we will bear more fruit.
Some of you will recognize this as being in Jesus’ priestly prayer for his disciples, and for all believers. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,” he says. John 15:12 says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Is that a fruit? It is a condition of abiding in Jesus’ love, as bearing fruit is a condition of being in the Kingdom of God, so I think it is a fruit. “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.”(15:16b)
So, the kingdom of God will be taken away from those who do not love one another and given to a people who do love one another.
We are more familiar with the words of Paul and the fruit of the Spirit. Remember those? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.(Galatians 5:22) Paul contrasts those with the works of the flesh: Fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealously, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21) Now these are fruits, good fruit and bad fruit. So the Kingdom of God will be given to those whose fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
In Ephesians (5:5-9), Paul writes, “For once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” Again with the fruit. Again with abiding in the Lord.
Remember when Jesus said the Kingdom of God belongs to children, and we can’t enter into it unless we become like children? We worry about a lot of lofty and important things. Sometimes it feels like we are fighting for the survival of the church. But if the Kingdom of God belongs to children, and it’s given to those who produce its fruits, then we should look to children to decide what’s most important to God.
Even a child can produce the fruits we’ve found in scripture. Love one another. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If our efforts not generate that fruit, then we’re doing the wrong things. If our efforts lead to idolatry, enmities, strife, jealously, anger, quarrels, dissensions and factions, then we’re doing the wrong things. Jesus said you will know the tree by its fruit.
Brothers and sisters, I say this with all sincerity: We must love one another. We must live in peace with one another. We must be patient, kind, generous, gentle and self-controlled. We should be joyous and bring joy to others. These are the fruits that we must produce. If we do not, the Kingdom will be taken away from us and given to those who can produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity and self-control.
In the name of Jesus I pray that I have shared his teachings today. Amen.