For a number of reasons I keep being spurred on to write about apostleship. Recently we have a look at spotting apostles, at the relationship between identity, function and apostleship, and at the fact that Christ is the source of all apostleship. Today I want to think about a slightly different topic — the fruit of apostleship.
I think most people would agree that true apostleship should bear fruit. In Matthew 7 Jesus teaches and warns against false prophets. He concludes by saying: "therefore, by their fruits you will know them" (Matt. 7:20). Although he specifically mentions false prophets, the context suggests that this applies more widely. So surely true apostles will lead to good fruit.
Yet, agreeing that we should see good fruit is one thing, what we mean by good fruit is another thing entirely! In the climate in which we live, we very readily translate fruit into success. And success in our culture is something that's thought of as easily measurable. But is that an adequate interpretation of fruit?
If Isaiah, Jeremiah or even Paul were around today, how would our modern success-oriented mindset rate their fruit? Would we abandon God's true servants because of their lack of mega-congregations? Would we stand with Jeremiah and Paul in their imprisonments? What would we do with Isaiah's clear gospel message which begins with the words "Who has believed our report?" (Isa. 53:1). And what would we make of Paul's apostleship when he was beheaded? Or Isaiah's prophethood when he was sawn in half? Certainly these are not the trappings of what we think of as success!
That brings me back to the concept of theology of the Cross. For, you see, the theology of the Cross shows us that our ideas of success can look very different to God's true success. The fruit we covet may be somewhat different from the true and lasting fruit which is brought forth in the branches by the True Vine.
Luther warns us against preferring "works to suffering, glow to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly" (Heidelberg Disputation, Proof of Thesis 21). To ignore his warning would be to trade in the way of the Cross for a theology of glory.
Can fruitfulness be measured? And if so, how? Does it look like the need to build a new church to fit in the crowds, or does it look like faithfulness to Christ's call no matter how adverse the circumstances? James was executed early in the life of the Church (Acts 12:2). The seal of Paul's apostleship was a problem church that nowadays probably no one would want to pastor (1 Cor. 9:2). And even they didn't seem to think much of his preaching (2 Cor. 10:10). John was rejected by Diotrephes, and hence the church he led (1 John 9-10), and eventually ended up in exile on Patmos (Rev. 1:9). Yet, it's a lot easier for us to focus on the crowds of the Day of Pentecost.
The true fruit of apostleship is fruit that will be there both in the times of revival and in the times of tribulations. That type of fruit can't be measured by the 3 Bs (bodies, buildings and budgets!), but that's okay - it doesn't have to be.
But such fruit calls for deep roots. Fruit is seen on the branches, but it's borne by the Vine. So if the branches are to be fruitful in all circumstances, no matter how fierce the storm, then they must be firmly anchored in the Vine. Christ the true Vine and true Apostle is the source of all fruitfulness we see among His apostles here on earth. So, Christ's apostles must be deeply rooted in Him.