Over the years I have asked a lot of people a simple question: What is an apple tree for? In other words, what is the purpose of an apple tree? Almost without exception, people respond, “To produce apples.” But that is not the correct answer.
The purpose for an apple tree is actually to make more apple trees; the fruit that the tree produces, the apples, are the mechanism that the tree uses to produce more trees. This is proven by the fact that if you don’t eat the apples, just let them drop to the ground and germinate, the tree will reproduce itself many times, all around it. Even the flesh of the apples, the part that we like to eat, is there to decay and provide nutrients for the developing seedling after the seed germinates.
I think the reason that we think that the purpose of an apple tree is to produce apples is that we like to consume the apples. Since we enjoy the fruit, we think that the fruit is the intended end. But when we gather and consume all of the fruit, we are actually interrupting the process of tree multiplication.
Along these same lines, I ask these same people a second question: What is a Christian for? In other words, what is the purpose of a Christian. I get a lot of different answers to this one, but the real answer is the same as for the apple tree: The purpose of a Christian is to make more Christians. That purpose was spelled out for us in Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV), the Great Commission: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” In a very real sense, multiplying ourselves is the very reason why, immediately after we are saved, we don’t just shoot straight up to heaven. Jesus left us here for the purpose of multiplying ourselves many times over, all around us.
Christians, like apple trees, produce fruit. In this case, we know it as the fruit of the Spirit, and it is identified by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV): But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
And, much like with the apple tree, we are tempted to think that the fruit of a Christian’s life, the manifestation of these qualities, is the purpose of a Christian. But, again like an apple tree, the purpose of the fruit is multiplication: As God manifests these fruits in our lives, he uses them to draw people into the kingdom of heaven, encouraging them to grab onto eternal life for themselves. But we enjoy the fruit so much that we figure that the fruit is the purpose. When our focus is on using and consuming the fruit of the Spirit for our own use, we are actually short-circuiting the process of multiplication, which is our main calling as Christians.
Now, I’m not against enjoying the peace that the Lord gives us, or the love, or the joy, or even the patience. But we must always realize that these are not an end in themselves, but just the tools that God has given us to enable us to multiply ourselves and grow the kingdom of heaven. And if we keep that focus instead of letting it drift over to ourselves, we will place ourselves in a position for God to make us even more fruitful.