You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.
John 15:16-17 (NIV)
I have been told an awful lot of times that, as a child of God, I can ask God for anything, and He will give it to me. I have been told that once I receive Jesus as my Savior, nothing more is required of me. But verse 16 shows that both of these views are, at best incomplete, and at worst downright wrong!
Jesus tells His gathered disciples that He has chosen them for a very specific purpose: that they should go out and bear fruit that will last. He didn’t choose people and give His all to save them so that they will just sit there looking pretty. Way too many Christians see salvation as a goal or an end point rather than as an induction into the army of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the place of being reclaimed and reformed so that we can receive our assignment. And on God’s team, we are all first-stringers; there are no bench warmers (or pew warmers!) – there are only vital roles to play. It reminds me of what Pastor Zapata of Peru said: “In Peru, Christians don’t expect to get something for serving Jesus; they expect to give something. Why do you buy a shirt? To use it. Why did Jesus redeem you and buy you with His own blood? To use you for His Kingdom!”
Each of us has a part to play in the work of the Kingdom. And our primary work that we are called on to do for the Kingdom will never be something to do with the church’s buildings, grounds, or finances. Those are good things to help with, but they are NOT the work of the Kingdom. The work of the Kingdom always has to do with the saving and shaping people into the image of Jesus. And every Christian’s primary assignment will be to do those two things.
Our congregation’s mission statement is: To actively reach out to the lost, and to help God’s people develop faith that works in the real world. That means that our whole purpose for existing is to actively reach out to the lost and bring them into the Kingdom by introducing them to Jesus and helping them to receive Him as their Lord and Savior. And then, once they have become one of God’s people, to help them to develop faith that works in the real world by helping them to develop consistent daily disciplines, to learn to hear God’s voice, and to consistently submit themselves to the Lord in order to be molded and shaped and filled with the Holy Spirit, conformed to the image of Jesus, so that they can take up their part in changing the world for the Kingdom of Heaven.
By the way, the “fruit that will last” that Jesus is referring to is souls reclaimed for the God’s Kingdom. I frequently ask people if they know the purpose of an apple tree. Invariably they respond that it is to produce apples. But that is not correct. The purpose of an apple tree is to produce more apple trees. The fruit, the apples, are the way in which they produce those new trees. (This is how God designed them, according to Genesis 1:11-12.) The thing that clouds our minds regarding the purpose of the apple tree is that we happen to enjoy consuming the fruit that the tree produces in order to reproduce. So we think that the ultimate purpose of the tree is to produce the fruit that we enjoy consuming. But in consuming an apple, we pretty much ensure that that particular apple will never produce another apple tree.
In the same way, the purpose of a Christian is to make more Christians. God produces the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. These fruit are designed to help us to reproduce ourselves. But we enjoy the fruit so much (we actually like the “peace that passes all understanding”), that the temptation is to consume it – to use it for our own gratification, and thus short circuit the actual purpose of those manifestations of the spirit – reproduction. But if we will actually keep our main purpose in mind, to continually make new Christians, then the fruit will be able to do its job, and help to make us fruitful in the truest sense of the word.
By the way, the word “Then” in the middle of verse 16 speaks volumes. It is only as we are about the work of the Kingdom that we are promised “whatever you ask in my name”. I believe that God has no interest in answering self-centered prayers for our own comfort or agenda. But He IS promising that whatever we need to be effective in the work of the Kingdom He will provide just like He did for Jesus; just like He did for the early Church. God will ALWAYS provision His army for its task.