J. M. Davies, Canada
In Eden’s garden there were trees that bore all manner of fruit for the sustenance of the life of man and in Revelation 22. 2 we read of “the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits,, and yielded her fruit every month”. Even after the fall fruit has continued to be an essential element in man’s diet. The fruit of the olive, the fig and the vine are specially referred to in relation to Israel and the land. The portion of the land which fell to Joseph was seemingly the most fertile part of the land. The blessing of Moses assured it of an abundant rainfall and well water which would result in a rich supply of fruits which are produced annually and some even monthly, as well as the precious things of the earth, the necessary agricultural wealth, Deut. 33. 13-16. Joseph is here distinguished from his brethren by the fact that he was a Nazarite, as is suggested by the use of the word rendered “separated”. So the blessing of Joseph is the blessing of the Nazarite. Five times over the word “precious” is used to describe the richness of the inheritance which was to be his portion. He could truly say that the lines had fallen to him in pleasant places, he had a goodly heritage. Similarly in the Epistle to the Philippians we have the path and the blessings of the Christian who is truly devoted to the Lord. While every Nazarite was an Israelite, every Israelite was not a Nazarite, and this analogy holds true today. The Rechabites in Jeremiah’s day, Jer. 35, were a family of Nazarites and might well illustrate for us the assembly in Philippi. Among the assemblies referred to in the New Testament, they were outstanding in their devotion to the Lord and the furtherance of the Gospel. The apostle refers to fruit in a threefold connection.
1. Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, 1.11
This fruit of righteousness (see R.V. marg.) is that which is produced in the life of the believer by the Holy Spirit. It is the fruit which comes from right conduct, the inevitable result of justification, of having been constituted righteous before God through our Lord’s one act of righteousness, Rom. 5. 18. The words are therefore parallel with those of Galatians 5. 22-23 where the fruit of the Spirit is described. The nine things listed there are not nine different fruits but nine aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. They depict the way in which the fruit of the Spirit or the fruit of righteousness will be manifested. The first three, love, joy and peace, are Godward. The second three, longsuffering, gentleness and goodness, are manward. The last three, faith, meekness and temperance, are selfward. In his prayer for the Philippians the apostle desired that their lives might be filled with this fruit. This echoes the word of the Lord in John 15.
2. This is the fruit of my labour, 1. 22
The different renderings of this verse indicate that it is not an easy verse to translate. But one thing is clear. Paul is speaking of the fruit from his labour in the gospel and among the saints. The words are similar to those used in Romans 1. 13 “that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles”. The Lord speaks of it as gathering “fruit unto life eternal”, John 4. 36. The redeemed host will represent some of the fruit of His travail and suffering. Its full fruition will be known when the new creation with the new heavens and the new earth will have been brought into being and God will be all in all.
Hence the apostle was prepared to continue to live in the flesh, and would choose to do so rather than depart to be with Christ, though this would have been far better for him personally, in order that thereby he might be instrumental in winning more souls, helping more saints and thus gathering more fruit. He coveted a faithful ministry and this is a desire implanted in the heart of every true servant of God. We must not meet the Saviour empty-handed. May it please the Lord to preserve us from a barren and fruitless ministry.
3. I desire fruit that may abound to your account, 4, 17
In “the beginning of the gospel” while the apostle was in Thessalonica the Philippians had communicated with him twice. Philippi stood alone in this matter. It is to the shame of the others that they did not so exercise their stewardship in helping forward the work of the Lord by giving of their material things. To the Corinthians the apostle wrote “Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us”, 1 Cor. 4. 8. The sting of that rebuke is in the tail, in the words “without us”. They had enjoyed material prosperity but had not remembered the apostle. They had taken little or no interest in the furtherance of the Gospel.
In the parable of the unjust steward the Lord teaches that the stewardship of material things is of secondary importance to that of the spiritual, Luke 16. 1-13. Money is the unrighteous mammon and is not to be considered as our own. The truth of God constitutes the true riches and faithfulness in connection with that which is the least is an essential qualification for stewardship of that which is of greater value. By the wise use of money in the work of the Gospel we may make friends who will be ready to welcome us to eternal habitations when the time comes for us to bid goodbye to this earthly sphere. The gifts of the saints at Philippi would become, by a process of divine alchemy, fruit credited to their account. The New Testament thus lifts the furtherance of the Lord’s work through the giving of our material things to a very honourable status. It not only becomes the means of meeting a present need but results now in thanksgiving to the Lord and will bring its own reward in a coming day.