Week of May 1

How to Be Firmly Planted in God’s Forest

Read: 1 Samuel 30-31; 1 Chronicles 10; Matthew 12
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad,
for the tree is known by its fruit.”
Matthew 12:33, ESV


“A tree is known by its fruit” has become proverbial and means that a person will be identified as good or bad based upon their character. This statement by Christ offers us a timeless core principle for guiding us to live good lives and to make right choices regardless of the change around us. Jesus did not pluck this idea out of thin air. These core convictions stem from the nature and character of our good God who always makes right choices (Exodus 34:6-8). The diverse passages assigned to us today demonstrate the clear importance of our character and actions. How we live and act matters to us, to others, and to God.

Understanding the Bible Context

Our behavior signals who we truly worship
1 Samuel 31 and 1 Chronicles 10 are identical except for a few stylistic variations in the latter passage. I recall running across passages like this as a boy and thinking that the writers must have become confused to state the same thing twice! We certainly know this is not the case. Samuel’s purpose was to record the rise and reign of David, the king, and the Chronicler sought to demonstrate the ways that God acted in behalf of His children, Israel. He shows the need for a “deliverer,” and we know this to have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Heat reveals the quality of a metal, and the heat of opposition reveals Jesus’ true character. Opposition to the Messiah was starting to grow, and we see in Matthew 12 that it leads Jesus’ enemies to contemplate having Him killed (12:14). The particular issue in this chapter was Sabbath observance, and the Jewish rules about the same were extremely detailed (12:1-8, 9-14; EBC).

We notice that Matthew records the fulfillment of prophecy as shown in Jesus’ word and actions and the call to discipleship that proves one to be a part of the true family of Jesus (12:15-21, 46-50). King Saul lacked the necessary character to lead, and he failed. Jesus’ response in character-testing circumstances was scripturally directed and kingdom fulfilling. Jesus models the importance of following God with our entire being.
God looks for spiritual fruit, not religious nuts
The end of Samuel provides us with the denouement of Saul’s reign, and the author of Chronicles tells us that God fulfilled what He had said about Saul. Saul lacked the heart and character to be king over God’s people precisely because how he lived and acted mattered to him, to others, and to God. God’s character is good, and His actions are right, and He expects the same of us. Saul’s moral failure rested upon his unwillingness to obey God’s words as given through the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 13:8-9; 15:2-3) and his consulting a medium instead of “persevering” (1 Samuel 28:7-13; Deuteronomy 18:9-14). In Ashlock speak, Saul dabbled with a diviner in pursuit of the Divine. This was, and remains, abhorrent to God. As Jesus would say, “A tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33).
Examples of bad fruit
Leaf through the Scriptures and you will see this type of character ethic taught time and time again. God wants His moral principles to be obviously evident in our lives. “A tree is known by its fruit” was evident in Saul saying one thing with his mouth and acting in conflict with God’s will and purposes. It was also known by those who were jealous of Jesus and assigned evil intent to His good words and works.

Saul’s sin was terrible, and these Pharisees were not much better! Blasphemy means ascribing that which is the work of the Lord to the devil. It is a serious offense because it indicates an “unrelenting rejection” of the Spirit’s advances (NAC). Therefore, to charge Jesus with performing miracles by Satan’s power and not by God was a profoundly grave offense. This sobering moment leads the Lord to request that His listeners wake up and repent (12:33). Christ illustrates His point by returning to a theme that He had addressed in another context when He uses the imagery of a tree and its fruit (cf. 7:16-20). A tree and its fruit are linked in the same way that a person’s heart is linked to his or her words and actions (12:34-36).

So what’s the point? Jesus bluntly calls His supposed followers to come clean. You cannot attribute to the devil the works of the Spirit; such assignment is blasphemous and shows a person’s true heart (12:22-32). He calls His true followers to demonstrate consistently the fruit of a singular commitment to God. Jesus says the same thing about you and me. We will be known by the goodness of the tree and its “good” fruit (Matthew 12:33; “good” lives and deeds).

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

We have two fledgling "Gum Bumelia" trees planted in our front lawn. We know they are "Sideroxylon lanugiosum" because they show all the characteristics of this type of tree: native to the United States, drought tolerant, and consist of small oval black berries with a single seed. Larry also knows they are this type of tree because he has an app that identifies plants, trees, and weeds! It is a simple illustration with a clear spiritual application. We are to be planted in God’s way of living (see Psalm 1).

Here is a spiritual thought for our lives. As Craig Blomberg says, “A tree is to its fruit what a person’s heart is to his or her speech” (NAC). We are either good or evil, and we know for certain that the wicked will receive eternal judgment (12:36). We presently will quip that we should not judge a book by its cover, but Jesus says that the title on the cover invariably reveals the book’s contents! God will judge even “careless” words (literally, “idle” and “workless words”). Our words (and actions) may seem trivial to us, but they reflect our true inner being.

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. Sometimes a child will deny the truth, but a trail of crumbs tells all! Allow God to take you by the hand and trace your actions back to their true source. It may surprise you (certainly not Him) that your commitment is not to Him. So, invite God to prune your life in order that it may bear more fruit in keeping with His way.

2. For Families: That our thoughts and actions matter to us, to others, and to God, is an enduring and eternal truth. Jesus wants us to be real, through and through. To illustrate this point, purchase in advance a box of fudgsicle ice cream bars on a stick, and another box of “orange creamsicle” ice cream bars. These even come sugar-free! Invite your children to have an after school treat with you.

As they choose their treats to enjoy, share with them this truth from Matthew 12:33. Ask them to inspect their ice cream bars. The fudgsicle bars are made of chocolate ice cream through and through. The orange ice cream bars are are not, are they? Orange on the outside and vanilla on the inside. Just like these two different kinds of ice cream bars, some people love God through and through. Their words and actions match. Others say they love God, but they act in ways that show they do not. Jesus wants us to be what we say we are all of the time. Do we love Him? If we do, we will be obedient and follow Him.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock