You've pulled the weeds. You've cut out the thorns. You've mulched, watered, and fertilized at the right time of the season for a few years now. Since Aunt Loola's departure, you've done everything you could to bring the tree to fruition. Your tree looks like a formidable teen should; for a few seasons now, it has appeared as if it could blossom with abundance. Each season, however, it barely buds with anything sweet. A few stray fruits hang from the branches, but this isn't the abundance your mouth has been watering for for years.
As another season passes, you're discouraged to find that, while it's getting taller, it still isn't producing the way it should. As you've done so many times since Loola left, you retrieve the copy of The Gardener's Almanac that she gave you. You knock the soil from its covers and thumb through the well-worn pages. You've read most of the book, many parts multiple times. As you scan the pages, you look for any information that might give you a clue as to why your tree isn't producing a better crop.
Somewhere in the middle portion of the volume, you find a note explaining an important aspect of the plant life in your garden. It reads, "This kind of fruit tree must be pollinated by other fruit trees in order to grow fruit. For best practice, plant a variety of fruit trees nearby."
It had not occurred to you that other fruit trees would be required in order to bring in a sizable crop. You're small garden only has room for one tree, but you glance at an overgrown plot of ground next door. It resides squarely within your neighbor's property tucked into the vine-covered, forgotten stretch of his narrow backyard.
"Hello, neighbor," you say one afternoon. You've timed your trip to the mailbox to coincide with Lenard's. It's taken you a few weeks to get up the nerve to broach the subject with him, but as soon as the words are out of your mouth, his warm smile washes away all of your nervousness.
He's a gregarious man who works nights. Saturdays, he works in the yard and spends time with his family. You've greeted him several times before but never shared much more than small talk.
“Hey,” Lenard says. “How’s that fruit tree coming?”
“It’s growing,” you say. Lenard has his mail in hand now and is already moving toward his front door. You start moving in his direction. “Hey, that reminds me, there’s something I wanted to ask you about.” You close the distance between and meet him at the edge of your front yard.
“What’s up?” Lenard says. “Did my kid kick his ball into your backyard again? I’ve told him to be careful.”
"No—" you say. "Well, yeah, but I just kicked it back. It wasn't a big deal."
"So, as you know, I have this fruit tree—" you pause long enough for him to respond.
“Yeah, I’m jealous. I wish I had a green thumb like yours,” Lenard says.
You hold up your hand, showing off the color of your digits. "No green thumb, they're just human colored," you say, remembering the time Loola had said the same. You're glad Lenard smiles at the silly joke. "But that's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about."
“Yeah, so, I’m still learning how to take care of a tree, actually,” you say. “It turns out that some particular kinds of fruit trees need to be pollinated by other fruit trees.”
"I'm guessing yours is one of those particular kinds?” Lenard guesses.
"Yep," you say. "But I don't have enough space in my backyard to plant another one. And as far as I know, there aren't any other fruit trees around here." You are about to ply your request, but Lenard beats you to it.
“I’d be happy to plant one in my backyard,” he says. “Would that be close enough?”
“Absolutely,” you say with a wide grin. You could hug the man, but you refrain.
“The only problem is, I’ll probably kill it,” Lenard says. “I’m not all that good with growing things. And I don’t know how to get started. I mean, do I just drop a seed in the ground, or— I mean— I—”
"Hey, what would you think of me helping you out?" you ask. "I could pop in every once in a while and share what I know. It isn't much, but maybe together, we could get it off to a good start."
Lenard lights up like a Christmas tree. "That would be great!" he says. He gestures to the house and says, "Beth will be so excited; she loves fruit. And I'd love for my kids to learn how to grow stuff too."
"This will be fun," you say, genuinely reflecting his excitement.
“I’m free on Saturdays,” he says. “Would that work?”
Many fruit trees must be cross pollinated. Most can’t pollinate if they are isolated. What’s interesting is that many fruit trees do not have to be pollinated by other trees exactly like themselves. They need a variety. If there are other compatible varieties of fruit trees nearby that bloom at the time they can cross pollinate and produce fruit.
Christians are somewhat similar. If you isolate from other believers, like a lone fruit tree, it’s going to be extremely hard to grow the kind of spiritual fruit God wants to produce in your life. So many people say, “I don’t want to go to that church because there is no one like me there.” Remember, trees don’t need other trees like themselves. It takes a variety to grow fruit.
The ultimate goal of your time here is not to become someone that attends church on a regular basis. That would be a disappointing goal. Your ultimate goal is to experience abundant life. You’re goal, in other words, is to bear an abundance of Spiritual fruit like love, joy, peace, and the like. The analogy of the fruit tree reminds us that believers need other believers to bear fruit. That is at least in part, because so much of the Spiritual fruit, has to do with other people. The Christian life is not meant to be spent alone. We are fellowship fruit trees.
The author of Hebrews put it this way, We should think about each other to see how we can encourage each other to show love and do good works. We must not quit meeting together, as some are doing. No, we need to keep on encouraging each other. This becomes more and more important as you see the Day getting closer.1
That encourages us to fellowship, and tells us why we should. When faithful believers get together their goal is to stir up love and good works. Remember, Paul called good works “fruit” and love is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Your ultimate goal is to have that fruitful and abundant life we’ve been talking about. Fellowship with other committed believers is one of the main ways to experience it.
Love is one of the fruits of the Spirit.2 Love comes from God. In fact, you’re not able to love in a way that pleases Him, unless you are both born again, and walking with Him.3 It’s possible to be born again, but not be obeying his commandment to love one another. That’s why the Bible is so packed with instructions on loving one another. To love one another we must get in close proximity.
Not only is there greater love to be had in fellowship, but there is joy. Notice how John put it when he said, We want you to have fellowship with us. The fellowship we share together is with God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. We write these things to you so that you can be full of joy with us.4
When we have fellowship with other believers, and when that fellowship is rooted in our relationship with God the Father, and Jesus His Son, there is joy. Actually John says that we can be full of joy! Doesn’t that sound like abundant life? That’s your ultimate goal. That means you’re going to need to experience fellowship in some way.
We’ve seen love, joy, but is there peace in fellowship? Think of what Paul said to his friends in Philippi. make my joy complete: Agree with each other, and show your love for each other. Be united in your goals and in the way you think.5Paul’s instruction is to treat each other in alignment with all of the fruits of the Spirit. In his words I see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. When we experience quality Christian fellowship, we experience a piece of the abundant life we are designed for. When we couple our fellowship with the private spiritual life that we’ve been talking about, life can become fully abundant.
When you’re a scripture-studying, prayer-reliant person in private, then fellowship with other faithful believers is where the abundant life is most intensely experienced. Fellowship is where it all comes together. Without fellowship of believers, you’re missing a huge portion of the Christian experience.
Years ago I was taught a pretty surprising lesson from an unexpected place. I met a Christian singer, who was anything but traditional looking. He played loud rock music, and had the longest beard I’d ever seen. He had tattoos and earrings. Despite his look, he was an outspoken witness for the Lord on stage and off. He spent much of his time playing in little dive bars around the south. He had not found any measure of fame, but his music was good, and he talked about Christ everywhere he went.
After one of his shows I caught up with him next to the stage. I found myself complaining about my church, and expressing my bitterness toward other believers who I attended with. I told him I was interested in starting a church because everyone I knew where I went was so hypocritical. I figured he could understand. After all, he must be an outcast looking the way he did. I was surprised how he responded.
“I hear what you’re saying, man, but I have to disagree,” he said gently and with real kindness. “I have a church. It’s a bunch of white haired old people and me. They love me, and I love them. I don’t look like them, but they don’t care. They do church just like they did in 1954. Most would say the church is dying, but I feel the most alive when I’m there. I’ve found more joy at that little place. It’s my home.” He knelt to put away a guitar cable as he continued. “I don’t want to go to church with people just like me. I want to go to church with people who can love me despite our differences. That’s real fellowship, man.”
I was jealous of his church. Actually, no that’s not right. I was jealous of the abundant life he was experiencing. He was feeling what John talked about, being full of joy by fellowship. I’ll never forget the lesson he taught me.
I think this is why Jesus said, For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.6 Jesus loves our fellowship, shouldn’t we love it too? If you want to be where Jesus is, gather with His people.
Have you been tempted to isolate from other believers? Have you found it hard to fellowship at times? I know that I have, but I keep coming back because there is abundant life waiting in the midst of any group who meets in Jesus’ name. Certainly, this doesn’t mean that every time we meet together is sweet, easy, or pleasant. In an upcoming chapter, we’ll talk about how to turn meetings into fellowship.
1 Hebrews 10:24-25
2 Galatians 5:22
3 1 John 4:7
4 1 John 1:3-4
5 Philippians 2:2
6 Matthew 18:20