Formations 10.03.2021: Good Trees and Bad Trees

Matthew 7:15-29

Many of Jesus’ teachings use common imagery from nature or daily life. That makes them easy to picture and remember. He said that if we have even the smallest amount of faith—small as a mustard seed—we can do great things for God (Mt 17:20). That one person has enormous significance in God’s eyes and is worth pursuing, like one lost sheep or one lost coin or one lost son (Lk 15). That the foundation of our faith is essential and needs to be strong like rock, not weak like sand (Mt 7:24-27).

Jesus also talked about trees and the kinds of fruit they bear: “every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit” (Mt 7:17). As with many of Jesus’ parables and images, this isn’t as simple as it seems. If we could go to a worship service and immediately identify the bad trees, we would avoid lots of grief caused by their bad fruit. But it’s not often like that.

Sometimes the tree that seems good bears bad fruit, and the tree that ends up being bad still has some good fruit. That makes them difficult to identify correctly. I was part of a church fellowship that seemed to do everything right. We had in-depth Bible studies, a lovely choir, meaningful sermons, a thriving children’s department, and regular fun events. The pastor seemed like a good leader, a good tree, and the good fruit was easy to see. But as time passed, I learned some things about the pastor that revealed the true nature of the tree. In spite of all the good fruit, it turned out that the tree was bad, and I could no longer remain with the church.

Situations like this one are hard. If there’s good fruit, why not stay and keep working? Maybe the tree will heal in time. That’s certainly a possibility, but in this scenario the pastor was unable to recognize personal problems. There was no desire to change because the pastor didn’t accept that change was necessary. In this case, I believed the fruit would eventually rot, and I chose to get out.

This doesn’t make Jesus’ metaphor untrue; it just shows that he expects us to use prayerful discernment, trust our instincts, and work to determine the best decision in a particular situation. Jesus’ teachings sound simple, but as we get deeper into the life of faith, we realize that they are difficult to follow in our troubled world. Jesus never said following him would be easy. He told us to deny ourselves take up our crosses (Lk 9:23)! That’s a heavy burden. It’s hard work. It’s a long, arduous journey. But he also promised us rest and his presence (Mt 11:28; 28:20). Few things that are worthwhile are easy. May we strap that cross on our backs, trust in Jesus to lead us, and follow him wherever he takes us.

Discussion

• Have you ever been part of a church fellowship that endured difficult struggles with leadership? What happened?
• Why is it important to address “bad trees” in church leadership, even if they seem to be producing “good fruit” at the time?
• How should churches deal with leaders whom they’ve identified as “bad trees”?
• Why do you think Jesus’ teachings aren’t as simple as they sound at first? Is the Christian faith worth the hard work it requires?
• How can you find strength to do the hard work of being a Jesus follower in this troubled world?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theater productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she writes middle grade and young adult fiction for the pure joy of it.

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