Note: This article describes one of the ON’s Economic Wisdom Project Talks, designed to be used as class assignments.
At the first Karam Forum in March, Made to Flourish President Tom Nelson spoke on the integral relationship between faithfulness and fruitfulness. This teaching tool is ideal for assigning students to view and discuss in systematic theology and ethics as well as other classes where issues of sanctification and discipleship, flourishing and poverty alleviation are covered.
In “Fruitfulness Matters,” Nelson begins by sharing how, as a child, he dreaded the bus ride to school because other students mocked his family for their poverty. Amidst their need, their otherwise loving faith community did not see any role for the church in helping families like the Nelsons. It was a formative experience for him: “Economic impoverishment is worn on the sleeves, but it wounds the human soul.”
Nelson contends that faithfulness involves more than just “Christlike character, as important as that is.” Jesus himself, Nelson argues, teaches that a lack of fruitfulness threatens our faithfulness. Drawing from across the scriptures – Jesus’ Upper Room discourse, Genesis 1-3 and the parable of the good Samaritan – Nelson articulates three facets of a faith that bears fruit: relational intimacy, vocational productivity and neighborly love.
Intimacy, productivity and neighborly love show how our relationship with God bears fruit in our relationships with others. If we are truly abiding in God, it means that we will abide with others through work that promotes transformation and love that compassionately meets needs.
We have provided a few sample excerpts below. We hope you will find this a useful tool to provide your students with an understanding of a fuller picture of Christian discipleship, one that grasps the intimate relation between faithfulness with fruitfulness.
The Tragedy of the Unfruitful Church
“The tragic irony is that our family was deeply involved in a faith community. Every Sunday we showed up at church. Everybody knew – it was obvious – that we had significant economic vulnerability. But I can’t remember one time when members of our congregation reached out to assist us. And I don’t think it was because they didn’t care. I think, rather, it was a ‘just be faithful’ pietistic paradigm that animated our thoughts about discipleship. Discipleship that was focused on Sunday but not on Monday life and work and economic realities.”
The Necessity of Fruitfulness
“An important truth is that if we are going to be faithful, we must be fruitful. Because when our fruitfulness is lacking, our faithfulness is at risk. Jesus spoke a lot about fruitfulness, and that is not surprising. In the Upper Room discourse Jesus tells us, in John 15:6, ‘by this is my father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and prove to be my disciples.’”
Relational Intimacy and Fruitfulness
“Jesus in the Upper Room discourse connects two important words: abiding and fruit bearing. Because when we abide in him we have intimacy with him, and when we are intimate with him we bear fruit for him. Jesus modeled this, did he not?…He cultivated intimacy with the Father through the spiritual disciplines – fasting and prayer, service and solitude. And as apprentices of Jesus we are invited into his pathway of transformation.”
Vocational Productivity and Fruitfulness
“In Genesis chapter 1 the theme of fruitfulness builds. What we see in Genesis 2 is that Adam represents this fruitfulness of productivity. In Genesis 2, Adam is put in the garden to cultivate and to keep it. Eve arrives on the scene as his helper, not just to have babies, but to be vocationally productive. And when we get to Genesis 3 we see how parah [to bear fruit] is vandalized, just like shalom. In parah, we now see there is pain in childbirth, procreativity is affected. But not only procreativity, but productivity as well, because now there are thorns and thistles in the garden.”
Neighborly Love and Fruitfulness
“Dave Ramsey has taught thousands and thousands of Americans about the importance of financial capacity. In his Financial Peace University, he speaks about building margin in our life and economic capacity to help others. Not for an indulgent lifestyle, not for an over-indebted lifestyle, but margin and capacity to help a neighbor in need. One thing that stuns me in his research is that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. What does that mean in terms of neighborly love? What that means is that many times we have the compassion but we do not have the capacity to love our neighbor as we ought.”
The Economics of Neighborly Love
“Each morning we wake up to an economic world. And while human capacity is more than economics, it is not less. Because most of us love our neighbor most in a global economy – when we go to work every day – that’s monetized for the good of our neighbor. Imagine with me for a moment, what it would be like if we taught a more robust theology of fruitfulness. Imagine what it would be like for an economy fueled by neighborly love of innovation, creativity, wealth creation and compassion. Image what it would be like for faith communities to embrace a fruitfulness where the most vulnerable flourish in their cities.”