Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
— Matthew 7:20

Jesus taught very strongly that when considering people for any leading position, it is necessary that we first carefully look at the fruit in that person’s life. Even if the person is willing and eager to serve, the fruit in his personal life and attitude is exactly what you’re going to get when you put him into a position of leadership. So don’t ignore what you see!

One of the greatest mistakes I’ve made through the years is to ignore obviously bad symptoms in a person’s life because I so wanted to see that person use his gifts and reach his maximum potential. But I learned the hard way that we cannot overlook the fruit in a person’s life when considering him or her for a position of leadership. Talents and gifts are important, but they do not supersede the importance of a person’s character.

In Matthew 7:20, Jesus told us, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” The word “fruit” is the Greek word karpos — the Greek word that describes the physical fruit of plants or trees. However, the word karpos is also used to depict the fruit borne by a person’s life. This fruit might include a person’s deeds, actions, moral character, and behavior, or the output of the person’s work. In essence, Jesus used the word karpos to tell us that the various by-products of a person’s life ultimately reveal what is inside that person.

Jesus taught that we can ascertain much about a person by looking at the fruit in his life. In fact, Jesus said it is possible to “know” people by their fruit. The word “know” is the Greek word epignosis, a compound of the words epi and gnosis. The word epi means upon; the word gnosis means to know and is the Greek word for knowledge. When you compound these two words together, they form the word that means to come upon or to happen upon some kind of knowledge and carries the idea of making a discovery.

In light of this, we must be very careful to look at the fruit of people’s lives when considering them for key positions in our churches, ministries, businesses, or organizations. You can make quite a discovery about people if you’ll just take the time to carefully observe their lives! If you want to know what is inside a person, just observe his attitudes and how he relates to other people. His fruit will tell you the truth about who he really is. Good fruit belongs to good trees, and bad fruit belongs to bad trees. It’s that simple. The fruit never lies.

For so many years, I made the mistake of being impressed with the tree while failing to take a serious look at the fruit. I learned the hard way that even though the tree may be tall, stout, and strong, that impressive-looking tree may produce deadly fruit. Or perhaps the tree is destined to produce good fruit in the future, but the time for picking its fruit hasn’t come yet.

Timing is very important when it comes to harvesting good fruit. It’s simply a fact that if you pick fruit before it’s ready, it will produce a bitter taste. For example, if you pick apples too early, their taste is sour, bitter, and sharp. By picking an apple before it’s ripe, you ruin what would have been a perfectly good apple.

It’s the same with people. If you pull someone off the pew and plop him into a leadership position before he’s ripe, it won’t be an enjoyable experience for either you or that person. If he isn’t ripe yet, there’s nothing you can do to make him ripen faster. So be careful not to push this kind of person into a position he isn’t ready to handle; if you do, both of you will end up regretting a sour experience.

John Mark is a good example of what I’m talking about. This young man had so much potential that Paul and Barnabas took him with them when they first began their journeys (Acts 13:5). But Acts 13:13 tells us that for some reason, John Mark abandoned the apostles at an early stage of the trip and returned home to Jerusalem.

The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly why John Mark left. Perhaps he was homesick and therefore returned home. Maybe he was simply immature and unfaithful. Whatever caused John Mark to decide to leave, the experience left such a bitter taste in Paul’s mouth that when Barnabas wanted to take this young man on the next trip, Paul refused.

Paul’s memories of John Mark were so bitter that he fought with Barnabas about it. Paul even broke up his partnership with Barnabas rather than be subjected to another bad experience with this young man. But then something truly amazing happened. Years later when Paul was in a Roman prison preparing to die, he wrote to Timothy and said, “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

This “Mark” that Paul mentioned is the same John Mark whom Paul earlier refused to take as a part of his team. Now years have passed, and John Mark has grown and matured. By the time Paul wrote those words to Timothy, he considered this young man not only ready to be used, but “profitable for the ministry”!

When John Mark went on that first trip with Paul and Barnabas many years earlier, he was simply not ready to be used as a part of such a significant leadership team. As is often the case, the problem years before wasn’t whether or not John Mark was “called”; it was a matter of timing. He wasn’t mature enough to take part in such heavy-duty ministry at that earlier time. But now years had passed, and Mark had not only become ready, but profitable to the work of God.

John Mark was like an apple that had been picked too early. He went on that first ministry trip before his fruit was ripe or ready for picking. But the truth is, that wasn’t entirely John Mark’s fault. Those who chose him to be a part of that first team made a mistake by selecting him too soon. They needed to accept part of the responsibility for putting an immature person into the ministry before he was ready.

It is true that Mark did wrong by abandoning the apostles to return home prematurely. However, this probably wouldn’t have happened if the leaders had tested him properly instead of rushing through the process in order to use him. Although Mark may have been talented and gifted, he wasn’t ready for that kind of responsibility in the ministry. He was an apple picked before it was ripe!

So open your eyes, and let the Holy Spirit help you observe the fruit a person produces in his life. If you see a disturbing symptom, don’t overlook the warning signs that are flashing all around you, hoping that these things will somehow mysteriously go away. Pay attention to what you see and hear, because what you see and the attitude that person emits is most likely what he will produce once you take him into your team.

And as you contemplate the fruit produced by others, don’t forget to let the Holy Spirit speak to you about the fruit you are producing in your own life! Would others say the fruit they taste from your life is sweet or bitter? Are you a blessing, or are you a curse? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. So what kind of fruit do you produce? Always remember — the fruit never lies!

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My Prayer for Today

Lord, help me take a truthful look at the fruit produced in my life. After seeing the truth and coming to recognize areas of my life that produce bad fruit, please help me purge those bad places from my character so I can start producing good fruit in every part of my life. Without You, I can never be everything I need to be — but with Your help, I can become just like Jesus! So today I am asking You to help me get started purging and cleansing every part of my life that produces less-than-pleasing fruit.

I pray this in Jesus’ name!

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My Confession for Today

I confess that I am a producer of good fruit! People see the character of Jesus Christ in me, and I demonstrate His love to everyone around me. Every day I am drawing closer to the Lord and becoming more like Jesus. The fruit produced by my life is so sweet that it causes others to draw near that they might experience the goodness of God as demonstrated through me.

I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!

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Questions to Answer

1. Have you ever known a person who produced fruit so bitter that you wanted to stay away from him? What kind of bitter fruit did that person produce?

2. Have you ever known individuals who produced such sweet fruit in their lives that you cherished every opportunity to be close to them? How would you describe the good fruit these individuals produced with their lives?

3. If you were someone else looking at your own life, would you rate the fruit demonstrated by your life as good or bad fruit? Explain your answer.