Grocery stores can have bad moments. Think of a bad orange in a produce bin. Part of the skin is collapsing into a grey-green paste, with a white ring spreading around it.
A good orange, on the other hand, is a joy. Years ago I volunteered on an Israeli kibbutz for six months to study Hebrew. It called for half-days of farm labor to cover room and board. And for about two weeks all of us joined in harvesting an orchard of tasty kibbutz oranges. The fruit soon joined other “Jaffa oranges” in European grocery stores.
Let me comment on picking the fruit. Each orange was once “abiding” in a tree. But after it came off the branch a clock started to tick. It only had about three weeks of market life.
In an earlier era Jesus also walked the same ground. My kibbutz, Dovrat, was near Nazareth, just across the road from the village of Nain. And—with my farming story in mind—Jesus in his day often used the imagery of good and bad fruit, along with the word “abide.”
Jesus mostly spoke of grape vines, but the analogy still works. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” [Jn 15:4,5].
Now, let’s consider another of the ways Jesus used “abiding.” He called his followers to embrace what he taught. “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” [Jn 8:31-32]. In this case, by the way, these “believers” didn’t actually listen to Jesus.
Here Jesus used the term “abide” in a family context. Like the fruit-and-branch imagery it used the organic feature of a birth-bonded family. So when these listeners immediately dismissed what Jesus told them, he in turn dismissed their claim to God’s spiritual paternity. They were acting like household slaves, and not God’s children.
We can trace the spiritual-affective bond in what Jesus said. “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires…. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me…. Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” [8:42-47]. “Abiding,” then, displayed separate paternities: of God versus the Devil. Of spontaneous love—“you would love me”—versus clear opposition.
In the context Jesus wasn’t speaking of some sort of training program, or as brief exposures to his talks. Instead, he used the imagery of a child and a caring parent: a fully engaged life. He offers himself, not a life insurance policy. The love, joy, peace, and more, represent Christ’s own character as the Son of God, offered in the Spirit he shares with us.
Now, let’s get back to the bad-orange-in-a-bin image. It’s what we see around us when Christ’s Spirit is spurned. Paul’s imagery in Galatians captures this: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”
As the world looks on—as hungry spiritual “shoppers” in life—it will always be believers who display Christ’s life, love, and words. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” [Jn 13:35]. This mutual love only comes as we abide in Christ.
In his call to “abide in my word” Jesus had this much in mind: spiritual health needs heartfelt Bible reading. At a minimum. We see this in the way Jesus honored the Bible—the Torah—in his own life and ministry. And in his repeated call to the disciples in Luke 24 to search the Bible for what it taught about him. The Bible, after all, reveals the continuing tension between the “words” of the serpent in Genesis 3—“you will not die … you can be like God”—and God’s truth. This is what sets us free. Especially as we hear the invitation to abide in his love.
In practice, then, “so what?” Here’s “what.” Spend enough time with God in the Bible each day—in reading, reflecting, and engaging—so that the fruit of the Spirit emerges in your own heart like one of those Dovrat oranges, still living in its tree. And may many be drawn to taste and see Christ in you.