2) To Multiply
3) To Replenish
All four mainly benefit man and not so much God. They are progressive from inside out, like practically every blessing we receive. So let us look at them individually.
To Be Fruitful
The word “Fruitful” is an adjective taken from the act of bearing fruit. What is a fruit? It is a tangible product that grows from the branches of a tree. Nutrients that enter the tree through the soil are ‘digested’ and used to produce the leaves and fruits. It has the same nutrients (in its pure and edible form) that run within the tree. To understand this better, let us look at relevant features of fruit born in a tree.
A Fruit Is Different from a Seed
A fruit is beautiful to look at and mostly delicious to eat, but by itself, does not normally produce new life. It is useful primarily to bless people around it and not just the tree itself. A seed, on the other hand, is usually plain or rough and mostly too hard (sometimes poisonous) to eat, but it has the power to create new life. It often requires special enzymes to digest when eaten. It is not designed for the pleasure of others, but is built primarily for self-survival. That is why a fruit rots so easily while a seed can endure time and the harshest of climates. A tree blesses the world and satisfies our souls with its fruit, but through its seed, it will multiply itself. Interestingly enough, when God cursed the serpent in Genesis 3:15, He put enmity between him and man’s seed, not their fruit.
If we look at Genesis 1:28 in the light of these differences between fruit and seed, then we understand that by using the term “fruitfulness,” the Bible is describing character, temperament, and conduct. So God is saying to man that it is man’s responsibility to build his own character. God is not going to do it for you, but He has given you all you need to do so. Be fruitful!
Each fruit is specific to a particular tree. An apple tree can only bear apples, not grapes (Matthew 7:16). To identify what kind of tree you are looking at, the easiest thing to do is to look at what kind of fruit it bears. What is the implication of this? When God made the trees and herbs, He made them to bear fruit after their kind. So God also expects man to bear fruit after his kind. Now what kind of fruit is this? It is fruit fashioned in the image of God—just as Adam was. It is a characteristic of the divine in us. When the world looks at us, do they see the image of God or that of mammon? Do they see the likeness of Christ or the similitude of the world? Are we indistinguishable from the rest of the world, fashioned after the same ambitions and goals? By their fruits you shall know them (Matthew 7:17-20).
There Is Only One Fruit
A natural tree bears only one type of fruit all the time (Aided by science however, we now have tree salads that grow multiple types of fruits simultaneously). A natural orange tree only bears oranges year after year. It never switches to apple or pear on leap years, and it definitely does not bear multiple types of fruit at the same time. So as the trees were made to bear only one kind of fruit, God expects man to bear only one kind of fruit too. Galatians 5:22 states that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, and so on. There are nine characteristics used to describe this fruit, but these all add up to a single fruit of the Spirit that we are expected to bear. Galatians 5 tells us that it is not enough to have meekness or gentleness or joy. We need all nine aspects or our fruit is not fully formed. 2 Peter 1:5-9 further explains by adding faith, knowledge, and kindness to the list. These passages go on to state that if you have these features, you will be irreproachable and immune to any law (regardless of how unrighteous they may be). Think about it, even the most ruthless military dictators have never enacted laws against patience.
A Fruit Grows until It Ripens
When a fruit starts growing from a tree branch, it begins as a small bud and gets bigger. At some point, it switches from growing in size to ripening. If a fruit gets stunted in growth, it never ripens before the season is over and falls off, thereafter rotting away on the ground. This same process can happen to us as believers. We start by acquiring ‘flashes’ of godly character, and observant people will know that there is some goodness in us. Gradually, as we grow, these character qualities grow more and more prominent until they mature. The key to this whole process is that we are constantly growing.
How is this applicable to us? We may have faith, but no patience. We therefore become like Jacob. Jacob was sure he was destined for greatness, but he could not wait for God’s timing. So he lied to his father (Genesis 27:19), cheated his brother Esau (Genesis 27:27-30) and father-in-law Laban (Genesis 30:41-43), and wrestled with God (Genesis 32:24-28). Eventually he did get to the point where he realized who he was as a deceiver, and he finally knew that, without God, he was nothing (Genesis 32:26-27). At the end of his days, he was a selfless man, putting the well-being of others before his (Genesis 33:1-3). He grew to become the man God wanted him to be, hence our God is known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Why is this story important to us? It shows that we are not perfect, but if we are willing to improve, God can change us. Even if we are the vilest of creatures, God can touch us and transform us. We need to grow, we need to bear fruit, and we need to mature so that we may be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). If we cease growing in these virtues and characteristics, we are in danger of falling off and rotting away. The Christian character, once neglected, can waste away and be lost.
A Fruit Is a Blessing
When a fruit is matured and ripe, it is a magnet for all kinds of creatures. Insects, birds, wild beasts, and man all come to the tree to get a taste of the fruit or to prey on those who do. When we bear the fruit of the Spirit, we cease to be an offence to people. People of all walks of life—the good, the bad and the nasty—all will be attracted to that character in us. They may have different reasons for being attracted, but they come nonetheless. It is therefore not surprising that church assemblies are usually filled with a mixed multitude. There are those who come genuinely to worship God, and there are those who come to prey on worshippers.
We can see an illustration of this from King Solomon’s days when all kinds of people came to learn from his wisdom, including those who came simply to test him (1 Kings 10:1).
The Bible says that we are God’s epistles, written to the world. The first thing the world will see in us is our character. It is what will attract or repel them. When I converted from Islam many years ago, what primarily attracted me to Christianity were the qualities of simplicity, humility, and love among believers. It is a magnet to any lost or wandering soul.
Furthermore, we are to be a comfort to those that grieve, a balm to those that are ailing, and a guide to those that sit in the dark (Luke 1:79, 2 Corinthians 7:6 and 1 Thessalonians 4:8). The world will only find redemption through the light that we bring with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our perfect example is Christ, and the Bible says so much about the blessing He is to the world. Isaiah 61:1 says that He came to bring good tidings to the meek, to heal the brokenhearted, to liberate the captives, and to unchain those in bondage. Through the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), we see the record of His life. As hard as they tried, the Pharisees and Sadducees could find no fault in Him. In John 11:33-35, we read how He groaned and then wept at the sight of the grieving sisters, thus displaying a deep compassion uncommon in His days. We see how He patiently taught the multitudes, even when He knew they had only come for a free meal (John 6:26) or to test Him (Luke 5:30-33).
A Fruit Is a Carrier of the Seed
A fruit itself is a single entity that cannot replicate itself, but it bears within it one or more seeds that can. When people or animals eat the fruit, they disseminate the seed that eventually brings multiplication. For example, a mango tree has a big seed right at its core. When the fruit is eaten, the seed may find itself in fertile ground elsewhere where it can grow into a new mango tree.
The first thing people will see in a Christian is his or her character, and then they will be curious to know more. We can then preach the Good News to people who are already attracted to our personality—planting the seed (Word of God) in them. 1 Peter 3:15 says that we should be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us for the reason of the hope that is in us. Well, suffice it to say, they can only ask after they have seen the hope in us to begin with. To summarize this section, I will like to emphasize that we do not just preach with our words, but with our life and the choices that we make.
A Thought on the Barren Tree
According to the Bible, fruitfulness is a natural phenomenon of a tree that is well nourished. A famine can result from a number of sources. One is the result of the nutrient supply dwindling to the point where trees become barren. Another cause of famine is when the tree is smitten with a disease that affects its productivity. In which case, it is usually cut down and another planted in its place. Thirdly, locusts or other parasites may ravage the fruit, leaving nothing behind. The spiritual implication is that as long as we are grounded in God, abstain from sin and constantly linked to the Holy Spirit, we will bear much fruit and acquire the normal Christian life.
Back to the beginning of Genesis.