Quantity and quality don’t usually come together. Fruit growers find that a tree will support a quantity of small, poor or very ordinary fruits (like many not-so-choice peaches), but if they are select, large, choice fruits, they will be FEW. Growers will even hand pluck healthy, growing fruit sets from the tree if they think there are more than the tree can develop into QUALITY fruit.
That is often the way with fruit trees.
God also is looking for fruit. And He wants the best, not just “good” but “choice,” in fact the very highest quality. We also know He doesn’t expect a large quantity.
Numerous passages in Scripture suggest this.
What did Jesus say about the number on the road that leads to life? Let us read Matt. 7:13-14. The passage is most familiar, but we still need to refresh it:
Matthew 7:13 13“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Entrance to the Kingdom is only by the “narrow gate,” and Jesus said only FEW would be entering. It wouldn’t be attracting the MANY. Only few, few, few.
In Jesus’ first sermon He makes the point very clear that fruit to be acceptable must be GOOD fruit, or it was not acceptable. There was a standard to be met. You are judged, He says, by your fruit.
Matthew 7:16–20 16You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
It is the principle we see all through Scripture.
Isaiah 3:10–11 10“Say to the righteous that it shall be well with them, For they shall eat the fruit of their doings. 11Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, For the reward of his hands shall be given him.
By OUR fruits God will judge US.
God gave great care to Israel. They had a choice opportunity to produce choice fruit, and what did He get?
Good fruit was scarce, even in the best circumstances. Look at the history of the nation of Israel. Again and again they went astray. God would rescue, and soon they would turn again to idols. It was a broken record.
What did Jeremiah say, speaking for God?
Jeremiah 2:21 21Yet I had planted you a noble vine, a seed of highest quality. How then have you turned before Me Into the degenerate plant of an alien vine?
God planned for highest QUALITY fruit—holiness, uprightness, purity, truth. But a degenerate plant could not do it.
Isaiah gave the same report. Look at Isaiah 5. The simile here is a vineyard. The fruit they COULD have produced and what they DID produce were far apart—in spite of the very best in opportunity.
Isaiah 5:1–4 1Now let me sing to my Well-beloved A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard: My Well-beloved has a vineyard On a very fruitful hill. 2He dug it up and cleared out its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, And also made a winepress in it; So He expected it to bring forth good grapes,
Look at the care, the investment, and the potential. God started with planting them on “a very fruitful hill.” He tillered it well, picked out the stones, planted the choicest vine, built a hedge around it (v. 5), built a tower in it, made a winepress for processing the crop. Then He gave it time to grow, and expected the best: “good grapes. What did He get for all His work? Isa. 5:2,
But it brought forth wild grapes.
Clearly a disappointment. It shows what God is looking for from us. He provides the means and looks for the response—the QUALITY—from US. WE are to blame if the fruit is poor. We are due the credit if the fruit is GOOD. It is our responsibility to make the fruit good. Absolutely contrary to the common teaching, that God does it in us, that it is all His credit.
3“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard. 4What more could have been done to My vineyard That I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, Did it bring forth wild grapes?
Tell me what I did wrong, God says. What did I miss? Why the wild, sour grapes?
If the quality of the fruit were HIS responsibility, He would be unfair in condemning the wild grapes—they would be the result of HIS work, they would be HIS wild grapes instead of good grapes!
But no, we are responsible both for the quality of the fruit. It is time for the verdict:
Isaiah 5:5–7 5And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6I will lay it waste; It shall not be pruned or dug, But there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds That they rain no rain on it.”
God says “Enough.” Opportunity is up. Time for retribution.
Then He sums up what happened. No question what His little parable is referring to.
7For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.
But God never expected a quantity of quality fruit. All the way it was few, few, few. What did He say about Israel before they even reached the promised land?
Deuteronomy 7:6–7 6“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. 7The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples;
More than a millennium later, how was the Christian church described by those putting Paul on trial?
Acts 28:22 22But we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.”
Jesus called His disciples a “little flock.”
Luke 12:32 32“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Balaam, speaking for God, said prophetically of Israel:
Numbers 23:9 9For from the top of the rocks I see him, And from the hills I behold him; There! A people dwelling alone, Not reckoning itself among the nations.
Isaiah described the faithful ones as choicest fruit, but only a few.
Isaiah 17:6 6Yet gleaning grapes will be left in it, Like the shaking of an olive tree, Two or three olives at the top of the uppermost bough, Four or five in its most fruitful branches,” Says the Lord God of Israel.
Even among the churches Jesus addressed in Revelation, there were not many loyal but only few, few, few. Those who had large thriving churches had strayed off track, and were serving themselves, not Christ. The biggest churches with lots of activities and open prosperity did not have Christ on their side. Like the church at Sardis:
Revelation 3:1–2 1“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.
Jesus’ summary to His disciples is the best. It starts with the word “strive.”
Luke 13:24 24“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.
Our size does not make us win or lose. It is all about what is true, and what we do with it. Remember Jesus said,
Matthew 18:20 20For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
It is QUALITY that God is looking for, not numbers. He has plenty of time. Now is OUR ONLY opportunity. Many or few, it does not change our NOW opportunity. Let us grasp it while we have it—with the few!
We have a song in our Green hymnal that is ideal for this lesson, but it is not one we have recorded. We would like to conclude with it, but the best we can do is to imagine we hear the music in our minds and read the words. Let’s try it:
Quantity OR Quality
Why are God’s people so few?
Because it is extremely rare to see a tree bearing absolutely PERFECT FRUIT, and, in addition, that tree is bearing MUCH FRUIT.
Yes, that is what is required of us. “My Father is glorified by this: that you bear MUCH FRUIT, and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:8).
We are indeed the rarest of the rare. But it can and must be done, if we expect to please our heavenly Father and inherit the promises He has in store for His faithful ones.
“Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14).