A. The gospel. “Beware of false prophets….you will know them by their fruits.”
1. The meaning of fruit. Long term vs. short term evaluation. It is easy and tempting to think about this passage simplistically; we look at someone’s behavior, determine that it is good or bad and then label them as a false or authentic prophet. But the nature of a false prophet is that his or her behavior is deceptive. In the early stages of our connection with false prophets they will exhibit deceptively good behavior. The tares in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares looked like wheat in the early stages. We must observe and assess over time
2. The nuance of fruit; not just being nice. Another challenge is that we tend to mislabel the fruit. In our culture, being nice and non-offensive trumps everything. If we have read the biblical prophets, we know that what they have to say is not always nice and non-offensive. If I have done something wrong and someone corrects me—speaking the truth in love—this person has spoken a prophetic word to me. However, if I am unwilling to admit my error, I may label this person a false prophet because he is not very nice.
B. The organic nature of fruit
1. Fruit is organic. It is produced in us by the Holy Spirit. The new life that is planted in baptism and received by faith grows at is fed and nurtured by the sacraments, by disciplines and by prayer. God grace enables our effort to bear fruit. As we make the effort to imitate Christ through the life of prayer and our daily practice of love, God gives us the grace we need grow in virtue. This is not simply will power, or trying really hard to be good. This is God doing in us and with us what we cannot do all by ourselves.
2. A genuine life of faith that bears fruit has certain characteristics. First, it is characterized by continual repentance. As we become more like Christ, we are more and more aware of the ways we fall short. Thus, outward holiness is matched by inward humility. While others are aware of our goodness, we are aware of our sin.
3. The main characteristic of good fruit is the motive of love. Motives are hard to see at first, but they sneak out over time as we get to know people. Over time we see, not just what people do, we also see why they do it. This will only be observed by examination over time.
4. There may be little outward distinction between a good work motivated by love, and an outwardly good thing done that is motivated by guilt, fear, manipulation or a need to control things. Unhealthy people are attracted to unhealthy messages. The false prophet who plays on guilt is able to reach people who feel guilty. He may spur people to do something good for all the wrong reasons.
C. The Epistle. “We have received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, Abba Father.” This parallels Galatians, where St. Paul says, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, “Abba, Father.”
1. The epistle today gets at the key thing. The Spirit of God has been given to us. This Spirit makes us God’s adopted children so that we are able to call God, “Father.” The Spirit is an organic gift of new life. This gift is planted within us in baptism. As we grow in the Spirit, or as the Spirit grows in us, we “daily increase in the Holy Spirit more and more” (the Confirmation prayer, BCP 297) this life blossoms into fruit.
2. Galatians explains what this looks like, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians
3. The false prophet, then, will talk about God and maybe even about Jesus, but over time we will not see these fruits. The life of the false prophet will not produce the love, the joy and the peace, the patience, the goodness, the faithfulness and the the self-control that is the fruit of the Spirit—because he does not have the Holy Spirit and therefore his life cannot produce these fruits.
4. These fruits can only be produced within the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. Where the authentic Christian message is proclaimed and lived, we will see these things present and growing.
D. The Eucharist as the nourishment that produces fruit
1. The organic nature of Eucharist. We feed the interior life so that it grows and produces fruit. We receive Christ into our bodies in the Sacrament and his life in his produces new attitudes and new behaviors.
2. To produce this fruit we must do the inward work that that Liturgy prescribes. Repenting of sin, making a good confession, reconciling with others, putting our faith Jesus Christ, receiving him into our lives in a new way and going back into the world to live a new way. As this process of repentance, faith and new life become our habit of life, we live in Christ, in the Spirit, and we being to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.
3. The false prophet talks about God and Jesus, but does not repent, does not put his faith in Jesus, does not begin to love and does not bear fruit. Therefore, “beware of false prophets… You will know them by their fruits.” But, “we have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry out, Abba, Father.”