“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 7:19)

WE USUALLY READ THIS VERSE as an admonition to behave well. We think of the “fruit” as good behavior and the “fire” as eternal punishment. By that line of thinking, the verse means something like this: Act right or you’ll go to hell. That may well be the case, but it’s not the warning given here. Jesus was speaking here about false prophets and how to recognize them. The “fruit” in this case is the result of their ministry.

The result they produce will be self-promotion and spiritual emptiness. What else would God do with such a “ministry” except destroy it? Paul wrote as much concerning the quality of all ministry in the church: “It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work” (1 Cor. 3:13). This is not a warning that our behavior will be punished but that the quality of our work will be revealed by the searing, scorching, purifying light of God’s truth.

I’ve spent the past few weeks gathering up dead sticks that I’ve pruned from the beautiful trees in my backyard. Next weekend, I’ll build a fire and burn the lot of them. And my yard will be healthy once again; only the living things will remain. So it will be when God brings His truth to bear upon the work we are doing in His vineyard.

Identify any deadwood in your ministry and remove it.

Lawrence W. Wilson is the author of A Different Kind of Crazy (WPH) and coauthor of The Long Road Home (WPH). He lives near Indianapolis, Indiana.

© 2017 Wesleyan Publishing House. Reprinted from Light from the Word. Used by permission.