January 9, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Genesis 1:27-28; John 15:4-5, 8
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just 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. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. . . . My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
You can do good through your individual efforts, to be sure. But you will only experience full and true fruitfulness in relationship with others. If you want to make a difference that matters in this world, you can’t do it alone. Community is essential for fruitful living.
This devotion is part of the Life for Leaders series: Can’t Do It Alone.
Yesterday I began a new devotional series called Can’t Do It Alone. The devotions I’m writing these days are part of the De Pree Center’s current focus on relationships. In the next few months, you’ll find the Can’t Do It Alone theme throughout the center’s diverse programs. Whether we’re writing devotions, leading cohorts, training mentors, or helping people flourish in the third third of life, we will be emphasizing the importance of relationships.
You might wonder what the “It” is in “Can’t Do It Alone.” There isn’t one single answer to this question. “It” could be “Do your work in a way that glorifies God.” Or “It” could be “Gain greater clarity about God’s callings for your life,” or perhaps “Use the freedom of retirement to make a difference in the world.” Or . . . you name it.
From a biblical perspective, “It” might be “Live a fruitful life.” Scripture teaches that you can’t live a fully fruitful life alone. To be sure, you can contribute to fruitfulness through your individual efforts. What you do matters. But the kind of fruitfulness God intends for you is something you must do in relationship with other people. After all, even Jesus didn’t work alone. He gathered a community of disciples who shared in his kingdom work both during and after his earthly life.
We find the truth of Can’t Do It Alone in the very first chapter of the Bible. As I mentioned in yesterday’s devotion, Genesis 1 reveals that God created humankind in God’s own image “as male and female” (1:27). What this suggests about the nature of God is stunning—the foundation of a Trinitarian understanding of a profoundly relational God. And what this suggests about human beings is also stunning. It shows us that we are essentially relational from the very beginning. Community is part of our human DNA.
The following verse of Genesis makes a strong connection between our relational nature and fruitful living. After creating humankind as male and female in relationship with each other, God says to the man and woman, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). In the most obvious and literal sense of the language here, the man and the woman cannot be fruitful – giving birth to children – without collaboration. Yet, the fruitfulness envisioned in Genesis 1:28 includes far more than childbearing. All that we do in life that has value can be considered fruit, including our daily work, whether compensated or uncompensated. All of us can do tasks by ourselves, of course, but true fruitfulness is something we do in community with other people.
Jesus reinforces the connection between relationships and fruitfulness in John 15 when he says, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just 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. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. . . . My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” (John 15:4-5, 8). If we want to live fruitfully, the most important relationship of all is the one we have with Jesus. Unless we make our home in him, we will not bear fruit.
It’s common for American Christians to read this passage from John as if it were addressed to each one of us individually. When I heed what Jesus says here I think, “I need to be deeply connected to Jesus if I’m going to bear fruit in my life.” This isn’t wrong, but it is inadequate. Notice that Jesus is speaking to the community of his disciples, to his “branches” as a unit. So, while the Father will be pleased when an individual branch bears fruit, “much fruit” comes only when all the branches participate. When we are fruitful together, God is glorified.
I expect that you want your life to make a difference. You want to bear fruit that honors God and contributes to God’s purposes on earth. What you do with your individual talents, gifts, strengths, and opportunities count, to be sure. But if you want to bear all the fruit that God intends for you, then you can’t do it alone. Rather, you need to join your efforts to those of others. True, full fruitfulness comes through the community of God’s people sharing life and work together.
As you think about what you’ve accomplished in life, to what extent has this been something shared with others?
When in your professional or personal life have you experienced the fruitfulness of relationships?
Who are the people in your life today who help you to bear fruit that glorifies God?
Thank the Lord for the people who enrich your life by helping you to live fruitfully. You might even decide to thank them too.
Gracious God, thank you for creating humankind in your own image. What an honor it is to reflect and represent you in this world!
Thank you for creating us as beings in relationship from the very beginning. Not only does this enable us to bear your image more completely, but also it empowers us to live fruitfully.
Thank you for the people in my life with whom I am able to be fruitful. Thank you for my co-workers, my family members, my fellow congregants, and my neighbors. Thank you for the times when our collaboration expresses your grace and goodness.
Help me, Lord, to live and work in relationship with others. Help those in my communities to bear fruit that lasts, fruit that glorifies you. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: I Am the Vine and You Are the Branches (John 15).
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.