A Biblical Understanding
Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:23–24).
R. C. Sproul’s explanation of this profound passage takes us to the heart of a biblical understanding of flourishing.
Jesus spoke in the same breath of the hour of his glorification and of the hour of his death. . . . Jesus did not say that if a grain of wheat falls into the ground it might produce some fruit. Instead, He said that it would produce “much fruit.” It is not possible, not even theoretically possible, that the atonement of Jesus could not bear fruit. The Father makes certain that the grain of wheat that dies bears fruit.
If you are in Christ and have tasted of the bread of heaven, you are that fruit. Indeed, the fruit encompasses the whole of Jesus’ church. . . . Here we see the paradox of the Christian life that Jesus spoke about so often— we find life in dying to self and following Christ.1
We do not see the mysterious work of germination while the seed is in the ground, but as it is watered and warmed, it eventually sprouts, grows, blossoms, and bears fruit. This fruit does not depend on human achievement; it is other-worldly, spiritual, abundant, eternal. This is the fruit of repentance, the fruit of righteousness, the fruit of the Spirit. The world equates flourishing with activity and productivity. A biblical perspective does not mean we do more; it means we become more like Christ. We mature in faith, hope, and love. God himself describes this amazing process. Note what he says he will do.
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. . . . And you shall be my people, and I will be your God. . . . I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant. . . . Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it. (Ezek. 36:26–30, 36)
Death Leads to Life
As counterintuitive as it sounds, flourishing is a slow and progressive death that brings abundant life. Our new heart has new desires. Even as our physical bodies grow old, God causes our new desires to flourish as they are fertilized by his word and Spirit, and we die to self-centered desires, dreams, and demands. This is possible because of God’s covenant promise that he will be our God, we will be his people, and he will live among us.
The specific trees mentioned in Psalm 92 show the potential of the righteous to flourish and be fruitful.
Even as our physical bodies grow old, God causes our new desires to flourish as they are fertilized by his word and Spirit.
The date palm, which was common in Israel, grows straight. It is upright, majestic in its simplicity. And the older this tree becomes, the sweeter and more abundant the fruit it produces.
These tall evergreens can grow up to 30 meters tall, with large, fronded leaves which can span 4–5 meters and are tipped with sharp points. . . . In the spring, their large branches contain a multitude of small blossoms. . . . Dates are harvested in the dying days of the summer. The date palm is extremely economical, with every part of the tree having its own use.
The leaves are used to make ropes, baskets and other woven goods such as crates. The wood is used for household interiors, furniture and exterior areas.
The leaf bases and fruit stalks can be used as fuel.
The fruit can be used for date vinegar, date chutney, sweet pickle, date paste and flavoring.2
Just as every part of the Judean palm has a purpose, so too nothing in our lives is wasted. God uses everything to conform us to the likeness of Jesus (Rom. 8:28–29) and to benefit others. Joseph’s betrayal by his brothers was intended to harm him, “but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Gen. 50:20). Paul’s imprisonment was not wasted—“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12).
We flourish when we trust God and see that everything that happens to us is designed by him to advance the gospel in our hearts and in the hearts of others.
- R. C. Sproul, John, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2009), 229–30.
- “Filming in Israel the Original Biblical Palm Trees,” Biblical Productions, biblicalproductions.com/filming-in-israel/filming-in-israel-the-original-biblical-palm-trees/.
This article is adapted from Aging with Grace: Flourishing in an Anti-Aging Culture by Sharon Betters and Susan Hunt.
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