As we observed yesterday, it’s very edifying to read Proverbs and the gospel of John side-by-side. In Proverbs, we have this wonderful collection of wisdom from above that God the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon his church. And in the gospel of John we are instructed directly from the lips of Wisdom Incarnate—the Logos—the Word made flesh. The wise sayings in Proverbs all point to Christ, and Christ is the key for unlocking the great blessings of the Proverbs.
And so in today’s passage from Proverbs we read that: “The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways, and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways.” (14) Again, we have these two contrasting outcomes surrounding one point of focus. First, we have the backslider in heart. The picture here is of a man whose heart is full of disloyalty—and so, while he initially may have been walking the path of righteousness, eventually he starts backing up, he turns around, and he departs in order to find a better way—one that seems right to his darkened understanding. The second picture we are given is that that of a good man. Notice that nothing is said about the good man’s actions. He simply remains steadfast on the path of righteousness. In the end, both of these men are filled with the fruit of their ways. The wisdom lesson here is clear: the condition of the heart directs the steps of a man—whether toward a destructive outcome or a blessed end.
We find the fullest revelation of this wisdom lesson in the words of Jesus that we heard this morning in John’s gospel. Jesus tells his disciples: “Abide in me, and I in you. 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. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
Here, we find the key that unlocks the proverb. One’s orientation to Jesus is what determines the condition of the heart and, subsequently, it is what determines the ultimate outcome for every man. The backslider in heart is one who turns his back on Jesus and departs in order to find his own way to God. Here, the Wisdom Incarnate warns his disciples that such an action is folly. Apart from me, Jesus says, you are a fruitless branch—able to bring forth nothing. You have cut yourself off from the true vine, and so you are good for nothing except to be thrown into the fire. Yet, those who remain attached to the vine—like the good man who simply remains on the path—these, Jesus says, are the ones who will bear much fruit. The joy of Jesus will fill them to overflowing, because they abide—rest—remain—in Jesus’ love. And what is that love? It is the love that he shows on the cross. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” It is the love that exchanges our sins for his perfect righteousness. It is the love that removes our disloyal heart and gives us a new heart that is full of faithfulness. It is the love that gives us the right to be called truly good.
May God the Holy Spirit preserve us in our faith so that we may remain as branches fixed firmly to Christ, the vine, and so that we may be filled with the fruit of his love as we await our blessed end.