“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43-45 NIV84)
With the simplest of analogies Jesus cuts through the complications of properly understanding and reading people. If people are like trees, then just watch their fruit. Of course, people can be deceptive and, for a time, mask their true identity. But it won’t last long. Eventually, the true nature of a person is going to come out like good or bad fruit coming off of a tree. How can we be so certain? Because God created us to be motivated by our hearts. Jesus tells us in these verses that the good or bad fruit comes from what is “stored up in our hearts.” People will eventually reveal their true nature. The heart’s desires, motivations, and intents will eventually creep past the masks and into life. So, sometimes the best thing to do when you are confused about someone is to step back and take a broader view of the person’s life. What do their words and actions reveal about their hearts?
It is good to take a look at our own fruit, too. A person who is close to Jesus will produce fruit consistent with Jesus’ heart. Since we are connected to the Vine (John 15:5) our fruit will be Christlike. Because the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts, the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) will be evident in outward living. Our words and our actions will be in harmony. We must be concerned when words and actions aren’t saying the same thing. Jesus spoke and acted from a heart of compassion and mercy. Our words and actions should mirror His.
One last thing. This process of observing the fruit of others is not so we have a right to judge, gossip, and condemn. Jesus is providing us this process so we might know the heart of another person. Knowing another’s heart provides us the discernment necessary in choosing to love and accept, minister to, or avoid completely. Let’s leave the judging up to God.