The Sermon on the Mount concludes with five contrasting images. The second one is a simple yet very practical metaphor comparing fruit trees and religious leaders.
Jesus of Nazareth came to a religious culture that had exchanged relationship for rules. Israel’s leaders had become arrogant and judgmental. They condemned Jesus for not observing their strict religious laws, for consorting with sinners and for claiming to be the Son of God. Isn’t it ironic that they were right about Jesus, but wrong about their motives?
Jesus publicly confronted them for misrepresenting his Father’s character and compassion. These religious leaders heaped unbearable burdens upon their followers while being hypocrites and “whitewashed tombs.” Time and again, Christ warned his disciples to avoid predatory teachers like these. Eventually, these religious leaders would conspire with the political authorities to crucify him.
Jesus tells us we can discern between godly and ungodly teachers by the fruit of their lives. He says that false preachers will inevitably and consistently do the wrong things for the wrong reasons. Their deeds will expose their hearts.
Just as a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears poor fruit, a selfish life will produce bitter things. Fruit trees that don’t bear fruit are only good for one thing: firewood. The metaphor is obvious.
Look closely at the lives of those who teach and preach. Be discerning before giving them your attention and allegiance. Even the best leaders won’t be perfect, but you’ll know by their fruit whether you’re wise to follow them.