I was struck by something the other morning as I looked at the beginning of Luke 9.
“Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece. And whatsoever house ye enter into, there abide, and thence depart. And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them. And they departed, and went through the towns, preaching the gospel, and healing every where” (Luke 9:1–6).
The thing that struck me was that Judas was right in the middle of this mix. Judas was casting out devils — the one who would be possessed by the Devil himself. Judas was a healer. He was a preacher. He was one of those who preached the gospel, and who went around “healing everywhere.”
Now Jesus also taught us to judge ministries by their fruit, and so this raises a question. Was Judas the fruit of Christ’s labors over the course of three years? Did the betrayal of Jesus by Judas tell us something about the ministry of Jesus? Or about the ministry of Judas?
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matt. 7:15–20).
When Jesus warns us about bad fruit from the false prophets, He is talking about the false teacher’s own life. Inwardly, He says, they are ravening wolves. Internal corruption will at some point be externally expressed. Hypocrites in leadership usually cannot keep that a secret for any length of time. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Be sure your sin will find you out.
The Lord was not teaching us to evaluate a school by the caliber of those who flunked out of it. If we were to make that mistake, we might condemn a very fine school because more people flunk out of it than do from a school with lower standards.
Ministries must be evaluated by the fruit. But this is not the same thing as evaluating it by the discontents or hypocrites who fall away. Paul’s ministry was not discredited by the fact that Demas fell in love with the world (2 Tim. 4:10). It would have been more of an indictment if Demas had fallen in love with the present world, and had been able stay in Paul’s inner circle despite that. Paul’s entourage was the kind of place where a man could apostatize — but he couldn’t apostatize and stay.
Any church, any ministry, any movement, will have people attracted to it who do not have the root of the matter in them. This out-of-place bad fruit will become apparent over time. In a healthy church, there will be formal discipline (suspension or excommunication) or there will also be informal discipline. Informal discipline occurs, for example, when someone realizes that he is thoroughly out of step with the life of the community, moves to another city, and then three years later runs up the flag of his discontents. Formal discipline has not occurred, but certainly a spiritual form of it has occurred.
So it is right and proper to evaluate a ministry by the fruit. But if the bad fruit was rejected, and is sitting in bins out behind the sorting factory, that provides no indictment of the factory at all. There would be a problem with the factory if the bins were empty. A ministry certainly can be judged as bearing bad fruit, but it cannot honestly be accused of that problem by the bad fruit itself.