Faithful, but not Fruitful
- Junior deSouza
Ever felt like you were faithful...but not fruitful? Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, experienced this. He also
tasted the glories of moving beyond faithfulness into fruitfulness. Follow me with open Bible as we walk in Luke 1.
Luke 1:5-7 Faithful, but not fruitful
Zechariah was a priest, representing the people of Israel before God by ministering in the temple (v5). He and his
wife Elizabeth were faithful to God, "observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly" (v6). In
spite of their respectable resume, they were barren and unfruitful--they had no child (v7). In the Old Covenant system,
the fruit of the womb (children) was a reward from God (Deu 28:4,11, Ps 127:3-5). No fruit of the womb indicated
some spiritual deficiency (Deu 28:18, 2Sam 6:23, Isa 26:18). Couples who were childless, in that era, were
considered disgraced and disfavored by God.
APPLICATION: It is possible for us, too, to be spiritually faithful and spiritually unfruitful at the same time. It is
possible to run a godly hamster wheel, but still not accomplish rewarding results! I have done this before, and boy is
it disheartening. Jesus not only said to be faithful ("obey my commands" Jn 15:10), He also said to be fruitful ("bear
much fruit" Jn 15:8). The first command given to the first man was, "Be fruitful" (Gen 1:28). God calls us to spiritually
produce, accomplish, and leave a distinct signature.
v8-11 Prayer brings visitation
The good news is, God cherishes faithfulness (Pr 20:6, Lk 16:10). However, He wants it to ripen into fruitfulness. So,
He schedules a visitation with faithful Zechariah (v9) with the intention of making him fruitful. This visitation
manifested by prayer, others' and his own (v10,13).
APPLICATION: God schedules visitations for those Christians who are faithful, but not necessarily fruitful. You may
not realize it, but your divine visitation was/is manifested by prayer, others' and your own. You may have long
forgotten what you prayed and why, but God doesn't forget. Make the connection! Cornelius is a great example (Ac
10:1-4). Up until his visitation, he was faithful to what he knew of God--and he prayed. God visited him and brought
him into an amazing fruitfulness. Faithfulness schedules the visitation, prayer manifests it.
Zechariah's visitation came by way of an angel. Even so, we should not get hung up on the how of a visitation, but
the reality and meaning of it. God can visit us through a person or group bearing His word, a major providential life
experience, an usually timely book, a series of dreams, or anything else He may clothe Himself in to land in our life in
a personal way.
v12 The visitation troubles
God's visitation to Zechariah troubled and scared him. This is because the visitation was different than what was
familiar to Zechariah and the priesthood. Angels did not appear to priests in the Old Testament, they appeared
mainly to prophets (Gen 32:1, Num 22:22-35, 1Ki 19:3-7, 2Ki 1:3,15, 1Chr 21:18, Eze 40:3,4, Dan 9:21, 10:4-7, Zec
1:8-20). This is important to know. Zechariah was accustomed to experiencing God within his mundane temple
duties. Angelic appearances were not at all priestly, they were prophetly and warriorly. Zechariah certainly knew this,
being an Old Testament teacher (Mal 2:7-9). God's unusual, non-priestly, out-of-the-box, visit troubled Zechariah.
APPLICATION: When God visits and reveals Himself to us, He may do so in a way that is unfamiliar, unexpected,
unusual, un-Juniorly, un-whateveryournameis-ly. He may do it through an unlikely or unlikeable person (like Paul, an
ex-murderer of Christians, or Balaam, a pagan rent-a-prophet), a strange situation (like ditch-digging in a valley, 2Ki
3), an unexpected phenomenon (like a burning bush), a certain denomination, or anything else outside of our
backyard. The Lord does not seek our permission or opinion when He shows up! He will never contradict Scripture,
but He will certainly violate our predictable protocol. Consequently, some Christians feel troubled and afraid, like
Zechariah, when God visits them unusually to transition them into fruitfulness and productivity.
v13-17 The visitation blueprints coming fruitfulness
The visit promises Zechariah fruitfulness, and gives him a specific blueprint/vision to focus on (v13-17). He calms
his fears by assuring him that his fruitfulness will bring him and others much happiness (v14). He builds him up by
telling him his fruitfulness will bring a certain greatness and importance to his life (v15-17). He challenges him by
implying his coming fruitfulness will require growth and adaptation to new things (v17); Zechariah is a priest, now
being called to birth and raise a prophet. These are two very different ministry personalities.
APPLICATION: In our visitation, God will promise us fruitfulness too, and give us a specific blueprint/vision to focus
on. He will calm our fears by assuring us that our coming fruitfulness will bring much joy and fulfillment. He will build
us up by affirming that our fruitfulness will bring a certain greatness and importance to our life. He will challenge us
with a requirement for growth and adaptation. This is because our coming fruitfulness is beyond our current maturity,
ability, and experience. New things must be learned--new attitudes, new behaviors, new choices, new skills, new
goals, new relationships, new environments, new resources, new paradigms, and so on.
v18 The visitation addresses God-image & self-image
In verse 18 we read of Zechariah's reply to the blueprint: "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is
well along in years." This one verse holds volumes of insight into Zechariah and unfruitfulness. Zechariah had a small
God-image, which inevitably produces an even smaller self-image. He limited the I AM to his own am-nots, can-nots,
APPLICATION: Divine visitations always address our deepest God-opinions and self-opinions. You know, one tricky
thing about faithfulness is that we can hide behind it. As valuable and necessary as it is, faithfulness doesn't entirely
reveal our true spiritual fabric. We, like the priest and Elizabeth, can memorize and practice biblical commands
blamelessly. It is when we are mocked by looming non-productivity that the floodlight comes on. If God is small to us,
and we see ourselves as grasshoppers, we will forever live in mundane Christianity...daily devotionals, faithfully
attending church, giving money, doing good to others, keeping appetites on a leash. These are all necessary, but
they are only Step 1. Fruitfulness demands we defy our small view of Jehovah, affirm ourselves as conqueror-kings,
and navigate any challenges to learn productivity. Moses had a low God- and self-image (Ex 4:1-17). Isaiah had a
tremendous God- and self-image (Isa 6:8).
v19-22 The meaning of silence
After reassuring Zechariah that his coming fruitfulness is good news, a joyful hope and future, the angel removes his
ability to speak. God did this for two very important reasons.
First, it was disciplinary (v20). God suspended his speaking ability until he learned to use his mouth to praise and
thank Him, instead of sabotaging himself through self-defeating, self-absorbed talk. He learned the lesson well, for in
verse 64 "his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God." The last words
he spoke before the silence were faithless and defeating (v18); the first words he spoke after the silence were
God-praising and faith-filled (v64).
Secondly, the silence was a type of makeshift prophetic experience. Zechariah was not a prophet and did not need
to be prophetically adept. However, as John's father, he did need to understand personally a key facet of prophetic
ministry to understand his son: silence before proclamation. Prophets experience seasons of God-ordained silence
before giving their utterances (Eze 3:24-27, Lk 1:80, 3:2,3). This often includes extended times of solitude while the
revelatory dew is descending and saturating the prophet. During these times, the prophet is under orders to stay
silent until he, the messages, and the target environment are ripe.
As a priest, Zechariah would not fully understand this. God was giving him a taste of what his son would experience,
and therefore, be able affirm that in him. Otherwise, Zechariah might misinterpret his son's desert solitude as
emotional detachment or disturbance (Lk 1:80, 3:2). The crash-course on prophecy worked. At the end of
Zechariah's silence, he, a priest, prophesied the message that was settling on him for months (v67-79).
APPLICATION: God will silence our destructive and defeating speech. He will correct and train us to utter faith-filled
worship, praise, and thanksgiving at all times. He will also teach us the value of silence (Ecc 3:7, Pr 10:19); what it
means to wait silently on the Lord (Lam 3:26), to silently conceal knowledge when appropriate (Am 5:13), even to be
silent before persecutors (Mt 27:14).
v57,58 Fruitful at last
After many years of faithfulness, and a short period of sharp adjustment, Zechariah and Elizabeth finally produce
fruit--John is born. The difficulty, disgrace, and disappointment are quickly eclipsed by the beautiful, Spirit-filled baby
We also will be fruitful as we endure and overcome as John's parents did. As we remain stubbornly faithful, pray for
God to continually visit us, recognize and embrace these visitations, develop in our God-image and self-image, and
learn to administrate both silence and speaking, we too will bear glorious and rewarding fruit.
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