You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that remains, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. This I command you—to love one another. (John 15.16-17 NET)
When I was in bible college the teacher in one class engaged the students to define what the “fruit” referred to in John 15. It was a very lively discussion and the teacher gave no direction to the debate and the topic was left unresolved at the end of the class session. The teacher must not have known for himself the solution or else he would have guided the discussion more. At least it seems to me he really didn’t have a position on the reference of “fruit” in John 15. Being a young Christian, I could not decide which position was correct. One group of students argued for qualities internal to a Christian while another group said it was converts to which the fruit referred and so Jesus was urging evangelism.
Even bible translations (in its study notes), such as the NET Bible, do not define the concept of fruit as a single entity but say the section speaks transitionally from qualities in the disciples to a missional concept with these qualities reproduced in converts. I disagree with this nebulous reference and argue that the fruit mentioned is qualities in the disciples exclusively. These qualities are the fruit of The Spirit (see Gal. 5.22-24) which the believers bear as they both crucify their flesh and live in The Spirit.
My solution is utterly simple and takes the text at face value without the necessary forcing that the other positions employ with the terms “go” and “remain.”
This section of text (pericope) cannot refer to the fruits in converts by the use of “go” since the converts would themselves be subject to the Vine. The converts would be new branches themselves commanded to bear fruit. The concept of responsibility for others’ fruits is absent from scripture. Of course this fruit bearing in John 15 is toward others primarily or at least witnessed by others. Vs. 8 notes this: “My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples.” The “showing to be disciples” is obviously to others but without reference to resulting converts. The fruit is the witness, not the resultant branches who are chosen by The Lord.
Certainly, fruits such as peace and joy are internal to the Christian but cannot escape the notice of others. So, while a believer may experience joy and peace while alone, they (the believer) are further established to both individually praise God and to reflect God’s grace in their lives to others.
Some cite the term “remain” as indicating converts since converts “remain” and have eternal life. However, it is the fruit that remains as the text indicates. Of course the branches remain forever if they abide in the Vine, but the reference is to fruit, not branches. The determining of branches is from the Vine’s choosing: “you did not choose Me, but I chose you.”
1Cor. 3.9-15 is a section that also speaks to Christian fruit bearing also even if the metaphor changes to components of buildings (gold, silver, stones) as indicated by vs.9: “We are coworkers belonging to God. You are God’s field, God’s building… If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
In 1Cor. 3, the figure is a builder whose work remains if it is a certain quality. Here, the builder’s work remains just as the fruit remains in John 15. This fruit and the quality building refer to rewards that endure through eternity in the Christian. Of course, a Christian is never motivated by mere rewards, rather “we love, because He first loved us.” (1Jn. 4.19). The rewards are probably memorials of our collaboration with The Lord. In my mind, the promise of rewards give the Christian significance and purpose. The metaphoric gold and silver reflects the light of The Lord. The metaphoric fruits are savored.
Additionally, John 15.17, which closes the pericope, gives an explicit command to make clear what Jesus is talking about: “This I command you: Love one another.” If He wanted the disciples to understand the metaphor as evangelizing others, then He would have said something to indicate this idea instead of an action primarily among Christians.