Luke 3:1-20 (AD 27)
So, um…awkward question here: are you a viper? Do you belong to a brood of vipers?
It was an astonishing exclamation by John the Baptist in verse seven. He sensed/knew the hypocrisy in some or many of those who were travelling out to the desert to hear or be baptised by him. Baptism – no matter how sure they were of its efficacy – could NOT save them. He made that clear.
He cut to the core of what was needed: repentance (v.8). Matthew told us that was John and Jesus’s key message (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). But not everyone was interested in that – many wanted the ticket to God and got the impression from friends or hearsay that being baptised by John the Baptist would get it done.
John commanded that they “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” [emphasis mine]. You can’t bear fruit without the appropriate tree, as Jesus would later point out. Apple trees bear apples, fig trees bear figs, repentance trees bear good works.
Elsewhere in the New Testament are more commands that show what a Christian is like; behaviours that the Holy Spirit encourages in a Christian’s heart. But notice here that John first gave general advice but then tailored it, after some people – not put off by being called vipers – asked him to help them.
To all of them, he said that having two of something essential qualified them as having enough to give to someone who had none. Clearly this was something of an issue then, just as extortion and false accusation were common sins among the soldiers and tax collectors whom he then addressed directly.
It’s tempting to think of tithing or giving to the church and directly to those in need, as something we’ll do when we have more money. Or that’ll we’ll be generous when we have more money. In truth, some of the most generous people I know have very little, and when you get more money, you don’t become more generous, so the excuse to not be generous perpetuates itself. However much you have, you will feel like when you have more you’ll be happy to give it away.
Fruit of repentance, in these examples, is a combination of avoiding certain evils and performing specific good acts. None of them are rituals. All must come from an attitude of loving God and people and wanting to see them treated well.
So generosity isn’t something you DO, it’s something you ARE. An attitude that you deliberately cultivate. It’s a fruit of repentance because when you are genuinely sorry for your sinfulness, asking God to forgive you, you recognise that his forgiveness is free to you, that it cost him everything, and that you didn’t deserve it. That should – if you remind yourself of it – leave you primed to have an attitude of generosity to others.