Today we are going to take a close look at John 15 where Jesus is going to explore this metaphor of the vineyard. In this metaphor He gives the us the role descriptions, so that we are clear on what He is going to say. God is the gardener, Jesus the vine – the central plant, we are the branches and the result of our growth is fruit.
John 15:1-8 (NLT)
1 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
Let’s take this last verse as a starting point. A true disciple of Jesus Christ bears fruit. In the context of the metaphor of the vineyard, where we are branches, you might say it is our very purpose. Jesus is indicating that there needs to be a continuing process of growth and fruit bearing in our lives. He doesn’t give fruitless discipleship as an option.
Remaining in Christ
We may see our spiritual life as something we don’t have time for, after dealing with all the other responsibilities in life, such as work, family, hobbies and social relationships. I believe Jesus is teaching us to put our spiritual life first, instead of last.
I cannot flourish, unless I’m nourished
This nourishment happens in our spirits, through our relationship with Jesus.
We need to make a decision: There is no way I could ever even begin to thrive in any area of my life, without my spirit being nourished by Jesus first. I live from the inside out.
This is essential to understanding what “remaining in Jesus” really means. It’s that decision that we are spiritual beings that depend on God. And any achievements or performance is the fruit of a nourished spirit.
Jesus repeatedly says that we need to remain in Him. It’s the central theme of this passage. If we want to see any growth in our lives, we need to be connected to the source – the alternative is withering. We always run this risk of compartmentalising our lives into certain chunks of: work, family, hobbies, physique and spirit. And we have no difficulty putting Jesus in charge of that spiritual life.
However, remaining in Jesus and bearing fruit as a result goes a step further. This is where what Jesus is doing in our spirit impacts and form all the other parts of life.
Becoming a better spouse starts with thinking more like Jesus. Becoming a better parent starts with speaking more like Jesus. Becoming a better colleague starts with allowing Jesus to lead you and guide you in every decision you make When Jesus is Lord of your life, every part and every person will benefit.
He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. (John 15:2-3)
For healthy growth of a vine branch, pruning is necessary. The word used for pruning in this passage is the same word that is used for ‘cleansing’. Pruning a branch is necessary, for nearly every plant. It’s getting rid of dead wood or diseases to make sure the whole branch stays healthy. This illustrates that God is sometimes going to take action to get rid of something in us, so that our growth may continue and we may bear fruit. The Bible is full of illustrations like this. Purifying gold, is another one, or God being the Potter and we the clay.
It is a misunderstanding that God’s work in our lives always feels nice! Purifying is done in fire. Pruning is done with sharp scissors. It’s not supposed to feel good! If branches could talk, they would say to the gardener: Hey! What are you doing? Ouch! Stop it! I was just hanging out, leave me alone! When God is pruning us, we may respond in similar ways. Very spiritual branches might even start to pray the pruning away!
It requires faith to be OK with something being cut off with a promise that something better is going to grow out of it.I’m not saying that everything that happens to you comes from God, but I will say that He is able to use anything for your growth. Not only is the alternative to pruning even worse… The purpose of the pruning is to produce even more fruit!
Every situation in life – difficult and confronting as it might be, God will use as an opportunity for growth. We need to embrace it as such, if we want to flourish.
There is a verse in this passage that may have disturbed you a bit.
Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. (John 15:6-7)
The branches that don’t remain, miss out on the nourishment, will be cut off, thrown away and burned. Vine branches are only good for fruit bearing. You can’t build anything with the wood. It doesn’t even make good firewood! It’s useless unless it bears fruit.
If it is not cut off, then it will prevent the other branches to bear fruit. And God, being the good gardener that He is, will cut the branch off.
The big question is if is Jesus speaking about salvation here. If your life doesn’t change enough, will you lose heaven as your eternal destination?
I don’t believe that this is what Jesus is speaking about here. The whole passage is about true discipleship, not salvation. So, we should be careful not to interpret it that way.
Taking a close look at the actions, you see that the gardener does the cutting off and throwing away. But the burning “they” do, not the gardener!
When the disciple fails to be fruitful because he doesn’t take his nourishment from the vine, we can safely say that God will not just sit back and let it happen. He will intervene with a more radical type of pruning. The burning of the branch – not done by the gardener but by others – could then apply to the testimony of the disciple which becomes worthless, rather than his eternal destination. You don’t lose your salvation for a lack of fruit, but by denying Christ.
Moving on in this beautiful passage on growth and discipleship we encounter another word that is central to becoming a fruit-bearing disciple: obedience.
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!
Fruit-bearing disciples show their love for Jesus through their trust in what He says and act on it. But why is it that we find obedience such a hard word to swallow? Perhaps because we still think like we have to deserve God’s love. That’s not what He is saying here! Obedience is not a condition for His love for us. It is the way that our love for Him is shown.
This type of obedience has nothing to do with oppression or condition, obeying Jesus is a joyful thing. We know that His plans for us are good. We know that this obedience is equal to fruit bearing. Learning to obey Jesus may be a process that requires change and it may involve some pruning – but there is a sure promise of bearing fruit.
The last verses make abundantly clear that obeying Jesus is not something we do out of pressure or guilt, but out of a loving and trusting relationship.
This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other.
The branch is connected to the vine through love and trust. He calls us friends and He trusts us. The friendship is not a result of the obedience, it’s the other way around!
From a place of friendship and nourishment we are led to a place of complete trust and obedience.
Friendship with Jesus is not a result of the obedience. Our obedience is a result of our friendship with Him!
When you think you can gain approval and love through obedience, what does that make you? A slave! But He doesn’t call us slaves, He calls us friends.
Jesus is not the most popular guy in school that you are trying to gain approval from through doing things He likes. Nor is Jesus the strict employer that will give you a raise when you work long hours and get him coffee. We also don't approach Jesus like the professor that we try to impress with our knowledge of the book he wrote.
Jesus is the most intimate friend you will ever have! The more you will get to know Him, the more you get to love Him, the more you will do what He says because you know that His way is the best way – resulting in a blessed life.
Growth starts, when we learn to love Jesus more.