We all have a need to be useful. Christians fulfill that purpose by being connected to Christ and bearing fruit. But what if we are in a relationship with God and our branches are bare, if there doesn’t seem like there is anything to show for our Christian walk? Jesus’ parable of the vine and the branches has the answer:
Two weeks ago, we began the seventh installment on Jesus and his ministry, a series titled “Jesus is …” In Part 1 of Jesus is the True Vine, we discussed the importance of being connected to Christ, he remaining in us and us in him. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing!
But not every believer bears as much fruit as she should. This week we discuss how even when we are connected to the True Vine, we sometimes need discipline and pruning to bear more fruit.
In John’s gospel, Jesus says,
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15:1-2)
The disciples would have grown up around vineyards, but not all of us did. Here are some things the disciples would have understood about grape vines that would have helped them understand what Jesus was teaching:
If a grape vine is left unattended, the branches will grow and grow and grow, and they might be pretty, leafy plants, but no grapes will grow. There is no fruit. Too many leaves block out the sun. The branches grow too long and lie on the ground, covered in dirt and grime. Successful vinedressers know that the branches have to be pruned each year for there to be fruit.
Discipline and Pruning
Jesus describes three kinds of branches. The first type is a branch that is producing no fruit. These, Jesus said, are “cut off” by the vinedresser, according to most translations. But some (like Bruce Wilkinson, author of Secrets of the Vine) say that a better interpretation of the Greek word translated as “cut off” is “to lift up.” The picture is of God lovingly, tenderly caring for the branch, lifting it off the ground and cleaning it so that it is not choked by dirt and grime. God wants that branch to bear fruit, not to burn, so he gives the branch what it needs, even if it is temporarily painful to the branch.
It is never fun to go through God’s discipline, just as a child does not enjoy a parent’s discipline at the time. But if we have allowed unconfessed sin to make us unfruitful, God may discipline us in love. “The Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Prov. 3:12 ESV)
My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. (Heb. 5:5-6)
The second kind of branch Jesus discusses is producing some fruit, but could produce much more. The vinedresser prunes these branches to make them even more fruitful. There may be things in our life that are not necessarily sinful, but are energy vampires, things that take too much time away from Kingdom work. God may prune us – cut away unproductive parts – and leave us healthier and more useful. If you’ve allowed social media, or hobbies, or even church activity to take an unhealthy priority, you may be ripe for pruning.
The third kind of branch, the ones that have been lifted up and pruned are producing “much fruit,” and that is the kind of branch we want to be.
Obedience = Remaining in Christ = Complete Joy
So how do we know if we are remaining in Jesus? What does it mean for a Christian to not just be attached to the vine – to be saved – but to “remain in” Christ? Jesus says that obedience to his commands is the key:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:9-11)
To remain in Christ, we obey his commands. What is his command? Love One Another.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)
We may not always want to be obedient. It usually goes against our human nature. But God wants what is best for us, and He knows that only through obedience to Him will our “joy be made complete.”
We must be connected to Christ to be fruitful, but sometimes, to be as fruitful as we can be, we need the vinedresser’s discipline and pruning shears. The key to remaining in Christ is obedience, not in an effort to earn salvation, but as a loving response to what God has done for us. Only then can our joy be complete.
We attach ourselves to so many things in this world in an effort to find that joy, but Jesus, and only Jesus, is the True Vine.
More posts in this series: