by Steven Chan
In John 15:1-8, Jesus discussed the relationships between the Father, Christ and those who are His disciples:-
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”
- Jesus emphasized that He is the “true” vine.
There are many “vines” that one can attach oneself to, but Jesus is the “true” vine. The “vine” is the means by which sustenance is provided to the branches and is also the medium for mutual support between the branches. Various organisations can try to provide that medium for relationship between its members but Jesus is the “true” one. “Truth” as against ‘falsehood” is the crux of the matter in the relationship with God and between fellow believers. It is not “better felt than told” or experiential “what works” that is the basis of the relationship of which God the Father is the vine-dresser.
- God the Father is the vine-dresser.
It is important to note what God the vine-dresser does:-
a. Fruitlessness in our professed discipleship is not acceptable to God.
God takes away “every branch that is attached to Jesus but for some reason does not bear fruit”.
He referred to those who are “in Me”, that is, “in Christ”. In other words, Jesus referred to all who have been baptized into Him (Gal 3:26-27).
Note that it did not refer to those “bearing bad fruit”; it also did not refer to “branches that fell off the vine”
It referred specifically to those who professed to be attached to Christ BUT failed to bear any fruit. They are akin to those who are lukewarm in their faith as in the church at Laodicea (Rev 3:15-16). Jesus wants us to be hot or fervent in our service to Him: “not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Rom 12:11). The one who is fervent will not wait to be told what to do. They will do whatever the Lord has commanded in His Word.
In Matt 3:7-10, the Bible recorded that “when (John) saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9 and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 10 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
In other words, all who expressed repentance from sins, and a desire to do God’s will, must “manifest the evidence or results of their repentance”. They should not be like “a sow, having washed, (turns back or backslides) to her wallowing in the mire.”(2 Peter 2:22)
Jesus warned of this need of repentance when He wrote to the churches in Asia (Rev 2:5, 16, 22; 3:3, 19).
b. God the vine-dresser, also “prunes” every branch that bears fruit, so that it may bear “more fruit”.
God is also concerned with those who bear fruit. He wants them to bear “more fruit”. It is not good enough to bear some fruit. God wants us to bear “more fruit”.
In order for us to bear “more fruit”, God will “prune” us. Pruning conveys the idea of “removing anything that hinders one’s ability to bear more fruit”.
In 2 Tim 2:21, the Bible teaches that we need to be cleansed or pruned from any dishonourable things so that we can be useful for the Master: “Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honour, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.” We must allow ourselves to be pruned or shaped by God’s Word so that we can be useful to Him. In Heb 12:5-7, 9-11 the Bible reminds us of the occasions when God disciplines us : “”My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?… Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
The apostle Paul shared about how God allowed circumstances to afflict him, for his ultimate good, in 2 Cor 12:7: “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”
Trials of life can refine and strengthen our faith: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing… Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life”(James 1:2-4,12)
- “I am the vine, you are the branches.”
Jesus was referring to the disciples as “the branches”. The same idea is found in 1 Cor 12:12: “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” Jesus was not referring to the religious “denominations” that we come across today. None of the religious denominations that we know of today, existed in the time of Christ. They were established by men many centuries after the death and resurrection of Christ and long after Christ had built His church that He had promised in Matt 16:18. Jesus bought His church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). The Lord added all who were saved to His church (Acts 2:47). According to Mark 16:16, “he who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Many denominations teach differently; they teach that one who believes is saved already, and then must be baptized for public confession of faith. But the Bible teaches that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16)
- “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you”
Premised on the our abiding in Jesus and letting His words abide in us, we can bear much fruit and God will not cast us away, and He will answer our prayers. Both conditions must be satisfied: To abide in Christ as well as to allow His words to abide in us.
To abide in Jesus is to live by faith in Him (Gal 2:20) and to rely on Him and on His Grace in all that we do (I Cor 15:10; Eph 6:10-17; Phil 4:6-7; Heb 4:16; 13:6)
Jesus said in John 14:23: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” This means that if we wish to abide in Jesus and also have Jesus and the Father abide in us, we must love God and keep His Word.
- By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”
We live to glorify God (I Pet 4:11). Jesus said that God is glorified when we bear much fruit. God is not glorified when we bear little fruit. The emphasis is on “abundance” as opposed to sparingly, paucity or scarcity.
A similar idea is discussed in the parable of the sower (Matt 13 and Mark 4) wherein the seed that was sown among thorns were unfruitful because of their pre-occupation and concerns with the needs of this world. They had no time to spend to cultivate in their lives the virtues required by God’s word and they also failed to spend time and effort to do His work. God expects significant changes in our lives and also the abundance of returns to God from our obedient service to Him. That is implied by the words, “thirty-fold, sixty-fold and hundred-fold”.
Brethren, Jesus used the illustration of the vine and the vine-dresser to teach us of the importance of abiding in Him (trusting Him and maintaining a loving, living, active working relationship with Him) and allowing His Words to stay in our hearts to guide us and mould us for greater service. The Bible exhorts us in James 1:22-25:
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”
How is our relationship with our Lord? Are we in danger of being cut off from the vine because of our lack of fruit? Are we bringing glory to God by the abundance of our fruits in preaching the Gospel, loving one another and good works while bearing the fruit of the Spirit? Let us examine our lives and resolve not to linger but to “rise up and build”! (Neh. 2:18)