(This post was written by Shannan Copland, Worship Administrative Assistant)
“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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
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 15:1-11 NIV (underline added)
I realize there have been books, commentaries and sermons on just small portions of this passage as it is compacted with so many components to dissect. However, bear with me as I really just want to touch on a couple things here that have really stood out to me as I have studied this.
Jesus says these words to the disciples the night before His crucifixion. As He gave this analogy regarding our relationship with Christ, the disciples were very familiar with the symbol of the vine as it is all throughout the Old Testament (Ps. 80:8-16; Isa. 5:1-7; Jer. 2:21; 5:10; 12:10; Ezek. 15:1-8; 17:1-24; Hos. 10:1). It is even noted that the image of a vine was imprinted on the coins minted by the Jewish nation during the Maccabean period.*
So let’s start with the different roles in this passage, in order of appearance…
Jesus is the True Vine.
The Father is the Gardener who has all authority over the vineyard.
The branches are disciples of Jesus, those that bear fruit, and those that don’t. Each part of the vine has a responsibility, and since I am a disciple of Jesus, that’s the part I want to hone in on.
As believers, we are the branches. If you look back on the passage above, I underlined key points that deal with our responsibility as followers of Christ. One of the ways I try to digest passages like these is to think through it all as if Jesus is speaking directly to me in my own heart language. So, Jesus says…
Remain in Me. How? By obeying Me. What are you to obey? My commands—My Word.
Why obey #1? Because apart from Me you can do nothing. Anything you do without remaining in Me, is nothing, it is worthless. The Vine sustains and gives life to the branches. Without the Vine, the branches are worthless. (To this I think, “Hmm, do I want to waste my time doing anything that is worthless?”)
Why obey #2? Because the fruit you will produce by remaining in Me will bring glory to the Father.
Why obey #3? Because I have loved you and I want you to experience My complete joy!
Jesus does not just say, “Obey Me, because I am the Son of God, and I said so!” He was an example of obedience first, by fulfilling His responsibility to love us despite our sin and shame. He took our ugliness upon Himself, staining His perfection, on the cross. That is love. How can we not be compelled to remain in, compelled to obey, someone who loves us that much? Would someone who loves us that much fail us? Never. Now that issues us back to the pruning process we will go through as we remain in Him. It’s not pleasant, it can be painful. But it is necessary to produce beautiful fruit.
I’m 8 years older than my little brother, Sean, who I love very much. But I vividly remember being annoyed with him as he went through the stage of always asking “why” to everything imaginable as a toddler. The question “why” never stopped, but that’s how he learned. Jesus answered all the why’s we have as His children when asked to obey, and He even tells us what happens when we don’t obey. Jesus says that His responsibility is to love us, and our responsibility is to remain in His love by obeying His Word so that we can bear much fruit and experience His complete joy.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have it all together. But thanks be to God that I can experience His love as He builds my character through His tough pruning process. I want His complete joy. I want to bring glory to God. I want to produce fruit that marks me as a follower of His—that He may call me His own. So to that, I say, “Bring on the pruning!” as much as I know it will hurt!
I challenge you to dig deep into this passage too. What is the greatest lesson you have taken away from what Jesus says? What kind of branch are you? What is your responsibility? And a question that’s up close and personal, what commands are you neglecting or having trouble obeying?
Now with such an emphasis on the action of obedience we cannot get too washed up in our own actions. Remember, it is by the grace of God through our faith in Christ Jesus that we are initially saved (Ephesians 2:8-9). But as followers of Christ, Scripture says you will know a tree by its fruit (Matt. 7:16). If you claim to be a Christian, a follower of Christ, does your fruit show it? That’s where our obedience comes in—we will produce the fruit of a follower of Christ when we obey Him (James 2).
One last note, I promise. Notice that according to this passage, our responsibility is not to produce fruit. All we are to do here is to remain in Christ by obeying Him. The fruit is a by-product of our obedience.
As they say, food for thought. Thanks for the meal, Jesus.
*William Barclay, The Gospel of John, 2 vols (Philadelphia Westminster Press, 1956), 2 201