The relationship of the Christian to Christ is like no other in human experience. It is so unique that multiple word-pictures are used in the Bible to convey to the human mind something of what this relationship is like. Jesus is depicted as King and Christians are his subjects. He is our Master, we his slaves. As we noticed yesterday, he is our Rabbi, we his disciples.
In one of the most expressive of these figures, in John 15:1-11 Jesus calls himself the true vine and those in relationship with him he described as being branches in the vine. This is an extended metaphor and deserving of careful attention. We can learn much about him and our relationship with him, how we abide in him, what he expects of us by studying this portion of scripture.
Jesus said in v. 1 of that text, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” The imagery of God as a vineyard keeper was used by the prophet Isaiah in ch. 5:1-7. In this passage, his people were compared to vines which he had planted in his vineyard and which he had tended and cared for as he waited for fruit. At the time of harvest he was disappointed when he found that they had borne, not the good fruit he had planted them for, but bitter, worthless, wild grapes. Here is how he described them …
“For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
but behold, bloodshed;
but behold, an outcry!”
Israel had been God’s people, charged with the responsibility of being his representatives in this benighted world. In the midst of wickedness, they were to show his character of justice and righteousness in the world. They were to be as light in a dark place, dispelling the darkness of evil and pointing men to the light. This was the fruit they were to bear – the fruit they had failed to bear. God looked for the fruit of justice – and got the bitter fruit of bloodshed. He looked for righteousness and got an outcry. They were no different from the world around them and deserved no different fate.
In the picture before us in John 15:1-11, Jesus is said to be the “true vine” and the Father the vinedresser. No doubt this would have evoked in the disciple’s minds the teaching of Isaiah as mentioned above. With him as the TRUE vine, he is saying that he came to do what the Father had desired Israel to do. Israel had been rejected upon their failure to bear good fruit. Now, through those who are connected with him, the fruit that God desires would be borne by the branches in the true vine. These branches were – and are – Jesus’ disciples.
Branches cannot bear fruit without being connected to the vine. Jesus emphasized that the branches (people) must abide – maintain their connection – in the vine in order to bear fruit. To abide in the vine is to remain faithful to him. If a man becomes unfaithful he is severed from the vine upon which he depends for life and fruit-bearing ability, he dies. He has lost his life sustaining connection and has no life of his own. Jesus said …
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4).
As long as we are connected to the vine we are able to bear the fruit God is looking for from us. Again Jesus told his disciples …
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5).
Fruit bearing is something that comes naturally for the one who remains connected to the vine. The true believer – the one who maintains that vital connection to the true vine – will bear “much fruit.” The fruit he bears is the good fruit the vinedresser is looking for and with which he is pleased.
From this we can learn that the fruit that Jesus’ disciples are to bear is not fruit for our own consumption or pleasure. We don’t decide what fruit we will bear. We must bear the fruit that the vine is intended to produce. It is not merely the fruit of morality for morality’s sake or goodness for goodness’ sake. The fruit we are to bear is the fruit that indicates God’s presence and purpose being carried out in human lives. It is the fruit that says to the world, “This is what God wants from you – this is the fruit God expects of the whole world.”
Fruit bearing for the Christian is not an option. If we do not bear fruit we will be cut off from the vine like a vinedresser prunes unproductive branches from a vine. Jesus said …
“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2).
Unproductive people may maintain a connection to a church, but be severed from Christ. Indeed, entire churches may be made up of people who have been pruned from the vine and have no life in them. They may, to God, resemble a dried brush pile just waiting to be burned. But where there is that vital connection to Christ there will be life and there will be fruit.
If anyone does not maintain his connection with the Son of God he is discarded and burned like a discarded pruning from a grapevine. Jesus is the life – the source and sustainer of life. We derive our life from him and he keeps us through the life he gives.
“If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:6).
The one who is thus discarded has no one to blame for his destruction but himself. He had life in connection with Jesus, he had the power to produce fruit, but he refused the life and became unproductive. He made the choice himself. He could have remained faithful, but he made a choice to leave his relationship with the Lord. He and he alone is responsible for his loss.
Being in Jesus comes with a wonderful promise. In v. 7 Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Many people believe that just anyone can pray to God and he will grant them whatever they wish. But Jesus conditions being heard on having that life-giving, life-preserving connection with him. The heavenly Father is not our cosmic bellhop, there to do our bidding. Those who do not bear fruit, those who are not concerned with doing justice and righteousness should not expect anything from a God of justice and righteousness. Those who have no desire for a connection with the Son of God should not expect anything from him.
Abiding in Jesus and producing fruit brings glory to God. It is not that God is egotistically demanding all these things of us. It is that when he is glorified by our doing his will, other people are benefited and they see God’s glory reflected in the Christian. Jesus said in v. 8 …
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
We don’t prove that we are Jesus’ disciples by winning arguments with other people. We don’t prove we are his disciples by church membership. We don’t prove we are his disciples by the name we wear. We prove we are his disciples by bearing fruit – the fruit of justice and righteousness – the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 6:22-23, which is “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” This fruit is for the world to see and “eat.” One could even think of it as the fruit of Eden. Not the forbidden fruit, of course, but the fruit of the tree of life.
Jesus then sums it all up in verses 9-10.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
He tells his disciples that he has loved them as the Father had loved him and that they were to abide in his love. How were they do do this? By keeping the Father’s commandments. That is what he had done. He asks nothing more of his disciple than he himself had done. The greatest commandment is to love God. The second is to love our fellow man. Loving as he has loved us includes bearing all the fruits we can bear. When we love our fellow man, whatever we have or whatever we can do to serve them is covered under the umbrella of love. If they are hungry we will feed them. If they are thirsty we will give them something to drink. If they need clothing we will provide them. This is how love acts (1 John 3:16-18). This is how we are to be faithful to the Lord. This – and a thousand other ways – is how we are to bear fruit.