“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:6
When I lived in Victorville, I had two grapevines in my backyard. Every spring they grew like weeds—long branches and lush green leaves. But the grapes were tiny and more bitter than Sour Patch Kids. Sadly, the spiritual grapes in many Christians’ lives are just as small and sour. What can we do to produce something sweeter?
Grapes, vineyards and wine were all very relatable to people in Jesus’ time. So it’s not surprising that Jesus used a vineyard for his analogy when he made his final “I am” statement to his disciples: “I AM the true vine.” In the opening verses of chapter 15, Jesus sets the stage for his beautiful metaphor of the grapevine. He reveals the cast of characters: the true vine, Jesus Christ; the gardener, God the Father; and the branches, Christ’s followers. And Jesus goes on to make it clear that as his branches, we are to produce spiritual fruit.
Now, just so we’re clear on this, when God’s word speaks of bearing “spiritual fruit,” that includes the nine fruits of the spirit described in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are character-based fruit. But God also wants to us to bear ministry-based fruit. He wants to see you humbly serving others for their good. He wants to see you using your unique spiritual gifts to help grow Christ’s church. And most of all, He wants to see you leading people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
When it comes to spiritual fruit, Jesus is interested in both quality and quantity. And in John 15:2, Jesus talks about different stages of fruit growing in a Christian’s life: those who bear no fruit, those who bear some fruit, those who bear more fruit, and those who bear much fruit. It’s my hope that you want to live a life full of big, fat, juicy spiritual fruit. But before we get there, we’re likely to spend some time in the first three categories. For the sake of space, today I’m going to focus on the first category: those who bear no fruit.
If you’re bearing no fruit, at first glance, things look pretty bad for you. Jesus starts off verse 2 by saying that the Father “cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.” It certainly sounds like Jesus is saying that Christians who don’t bear fruit will be cut off from Christ. But that doesn’t jibe with what we read elsewhere in the New Testament about Jesus never leaving us or forsaking us. And in a wonderful book based on John 15, Secrets of the Vine, author Bruce Wilkinson makes an interesting observation: the Greek word that is translated “cuts off” is more literally translated as “takes up.”
Now, it could mean “take up” in the sense of cutting off the branch and throwing it away. But it could also mean “take up” in the sense of “lifting up” the branch for its own good. You see, while researching his book, Pastor Wilkinson had coffee with the owner of a large
vineyard. He learned that new
branches on a grapevine tend to trail down and grow along the ground. But they
don’t grow any fruit down there. Instead, the leaves become coated with dust,
mud and eventually mildew. Left that way, those branches become sick and useless.
But a good gardener, or vine dresser, doesn’t leave them down there, and he
doesn’t cut them off. As the vineyard owner explained, “The branch is much too
valuable for that.” California
Instead, the vine dresser goes through the vineyard with a bucket of water, looking for those branches that are trailing in the dirt. He lifts them up, washes them off, and wraps them around the trellis or ties them up. Pretty soon they’re thriving. Doesn’t that sound a lot like Jesus? He lifts us up, cleanses us and helps us flourish again.
If your life consistently bears no fruit, God will intervene to discipline you and set you growing in the right direction. That discipline may come in the form of illness, a lost job, a broken relationship, or a pierced conscience. So, if you’re experiencing pain or hardship, it’s a good idea to ask yourself: “Is the pain the result of some sin in my life? Is God disciplining me?”
If the answer is “Yes,” only humble repentance and obedience to God’s word will make the hardship go away. But if the answer is “No”—if there’s no apparent sin in your life that God is disciplining—rest assured, God is still working for your good. Next week we’ll talk about the somewhat painful, but very fruitful, process of pruning—and the ultimate spiritual rewards for those who bear much fruit.
Dane Davis is the Lead Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information,
visit www.fccvv.com and join us for worship Sundays at 10 a.m.