This is our third and final week taking a look at John 15:1-8. We’ve taken time to take a long look at Jesus, the True Vine, the One who is the fulfillment of everything God called His Chosen People to be as a kingdom of priests to the nations. We took another week to take a look at God the Vinedresser, or Gardner as we read in the NIV, and the intimate care that He takes in planting and tending the Vine and His branches. This week we’re going to spend our time trying to understand the pruning process that the branches go through to ensure their productivity. Let’s read our Scripture and then we’ll see what we can learn.
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 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. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 “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. 6 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. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8 NIVO)
Anytime we study God’s Word we have to take into consideration the context in which the words were written. Far too often we read a verse of Scripture and think we understand it with no consideration of the time, culture, and customs of the day. This can lead us to making statements about God’s Word, about what is taught, that are not necessarily accurate. It doesn’t mean that we can’t understand the Bible, but it does mean that it limits our understanding of the message God is seeking to share with us. Today’s Scripture is a great example of this. I’ve read all kinds of interpretations of the Scripture we’ve been looking at the past three weeks. Some of them have been pretty convincing if you leave out the rest of the teaching of God’s Word. I shared one of them with you last time we were together. In verse 2 we read, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit…” Many say that those followers of Jesus that don’t bear fruit are cut off from Jesus. If this is true then it leads to lots of questions like, “How much fruit do I have to produce each day to keep from being cut off? Do I have to produce more fruit than the next person? Is there a scale so the longer you’ve known Jesus the more fruit you have to produce?” Those are relevant questions if we accept this verse at face value. I can easily understand how you can draw that conclusion if you refuse to take into consideration the teaching of the rest of God’s Word. It’s pretty straightforward. If you don’t bear fruit then God will cut you off. If you take into consideration the rest of God’s Word then you will learn that salvation is from God, solely the work of God, and Jesus said,
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:27-29 NIVO)
There are many other verses from God’s Word I could share with you that reinforce what I am saying, “Salvation is the work of God alone.” Understanding these passages leads us to search for an alternative, what else could Jesus be teaching if He is not teaching that His followers will be cut off by God if they don’t produce enough fruit? I think we need to remember where Jesus was at the time He spoke these words and who was present.
Understanding what Jesus is trying to teach us is made more clear when we remember that Jesus was in the Upper Room with His disciples when He spoke these words. He had been surrounded by His twelve disciples, but one of them, Judas, had been dismissed. Was Judas truly one of the disciples? Was Judas “in Christ?” like the other eleven disciples? Let’s take a closer look.
Do you remember the scene when Jesus and His disciples first arrived in the Upper Room? He took a basin of water and a towel and He began to wash their feet. Jesus was preparing to wash the feet of Simon Peter when Peter stopped Him. Peter said, “You shall never wash my feet.” Then Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you have no part in me.” Peter said, “Then, Lord, not just my feet, but my hands and head as well.” In John 13:10-11 we read,
10 Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. (John 13:10-11 NIVO)
Jesus already knew didn’t He? Peter and the other disciples were already “clean,” but not Judas. Jesus made that clear when He said, “And you are clean, though not every one of you.” That took place in John 13, but I want to take you back to John 6:70-71 so you can see that Judas, though he was following Jesus around the countryside, he was never one of Jesus followers. Listen as I read you the Scripture.
70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.) (John 6:70-71 NIVO)
We can see from the context of John 14-15 that the Vine is Jesus, the Vinedresser is God the Father, the fruit-bearing branches are the eleven disciples and all true followers of Jesus up to our day, and the fruitless branches, the Judas branches if you will, are those who like Judas hang around Jesus, but never submit themselves to Jesus.
A branch that is truly connected to Jesus the Vine is secure and will never be removed. There will be seasons of great fruitfulness and there will be seasons when there will be little fruit, but a branch that is connected to Jesus is sure to bear fruit because it is connected to the Vine and being tended by the Father, the Gardener.
There are branches, Judas branches if you will, who appear to be in the Vine. They may attend church, are able to quote verses of Scripture, and even serve in various ways, but like Judas, appearances are deceiving. They’ve never surrendered their hearts and will to Jesus. Like Judas, their agenda and will is more important than Jesus’ glory and His purpose for their life. Every church has its Judases, but they won’t last, they will be broken off by the Gardener.
I want you to remember Jesus’ words, “I am the True Vine.” God called His Chosen People the Vine and they were to minister to the world, to bear much fruit, but they failed and failed miserably. Jesus said, “I am the True Vine.” Everything God intended for the ministry of His people has been fulfilled in Jesus, the True Vine of God. Jesus had been preparing His disciples throughout His earthly ministry to carry on His work of ministering to the nations, of sharing God’s grace and truth with all people, and following His resurrection we read the words Jesus spoke to His followers.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21 NIVO)
We have been joined to the Vine to carry on the ministry of the Vine. Jesus is not a self-improvement course sitting alongside the other self-improvement courses from Tony Robbins, Dr. Phil, and Oprah’s latest spawn that you will find on the shelves at Barnes and Noble. Jesus did not come to make us happy, He came to make us His, to make us holy, to set us apart as His unique people called to live committed to His mission in this world.
How does God fit us for this mission? How does He make us fruitful? That’s a great question and our answer is found in the Father’s cleansing and pruning and our abiding. I want us to look at each of these in the next few minutes. We run into the first of these in John 15:2 where we read,
2 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 15:2 NIVO)
Did you notice the word, “prune?” Every branch that does bear fruit is pruned. The Greek word translated “prune” is the word, “????????” which means, “to cleanse, of filth, impurity, etc. or to prune trees and vines from useless shoots.” It’s the Father’s will for you and me to be fruitful, to bear much fruit. In order for us to be fruitful the Gardener must cleanse us and prune us of all of those things that will prevent us being fruitful.
If you will remember what Jesus said to Simon Peter as He was preparing to wash His feet. He told Peter that He didn’t need to be “cleansed” again, but he only needed His feet washed. For those who have been saved by God we don’t need to be saved again and again, but we do need to undergo constant cleansing by the Father. Our hearts gather dust and dirt, our hearts become gritty and grimey from living in this wayward world and sharing life with others whose lives are just as broken as ours, and our hearts need the constant attention, inspection, and cleansing of the Father. This is why David, a man the Bible describes as a “man after God’s own heart” prayed,
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24 NIVO)
Just as the vinedresser keeps a watchful eye on his plants so he can spot mold, mildew, and anything that might threaten the fruitfulness of his vines, so the Gardener keeps a watchful eye on you and me to cleanse us of all that threatens our fruitfulness. The mold of bitterness, anger, lust, and greed will keep us from being fruitful. The mildew of pride, unforgiveness, hatred, fear, and apathy will keep us from being fruitful. We are unable to cleanse ourselves of these enemies of our productivity, but the Gardener can not only spot them, but He can remove them.
I know this to be true from firsthand experience. My heart has been becoming increasingly dirty and grimey. Connie and I were talking about life on our way back from St. Louis last Sunday when she said, “You need to watch the movie ‘War Room.’ It’s about a messed up marriage, but the principles that are taught are applicable to every relationship in life.” I watched the movie Sunday and Monday of this past week and God used it to pierce my heart. In the movie, Liz, had become increasingly bitter towards her husband until she ran into an old lady named Miss Clara, a godly woman, who began to teach Liz about God’s Word and God’s ways. Liz began to pray for her husband. Liz began to believe God’s Truth found in God’s Word rather than believe her negative emotions towards her husband. The truths of God’s Word began to change Liz even though her husband was still a mess. Liz began to love her husband, pray for her husband, and honor her husband even though he was still a mess. Liz’s heart had become dirty and grimey and only God could do the work that needed to be done to cleanse Liz’s heart and change her mind. We need the watchful eye of the Gardener to spot those things that will squash our fruitfulness.
God also prunes us. In our last study we talked about the pruning process of those who grew grapes in ancient Israel. The process, for those who are unfamiliar with pruning, can look brutal. The vinedresser doesn’t just snip the ends of the branches and neither does he prune the branches in a random way. He knows what needs to be done for the branches to be most productive and he’s willing to work to prune away everything that will hinder the branches from bearing the most fruit.
God prunes us for the same purpose of making us fruitful. Once we begin to follow Jesus, God begins to prune us. He works through His Word and His Spirit to cut away that which is unproductive. Some of the ways we spend our time are not fruitful for the purpose God has called us to. The way we use our time may be enjoyable, but God wants to make us fruitful. Some of the ways we conduct our daily life is not fruitful so God will begin to work to prune our habits and daily routines so that we will become fruitful. God wants to cut away all that will keep us from becoming fruitful. As painful as letting go of some of these things may be we will learn that God is working for our good and not our misery. Let me give you an illustration from the life of Steve Silva.
In 1984, Steve Silva was 31 years old and wasn’t expected to live another five years. Steve was in control of his life, doing what he wanted to do, and whenever he wanted to do it. As a result, Steve was 5 ft. 8 inches tall and weighed 425 lbs. His blood pressure was somewhere around 206 over 135 and his cholesterol was more than 450. He suffered from gout, a bad back, and degenerative joint disease in both of his ankles. He could barely climb one flight of stairs without collapsing. This was true of a man who was a 250 lb bruising football player in high school.
Fast forward to 1992. Steve weighed in at 190 lbs of twisted steel. He was in the news as a stair climber who was trying to break the world record for the “vertical mile,” a run up and down the 1,652 steps of the Eiffel Tower seven and a half times. He had already done the feat in two hours and five minutes.
How in the world did he change? It’s both simple and incredibly painful. Steve asked for help. He submitted himself to someone who cut his calorie intake drastically and increased his physical activity gradually. Steve went through the painful process of pruning and his fruitfulness flourished. When Steve was in charge of his own life he couldn’t climb a flight of stairs, yet when he trained for the Eiffel Tower challengehe was running 3,100 flights of steps each week, that’s more than 46,000 steps a week.
Steve Silva would have never done that on his own. He could have never pruned away the things that were keeping him from becoming fruitful. He needed help and he needed to submit himself to those who were willing to help him by putting him through the painful process. You and I are no different. God isn’t pruning us to become world class stair climbers–He is pruning us to carry on the ministry of Jesus to a lost and broken world.
The hardships that Steve endured were the loss of his favorite foods, control of his own schedule, and his inactivity. God can use hardships like these to prune us, but His pruning process includes so much more. The writer of Hebrews tells us,
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. (Hebrews 12:7-12 NIVO)
God disciplines His children. God prunes His children. The hardships we go through in life are part of His pruning process to make us fruitful for His purpose and for us to become increasingly dependent upon Him and Him alone. Let me give you an example. The Apostle wrote to the folks in Corinth and told them about a horrible situation he found himself in when he thought he was going to die. As horrible as the situation was, Paul learned an invaluable lesson. Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 and let’s read together.
8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9 NIVO)
If we know the Father’s love for us it will change the way we look at trials and the hardships of life. The Gardener doesn’t allow us to go through the fiery trials of life for no purpose. The heartache He allows to come into our life are His instruments of pruning so we will bear much fruit.
God cleanses us, He prunes us, and He calls us to abide in the Vine. The Greek word translated, “abide,” is “????” (meno) and it means, “to remain, abide, not to depart, or to endure.” In John 15:1-10, the word is used ten times. Jesus said we can’t bear fruit unless we abide in Him and His teachings. We don’t abide in the Vine by simply coming to Sunday school and church on Sunday. The branches of the grapevine abide around the clock. It is through the vine that they receive their sustenance. Abiding in the vine assures their fruitfulness and abiding in Jesus assures our fruitfulness as well. John tells us,
4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (1 John 2:4-6 NIVO)
How do we know we are “in Him?” We walk, we live, we speak like Jesus. Our hearts are broken over the things that break His heart. Our minds are set on the things of God and not the things of this earth. If we know Him we will abide in Him each and every moment of each and every day. So, immediately you’re thinking, “That doesn’t describe me. My mind if often dark and gloomy. My heart is dirty and grimey.” Mine too, but the Gardener is at work and He will never stop His work in cleansing and pruning you and me so that we will bear much fruit.
Before we go I want to show you the kind of fruit the Gardener has in mind as He continues to cleanse and prune you and me. Turn to Galatians 5:19-23 and let’s read together.
19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:19-23 NIVO)
The fruit of the flesh, the fruit we naturally produce, is quite different from the fruit the Father will produce in His own. We don’t have to be taught how to produce the fruit of sexual immorality or selfish ambition do we? We don’t have to be taught how to divide and conquer through dissension, factions, and envy do we? Whereas we don’t need to be taught how to produce these fleshly fruits, we can’t be taught the fruit of the Spirit. They are the work of the Spirit and the Word in the lives of all of those who abide in Jesus.
Maybe you’ve heard what I’ve shared this morning and God has been speaking to your heart. You want to know more. You are tired of the life you’ve been living and you sense God is calling you to Himself. I want to invite you to surrender your heart to Jesus this morning and allow God to begin to work in your life to prune away all of that which is keeping you from bearing much fruit.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 28, 2016