“I Am the True Vine…”
Fruitful outcomes are something we expect from worthwhile endeavors. So we look at measures of productivity in the corporate world and perhaps also in our annuity or superannuation fund. Productivity is a sign of life and growth.
It is therefore interesting to learn that Jesus too is concerned with productivity. He lived in an agrarian culture and used grape-growing as a metaphor for the productivity he is committed to.
Vineyard owners work hard to develop the output of each vine. They know that to get maximum output there will be times when judicious pruning is required, for a good grower doesn’t confuse short-term profitability with long-term viability. Indeed, Jesus makes the point that a good vine-grower treats low-producing branches quite differently from non-productive ones.
In John 15:1-2 we read Jesus’ words: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”
To understand what his reference to fruit means, we need to consider the context of his words. The previous chapter concludes with his expectation that his people will love him and keep his commands. And in John 15:9 we read: ‘If you obey my commands you will remain in my love’.
There are times in the Old Testament when Israel was likened to a vine, planted and tended by God. Psalm 80:8-9 says of God, ‘You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. By the time of Jesus, the grapevine was close to being a national symbol for Israel – a little like the Big Apple for New York.
But there was something uncomplimentary about this, for wherever we find the metaphor of the vine in the Old Testament it seems to be associated with the moral and spiritual degradation of Israel. Isaiah 5, for example, tells us that instead of producing good grapes, Israel yielded sour grapes. For all the blessing God showered upon Israel, he looked in vain for a harvest of righteousness that he wanted to see. And Ezekiel bluntly said that Israel was a useless vine.
When we think about this we see that with his words, “I am the true vine”, Jesus was challenging Israel’s right to continue calling itself the people of God. ‘Israel may say it is a vine,’ Jesus is saying, ‘but I am the true vine’. “I am the vine,” he continues, “you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
These tough words were not just about Israel. They are also words to people who call themselves Christians but for whom Christianity is no more than a box to check. And Jesus warns us, ‘That is not enough!’ He expects visible evidence of our loyalty to Him. In the absence of such evidence, we cannot think of ourselves as secure in his friendship.
Israel’s mistake was to assume that because they had the temple, because they had the Scriptures, because they had the right pedigree, they would be immune from judgment.
It’s the same today. We can say, ‘I have been baptized and married in the church’, and, ‘I attend church at Easter’, thinking that all will be well when we pass from this world to the next. But, according to Jesus, the mark of everyone who is part of the true vine is fruitfulness. Where fruitfulness is absent, so is true faith.
So he continues: “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers;…” (John 15: 6). There is a dramatic change in the tense of the verbs here. Literally he is saying, ‘whoever is not remaining in me’ (present tense), ‘has been thrown away’ (past tense).
This strange counterpoint of tenses suggests that the severance of the branch and its consequent decay are not the result of its sterility, but the cause. It is because it never really belonged to the vine that it never produced fruit. So when he speaks of branches ‘in me’ being cut off, he is referring to people who have superficially belonged to a church and called themselves Christians.
Love in response to his love, prayer and loyalty to his commands is what Jesus expects of us.
As we reflect on what this fruit-bearing love and obedience looks like, we see that it refers to the reality of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the quality of our life measured by the Ten Commandments and the exhortations of the New Testament; it also involves sharing God’s passion for the lost. Fruitfulness is seen in Godly love and living, prayer, and drawing others to know Christ Jesus. Let’s pray for God’s grace enabling us to lead fruitful lives in Christ.
So urgent is the need for fruitful gospel living today, so ill-equipped are many of God’s people, will you also join with me in praying that many churches across the US will send representatives to the Anglican Connection June conference? It’s not just for ministers or even Anglicans. It is also for church members who are committed to the priority of God’s gospel.
Find out more at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgiBA9YCcB4&feature=youtu.be.
Further information and register at: https://anglicanconnection.com/2017-national-conference-effective-gospel-centered-churches/
Prayer. Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly living; give us grace so that we may always thankfully receive the immeasurable benefit of his sacrifice, and also daily endeavor to follow in the blessed steps of his most holy life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for evermore. Amen. (BCP Easter 2)