“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” – Luke 6:46
Jesus did not expect his followers to live empty, fruitless lives. He expected us to produce fruit for his kingdom. Yet, we cannot bear fruit unless we are connected to the source of spiritual nourishment that makes it possible. In order to show us how to produce fruit, Jesus used a picture of the grape vine. It is recorded in John 15:1-8.
“I am the vine…”
In this analogy, Jesus likens himself to a grapevine. God the Father is the “gardener” or vinedresser. The followers of Jesus are the branches or tendrils emanating from the vine. The Father is pictured examining the vine for unfruitful, dead branches and then pruning them off “so that it [the vine] will be even more fruitful,” (John 15:2b).
Anyone who works with fruit trees, grapevines or plants knows that trimming away the deadwood renders a plant healthier. Unfruitful branches are a burden on the healthy portions of the plant. When they are trimmed off, the healthy branches become more productive. God the Father, the vinedresser, wants to see healthy, fruit-bearing branches emanating from the vine that represents his son in this analogy.
How does this “pruning” take place? People who work with wood and tree branches often speak of “cleaning” them. In the case of lumber, this may mean removing nails and rotted parts. The other day I “cleaned” some facing boards my stepson had removed from the eaves of our house. If I cut a branch from our camphor tree, I will clean it of twigs before chopping it up for disposal. To clean a branch on a growing vine is to remove all of the unproductive parts leaving only healthy parts. This apparently is what Jesus had in mind when he said to his talmidim (disciples or students) “You are already clean…” (John 15:3a). As a result of their time with Jesus, they were trimmed, productive and ready to bear fruit. But how had they been cleaned?
Note: The Greek word translated “prunes” in verse 2 means “to clean or trim by removing superfluous wood,” (BAG, p. 386d). The word “clean” is katharoi. Notice how similar this idea is to our English term “purge” or “catharsis.” The verb katharizo is used in the New Testament of ritual cleansing or purification (Matthew 23:25; Mark 7:9 etc.). To produce fruit for the Kingdom, each of us must be cleansed and purified so that we can draw spiritual energy from the “vine” – Christ. How did God (the vinedresser) accomplish this cleansing?
Jesus answers: “You are already clean because of [“through” – KJV] the word I have spoken to you,” (John 15:3). Jesus’ words – his teachings – had the effect of purging the deadwood from the disciple’s lives. This returns us to the theme passage of this series: “the things that Jesus said.” To “remain in Christ we must remain in his words – his teachings. One of the great problems in the mainstream Christian churches today is that there is much emphasis on the person of Christ at the expense of his teachings. Part of the reason for this imbalanced emphasis is probably fear of “legalism.” Yet, to bear fruit, we must come to know, understand and live his instructions and teachings. This is easier said than done.
If we cut ourselves off from Jesus’ teachings by ignoring them, or by replacing them with cultic shibboleths, we will cease to produce fruit: “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me,” (John 15:4b). To remain in Christ is to remain connected with him and with his teachings. In another place, Jesus is recorded as saying, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life,” (John 6:63b).
Jesus placed great stress on the importance of his words, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels,” (Mark 8:38).
Returning to our main study text we read, “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,” (John 15:5). The thought here is similar to that of Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain,”
As Christians, we must partner with God and take Jesus’ words seriously if we are to bear fruit for the kingdom. Cut off from Jesus and his teachings we will be fruitless and barren. The only house worth building is the one God builds. No amount of military technology can protect a nation that cuts itself off from divine protection.
Fruitless branches will be gathered and burned (John 15: 6). But, “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 (talmidim), (John 15:8).
If we can learn to study, understand, and apply in our lives, the words and teachings of Yeshua the rabbi, we can begin to bear the kind of fruit the Great Vinedresser wants to see. We will be nourished by the rich sap that flows from the vine into the branches. Cut off from that nourishing flow, we will wither and die.
This series of articles is designed to remind us all of Jesus’ life-giving instructions and teachings that we might become practiced in living them. The result will be bountiful fruit for the Kingdom of God.