John 15:1-6. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also 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. 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. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” NIV
These are some of Jesus’ final words to his disciples. He has spoken about his departure and assured them of his return (John 14). Now his focus is on his disciples remaining or keeping connected to him as they live in the world following his departure. Jesus was probably walking through a vineyard with his disciples when he gave this teaching. He often drew analogies from the culture around him and from ancient Jewish traditions, infusing them with fresh spiritual meaning. The vine and the vineyard were old and sacred images in Judaism. The vine represented Israel: God’s covenant people who were meant to bear fruit (see Psalm 80:7-9. Isaiah 5:3-5). Jesus boldly declares, “I am the true vine” (his seventh and final “I AM” statement in this Gospel). He has taken the place of Israel as God’s true planting, the one on whom God’s purposes are now resting. His Father is the gardener and we as his disciples are the branches.
God wants his children to live an abundantly fruitful life. That’s why he put us on this earth (see Psalm 1:3. John 15:8. Titus 3:14). Fruit represents ‘good works’ - a thought, attitude, or action of ours that God values because it glorifies him. The fruit from our life is how we bring honor to God on earth. We bear inner fruit when we allow God to nurture in us a new, Christ-like quality: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).” We bear outer fruit when we allow God to work through us to bring him glory. That includes sharing our faith but also serving others in love. Fruit-bearing flowing out of an intimate relationship with Jesus is why he chose us (John 15:16. Ephesians 2:10).
Jesus describes four different levels of fruitfulness in this teaching (see vs.2, 5): (1) “no fruit”, (2) “fruit”, (3) “more fruit”, and (4) “much fruit”. The Father wants more fruit from us so much that he actively tends to our lives so we will keep growing - from a barren to a productive branch. We were created to bear fruit, more fruit and much fruit! Of course, the fruit of our good works does not refer to things we do in order to earn God’s grace but are simply an overflow of the life of Jesus in us. Jesus calls us to do more of our life with him not just more for him. If you were accused of being a follower of Jesus, is there enough evidence to convict you? How’s your fruit?
Any vine or bush left to itself will become straggly and tangled, and grow in on itself. It will produce quite a lot of not-so-good fruit (or flowers) rather than a smaller number of splendid ones. It will, quite literally, get in its own light. So you prune it to stop it wasting its energy and being unproductive. You cut out, particularly, the parts of the plant that are growing inwards and getting tangled up. You encourage the shoots that are growing outwards, toward the light. You prune, in other words, to help the plant be its true self – to focus its energy on producing good quality fruit, rather than lots of second rate ones. That’s why any good gardener knows the value of pruning. Through pruning, growth that is dead or dying is removed, adequate sunlight is allowed to get to all the fruit-bearing branches, the size and quality of the fruit is improved, and new fruit is encouraged to develop.
Pruning, like loving discipline, is painful at the time, but it results in the potential of more fruit (vs.2). Sometimes ‘less is more’ and through removing certain things in our lives or hearts, we make room for more. Is God doing some pruning in your life right now? Is there some pruning you need to do – of certain commitments, or possessions, or lesser priorities?
The key to fruitfulness is that we as Jesus’ disciples abide (or remain connected, attached) in him, as he is our life source. Apart from him we can really do nothing of lasting value. Connected to him, we can bear much fruit. Discipleship is not a matter of merely acknowledging who Jesus is (a set of doctrinal beliefs); it is having Jesus spiritually connected to our inner lives (a way of life characterized by love).
Abiding in Christ is a command for all disciples, not a suggestion or a request. But how do we do so practically? Throughout history, followers of Christ have connected closely with Christ in different ways – what we could call ‘abiding styles’. Here are five of them:
- Contemplative – people who love creation, quiet, solitude, meditation and reflection.
- Intellectual – people who love mentally stimulating material and studying the Bible.
- Serving – people who love putting action in their faith by helping others and using their gifts.
- Relational – people who love doing things with other people, including prayer and serving.
- Charismatic – people who love spontaneity, the unexpected and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Consider when you feel closest to God and most alive in Christ then lean into your primary style. Of course, it’s important to accept others who are different. Most importantly, develop an appreciation for all the styles so you don’t develop an imbalance. Each style taken to an extreme has weaknesses. Jesus balanced all five of these styles to keep connected to the Father. He is our model for abiding, which is the key to fruitfulness. When we develop the ‘Mary’ aspect of our life (a depth of intimacy and spirituality) then the ‘Martha’ aspect will be more effective (fruitfulness and productivity). If we separate these, it leads to frustration. Abiding in Christ is much like a tree producing its fruit – it is a natural outflow that occurs quite effortlessly.
Sample Reflection Questions
- As these are some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples, why do you think this matter of fruitfulness and abiding in Christ were so important to him?
- How do we practically measure the fruitfulness of our lives?
- How can we avoid the Christian life degenerating into a long list of things we DO for God and others but without the joy and life of Jesus flowing through us?
- Can you describe a time in your life where you felt you were experiencing some ‘pruning’? What was it like and what was the end result?
- Today there is a growing social movement towards simplicity, down-sizing, essentialism and minimalism. What can we learn from this trend in our society? What could God be saying to us through it?
- What is your personal abiding style? How could you lean more into it?
- Finish by praying for a greater intimacy with Jesus resulting in a greater fruitfulness in your life.