|"la vigna" by Francesco Sgroi CC 2.0|
Let me tell you a story, about a married couple. After many years of searching for true love, a lady found a man. And that man had been searching for that very lady, for her whole life, and he finally found her. At least it seemed like that to him.
When they found each other, that long wait no longer seemed like a long trial, because they were so happy to have found each other. The man adored the woman and the woman was in a continual state of bliss. Their wedding was a joyous occasion, as they say, and it really was.
The man wrote their vows, that the woman agreed to and they said these promises to one another, in a church, in front of their closest friends and their families, some who traveled from far away, to share the couple's joy.
After their honeymoon, they settled into married life. They both were not kids, but mature adults; and they both thought they knew how to be in a marriage. After some time, they discovered that getting married and being married are two different things.
Being married takes a bit of work. You can never take your husband or your wife, for granted. The man and his wife found out that they needed to continuously hold onto each other and the covenant vows of loyalty that they once made with joy.
The married couple found out that they needed to continually recommit and decide again to be married, mostly in their hearts, but sometimes out loud. The man thought it sounded silly to say, "will you marry me?", to his bride, over and over again; but that is how his genuine love for her was. And each time he said that, she said, "Yes", as she did that first time.
What does that story have to do with this passage in John 15, where Jesus says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener"? Jesus then talks about his father's activities of cutting off or pruning branches. He then makes this statement:
Remain in me, as I also remain in you.The key word here is, 'Remain'. Other popular translations have the word as 'Abide'. It literally means, "hold onto each other in a living union". It is not like installing a pipe that you weld, screw, or glue in and then it remains. It is like a marriage where the couple are in union, but that union has to be continually recommitted to, nurtured, and celebrated in intimacy for it to grow and be fruitful.
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.
So the question becomes, "Are you in this kind of a living, dynamic union with Christ?" As a branch can not bear fruit unless it is attached to the vine, so it is with Christ-followers. We all want to be fruitful, and the only way to be fruitful is be in living, dynamic union with Christ.
For anyone who immediately thinks of grapes and wine, and therefore sees an allusion to Eucharistic language or symbolism here; the wine created (if created) in this vineyard setting, would come from the grapes that are the fruit in the disciple's lives in union with Christ. It is an interesting thought that there might be wine produced from the fruit in our lives, that we joyfully serve to one another.
Jesus initiates the life we have in him. Our union with Christ is started by him and is kept by him:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)But, it is we who maintain our lives in him through love and obedience. That is our part to play. Our union is actively kept by our actions of love and obedience to his words:
If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:10-12)Only in Christ can we live authentically. In him we can bear fruit in service to God, in answered prayer, through obedience and his love. In him, we become his friends and are untied with other believers in his love.
"Remain in me", he says. "How?", we ask. Through obedience and love. You are not in union with Christ, if you love, but do not obey. Nor is it possible to be united with Christ through obedience, without love. We obey him because of and through his love, demonstrating our love for him, on a daily basis.
We joined or got joined to him, when we initially received salvation, and now, we keep joined or keep staying joined through obedience and love. Our love and obedience, that keeps us in union with Christ, does not happen in a vacuum, but is an 'echo' or continuation of Jesus' reciprocation of the Father's love and calling upon him:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.(John 15:9-10)We can not obey him unless we love him, and we can not love him unless we have received his love for us first. Our obedience is to a person, who is love, so love empowers obedience. Obedience is only genuine or authentic, when it is in Christ, in union with his love.
Today, we have people who are big on obedience or even big on church, and small on love (John 3:16 love), who are not in union with Christ. They embrace 'christian religion' or 'churchianity' rather than the 'crazy love' of God. They are not living in dynamic union with Christ. So, their lives have no fruit.
There is another group of people who are all about love. They are all about not being judgmental and being loving. They are so loving that they don't believe in the cross of Christ and his redeeming of repentant sinners. Their love is self-centered love. They take their love and project it on God, rather than bowing to God's redemptive love in Christ that calls us to his cross and to taking up our own crosses. So, they as well, have no fruit.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.Jesus takes the vine metaphor, which usually refers to Israel (see Isaiah 5:1-7), and applies it to himself. That is what we believe he meant by saying, "I am the true vine". He now adds that his disciples are the branches, and the Father is the person (husbandman or gardener) in charge of the vineyard. The Father cuts off branches that are not in union with the vine and prunes those that are. Those of us who have fruit trees or vines know that pruning the branches back will bring more fruit in the next season.
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.The bearing of fruit is simply living the life of a Christian disciple.(Barrrett, p. 474) If we are in Christ and Christ is in us, as we live out our lives, we will bear fruit. Then the question becomes, for the Christian, why would you not daily and hourly choose union with Christ? Do you imagine that we have a propensity to claim Christ, but continually wander from him, not abiding, remaining, or being in union with him?
Jesus says that there is an action involved in our volition, to choose to stay joined, to continually rejoin him. The branches do not create the fruit. The vine does. Get it? Our 'job', our 'activity', our faithfulness, is to stay in the vine, period. He created the fruit. He produces the produce.
If we try to live life without Jesus, not being in union with him, we will fail miserably. Our failure will be an unfruitful life. We might seek to 'save the world' in a hundred ways, but have no fruit from Jesus, because we have not been in union with him. To be in union means to love and to obey, and then we become a part of his plan, already being implemented, to save the world.
When Jesus says that his father cuts off unfruitful branches that bear no fruit, he is not talking about losing your salvation, but unfruitfulness. Branches are the shoots, sprouts, or canes of a vine, where you find the fruit. We are accustomed to seeing these with all the grapes attached. When the farmer sees these unfruitful branches on the vine, taking the vine's life, but with no fruit, he cuts them off.
The Father cuts off and cuts out the parts of our lives that are not bearing fruit. If you are a Christian, this will happen to you, and it is normal and good.
"Prunes" means cleans. The original word here does not mean prune and was never used as prune elsewhere (Morris, p 594), but since the context implies 'prunes', many translations seem to have translated it, 'prunes'. The word actually literally means 'cleans'. And 'cleans' means 'purify' or 'purges'. I noticed that the King James has 'purgeth'.
Have you been purged lately? If that is not a word you use, then 'cleansing' is apt. It is a good thing to be purged or cleansed. It means you have borne fruit and God is helping you get ready to bear more.
People get cleansed. Jesus' words cleanse us (John 15:4). The word here is the verb form of the adjective used in verse 4. Vine-dressers prune, but Jesus literally said 'clean'. The Father takes the fruitful part of our life and purges, purifies, or cleanses it, so that it becomes more fruitful.
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.The 'word' that has cleansed us is the message of salvation, that he brings, and in himself is.(Barrett, p. 474) Taking Jesus 'all in', into our lives, "Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."(John 6:53), is what he is after. 'All in' is not an option, but the only way. We are not cleansed by doing something, but by his words of life.
Jesus' call to each one of us is, "Follow me". 'Me' means him. He calls each one of us to himself. Many are doing things, doing what they would call ministry, but rather than following, they take the lead, in their lives. What about being in union with him, abiding, remaining, continually joining themselves to him? Jesus says that we will not have his fruit if we don't obey him and love one another.
Outside of union with him, nothing works. As the body cannot function without the head attached, so also the Christian life cannot function without being continually joined to Christ.
Cleansing comes from Christ's words and Christ's actions. His words are still active today, and his word's meanings are revealed by his active word.(Barrett, p. 474)
The good news is that some of us are clean, like the guys Jesus originally spoke this to. We are clean, in this moment, but there will be more life, another season, and we will likely need another round of purging. Jesus is saying, in a sense, "You don't need it right now, but purging or cleansing from the Father is normal, after you have been fruitful, so you can pretty much expect it." But, at this point in their relationships with Jesus, they have been cleansed by his words.
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.Only if we abide in him, will he abide in us. It is a mutual relationship, that only works when there is mutuality. "The Christian life is unthinkable except in union with Christ."(Barrett, p. 474) This union is not exactly like a vine and a branch. That is a metaphor that would mean, "loyalty and fellowship that would continue as they obeyed his word".(Kruse, p. 317) The 'remaining' that is the union, is predicated on our obedience.
The branch in the vineyard has no choice, but to be remain in the vine. But we, as metaphorical branches must choose to remain, through our obedience. So, we can go too far with the metaphor, saying that we are in union with Christ and remaining in him, when we are not, because we don't have the love nor the obedience.
The vine does not depend on the branch for life, but provides the branch with life, so that the branch may bear fruit. Today, Christ remains, or joins us, as we join him, in the person of the Spirit. Disciples remain in Christ by obeying his word and Christ dwells with his disciples through the Spirit, and this results in fruitfulness.
According to Kruse (p. 318), there are two common interpretations of what the fruit here is: 1. Righteous living, and 2. New converts. Kruse suggests that the 'fruit' here is more than these, and refers to, "the entire life and ministry of those who follow Jesus' teaching and experience his presence in their lives through the Spirit."
Morris (p. 595) notes that in verse 4, it is an imperative, "(You must) remain in me, as I (must) also remain in you." If you ever have the attitude that Jesus does not need you and can just get it done without us, by his Spirit alone; this verse flies in the face of that notion. He is saying, "To get it done, you need me and I need you".
If we do not remain (abide, share constant contact) with him, then fruit will not come. That means no good kingdom stuff. The fruit of the kingdom is zilch when the Christians do not nurture their relationship to The Savior
If we don't abide in him, through loyal, faithful obedience; he can not abide in us. In the Bible, God is looking for that one person that will will be obedient and abide in him, that he can use (2 Chron. 16:9, Amos 9:8). This is something astonishing about how God prefers to work. He needs a person to partner with.
Our remaining in Christ is our part of an ongoing, mutual relationship; like two people that walk together. It means continually recommitting to a decision we once made, in fidelity and loyalty. The only way to stay in the relationship, is for it to be continually renewed.
The couple who found out that being married is a continual choice, a dynamic union, where each one expresses their love and recommits to that love they have for the other, is a picture of the believer's relationship to Christ. It does not work if we don't work at it. Jesus can not or will not remain in us, if we do not remain in him.
Imagine a wife who's husband ignores her. He does his own thing usually. They might be married, but don't have much of a marriage.
He might get dressed up to take her to dinner or get dressed down and demand sex once a week. He gets real friendly and charming at these times. But if you could hear what he's saying, he mostly talks about himself, his problems and his questions about the future.
It could have been the other way around, in that vignette. The woman could have been the selfish one. But, it is a picture of a dysfunctional marriage.
The couple I talked about at the beginning gets it. They get it that the relationship has to be nurtured. It is a union, but unlike a pipe, it is a dynamic union.
It's like holding hands with your loved one. Sometimes you hold tight, sometimes loose. But you hold that hand, especially when you go up or down steps where there is no railing.
I believe there must have been vineyards all over the place, when Jesus spoke these words about the vine, the branches, and the fruit. They all knew about vines, branches, fruit, and the work of the vine dresser. He told them that it will be just like those branches for them.
As a branch can not bear fruit if it is not attached to the vine, we also can not have God's fruit in our lives if we do not stay attached to Jesus. Staying connected to him is something we do, not just something we are. We do it because of who we are and if we don't do it, it is questionable who we are.
Staying connected to your wife or husband involves acts of love like listening and sharing your heart. The dynamic union in marriage is also expressed through sacrificial love. We make sacrifices and endure suffering for each other, because of our loyal, covenant love.
A grape vine without grapes is something that a gardener does not want and a life that claims Christ, but has no fruit is something we don't want either. Fruitfulness comes from being with and in the living Christ. He is hear now, by His Spirit,
We are as close to Jesus as we choose to be. We each actually modulate the relationship. You can shut off all those distractions and he is there for you, twenty-four hours a day.
If you ignore him, he is unable to touch you and give you invigorating life. He is waiting for you to open the door of fellowship. If we do not intentionally connect with him, then we will have not fruit in our lives. One by one, those unfruitful branches will be taken by Father, until we are left with a stump of a Christian life.
It does not have to be that way. But if it is, we can always start over and have a new beginning, and sprouts will form into branches that will bear Christ's fruit.
Bibliography:TNICOTNT, The Gospel According to John, By Leon Morris
The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text, By C. K. Barrett
The Gospel According to John: An Introduction and Commentary, By Colin G. Kruse
The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text, By C. K. Barrett