“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, 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.
“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. 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. 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.”
John 15:1-8 (NIV)
The vine and the branches is a powerful illustration of our relationship with Jesus. The vine is the stock of a grape plant, rooted firmly in the ground, and is the source of all nourishment for the branches. That is a very good picture of Jesus as the source of all of our nourishment and power. The branches are extensions of the vine, using the life-giving sap from the vine to produce fruit, which in turn is used to create seeds to make even more plants. This is a very good picture of us as Jesus’ disciples, the producers of fruit and the means of reproduction, although we are not the source of either – that comes from the sap, the Spirit of God, which originates in the vine, Jesus Himself.
Jesus is uncompromising in His view of the purpose of the branches: they are to produce fruit, and those that don’t are removed from the vine; they won’t be allowed to drain energy from the fruitful vines. Those that do produce fruit will be pruned back – everything removed that would take energy away from fruit production – so that more and better fruit may be produced.
This is an essential concept for the Church today! In the midst of all of our activities and programs, we can never lose sight of the fact that our calling and purpose is to bear fruit – new souls being brought into the kingdom. If we are unwilling to do that, whether as congregations or as individuals, we will be removed from the vine. This is both because of disobedience to Jesus’ clear command (Matthew 28:18-20), and because otherwise we will be a drain on those who DO want to bear fruit. And if we ARE fruit bearers, as congregations or as individuals, we can expect God to purify and focus our lives, weaning us away from or simply removing those things form our lives and programs that will sap our energy or distract us from the business of bearing fruit. This sounds kind of harsh to some, but if a person’s or congregation’s whole focus wants to be on bearing fruit for the kingdom, they will be more than willing to lay down anything that will get in the way of that. (Cf. Romans 12:1-2.)
But the key to producing fruit in the first place is to remain in the vine – attached in a vital, life-giving relationship. If a branch is separated from the vine, all of the techniques or training in the world will not enable it to produce fruit; it is dead even before the leaves start withering. On the other hand, if a branch is attached firmly to the vine, receiving it’s life-giving sap continually, the branch will naturally produce fruit, and will do so without seminars or training or encouragement; you won’t be able to stop it from producing fruit!
Remaining in Jesus means that we stay connected to Him in vital relationship that is more than an occasional “hook-up” on Sundays, or for a few minutes during our “quiet time”, but a connection that is maintained 24/7; a connection by which the Holy Spirit flows through us continually, like a pipeline, not just filling us up like a cistern.
But the closing words of this section really must be taken to heart: “My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples.” These are not two requirements, but one. The proof that we are Jesus’ disciples, that we are in a continual relationship with Him, is the fruit that we bear. Not testimony (words are cheap!), not experiences, but fruit that lasts!