Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John 15:1a (Holman) “I am the true vine.”
Vineyards abound in Israel. They would have been a common sight in Jesus’ day. Jesus used the vine to describe Himself.
A vine, like Jesus, has no noxious quality. Its clusters, like Jesus, are beautiful; artists work with grapes in their study of form, color, light, and shadow.
A vine’s foliage, like Jesus, is refreshing, like a shade from scorching sunshine. Its grapes, like Jesus, are useful. Its stems, like Jesus, have no thorns.
The vine makes a good metaphor for Him who is altogether winsome, altogether lovely, altogether refreshing, altogether useful, altogether delightful in every way. Jesus contains in Himself every type of perfection.
John 15:1b “My Father is the vineyard keeper.”
The vine pictured the relationship between God the Father, Jesus the Son, and Christ-followers. The Father cares for the vineyard. As the ultimate Gardener and heavenly Cultivator, our Father in Heaven works the vine.
A vine, to produce much fruit, requires much attention. Left to itself a vine produces huge amounts of unproductive growth. The husbandman does what is necessary for branches to yield maximum amounts of grapes, the fruit of the vine.
Fruit, in a Christian’s life, refers to two things: qualities of Christian character (Galatians 5:22ff), and multiplication of one’s self. It means displaying God’s traits in such a way that others are thereby won to Him. To help us accomplish this, to keep His vine under control, the Father trims away unproductive branches, as verse 2 teaches.
John 15:2a “Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes”
Jesus was referring here to Israel. The nation was proud of its distinction as God’s vine. “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel” (Isaiah 5:7). The vine was a symbol of the nation, and often appeared on coins.
The Temple’s beautiful architecture included a large golden grape vine on the front of the Holy Place. The wealthy counted it an honor to give gold to mold a new cluster of grapes on that vine.
In light of Israel’s pride in being God’s vineyard, it is sad to note the symbol of the vine was rarely ever used of Israel in the Old Testament in a positive way. For example, Isaiah said Israel was a wild vineyard; Jeremiah called his nation a degenerate vine; Hosea (10:1) said Israel had become an empty vine.
Judaism had become a vine refusing to bear fruit. They were not modeling God, and not trying to win others to Him. Such uselessness always invites disaster. As Jesus said in our text, the fruitless branch is headed for removal.
In our text Jesus was here referring to, in addition to Israel, believers who profess to know God, but don’t prove it through outward evidence. Removing a branch can refer to a loss of usefulness, and ultimately to sin unto death.
If we produce no fruit, God’s power and blessing are withdrawn from us. We wither.
God has tough methods of handling branches which refuse to maintain a strong union with the vine. In the warning contained in our text, Jesus graciously announced in advance the punishment that would come to the unfruitful. None go to justice blindfolded.
John 15:2b “He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.”
Where there is fruit-production, God wants more fruit. Even fruit-bearing branches are not immune from the Gardener’s knife. Even the best believers need constant pruning, removal of anything superfluous.
Pruning mainly means, in blunt, no uncertain terms, amputation. A vine-dresser’s main tool is a knife. Unfruitful sections of our lives must be removed to help the fruitful portions.
Few plants yield fruit as richly as do well-pruned vines. A well cared for vine can bear up to 25 pounds of grapes. On the other hand, few plants yield as little fruit and as much foliage as do untended vines. An unkept vine may spread as far as 100 feet, producing mainly branches and leaves, with relatively little fruit.
A good grape harvest requires merciless pruning. At pruning time it is common to see branches as long as 10 feet cut down to within two inches of the stem. The result looks like destruction, but is actually increasing fruitfulness.
The husbandman’s knife constantly removes all that hinders fruit-bearing. Similarly, if our spiritual fruit production is to be improved, we have to be constantly pruned. Unproductive things within us need to be lopped off.
Sin needs to be removed. Learn a spiritual math lesson. When we are born again, God adds to our lives all we will ever need of Him. We spend the rest of life subtracting sin because sin multiplies itself and divides us from life’s best.
All Christians carry two natures: the good life of Jesus, and our own poor miserable selves. Each flourishes at the expense of the other.
The Spirit’s filling is facilitated in us by a vacuum principle. As sin and self are pruned from us, we are more and more filled with God
In addition to sin, self-satisfaction needs to be removed. Few things tempt us more, or are more dangerous, than unholy contentment. The sin of Laodicea – “we are rich, increased in goods, and need nothing” – easily sneaks up on us.
A branch (what we are) is simply a small bit of wood the vine shoots forth for one purpose – to bear fruit. The branch must keep bearing fruit as long as the vine wishes it to.
Repeated fruit-bearing for God, based on Jesus’ life flowing into us, is what we were saved for. A branch bears fruit not for itself, but for the vine-owner.
A vine lives to please its vine-dresser by yielding more and more fruit. The vine keeper has every right to do whatever is necessary to increase a plant’s fruitfulness.
When branches quit bearing fruit, they lose their usefulness. Apart from fruit-bearing, wood of the vine is worthless, too soft for any practical purpose, providing neither fruit nor fuel. Even so our lives are of little value apart from bearing fruit to please the Master.
In addition to sin and self-satisfaction, foliage needs to be removed from our spiritual lives. Often beautiful, healthy leaves must be cut off a vine, because they consume sap needed for fruit production. Our Heavenly Husbandman must clear away not only our ugly sins, but also much of our attractive religious activity.
A Christian’s fruit production can be stifled by a superabundance of leaves, by busy activity. We easily fall into the habit of rustling more foliage rather than producing silent fruit. Beware the good. The worst enemy of best is second-best.
It is always hard to keep a congregation on the main track, producing the fruit of holiness and multiplication. Churches tend to let foliage production stifle fruit production. We too often lean toward unruly growth.
Always be scrutinizing our own deeds. The best fruit of Christian service never results from allowing our natural energies and inclinations to run amok. We have to let the spiritual disciplines lead us to maximum efficiency.
Let God use His scalpel on us. Humbly pray, “Cut to the quick, Lord! If only thereby my fruit unto thee may increase” (Maclaren). Such a prayer will test the sincerity of anyone who claims their main desire in life is to please God.
There are no mystical secrets to achieving Godliness. It requires pruning, death to self, a willingness to let the vineyard keeper remove from us anything and everything displeasing to Him.