The theme of John 15-16 is developing an effective Christian Life and Ministry. In this Message, Jesus covers 5 important RELATIONSHIPS that we need to get right, for us to be effective, successful and fruitful in our Christian lives and ministries.
In John 15:1-11, He deals with the first and most important of these:
RELATIONSHIP 1. Our Relationship with CHRIST: ABIDING in Him (15:1-11). This is the most important and fundamental of the five and therefore comes first in order.
Jesus said: “I am the true (real) VINE, and My Father is the Vinedresser” (v1). There were many vines on the slopes of Jerusalem, so Jesus probably stopped by one of these, to use it as a visual aid as He was speaking. In the time of great pressure before His arrest why is Jesus talking of vines? He is preparing them for a new time, when He would not be physically present with them, but when they would be even closer to Him than before. Believers would be joined to Christ like branches to a vine. It would be an intimate, internal, spiritual union: “I am the Vine, you are the branches” (v5). Believers are like branches in the Vine, drawing their life-sap from the central stock. Jesus here is setting forth the spiritual dynamics of this new relationship and fellowship. Jesus is the VINE (a plant with large stem, from which grow long branches that naturally run along the ground, bearing grapes).
Jesus said: “I am the true VINE”, or literally: “I am the Vine, the real” (v1a), implying He is the only true Vine. He is the true Source of real life and fruitfulness. The fruit produced by a branch is only as good as the life (sap) flowing into it and through it, which is only as good as the original vine stock. Other sources that you cling to will fail, but if you are joined to Jesus you will produce good fruit in your character and life (work). If Jesus is not your Source, you cannot bear good fruit.
“My Father is the Vinedresser” (v1b). The Father is the expert Farmer (or Gardener), who personally inspects and tends to all the branches to ensure they are as fruitful as possible. This task is so vital, that He does not delegate it to an angel. He is inspecting your life, expecting to see fruit! What He does and how we can co-operate with Him is set forth in the next few verses.
Notice the Trinity in v1: Jesus, the Son = the Vine. The Father = the Gardener. The Holy-Spirit = the Life-Sap,flowing out of Jesus Christ into each believer.
“Every branch in Me” (v2a). The branches are believers (v5), who are IN CHRIST, united to Christ by the New-Birth. Upon believing, we were put (baptised) INTO CHRIST and were regenerated as a new-creation (2Cor 5:17), made one spirit with Him (1Cor 6:17). We are in Him and He is in us. Through Christ Jesus and in Him, we are connected and united into God, with His life now able to flow into us!
Having introduced the characters of this allegory, He goes on to describe the natural product (results) of this new relationship and fellowship as GOOD-FRUIT (v2-8). This is our Christ-like character and life, our good words and works. We all want our lives on earth to have purpose and to result in much good. His purpose for these apostles and for us, is to be very fruitful - turning the world upside-down:
"You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (v16)
There is a progression of increasing fruitfulness that the Father wishes to see in us:
1. NO FRUIT: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit” (v2)
2. SOME FRUIT: “Every branch that bears fruit” (v2)
3. MORE FRUIT: “that it may bear more fruit” (v2)
4. MUCH FRUIT: “he bears much fruit” (v5).
*NO FRUIT - SOME FRUIT - MORE FRUIT - MUCH FRUIT.
There is a progression of increasing fruitfulness that the Father wishes to see in us, going from NO FRUIT to SOME FRUIT to MORE FRUIT to MUCH FRUIT (v2,5). Clearly the purpose of this teaching is to show us how the Father (the expert Gardener) is overseeing our lives, so that we can become increasingly fruitful branches, through our deepening fellowship with Christ (the Vine), in (by the power of) the Spirit (the Sap) flowing through us. This teaching tells us how we can cooperate with God to become increasingly fruitful branches, for we have an important part to play, for it is the branches that bear the fruit. Fruit is produced by the branches as they draw upon His life by faith.
So, in this passage He gives us the 3 KEYS to bear more fruit:
KEY 1. He first gives us the key to go from NO FRUIT to SOME FRUIT.
KEY 2. Then He gives us the key to go from SOME FRUIT to MORE FRUIT.
KEY 3. Then He gives us the key to go from MORE FRUIT to MUCH FRUIT.
For whatever stage we are at, He gives us the key to go on up to the next stage.
KEY 1. (to go from NO FRUIT to SOME FRUIT) = FORGIVENESS (v2a).
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away (‘airo’ = ‘HE LIFTS UP’).” The translation ‘takes away’ is misleading. It sounds like God cuts us off as soon as we fail to bear fruit! But the verb literally means ‘to lift up.’ Without the Gardener a wild-vine will bear no fruit. This is because it runs along the ground, gets covered in dirt and dust, with foliage hiding it from the sun, and soon it gets blighted by mildew and harmful insects. The result is barrenness.
This represents the problem of sin. A believer away from God, living in the dust and dirt of the world, hidden under condemnation from the sunshine of God’s love - is like this wild-vine. He bears no fruit. To bear fruit we must be in fellowship with God. The first thing a Vinedresser does is to look for these lost branches, and to LIFT THEM UP into the light, and wash them clean of the dust, dirt and insects. When we sin, God wants to forgive us, wash us and lift us up so that we can bear fruit. 1John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins to God, He is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us.” Often the sin is unforgiveness, for we must forgive others, or else God can’t forgive us. Let God cleanse and lift you up. Confess your sin to God. If God disciplines you for your sin, it is the Father trying to lift you up.
When we are born-again we are put in Christ, and so become a branch ‘in Him’. This speaks of our position. We are in a covenant relationship with Christ. This makes it possible for us to have fellowship (the flow and interchange of life) with Him. It is like us being electrically connected to Him (the Source or Battery) so that normally current should flow producing results in and through us (fruit). The current flowing to us, through us and back to Him (the Source) is a picture of fellowship.
However, if there is a large resistance (sin) little current flows with little fruit. Thus you can have a relationship with little fellowship. To be ‘in Christ’ is relationship (positional truth, accomplished in us by God alone), but to ‘abide in Christ is fellowship (temporal truth, which depends on our cooperation to be effective).
This distinction is based on the very nature of the Trinity. Firstly, they are positionally ‘in each other’ forming an eternal triune unity of Being. Secondly, they eternally ‘abide in each other’ through a mutual, dynamic fellowship of love. Both are aspects of His eternal nature. The first is a natural attribute (describing the substance of God), the second (love) is a moral attribute (describing His will). Thus the Son is united to the Father and also abiding in His love.
Likewise we are positionally in the Son, but we must choose to abide in His love. In John 15:1-11, Jesus is teaching us how to do this. The branch of v2 is in Christ, but bears no fruit, because it is out of fellowship with Christ, due to sin. The branch is lying in the dirt of the world and is hidden from the Son-light. So the Divine Gardener washes us clean and lifts us up into the light, so we can bear fruit - when we confess our sin (1John 1:9).
KEY 2 (to go from SOME FRUIT to MORE FRUIT) = FOCUS (v2b,3).
Now the branch is bearing fruit but the Gardener’s work is not finished.
“and every branch that bears fruit He PRUNES (cleanses, purges),
that it may bear MORE FRUIT.
You are already CLEAN (= ‘PRUNED’)
because of the word which I have spoken to you.”
They had already experienced some of this pruning, through His teaching ministry. Thus this pruning of God is accomplished by His Word. The more of God’s Word you receive, the more fruit you can bear, and the more fruitful you will be. Walking in fellowship with Christ enables us to bear fruit, but to bear more fruit we must get serious about the Word of God - putting it first in our life.
Any gardener knows the importance of pruning. It is vital for fruitfulness. Left to itself, a Vine will grow large but it will be mostly wood and leaves but little fruit, for all the energy goes to sustain the other things, leaving little for the fruit. What is needed is some radical pruning, so that more fruit can be produced. Any wood that is not fruit-bearing needs to be cut back, so that more of the sap goes to produce fruit.
Likewise, in our lives, God wants to prune us through His Word, as Jesus had pruned His disciples (v3). This is not so much a problem of SIN, but of our natural SELF-LIFE becoming overgrown. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, to lose our soulish self-life, in order to gain a higher, fruitful, spiritual life (Luke 9:23-25, Matt 16:24-26, Mark 8:34-36). There are things we give our time and energy to, that may not be sinful in themselves, but which are not fruitful and which take up too much of our attention. We must let God speak to us, so that the unproductive things are pruned. This involves the cutting back of unfruitful attitudes (like worry, fear and unproductive ways of thinking) and actions (projects, hobbies ministry).
If we don’t let the Word cut back our self-life regularly, so that we deny ourselves little - we cannot bear much fruit. Do you want your life to consist of wood or fruit? Your wood will be burnt, but your fruit will endure forever. We only have a limited amount of time and energy. Why waste it on things with no eternal value? The pruned wood of a vine is no good for anything but a bonfire (our dead works will all be burnt up at judgement day), so you don’t lose anything by letting God prune you. Pruning may hurt but it is necessary preparation for bearing more fruit. Those who are called in the ministry must especially take this to heart. You can’t be fruitful if you are not willing to give up other things, so that your preparation comes first. We must prune (fast) some (not all) natural things, so that spiritual things (prayer, the Word ad service) can have a greater place in our lives.
Jesus talked about this in the Parable of the Sower which is also about fruitfulness: “The ones who fell among thorns(other non-fruitful plants) are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked (their supply of spiritual life is constricted by competition from other ‘good’ things) with cares (the responsibilities of life and family), (the deceitfulness of) riches (the pursuit of money as if it was the answer to everything) and pleasures of life(entertainment) and (so) bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14).
The answer is having things in the right order of PRIORITY, above all to keep hearing the Word (v8). When we put the Lord first, He will give us WISDOM and DOMINION over the details of life so that we can be fruitful (Rom 5:17). Thus thee Lord may say, ‘watch a bit less TV and pray some more’. Paul was PRUNED MAN (see Phil 3:4-15). He said: “I am constrained by the love of Christ” (2Cor 5:14)
“Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1,2). Athletes in training have to cut back in many ways to run well, and in the race they throw off anything that slows them down. That’s pruning!
KEY 3. ABIDING IN CHRIST - the key to bearing MUCH FRUIT (v4,5,8):
“ABIDE in Me, and I in you” (v4a).
We are already postionally ‘in Christ’ (in relationship), but now we are also told to ‘abide in Christ’. This abiding clearly depends on our ongoing co-operation. Thus, it is talking about our fellowship with Him, abiding in His Presence through prayer and the Word. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you ABIDE in Me” (v4b). A branch can’t be fruitful alone (by its own power), it needs to receive the life (sap) of the vine into itself. It must open itself up to the vine and depend (draw) upon it so that the sap flows into it and through it. God’s work in us is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23), the fruit of fellowship.
It is up to us to ABIDE in Him, actively drawing on His life by FAITH. To ‘abide’ means to ‘dwell, stay, remain, make one’s home’ in Him. While we do other things, our life is centred around our home, for we go out from there into the world and then return. To bear ‘much fruit’, we are to make Christ the home of our consciousness, maintaining a continuous, active, open, fellowship connection with Him, spending much time in His Presence (in prayer and the Word). The fruitfulness of a branch depends on the size of the connection-how much and how consistently it pulls on the sap. If we just draw from His life once a week, we can’t bear much fruit.
Jesus now summarises the issue:
“(1) I am the Vine, you are the branches (this is our position in Christ, our relationship with Him, by virtue of our salvation by grace alone, independant of our works).
(2) He who abides in Me and I in him (this is our fellowship with Him) bears much fruit (fruit depends first on our salvation and then on abiding in fellowship); for without Me you can do nothing” (v5). This verse gives both sides: in co-operation with Him, we bear fruit, but without Him no fruit. Notice that fruit is related to what we ‘do’. Fruit is the outward manifestation of an inward life. Here Jesus talks to those who are already saved (they are joined to Christ and His life in their spirit), and therefore able to bear good fruit. He tells them how that salvation can be expressed and revealed in their life and works. We must continually, consistently and actively believe (abide) in Christ to bear much fruit.
“He in Me and I in Him” - Fellowship by its very nature must be two-way. He is only able to abide in us (by the sap of His Spirit) and thus produce fruit through us, to the extent that we abide in Him, making Him welcome in our heart. ‘Abiding’ is our fellowship-faith (rather than our initial saving-faith).
Salvation and fruitfulness are two different, but closely related issues.
We are saved through faith alone, but true faith does not remain alone, for salvation will result in a changed life and character and the production of good-works (fruitfulness), which requires our abiding in Him. We initially believe into (‘eis’) Christ and receive His eternal life into us, so that now we are in (‘en’) Him and He is in us (John 3:16). But now we must also consciously abide in Him, that is to constantly believe in, rely on, and look to Him, depending upon His Life. The more we move out of self to dwell in Him, the more He can abide in us. This is the two-way dynamic of the fellowship of the Spirit. He is always willing but is limited by our willingness to participate. Initial salvation is received through faith alone, but fruitfulness (personal sanctification and true ministry to others) is produced through both faith (abiding in Him) and good-works.
“For without Me you can do nothing.” This dramatic statement means anything we do or produce apart from our abiding in Christ will have no lasting value. It reinforces our need to abide. Once we realise this, we will be motivated to depend continually upon Him (not just occasionally or in a crisis).
“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (v6). This difficult verse can be interpreted 3 ways:
(1) If a believer refuses to abide in Christ (and remains backsliden), he will be rejected as a branch and will suffer hell-fire.
(2) Someone may claim to be a Christian (he appears to be in the Vine), like Judas,but shows no fruit of a changed life. He does not abide in Christ, because he never was truly in Christ.
(3) Jesus is speaking to the apostles about their ministry, and the danger of doing it in the flesh. If they refuse God’s dealings, they will be removed from their position of ministry, and their work will be burned although they will be saved if they are true believers.
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you (maintaining our fellowship with God through PRAYER and the WORD), you will ask (demand of the sap) what you desire, and it shall be done (generated) for you (He will abide in you). By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (v7,8).
“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments (walk in Love), you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love” (v9,10).
Abiding is to trust and submit (be under authority). To disobey is to go our own way and fail to receive the sap. The sap = the fruit of the spirit, is LOVE, JOY, PEACE. To stay in the flow of love we must not just receive it but give it. Fellowship grows as we respond and return His love to Him (the model of the Trinity).
The same is true for joy: "These things I have spoken to you (this summarises the purpose of the section) that My joy(sap) may remain in you (receive it by faith, the joy of salvation) and that your joy may be full (developed by obedience, the joy of doing God’s will)” (John 15:11).