“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2)
I do not have a green thumb and my knowledge of horticulture is very rudimentary. However, I have experimented with growing roses, and I have learned that after the blossoms begin to decay, they have to be cut off at a certain point on the stem. If I am diligent in pruning away the dead aspects of the bush, the blossoms become even more brilliant in time. This process seems counterintuitive to me; I would assume that by cutting off part of a bush I would be harming it or even destroying it. But the pruning process focuses the nutrients in the bush, causing it to bear fruit more consistently. This process is especially important in the tending of grapevines, which is the vine that is in view in Jesus’ metaphor.
Going on, Jesus said, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you” (v. 3). Here He addressed Himself to His disciples, to believers, to those who already enjoyed fellowship with Him and had a saving relationship with Him. They were already “clean,” He said. Then He added: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (v. 4).
What happens to the branches that are pruned from a tree or bush? After they are cut off, they wither and die. They are cut off from their life supply. Obviously, such dead branches will not produce any fruit. They are impotent.
One day, during a cookout at the home of one of his members, a minister wandered over to the grill to speak to the host, who had stopped attending the weekly worship services. The minister was hoping to encourage him to begin attending once more. When the minister asked the man why he had stopped coming, the man replied: “I’m a Christian, but I don’t feel that I need the church. I can do very well on my own. I’m an independent type of person. I don’t need the fellowship of other people to boost me in my walk with the Lord.
While the minister listened to the man’s explanations, he noticed that the charcoal on the grill was glowing white hot. Without saying anything, the minister picked up a set of tongs and moved one of the glowing coals apart from the others. He then continued his conversation with the parishioner. However, after a few minutes, he reached into the grill and picked up the coal with his bare hand. He then looked at the man and said: “Did you see what just happened here? Only a few minutes ago, I wouldn’t have dared to touch this coal because it was so hot. But once I separated it from the rest of the coals, it stopped burning and became cold. It no longer could help cook the steaks on the grill. That is what is going to happen to you. You need the body of Christ. You need the church of Christ. You need the fellowship of the saints and the assembly of the people of God. We are not rugged individualists who are called to live in isolation from others.
That minister was right. The company of other believers keeps our faith lively and active. But if we cool off when we are removed from connection with other Christians, how much more will we wither if we remove ourselves from the real source of power, which is Christ Himself?
That is the point Jesus was making here. We will be fruitless and will wither spiritually if we do not abide in Christ, the true vine. The Greek word translated as “abide” here is meno. It also can be translated as “remain” or “stay.” If we want to be productive, we cannot simply visit Jesus every now and then. We need to abide in Him.
Let me stress that Jesus was not speaking here about losing one’s salvation. That is another matter. But He was reminding us that we are prone to wander, to cease to tap into the source of our power and our spiritual vitality, which is Christ Himself. So, His lesson for us is to stay close: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” Simply put, all of the efforts that we make to be joyful, to be productive, or to achieve anything worthwhile in the kingdom of God are exercises in futility if we try to do them by our own power. Christians need to understand that without a strong connection to Christ, who is the power supply, we will be completely fruitless.
Jesus continued, saying:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (vv. 5–11)
It was only in the final verse of this passage that Jesus explained why He had taught the disciples these things: “that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” Notice three things in this important teaching.
First, the joy that Jesus wants to see in us is His joy. Earlier, Jesus spoke to His disciples about peace, saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). Where does the Christian’s peace come from? It comes from Him; in fact, it is His peace. In like manner, His own joy is available to us, and He wants to see it abiding in us.
Second, He wants His joy to remain in us. He wants us to have a permanent joy, not a roller-coaster ride of moods shifting between joy and misery. If we want to be consistently joyful, we need to abide in Him.
Third, He distinguishes between His joy and our joy, and expresses the desire that our joy should be full: “And that your joy may be full.” Isn’t that what we want? We do not want a partial cup of the fruit of the Spirit. We do not want just a little bit of joy. We want all of the joy that the Father has stored up for His people. That fullness of joy comes from Christ. It is first His joy that He gives to us, and as we are plugged into Him, this joy that comes from Him grows, increases, and becomes full.
No one who is reading this has ever experienced the highest level of joy that is available to the people of God. However much joy you have at this moment, there is more joy to be had. There is a fullness that awaits us as the fruit of the Spirit is nurtured by the true vine.