The Vine and the Branches
Abiding in Christ
The Vine and the Branches
John 15:1-3
 
Please turn in your Bible to John 15.  This chapter is a fascinating chapter to me.  It is absolutely pregnant with imagery and word pictures.  In many ways, it is one of the most important chapters in all of the Bible and at the same time a very difficult chapter because of some interpretive problems.
 
I want us to take some time and study through it so we can really get a handle on what it means to abide in Christ.  Tonight, we’re going to take a close look at the first three verses. 
 
Verses 1-3
 
Now to do justice to the context of these verses we should really read down through verse 17 and what we find there is really the basis of Christian living.  IN fact, this may well be the premiere passage on how to live the Christian life in all the New Testament. 
 
No doubt, the specifics of living the Christian life are found primarily in the letters and epistles to the churches, but as far as the concept and basics of that concept are all found right here in John 15. 
 
And it’s all wrapped up in this idea of abiding in Christ and bearing fruit. 
 
Now tonight, we're going to just begin with the basic interpretation of the various features of this analogy.
Jesus talks about a vine. Naturally involved in it are the branches and the one who cares for the vine, the vine dresser. But the key to the passage is the discussion of the branches themselves and to understand the concept, we must understand who the branches are.
 
There are two groups of branches in the passage.  , First, there are branches that bear fruit.
 
We see that in verse 2 and also in verse 8
 
There are also branches that do not bear fruit and those are referred to in verse 2 as well as verse 6.
 
Now the question that immediately surfaces is this:  The branches that bear fruit are obviously Christians. But who are branches that do not bear fruit?
 
Are the branches who do not bear fruit Christians or are they non-Christians? The problem is further escalated by what happens to the non-bearing branches because they are thrown into the fire and burned. 
 
If they're Christians then what does that mean? Does that mean Christians can actually perish? Or does it mean that Christians are punished and chastised for a lack of fruit bearing? Does it mean you can lose your salvation if you don't bear fruit? Or does it mean God will punish you if you don't bear fruit?
 
To illustrate how difficult and troublesome is this passage, listen to this comment by one commentator: "The idea of taking away and burning simply means to lift you up to new heights of spiritual endeavor."
I don't know where he ever got that out of that, but I don’t think that’s even close to what the passage means. 
 
Now I want us to really know clearly from what the Word of God says who these branches are and I think it's just as clear as the Spirit of God intended it to be if we only examine it faithfully connecting it with the rest of the Word of God.
 
By the way, never interpret a passage in isolation.  Keep it in the context of what is being said, but also keep it in the context of the total Word of God. 
 
Now to help us with this passage, we need to remember this is the night before the death of Jesus and in this time, you know, He is speaking with His disciples.
 
So why, as He is speaking to His closest followers,  does He all of a sudden seemingly jump into this analogy? What causes Him to do it? What's in His mind as He gives it? My personal conviction is the immediate events of that night are, at least in part, the reason He says what He does. 
 
There was a drama going on that night. He had eleven men sitting there with Him. He was aware of those eleven men. He has just spent the whole fourteenth chapter comforting them.  He is certainly aware of the presence of Father God.  He’s been praying to Him.  He was aware of what was about to happen as He would be isolated, separated from God the Father when He died on the next day.
 
 
But there was one other man that He was aware of also and that was Judas.  He had dismissed Judas from the fellowship of that group and told him to go and do what he was going to do and He knew in His mind that Judas was out planning and plotting his betrayal.
 
And I believe in the mind of Jesus He was bringing into focus all the characters in the final night's drama. I believe He saw in His mind's eye the eleven whom He deeply and passionately loved and who loved Him in return. And I believe He saw the Father whom He also loved with an infinite love and He loved Him in return. And then I believe He saw Judas whom He also loved with that same infinite love, but who did not love Him.
 
And the comments that He makes here in chapter 15 are all about those primary players in the drama that is unfolding. And that is the key to determining what He’s talking about. 
 
That means the vine is Christ, the vinedresser is the Father, the branches that bear fruit would be those eleven disciples who are legitimate and any like them who shall live throughout all the church age and the branches who do not bear fruit are Judas branches who were never real to begin with.
 
Now one of the reasons I am inclined to see it that way is verse 3. 
 
That is a very similar thought to what we find back in chapter 13 verse 10.
 
 
In other words, once you've been saved, once you've been cleaned, you just need a little foot washing periodically. In other words, once you've received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you don't have to get saved all over, you don't need another bath.  You just need a little rinsing off every day. And that's the continuing forgiveness of God.
 
But then He says in verse 10, at the very end, "And you are clean" and when He says “you” He’s talking to the disciples there with Him. Then He qualifies it by saying, "But not all of you." Then in verse 11 He continues, "for He knew who would betray Him, therefore He said, ‘You are not all clean.’"
 
Now Jesus is well aware of this distinction among His own disciples, that they are clean but not all of them for there is one who is unclean. Jesus then has in His mind the obvious contrast between Judas and the eleven. And I believe that is the contrast that is carried into the fifteenth chapter. That lingering knowledge that Judas is out betraying Him at the very moment is obviously upon the mind of the Son of God. And I believe the branches fall into those two categories.   
 
Both groups had contact with Jesus. The eleven were with Him. Judas was with Him. They were with Him for the same amount of time. Apparently everything looked all right. Judas was highly honored by being given the responsibility of maintaining the purse. But Judas, although apparently in the vine, was a branch that never bore fruit and God finally removed that branch and that branch was burned and still is burning in hell.
 
Some people would come along and say, "Well, you see, that means that Judas lost his salvation and that if you don't bear fruit, you lose your salvation."
 
But John 10:28 says this, "And I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand." The Word of God is absolutely clear about the area of security.
 
In John 6:6 Jesus said, "All that the Father gives to Me shall come to Me." He said, "I have lost none of them."
 
And so we realize that He cannot be talking about a true believer who stops bearing fruit and loses his salvation and is condemned to hell, but rather He is talking about a Judas branch who apparently is in the vine, who from the standpoint of outward appearance belongs, but it never was real.  There was never any vine blood being pumped into that branch and never any fruit bearing.
 
Now with that background in mind, let's look at the text.  I want to focus on three verses, primarily that help us to understand the identity of these main characters.  First of all,
 
1.  The Vine
 
verse 1 -  “I am the True Vine”
 
Now it's interesting that He chooses a figure of a vine. He does it for several reasons.
 
For instance, calling Himself a vine speaks of His
 
- humility
A vine is planted in the dirt of the earth.  Christ came in the form of a man formed from the dirt of the earth. 
 
The vine also shows
 
- union
 
The picture of a vine and the branches illustrates the dependency the branches have on the vine. The very life of the branch depends upon its union to the vine.   
 
The vine is a great illustration of
 
- productivity
 
He talks about bearing fruit.  Branches cannot independently produce fruit.  That union must be in place.  For all of its resources, the branch must depend upon the vine.  It's totally dependent.  In fact, it’s only reason for existence is found in what is produced through the union it has with the vine.
 
And so, Jesus chooses the figure of a vine.
 
And then He says, "I am the true vine." Now I think it important to keep in mind that in the Old Testament, Israel was God's vine.  Hosea 10 speaks of Israel as a productive, flourishing vine. 
 
So in the Old Testament, God operated on the earth through Israel.  God was the still the vinedresser and  Israel was the vine. He dressed Israel, cared for Israel, pruned Israel,, worked with Israel, cut off the branches of Israel that were not fruit bearing and cast them aside. And blessing came by being attached to God's covenant people, Israel.
So God's vine in the Old Testament was Israel.  In fact, it's interesting that the vine even become the symbol of Israel. On the coins that were printed during the Maccabean period which is the period between the Old and the New Testaments, the vine was the symbol on the coin.
 
Herod's temple during the time of Christ had on it a tremendous vine overlaid with gold that some have estimated was worth twelve million dollars. Israel had always been God's vine.
 
But Israel had become an empty vine and now there was a new vine. It wasn't through the covenant relation to Israel anymore that a man receive blessing, it wasn't through being connected with God's promises to Israel anymore, but a new vine grew up, a tender sprout, if you will named Jesus. 
 
 And now for a man to know life, for a man to know fruit in his life, for a man to know God’s care and attention, he would have to be connected to Jesus Christ. He was the true vine.
 
Now the word "true" is very interesting and carries several meanings.
 
I think of primary importance, it means true in the sense of eternal or divine. Just like much of what we’ve seen in our study of Hebrews on Wednesday nights, there was a picture of a vine in Old Testament Israel, but Christ is the reality of a vine. He is the true vine. He is the perfect one as distinct from the imperfect. He is the real as distinct from the type. Israel was a type of God's working and blessing. Christ was the reality.  And that's the kind of vine I want to get attached to, how about you?
All right, so for the vine, now let's look at
 
2. The Vinedresser
 
Now a vinedresser is the one who cared for the vine and just to put it in simple terms, a vinedresser is a farmer.  And as such, a vine dresser had two specific duties once the ground was prepared and the planting was done. 
 
Once that vine was up and growing, there were two primary responsibilities and both of them involved pruning. 
 
First, he was responsible for pruning the unproductive branches. 
 
Now this type of pruning is simply cutting off the branches that bore no fruit because they tended to sap the energy from the fruit bearing branches.  They needed to be removed so more fruit would grow on the other branches.  That way, the nutrients and necessary elements for productivity wouldn’t be wasted on branches that didn’t bear. 
 
So the idea was then that the one who cared for the vine chopped off and threw away the branches that bore no fruit. And incidentally, vine branches are good for nothing.  They aren’t any good for fire wood, they have no use so they are thrown away.
 
To put that in more spiritual terms, the first ministry of the Father to the branches is a ministry of punishment. The Father removes the branch that bears no fruit.
 
 
It doesn't say He fixes it up.  It says He cuts it off. In verse 6 it says, "And after that, is thrown into a pile, men gather them and burn them." These branches are dealt with with finality. They are cut off and that's it.
 
Now this speaks to every person who professes to be a Christian, but bears no fruit.  They may appear to be in attached to the vine, give every appearance of being a follower, but they’ve never been saved, and it's obvious he's never been saved because he never bears fruit. That's a dead giveaway. He is cut off at a certain point in the Father's timing for the life and health of the vine and the other branches and he is cast aside. That is the first duty of the Father.
So-called Christians who aren't really saved and it's obvious they aren't because they never bear fruit are cast away.
 
The second thing the vine dresser did was constantly prune the branches that did bear fruit.
 
This involved cutting off all the little shoots and things so, again, none of them were allowed to drain energy away from the fruit bearing branches. 
 
We see that in verse 2 and again in verse 8
 
Now we’re talking about the true Christian.  This is a branch that bears fruit.  That has to be the true believer.
 
Isn't it interesting that the Father also has some work to do on Christians, but it's not a final work but a continuing work.
Now the word prunes or purge, depending on your translation, actually means to cleanse and the idea is that when the Father purges or prunes a branch that bears fruit, He does it that the branch might bear more fruit and eventually much fruit.
 
So then we have the two duties of the Father...take away the branches that bear no fruit and purge the others.  Take away the branches that are sucking energy the other branches need and prune the branches that are bearing fruit so they might bear more fruit.
 
SO that’s the vine and the vinedresser.  Now, let's look at
 
3. The Branches
 
As I said, there are two types of branches:  productive and non-productive.  And as far as the vinedresser was concerned everything is about productivity.  That’s why this pruning process was so important
 
Now historians tell us in those days (and it may still be true), when a vine was planted, it was not allowed to bear fruit for three years. 
 
It was always pruned back each year so that it might develop strength and energy and maturity.  Then by the fourth year it was ready to bear fruit. It was full and rich and just loaded with fruit bearing capacity. A mature vine was normally pruned in December or January. The fruitful branches were trimmed back ready to bear fruit.
 
Now Jesus said His followers, true Chrstians are like that. They're like branches who bear fruit, who need to be pruned. Others, false Christians, are like branches that don't bear fruit and ultimately will be eliminated and cast into the fire. Let's look at these two types of branches.
 
First of all,
 
- The Professing Branches
 
Verse 2
 
Now I believe this could not be a Christian for several reasons.
 
Number one, I believe it can't be a Christian because I believe that
 
- There is some fruit is in every Christian's life
 
Every Christian bears fruit or they’re not a Christian.  With some, you may have to wait a long time and look real hard to find a couple of lingering grapes somewhere, but you'll find them somewhere if in fact, they are a child of God.
 
The very essence of new life in Christ is that it is productive. Now fruit means many things and we’ll look at that before we finish our study of the chapter, but let me mention a couple of things in regard to that. 
 
Ephesians 2:10
 
 
 
In other words, the fruit of salvation is good works. James mentions it as well in chapter 2, verse 17.
 
Faith, if it doesn’t have works is dead. 
 
In other words, it's not legitimate. Every legitimate saving faith is productive even if it's only in a minimal sense.
 
Then he goes on to talk about it in verse 22.
 
That doesn't mean you're saved by works, that means the evidence of your salvation is works. And so we see that every believer, every truly saved individual does bear fruit.
 
Jesus Himself said in Matthew 7:16, "Ye shall know them by their fruits."
 
So that, then, becomes a definitive way in which an individual can know that somebody else is a believer. There can't be a believer with no fruit because that's how you tell a Christian. You shall know they by their fruits.
 
Keep reading:  verses 17-20
 
We keep reading, but suffice it to say, every true believer bears fruit.  It is the very nature of a Christian to bear fruit. 
 
So if we meet some people who claim to be Christians that don't bear fruit, are they Christians? I think you can safely say, upon the authority of the Word of God, they can't be.  No way can they be believers. 
 
You say, "Well there are some things about that that bother me." Well good, because there is something about it that bothers me also and that is the first four words of verse 2. 
 
Does that bother you?  It bothers me because at first reading it appears they are believers in the sense of being ‘in Christ”.  But does that phrase mean salvation? I don't think it has to mean salvation. Let me give you several quick illustrations, running out of time.
 
In Romans 9:8, Paul says, “Not all Israel is Israel”.  That means you can be in Israel and not be the real thing. 
 
I like Luke 8:18, “Therefore take care how you listen. For whoever has, more will be given to him; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him."
 
Did you hear that? It's an appearance.
 
1 John 2:19 reminds us of those who went out from us because they were not of us that it might be made known that they weren't of us.
 
Listen:  It is entirely possible for an individual to live apparently connected to Jesus Christ but in fact really not connected at all.
 
 I firmly believe there are multiplied thousands upon thousands of church members to are religious and come to church and do the right things but have never been saved.  I believe that because I was one. 
 
You better check your life to be sure your salvation is real. This little passage is a stern warning because the branches that don't bear fruit He takes away and casts them into fire and that's a picture of hell.
 
And so, what is Jesus talking about here? He's talking about two kinds of branches. He's talking about the branches that are true disciples and He's talking about Judas branches, the ones that hang around Him the ones that make a kind of a facade of faith, the ones that look like they believe, the ones that superficially are attached but they're Judas branches and when it comes down to the acid test, they're gone. And when they willfully show that kind of character, the Father removes them and they never are able to come back.
 
And I want to insert while we’re passing by, the people who say that this refers to Christians who lose their salvation put themselves in a very difficult position because if you'll notice, once the branch is removed, it's burned. That would say that if you ever lost your salvation, you could never get it back again.
 
That's like Hebrews 6.  If Hebrews 6 says you can lose your salvation, it also says it's impossible to get it back again. And if you believe that you can lose your salvation, then you'll only lose it once, according to every passage that talks about it. But if you study the passage carefully, you'll see that all of those have to do with apostates who superficially and apparently attach themselves to Christ but who are never real to begin with. And so we meet the first branches, the false branches.
 
Then, quickly, look at
- The Possessing Branches
 
End of verse 2
 
Notice the verse says, “every branch”.  It’s not some, but every.  If you can just look at your problems like that, it’s rather encouraging, isn’t it?
 
If we could just learn to say, "Boy, Lord, is this a great problem because just think when it's over, more fruit." I mean, you could actually begin to pray for trouble. I haven't started doing that, but you could. But the idea is that the Father purges the branch so that it will bring forth more fruit.
 
Now as I mentioned, the word "purging" comes from a Greek word which means to clean. And it was used in farming for many things. It was used in the Greek language for cleansing corn, when corn waste was separated from it. It was used for cleansing the soil of weeds before planting a crop. P
 
Now when you went to prune a branch, it could be done in many ways. There was a process called pinching by which an individual would take his thumb and finger and remove just the growing tip of the unwanted shoot.
 
Then another way was by topping, and this was to remove a foot or two feet of a rather large branch and that prevented its loss in the wind or its dissipation of strength as it became too large, or too long.
 
Then another process was thinning and this would be removing flower clusters, or grape clusters from the branch.
There were processes by which they clipped off little shoots and cut them so the branch was clean, so that nothing was lost.
 
And certainly in the case of our spiritual pruning which the Father does to all of us, it's the process of removing all the things that would hinder our fruit bearing.
 
The Father wants us to operate on a maximum fruit-bearing capacity. And in order for us to operate on a maximum fruit-bearing capacity, He's got to whack off things periodically, sins and hindrances and little things that attach themselves to us, sucker growths and all the other diseases and pests that might get on to us as branches the Father needs to remove.
 
Now one of the best ways, if not THE best is by suffering or trouble or problems. This is a very effective way to clean out the life as it is, of course, to prune the branch.
 
Now pruning is painful.  We wonder sometimes whether we're in such bad shape that we need so much pruning and the branch on the next spot on the vine never gets pruned.
 
But the Father knows what He's doing. And the valuable lessons of suffering are what awaken us to what is not necessary on our life, what needs to be removed.
 
 
 
 
 
Now the Father may cause us this pruning in many ways. It may be sickness, may be hardship, may be the loss of material goods, it may be slander, it may be persecution, it may be the loss of loved ones, it may be particular grief in relationships, it may be agony over other people, it may be war...all these things are talked about in the Bible as troubles that beset the believer. It may be a lot of things that the Father uses, God ordained troubles to prune off the sucker roots...shoots and all the little things that get on our lives that drain away our energy and rob us of fruit-bearing capacity.
 
But I'll tell you something, isn't it wonderful to know that the Father cares that we bear a lot of fruit?
 
Do you ever get the feeling that God is up there kind of hovering over you with whip in hand saying, "You better bear fruit or I'll get you." But that's not it. The Father is down here with His clippers helping us to bear fruit, you see?
 
We're not on display trying to operate to please the Father all by Himself, He's down there clipping off the shoots, cleaning off the branch so we can bear fruit. Aren't you glad that God's involved in your life in your fruit bearing?
 
Sure it's trouble but trouble wakens us to our needs. Do you look at your trouble like that, or do you fall into great lapses of self-pity, fearful, complaining or brooding? Or perhaps you feel like God is being unfair and you wonder why He’s picking on you. 
 
 
 
But if you remember that what God has in mind is more fruit and much fruit, then the pruning process can be joy because you look past the clipping and you see what's going to happen. It's an amazing thing to realize what the Father wants to do in our lives is cause us to bear more fruit and much fruit.
We are purged in order that we might partake of His holiness and fruit bearing.  Now pruning involves a knife.  What is the Father's knife? Some say it's suffering. I don't think so. I think the knife is the Word of God.
 
Look at verse 3
 
What did I tell you the word purged meant?  Clean.  In other words, Jesus says, “You are purged through the Word which I've spoken unto you.”
 
 The Word of God is the knife. The affliction or the trouble is only the handle of the knife. That's just where God gets the grip. The knife is the Word of God.
 
Have you ever noticed how much more sensitive you are to the Word of God when you're in trouble? Have you ever noticed how all of a sudden you're reading the Bible and you've got a particular trouble, you've got a particular anxiety and you hit a verse that deals with that and it just leaps off the page? The Spirit of God applies it to your heart.
 
You see, in those adversities the Word of God comes alive, it does the surgery but the trouble makes it obvious to you, it opens the opportunity.
A trial puts pressure on us. It helps us to develop spiritual muscles. But the Word is the knife, it's the two-edged sword that does the cutting.
Spurgeon said this, "It is the Word that prunes the Christian. It is the truth that purges him. The Scripture made living and powerful by the Holy Spirit cleanses the Christian. Affliction is the handle of the knife. Affliction is the grindstone that sharpens the Word. Affliction is the dresser that removes our soft garments and lays bear the diseased flesh so the surgeon's knife may get at it. Affliction merely makes us ready for the surgery of the Word of God. But the true pruner is the Word in the hands of the great vine dresser."
 
So we're clean through the Word. Notice He says to those disciples who are the true branches, "You have been cleaned through the Word." Their initial salvation came through the Word and their continual purging, pruning is done by the Word of God. When you're in affliction you think more on the Word, you see it applied to you, you feel its force in your life and He uses the Word to cut away the problem.
 
Well, that’s enough for tonight.  We’ve met the vine, the vine dresser and the vine branches.
 
Let’s pray. . .
 
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