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Expo Preaching
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The Vine and the Branches

Sun, Mar 14, 2021
Teacher: Chris Appleby
Passage: John 15:1-17
Duration:21 mins 4 secs
Are you seeking to bear much fruit to the glory of God? If that's the case are you making sure you're firmly grafted into the life of Christ, into the life of his Church? Are you committed to obeying him in everything you do? Are you drawing your strength and energy from him; relying on him to produce the increase?

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One positive that came out of last year for me was the reminder of how important it is to be connected with other Christians. Even for an introvert like myself the lack of regular physical connection last year was difficult. God made us for community. Jesus created the Church so we could be supported and encouraged and comforted by others who know him and love him.

Of course, being a Christian means different things for different people. For some it means the comfort of knowing that you're on God's side. For some it's being part of a wider community of people who are mutually dependent and supportive. It might mean being part of a world-wide community of people who share a love for and who worship the one God. But at the heart of what Jesus says it means to be a Christian is what we find here in this passage today, as Jesus begins to teach his disciples what it means to be one of his followers.

Bearing Fruit

He says the whole point of being one of his followers is to bear fruit to the Father's glory. In fact, he says if you don't bear fruit, there's something wrong.

Jesus begins with the statement that he is the true vine and his Father the vinegrower. Now for the disciples this would have rung loud bells. The image of a vine or a vineyard was a common image of the nation of Israel. In Is 5 we find what's known as the song of the vineyard. There God tells how he planted a vineyard, meaning the people of Israel, and looked for it to bear grapes, but all he found were wild grapes, of no use to him. And so he says he'll tear down that vineyard and make it a waste, because it didn't bear the fruit that God required from it. Israel had failed to do what God required, and so would be left a desolate wasteland.

But now Jesus has come and he declares that he is the true vine. That is, he's the true Israel. He's come to replant the vineyard. He's the one who will obey the Father and please him in all he does (v10) the way Israel failed to do.

But if Jesus is the vine, those who have joined him as his followers are grafted in and become branches of that same vine. And that means that we too are expected to bear fruit. If we dont bear fruit, the Father, the vine grower, will prune us. He'll take away those parts of us that are unfruitful, or that are bearing wild grapes, and those parts that are bearing fruit he'll prune to make them even more fruitful.

Have you ever had a grape vine and watched how it grows? It sends out shoots in spring, some of which have flowers on them which become grapes. But then about the time that the grapes are beginning to ripen, it'll suddenly have a spurt of growth. New branches spring out of the vine. To the casual observer it looks wonderful, full of health and vigour. But the vine grower isn't interested in lush growth; he's interested in luscious grapes. So one of the jobs of the vine grower is to go along and prune those branches that don't have any fruit on them.

So do you see the point of this illustration? The whole point of being a follower of Christ is so that we can continue his work, to bear much fruit to the glory of God.

How do we Bear Fruit?

But then the question arises, how are we going to bear fruit? Well, fairly obviously, the first thing you need if you're going to the best fruit is to be grafted into the best vine. Now this is important. No matter how good a branch may be, unless it's grafted into a healthy vine, it'll never bear healthy fruit. Again, following the analogy of the vine grower, most if not all commercial grapes are grown from grafted vines. What the grower does is to select a variety of grape that has the desired characteristics and then grafts that branch into a root stock that's known to be healthy and vigorous and disease resistant, etc. And the result, hopefully, is a vine that produces plenty of good fruit. But until that branch is successfully grafted into the root stock, it's of no use. In fact if it's left too long it'll shrivel up and die.

That's the picture that Jesus is giving of our situation. We need to be grafted into the vine, that is, into the life of Christ, in order for us to flourish and bear fruit. But notice who all that depends on in the first instance? It doesn't depend on the branch does it? It depends entirely on the vine and the vine grower. So too, our salvation, our being grafted into the vine, doesn't depend on our efforts, but on Christ who provides the foundation and on God the vine grower who does the rest. God's gift to us is to graft us in, if we ask him, so we can take part in the life of the vine, in the life of Christ. Only then does he expect us to bear fruit, as we draw on the power of God, on the life of Christ, on the Holy Spirit to deliver the fruit that God desires.

But having been grafted in, how are we to bear fruit? Well, there is something we have to do. If we're to be drawn into the life of Christ, if the graft is to take, as it were, we need to remain connected to the vine. That's why it's so important to be part of a church, part of the body of Christ here on earth.

That's what Jesus says next you see: "Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing..." It seems so simple, doesn't it? If you want to bear fruit you need to draw life from the vine. That means you need to remain firmly connected to the life of the vine. That's what I take him to mean by abide in me. So we need to be constantly looking to Christ for our daily food; to be constantly feeding on the word of God, on the bread of life; firmly connected to him and to other Christians who are Christ's body here on earth

A Moral Element.

As we read on we discover that there's also a moral element to this bearing of fruit. You may have noticed that while vs 1-8 give the picture of the vine, vs9-17 seems to work in parallel, to flesh out what this metaphor means in practice. So in vs 9-10 he explains, not how to abide in the vine, but how to remain in his love. But it seems that these are essentially the same idea. And how do we remain in Christ's love? By keeping his commandments. So you see there is a moral aspect to this remaining in Christ. Mind you, it isn't some sort of harsh, Victorian asceticism, some mean-spirited legalism. Rather he's talking about the sort of loving obedience that he showed to the Father's will, that leads to fulfilment, to life in abundance, that's the road to liberation, not bondage. Look at v 11: "I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete." Our obedience to the will of God gives us complete joy as we share in the life of Christ and in his love.

Pruning?

But notice too, that although obedience to Christ's commands leads to joy, it doesn't mean it comes without any pain. Going back to the picture of the vine, our fruitfulness might also involve us being pruned. I guess we can all think of things in our life that God has had to remove in order to get our focus back on him. And just like the vine, the things God prunes away aren't necessarily bad. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with a leafy branch. If it were an ornamental vine a leafy branch would be fine. But if you're hoping for big juicy grapes, that leafy branch might need to be cut back. It might even be necessary to cut back some of the smaller bunches of grapes so those that are left are even healthier. So there will be times when God will come along with his pruning shears and take away some otherwise perfectly fine thing that just happens to be distracting us from doing his will. He might even stop us from working in some area of ministry because he wants us to put more time into something else. Can you hear the warning there? Be careful that that favourite toy of yours, or that favourite occupation, that hobby or sport, those friends even, don't get in the way of your service of God. Use them certainly as a means of recreation, of refreshment when you need to get the stresses of life out of your system, but be careful that they don't take over, or distract you from God's work, because that's when God just might come along with his pruning shears and remove them. And notice the place of God's word in doing that pruning. In v3 he says "You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you."

There's a play on words in the Greek between the word for prune and the word for cleanse. It's as though he's saying that his words have already cleaned away some of the unfruitful growth. How? It's happened as a result of them hearing the word of life that he's spoken to them. That is, as his words have given them life, as they've heard them and believed in him they've thrown off their old beliefs and begun to bear the sort of fruit Jesus is talking about in their own lives. It's also happened to them corporately, e.g. in ch 6, as his words have led to many falling away because they couldn't take what he was saying.

Ask

Again, if we're to bear fruit, how will the fruit come about? Well, as we've already seen, the fruit draws its life from the vine, not from the branches. In other words, it's God who will bring the fruit. But still, we have our part to play. Have a look at vs7-8 "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples." And v16: "16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name." God's desire is that we'll bear much fruit to his glory, so he promises that all we have to do is to ask him to bring our efforts to fruition and he'll do it. Here's the secret to being a fruitful follower of Christ: ask him to give you the fruit you desire. Paul says in 1 Cor 3 that one person plants, another waters, but God gives the growth. So if you want your service of God to be fruitful, ask him to provide the growth.

When I retired I was regularly asked how did I grow the church I'd been in; and my standard answer was "I don't know." I don't know because it wasn't me who grew the church. That was the work of God, of his Holy Spirit.

You read last week how the Holy Spirit is given to us in part to convince those to whom we witness, of the truth of our testimony. If you're sharing the gospel with your friends or family members then make sure you're praying at the same time, asking God to send his Holy Spirit to speak to the hearts of those to whom you're speaking, to give the fruit that you're looking for.

Abiding

Next, notice that this idea of abiding is far from a passive thing. I think sometimes people hear it as like being in a retirement home, or a holiday resort on the Gold Coast, where you can just sit back and relax in comfort, while someone else looks after you, does all the maintenance, etc. But us abiding in Christ here is nothing like that at all. Abiding here has to do with where you get the energy to produce fruit. It's grounded in mission. It's an active, output oriented concept.

That's why Jesus repeats his new commandment, there in v12. Remember, the point of the new commandment, the reason for loving one another the way Jesus loved us, was so that people would see that we're Jesus' disciples. Loving one another is just part of the process of bearing fruit. And loving one another is part of the reality of remaining in Jesus' love.

Friends

Finally, notice that abiding in the vine results in a new relationship between Jesus and his followers. He says "I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father." Our being grafted into the vine changes our relationship to Jesus from being subjects, servants, to being friends. We become partners with him in the ministry of the gospel. We're his ambassadors, speaking as those who've been given the mind of Christ; in fact we've been given a message from Jesus, our friend, to pass on. We share with him the task of bearing fruit to God's glory.

What Sort of Fruit?

Finally, what sort of fruit are we to bear? The New Testament talks a lot about good fruit. For example it speaks of the fruit of lips that confess his name; good works; the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ; the fruit of light that is found in all that is good and right and true; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness; generosity. As Jesus says in v16, this is the sort of fruit that'll last, that'll bring glory to God the Father.

Is this how you see yourself? Not as a servant, but as a friend of Christ? Are you seeking to bear much fruit to the glory of God? If that's the case are you making sure you're firmly grafted into the life of Christ, into the life of his Church? Are you committed to obeying him in everything you do? Are you drawing your strength and energy from him; relying on him to produce the increase? Is your focus outward, looking for opportunities for ministry, looking to serve God in all you do?

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