The prophet Isaiah once compared Israel to a fruitful vine (5:7). Historians tell us that this symbol became so precious to God’s people that they decorated the temple with an elaborate carving of a vineyard. One Bible dictionary paints the picture:
In the temple at Jerusalem, above and round the gate, seventy cubits high, which led from the porch to the holy place, a richly carved vine was extended as a border and decoration. The branches, tendrils and leaves were of finest gold; the stalks of the bunches were of the length of the human form, and the bunches hanging upon them were of costly jewels. Herod first placed it there; rich and patriotic Jews from time to time added to its embellishment, one contributed a new grape, another a leaf, and a third even a bunch of the same precious materials…. This vine must have had an uncommon importance and a sacred meaning in the eyes of the Jews. With what majestic splendor must it likewise have appeared in the evening, when it was illuminated by tapers!
The vine became a symbol of national vitality. When Jesus claimed to be “the true vine” (John 15:1–11), therefore, he was not making a claim in a vacuum. He was claiming to be Israel’s true spiritual vitality. Without him, the people of God would wither and die.
As you read these verses, it becomes apparent that Jesus was driving at the fruitfulness that is produced by his people’s connection to him. Those who are connected to Christ will produce Christlike fruit, much like branches connected to a vine will produce vinelike fruit. Observe three realities about Christian fruitfulness from these verses.
First, Christian fruitfulness is the product of connectedness: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 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” (vv. 1–2). Fruitfulness is the (super)natural result of connectedness. It is impossible to be connected to the vine and not produce fruit. Those who do not bear fruit are not connected to the vine. Some branches may bear more fruit than others, but every branch will, to one degree or another, bear fruit.
Second, Christian fruitfulness is assisted by pruning: “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. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you” (vv. 2–3). For the Christian, pruning is a painful process, but it is necessary in order to produce greater fruitfulness. The health of the branch is directly proportionate to its pruning. A good farmer understand the reason for pruning. To those who lack the expertise, pruning may appear wasteful and even harmful, but the good farmer knows what is necessary to produce maximum fruitfulness. So, too, our Father knows precisely what will produce maximum fruitfulness in our lives. No providence is wasted. Every triumph and joy, every pain and sorrow is designed to produce greater fruit. We lack the expertise of the divine Vinedresser and providences often seem harsh and wasted, but he knows what he is doing and we do well to trust him to prune in such a way that maximum fruitfulness is ensured.
Third, Christian fruitfulness is evidenced by abiding: “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. 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” (vv. 4–6). God intends his branches to bear fruit over the long haul. There may be seasons of greater and lesser fruitfulness, but, over the long haul, every true branch can look back to abiding fruitfulness.
In vv. 7–11, Jesus highlights some of the kinds of fruit that can be expected from connection to the vine. The list is not exhaustive, but it is illustrative. Christlike fruitfulness includes things like prayerful effectiveness (v. 7), a God-glorifying lifestyle (v. 8), abiding love (vv. 9–10), and overflowing joy (v. 11). These types of fruit give evidence that one is connected to the vine.
As you consider the imagery of the vine this morning, ask yourself if you see evidence of connectedness in your life. Be grateful for the oft-painful pruning that you experience. Pray for long-haul fruitfulness. Pray that your life will be marked by fruitfulness in keeping with Christlikeness.