I remember my first attempt at gardening back in the early 2000’s in Erie, PA. We had just moved into our new house and we finally had a home with a yard that had beautiful flowers (the person before us was truly a gifted gardener), a peach tree and a nice fenced in yard. One day I had the idea to put in a garden in the back corner of our lot. I borrowed a rototiller from a friend a tilled up a nice area of land. I planted carrots, beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, cantaloupe and others. I put a little fence around it to keep the critters (and child) out. I diligently watered the garden everyday and pulled weeds. Over the course of time I neglected watering and unfortunately it became a very hot and dry summer. Eventually I had this pathetic barren dry patch of dirt in the corner lot of our house with one very small cantaloupe in it. We also had a peach tree but I won't get into that story. What started as pruning ended up being completely cut down with a broken hand held miter box saw.
After this failed attempt at gardening I vowed to never plant a garden again until… last year and this year. I really don’t want to go into my reasons… let’s just say the results were pretty much the same. As you can see I don’t have a green thumb, it's more of a black thumb (this is the thumb that kills every plant it touches). Needless to say I am very thankful and envious of all who bring veggies and fruit who have this magical touch and share aplenty.
(Read John 15:1 - 11)
This is the last of Jesus’ seven “I am” statements in the Gospel of John (The bread of life, light of the world, the door, the Good Shepherd, the resurrection and life, the way, the truth and the life). The key themes of this passage are abiding, staying connected, being healthy, obedience to Christ and being full joy.
Verse 1: The “true vine”. When I first read this I noted Jesus calls himself the true vine. This tells me if he is the true vine then something or someone else must have been or made the claim of being the vine sometime. In Jewish tradition (and in OT passages) the vine represents Israel. The nation was meant to be the vine that bore much fruit for God and his Kingdom but instead we see it bore idolatry and disobedience (i.e. Isaiah 5:5 – 7, Jeremiah 2:21, Hosea 10:1). In verse one Jesus says he is the true vine, He is the true Israel. Through him God will establish his Kingdom and through Jesus humanity (those who believe and obey) will be saved.
God is the vinedresser or the gardener. He is the one who cultivates and He is the one who prunes.
Verse 2: As we see in verse 5 the disciples (those who follow Christ) are the branches. The Father cuts off or takes away every branch that does not bear fruit. A branch that is not connected to a tree or a vine is dead and useless. If followers of Jesus are the branches then who are the branches that bear no fruit and are cut off? There are some plausible suggestions for who these fruitless branches are.
- A person who is unfaithful or disobedient who is judged at the judgment seat of Christ by fire.
- A person who claims to be a Christian but is not a genuine believer (i.e. Judas and those who left Jesus after the hard sayings).
Jesus says if one is not bearing fruit in his life then there are serious consequences (cut and thrown into the fire- Verse 6). The implication is if you are in Christ then you must bear fruit that Jesus is in your life. The fruit he speaks of is faith, remaining in him and obedience to his commands.
“Prunes” – We see those who are bearing fruit the Father will also prune. Pruning as most of you know is important in order for a tree or plant to remain healthy and produce more and healthy fruit. The word prune can be defined as “cleanses or expiate”. The greatest judgment God could bring to a believer would be to let him alone, let him have his own way. Because God loves us, He “prunes” us and encourages us to bear more fruit for His glory. If the branches could speak, they would confess that the pruning process hurts; but they would also rejoice that they will be able to produce more and better fruit. 
Fruitfulness is the mark of a true believer.
Verse 3: The words Jesus spoke has already cleansed the disciples. His Word cleanses it is the life in the vine. Recall Jesus spoke about the disciples already being clean at the time of the foot washing… Judas was not.
Verse 4 - 5: Abide = To remain as one. Jesus has been speaking of being one with the Father and with the believer. Jesus tells the disciples that they are to remain or abide in him and in so doing he will abide in them (the believer). One who disconnects from the vine (Jesus) is a dead fruitless branch. A branch that is disconnected cannot bear fruit because there is no life source flowing through or to it. A person that is disconnected from Jesus is not a Christian. One cannot be apart from Jesus and still be considered one of his.
The only way to produce a healthy and fruitful Christian life is to remain and abide in Jesus. As we see in verse 5 that a disconnected dead branch can do nothing apart from the source of life (the vine).
Verse 6: A person who is a disconnected dead branch dries up and withers and is thrown into the fire.
Verse 7: If one remains and abides in Jesus and his word the logical conclusion is his prayer life will become more in tune with Jesus and his desires. A person who abides in Jesus will have a powerful prayer life because he/she is seeking the Lord’s will in prayer time and does not seek to receive only that which benefits the person praying. When we abide in Christ, he abides in us and ultimately his desires become our desires and we will ask in accordance to his will and purpose.
Verse 8: When we pray according to God’s will the answers will come for his glory. Also when we live lives that are fruitful for God we in turn bring glory to his name as well. A life of faith and obedience to Jesus’ commands brings glory to the Father. When we honor Jesus in our lives we also honor the Father. We are also reminded that abiding in Jesus and bearing fruit is a sign to others that you belong to God the Father. It is yet another mark that distinguishes one as a disciple of Christ.
Verse 9, 10: How much does Jesus love you? As much as the Father loves the Son. Since this is true then we must continue in Jesus (abide in my love). As Christians we are to remain in his love (through obedience to his commands and faith [believe in me]). This should be encouragement galore. As we abide we should be reminded daily and often of the great love Jesus has for his people. As one who is connected to the vine our life source flows from him to us.
How do you abide in him? By keeping his commandments. I have said this numerous times and I will say it again… This is not works based salvation. This is a results based salvation. As believers we should know that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The Epistles are crystal clear on this. However, often people misinterpret Jesus’ commands to obedience as meaning obedience is the key to salvation. There are many who claim Christ yet are not fruit bearing Christians. They think they belong to Jesus because they follow his commandments of loving one another, proclaiming their love for God and yet they have not put complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ. The true disciple will be one whose outward obedience is a result of his faith and not the reason for his so called faith. Jesus speaks often about faith (in Him), obedience (to his command) and abiding (remaining in him). These three are interconnected and must be part of the believer’s life. Thus Christianity is not a good works based religion it is a good works result relationship with a Savior who loves his people more than we can comprehend.
Verse 11: How I wish more and more Christians would read and believe these words of verse 11. Jesus DOES want his followers to be joyful. Jesus does want us to be satisfied, happy and content IN HIM. Jesus spoke these words so the disciples would recognize their source of joy does not come from circumstances, they come from Christ. I love that Jesus not only tells us we will be filled with joy… He tells us our joy will be full, complete or overflowing. To this day I love the saying, “If the joy of the Lord is in you please tell your face.” This abundance of joy should be evident to others. People should see the joy of the Lord in your face, your deeds, and your life. This does not mean you are constantly happy and life is a bed of roses. Our joy can be full in times of triumph, in our everyday life, and in the deepest darkest times of our lives. When Jesus is the source of our joy then circumstances will never be able to steal your joy.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Jn 15:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.