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 bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. John 15:1-4
Years ago when we lived in Germany, one of our favorite things to do was to go spend time at the vineyards on the Rhine. Watching the vines change and grow as the seasons came and went was fascinating. Barren branches of winter gave way to leafy shoots in the spring. The summer brought ever growing fruit, which lead into the harvest of the fall. The whole process was amazing. We always joked that in some other life we’d own a beautiful vineyard and just hang out with the grapes all day.
This passage in John is a favorite of mine. Although most of my life I didn’t really understand it. After spending time in the vineyards and reading up on how good wine is made, I realized there is so much more to it than meets the eye. The process and science behind the scenes is fascinating. As I learned more, this passage became more personal and more meaningful.
Before anything else, Jesus establishes the relationship in the vineyard. Christ the Vine points us to God the Husbandman. We must remember we are branches – planted by Him in a specific place, cared for by Him and protected by Him.
He then addresses branches that aren’t bearing fruit. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away” (v.2). This verse has been taken totally out of context by most believers because of the wording. We think if we aren’t bearing fruit or performing, we’ve struck out. God is going to toss us out of His vineyard. But God the Vinedresser does not just throw out His branches! Jesus is speaking here to believers. We don’t get tossed aside. Where our translations say “takes away”, the real meaning of the words is “lifts up”. When vines trail on the ground and get covered in dirt, they can’t bear fruit. He doesn’t throw us out, He lifts us up out of the dirt!
Now for the branches that are bearing fruit: “and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” If we read this out of context, it seems like either way we are in trouble! We assume pruning/purging to be a painful, punishing process. We are bearing fruit, doing all right when all of the sudden we get whacked and lose half our leaves. We think when tragedy strikes we must be under God’s pruning knife. But here again, we have the meaning wrong. The word “prune/purge” doesn’t imply our Vinedresser runs around willy-nilly whacking at us poor branches. It actually means “to clean or cleanse us”. In a real vineyard, this is an important thing. Leaves and branches must be kept clean from insects and parasites that would kill it. That changes everything! It makes even more sense when you read the next verse:
“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (v.3) The WORD has made us clean! We see in 2 Timothy chapter 3 that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (v. 16-17). So it is through God’s WORD that we are corrected, lifted up, and instructed.
God’s type of pruning, like in a real vineyard, leads to mature vines. There is a process to it and thought put into it. The Word is His pruning knife. His Word is clear that He doesn’t need to use affliction to get us to bear fruit. Too often we embrace afflictions as His work in our lives when they are not. Those things can and should drive us to Him and they can teach us. But He has a BETTER way. Through His Word. He lifts us up, shakes us off and cleanses us so we may bear fruit.
As branches, our only job is to rely on the Vinedresser to do His work so we may bear fruit. Before anything else, Jesus assures us that we are taken care of. He assures us that we are loved and made clean. When we understand that “taking away and pruning” are actually “lifting up and cleansing”, it changes everything! It should make us welcome the Vinedresser into our lives. We can be open to His work because He knows exactly what He is doing!