John 15: 1 – 17 The vine and the branches
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: love each other.
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What is this fruit that we should aspire to bear? St John doesn’t tell us here, but it’s in a passage emphasising Jesus’ command: love each other. It seems reasonable then to suppose that the fruit St John is writing about is the result of the love that the disciples will express in their lives through the power of the in-dwelling Holy Spirit.
St Paul wrote about this, too, in Galatians chapter 5.
In verse 14, he writes, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ In verse 22, he writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
I am wary of drawing an exact parallel between the two passages – we have two different writers who are writing to quite different readers (St John’s gospel is most likely focussed on Greeks, whereas Galatians is addressed to people who are being tempted to return to observance of the Jewish law). Nevertheless, I believe that St John is using the idea of fruit in much the same way as St Paul in the letter to the Ephesians.
St John tells us that Jesus warned that there would be people who came to him but who bore no fruit. They would be removed in the same way that a gardener would remove dead wood from a vine.
Jesus has a special word for the disciples: ‘You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.’ Jesus has taught the disciples everything his Father has shown him, and that teaching has pruned them; they are clean. (The Greek word used can mean either pruned or cleaned). Although this is addressed to the disciples, it also suggests how the pruning is carried out; it is by the teaching of Jesus.
Those of us who bear fruit can expect to be pruned so that we can be even more fruitful. The pruning will be done by the teaching of Jesus. If we look back a page, to John 14: 26 we read: ‘But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.’
I suggest that this means first and foremost that we need to know Jesus as he is revealed through the gospels. But I don’t think it’s sufficient to read the words of the bible; we need, as well, to be prayerfully open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And, in addition to that, we need to look for evidence of God’s work in our lives, and in the lives of the world around us; we need to be open to change. And the absolute key is love. Over and over again, Jesus says it. This is my command: love each other.
What I’m discovering as I study and blog is that God is changing me. He is pruning me, removing the sinful and inessential, and making me more aware of his presence. Thank you, Lord!
Thank you for caring enough to prune me, so that I may bear fruit for you. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
In Jesus name, Amen.