Abide or Abandon the True Vine

John 15:1-8

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 it so 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, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

We can’t really look at the details of today’s text without first understanding its larger context.

  • What’s going on…
  • Informs why the Lord talks about what He does

This is the last supper scenario.

Jesus is gathered in the upper room with His disciples the night before His crucifixion.

They are receiving the crescendo of His instructions.

  • His deepest truths

The scene begins in John chapter 13 and goes all the way through 17.

John includes the Lord’s instructions on communion, His prediction of Judas’ betrayal, His divinity; the role of the Holy Spirit; death and resurrection…

  • As well as other matters related to being His disciple

We know from chapter 13 that after Jesus washes the disciple’s feet, Judas is identified as His betrayer.

He exits the room and Jesus is with the remaining 11 disciples.

With the departing of Judas, Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches makes a lot of sense.

  • Abiding with Him or abandoning Him.
  • Staying with Jesus as the 11 do or leaving Him like Judas

The Lord is talking about something that happened right before the disciple’s eyes.

  • Judas abandoned Jesus

He relates abiding with Him in agricultural terms but make no mistake…they would easily get the connection with Judas’ decision to leave.

We’d miss all this if we neglect the context.

I think most people miss the point of this analogy when it’s stripped from the framework of all that’s going on.

It’s not about salvation versus lostness…

But fruitfulness as apposed to unfruitfulness as followers.

So, Jesus uses the illustration of the vine and branches to contrast followers who abide with Him and those who abandon Him.

  • Jesus branches and Judas branches

If you’ve listened to my sermons for even a short time…you know that I like to alliterate the main points when possible.

It’s a devise that helps me…and hopefully…you to remember them.

I won’t push alliteration for its own sake, but if the words fit…I don’t hesitate to have them as headings in my hermeneutics.

  • Get it?

Let’s get started.

The Plant (1a)

Jesus begins by saying, “I am the true vine….”

  • You could say, “I’m the plant.”

He’s identified Himself as the true “this or that” several times before.

  • The true light
  • The true bread
  • The true testimony, the true judgment, true resurrection

In these instances, Jesus isn’t comparing Himself to the false light, bread, testimony and so on.

He’s using true as in genuine.

  • Compared with a representation of the vine.

Like the true genuine painting of the Mona Lisa compared to a replica.

What’s significant about this is that Israel had always been representative of the true vine that was to come.

Psalm 80:8-9, You removed a vine from Egypt; You drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground before it, and it took deep root and filled the land.

Isaiah 5:7, For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus, He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress. 

Jeremiah 12:10, Many shepherds have ruined My vineyard, they have trampled down My field; they have made My pleasant field a desolate wilderness.

Israel was always the vine and vineyard God used to represent His approaching Messiah.

But now the Messiah was here…Jesus.

His presence brought Israel’s representative ministry to an end.

It’s no longer the conduit of God’s word because the Word is now among the people.

The sacrificial system isn’t needed because Jesus gave His life for us.

So, when Jesus said, “I am the true vine,” He claims to be the plant…the vine…the Person that Israel pointed to.

Today, the church represents Christ until He comes again.

What does 2 Corinthians 5:20 teach?

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

When you receive Jesus as your Savior…you have Him as your Lord.

And by His Lordship you accept the responsibility of ambassadorship.

Question: How well do I represent my Lord?

[The Plant]

The Pruner (1-2)

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 it so that it may bear more fruit.

One look at my hands and you can see that I’m not a farmer.

  • Not even a gardener.

But from what I’ve read…the role of a vinedresser is basically two-fold.

First, cut away the nonfruit-bearing parts of the vine.

Because all they do is drain nutrients from the fruit-bearing branches.

  • They literally pull the life out of the healthy branches.

Secondly, and this is what I want to talk about here…

The vinedresser prunes the healthy branches so they can make more fruit.

Jesus identifies His Father as the vinedresser…

  • The Pruner

He’s the One who trims away the parts of the fruit-bearing branches that hinder their growth…that weaken their productivity.

It doesn’t take a theologian to grasp the spiritual implications here.

God the Father oversees that part of the believer’s spiritual formation that calls for cutting…that requires discipline.

Look at Hebrews 12:4-10…

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.

Proverbs 3:11-12, My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord or loathe His reproof, 12 For whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.

This is an aspect of the Christian life many preachers gloss over.

Because spiritual discipline is not fun.

  • Being pruned isn’t pleasant.

But it’s necessary to be as fruitful as the vinedresser desires.

What’s getting in my way of being more productive for the kingdom?

  • An activity…attitude…an ambition…

This is an important question.

It’s not a matter of “if” we’re pruned…but how we respond to the pruning.

We can either be grateful…and grow…or rebel and stagnate.

By the way…the Father prunes churches too.

He trims unhealthy growth…which…there can be a lot of that…right.

Not all church growth is healthy.

He trims unhealthy growth so genuine kingdom growth can happen.

Chicken farms and processing plants are big industry where we used to live in South Georgia.

There’s so much demand for chicken…that farmers can’t produce them fast enough naturally.

So, they’ll artificially stimulate their growth using hormones and steroids.

We also read about this kind of artificial growth in athletes who want to synthetically enhance their performance.

But unlike a chicken that will be on a plate and consumed in a few weeks…

The unhealthy side effects of unnatural growth in humans and churches are long-lasting.

Christ-followers and church’s that grow artificially do it by injecting worldly practices into the Body of Christ.

Since it’s His body and not ours…the unhealthy growth is eventually pruned away.

The Father is determined to get His best out of us…

That means less of us and more of Him

Less of this world and more holiness.

[The Plant, Pruner]

The Producers (4-5)

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

The Plant, the Pruner…and now we come to the central insight of Jesus’ analogy…The Producers.

Because here Jesus clearly identifies what proves someone abides in Him.

The proof…the produce…the fruit of their lives.

How do I know if I’m a Jesus or Judas branch…by my fruit.

  • The produce
  • Plain and simple

As a matter of scriptural fact…when someone abides in Him, they will be a producer.

This is what our Lord said…

  • …he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit….

This is declarative…He’s not making productivity an option of abiding.

If we abide in Him, we will be producers of fruit that glorifies and honors God.

Because He’s the source of our productivity.

Matt. 7:17-20, So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.

Again, the difference between good and bad fruit…the good and bad producers…is whether or not their product glorifies and honors the Lord.

And the difference between what’s good and bad is spelled out in God’s word.

From Genesis to Revelation, we’re told what’s God-honoring and what isn’t.

These aren’t arbitrary…subjective behaviors.

They’re not relative to times and cultures.

What glorified the Lord in 100 A. D. glorifies Him in 2021 A. D.

What honors Him in Nepal…honors Him in Pittsburgh.

The key to being a good fruit producer is in abiding with Jesus.

Abide…menŏ…to stay…to remain.

The vine and branch analogy richly illustrates the kind of connectivity Jesus has in mind.

Though a clear difference can be seen between a vine and its branches both in size and purpose…each one needs the other.

The vine doesn’t produce fruit…it produces branches…

Branches cannot produce fruit apart from the vine.

  • …apart from Me you can do nothing.

We don’t typically think of Jesus as needing us.

  • But He does.

He needs us to be fruitful for His kingdom.

Not because of any inadequacy on His part.

This is simply one way He chooses to be glorified.

His people glorifying Him productively.

Understand that abiding in the true vine isn’t an exercise in passivity.

There’s inner activity happening between the vine and its healthy branches.

Life-giving nutrients are exchanged.

  • Minerals and moisture up from the ground and photosynthesis from the leaves down

Productivity is not a passive process.

Abiding in Jesus is submissive and effective.

Submission to the vine leads to fruitful production.

Be a producer.

[The Plant, Pruner, Producers]

The Purged (6)

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

Our son’s father-in-law is a pecan farmer in Southwest Georgia.

He owns several hundred acres of pecan tree groves.

He spends far more time maintaining his groves than harvesting their fruits.

  • The nuts

Pecan tree branches are very susceptible to the southern winds.

They fall to the ground easily.

If farmers don’t clear the ground of the fallen branches, they’re not able to harvest the nuts.

He purges his groves of the fallen branches in order to harvest his produce.

Purging is a necessary part of producing.

The purged and productive branches come from the same vine in this analogy.

Jesus isn’t talking here about being saved or lost…

  • He’s not talking about losing one’s salvation

He’s talking about being fruitful and unfruitful.

Abiding or abandoning…the true vine.

  • Abide means fruitfulness
  • Abandon means the opposite

But understand…there’s harsh treatment of the unproductive branches.

What Paul writes on the issue in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 is helpful…

According to the grace of God, which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

What Paul means in verse 15 and I see as consistent with Jesus’ teaching…

There’s no lasting value…no Kingdom worth in the unhealthy branches… 

  • Therefore, they are purged

The only life worse off than an unproductive Christian…is one that’s lost.

Imagine coming before the Lord in the early moments of eternity only to hear Him give an account of your life that bore no fruit for His Kingdom.

Folks, I fear there’s going to be a whole lot of believers…though redeemed…

Will have regrets.

I should have shared my faith with more people…

  • Even with one person

I could have given more to support the missionaries…my church.

Why didn’t I personally disciple anybody?

Pastor…are you saying it’s possible to be in the Lord’s presence and still have regrets?

I think a better question is, “Do you want to find out or do you want to do all you can to glorify the Him here and now?”

[The Plant, Pruner, Producers, Purged]

The Praises (7-8)

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

This portion closes with three wonderful praises of productivity.

The first is that those who abide in Jesus…He gives permission to ask whatever they wish and it will be done for them.

Now understand that the abiding believer’s wishes are consistent with the Lord’s will.

This is the sentiment behind Psalm 37:4, Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.

An abiding branch naturally wants what the vine is willing to give it.

Abiding believers want all that the true vine desires for them.

The second praise is that abiding branches glorify the Father with their fruit…

You’ve heard this before, “We don’t work to get saved…we work because   we are saved.”

Well, a large measure of what abiding believers wish for is to glorify the Father through their work.

When fruitful believers do what God has called and equipped them to do…

Their labor isn’t tedious drudgery.

It truly is a labor of love.

So, honoring the Father by their fruitfulness fulfills their own wishes.

The third praise is that all of this proves…it affirms the abiding branches are Jesus’ disciples.

That proof is for them…for us.

The fruitfulness of the work…the kingdom productivity of our efforts affirms we’re connected to the true vine.

It’s how we know we are Jesus branches.