When we built our home here in Maryland in 1995, it involved our purchase originally of an 8.4-acre lot that was largely untamed wilderness! The house went in the portion that was the least overgrown, and since then, I’ve worked here and there to recover, lose, and re-recover acres of the forest. I have yet to ever get past about 50% of it being manageable, and at this point of life, this may be one of those things I will never get done. I actually enjoy doing it. I can’t imagine a much happier day personally than waging war on the wilderness, clearing brush, pruning and cutting down smaller trees, etc.
Something that I have always found fascinating are the vines that stretch high up into the very largest trees in my woods. I’m talking 60 feet or more into the air – all wrapped around branches stretching way into the sky. They are so intertwined that there is simply no easy way to just pull them down out of the tree. Rather, I cut the vines at the ground (often the circumference of a small tree!), and over time, the dead branches will eventually come to the ground. Yes, all the leaves and stringy connections that are 60 feet into the air simply die off when they lose connection to the nutritional source of the primary vine.
Our passage today in John 15 is one that we can readily understand. This would have been even more true for Jesus’ time and agrarian culture. People were very familiar with working with vines – particularly in the growing of grapes. All the strength comes from the vine – everyone understands that. The orchardist cuts off the fruitless branches (no need to keep them as a drain on the vine) and prunes the healthy branches in a wise way in order to make them most productive.
Obviously, there are no disconnected branches out there bearing any kind of fruit! And here is where the analogy “jumps” a bit … as Christ says he is the vine, and we disciples are the branches. We need to stay connected. Unlike the natural world, as human “branches” we may choose to disconnect ourselves from connection to the vine. It may work for a short time, but ultimately the fruit from it is zero. There is little negotiating room here for what we can accomplish apart from Christ – NOTHING!
So how do we know if we are well-connected to the vine? Well, there will be evidence of the life of the vine in us. What is that life? It about love – love of others – love that looks away from self in the same way Christ through his sacrifice looked away from himself in choosing those who would be a part of the life-sustaining organism. If the principle of the life of Christ is really alive and flowing through a believer, that person will be driven by a passion and love for other people. That is the characteristic of this vine. If that characteristic is present, we are connected to the life of Christ. If an opposite characteristic is present … well … it may be time for tracing back toward the roots to see what is wrong.
I didn’t make this up. It is there in the text, where it ends with the words, This is my command: Love each other. This is why I question and wonder and worry about Christians who are so focused on “my needs being met” or “I’m not sure I’m being fed” – all the characteristic stuff of looking toward self. I’m yet to hear, “I’m frustrated because I just don’t have enough avenues to love other people right now in this church!” You get the picture.
John 15:1-17 – The Vine and the Branches
15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 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. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 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.
5 “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. 6 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. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 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. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 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. 16 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. 17 This is my command: Love each other.