Written by Paul J. Bucknell on November, 03, 2020
John 15:1-3 God’s Grand Purposes
When I step back and think of God’s care for the vineyard, His people, I get so excited. He works with individually so that we become fruit-bearing branches. Wow, what if we could all grow and flourish? God openly states that He is committed to working with us, despite our many failures and troubles.
1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 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. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 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. 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.
But let us compare this picture of where the church is today. This is a day of increasing stress and loneliness. Many Christians are battling for spiritual sanity. People fear the virus, loss of job, distortions in life, and the worsening economic climate. Jesus shares some wise words to help us find how to trust Him to work through some of life’s tough challenges.
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. John 15:1
1.) The Gardener and the Vine (John 15:1)
Jesus first introduces us to the Gardener—the Father, and the Vine (Himself) in verse 1. It’s common to identify the key elements of an illustration or parable. We will first look at what the Gardener is doing (2-3, 6), then take a look at the interaction with our Lord Jesus, the Vine (4-5). His greatest purpose for this vine illustration seems to build up confidence in God’s design for His people. To the degree they abide in Him, the branches abound in fruit.
Jesus doesn’t attempt to describe what this fruit includes, but as always, the fruit represents what is great, rewarding, strengthening, beautiful, delicious, etc. The Lord compares Christians to these vine branches and shares the Gardener’s major goal of having His people abound like flourishing grapevines, bearing abundant fruit. Jesus’ faith, united to the Father as the Son, enabled Him to conduct His life in wisdom, love, compassion, and boldness—chasing out devils, confronting the phonies, etc., constantly communing and relying on the Father.
Our life is like a little packet. Once we take time to open and read its contents, we discover the truth: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life! God is remaking us in Christ as we abide in Him, the Second Adam. Every believer has the right to confidently state and believes this about their lives and other believers.
But Christians can be thrown off precisely at this point. They think a wonderful plan, or the path to reach that goal, is far different from what the Lord thinks. Despite the frequency which His disciples get confused by seeking the world, Jesus rightly shares with us the secret to abounding life, abiding in Him.
2.) Two Kinds of Christians
What I like about this picture of the vinedresser is the two ways He patiently cares for the vines. His end goal is the same, abundant fruit, but developing it is different, depending on where we are. The Gardener is sensitive to what the branch needs. This is applied to His people by them acknowledging His awareness of our spiritual lives and needs. This truth of God’s commitment to His people should build up our faith. We can confidently say, “What the Lord brings into my life I can handle by His grace.” Unfortunately, many Christians live their lives from doubt rather than faith. Faith is not plain optimism or idealistic but confidence in the truth or words of God. Those who are insistent on departing from Christ’s words and attach to or abide in other things such as the practice of positive words or empty meditation (i.e., Eastern) will find no fruit.
I’ve seen parents desperately try to use worldly methods of parenting to battle their 2-3 year-olds. They have hope, and assert they have hope in the plan, but seeds of anger are planted deep within. The same thing happens in marriages, church life, etc. We need a deeper confidence in the truth; this will create a strong swelling hope. “Love covers a multitude of sin” (1 Peter 4:8; Prov 10:12).
The two branches in John 15:2 are different from those in John 15:6—they do not abide in Christ.
Below, I will introduce two kinds of believers mentioned in John 15:2 and the Gardener’s special dealing with them.
(1) The Doubting Believer (John 15:2,3,6)
Who does this mud-covered vine branch settled down on the ground refers to? In verse 2, Jesus describes this doubtful, backsliding Christian as: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away.”
The scriptures do not mention the mud, but somehow these vine branches have fallen down upon the ground and is no longer bearing fruit. This can happen when branches grow so fast and wild that they have nothing to lean upon. Vines strictly depend upon support. God-given tendrils enable them to wrap around objects it discovers amazingly. But down on the ground, the unfruitful vine branches get diseased and bug-infested. Fruit-bearing vines need the air and light they discover holding up off the ground. You won’t find any good grapes on the ground! This paints a picture of the believer who got into a bad place that he or she can’t solve; they end up bearing no fruit. So God, the tender Gardener who cares for His children, lifts the branches so that they can find the needed light, air, and support, so they will like other branches bear fruit.
Most Bible translations use the word “take away” in verse 2, which unfortunately hides the way the Gardener carefully tends the vines. The Greek word has several valid meanings: lift up, bear, hold up, and take away. We shouldn’t wonder if my translation of “lift up” is a good translation. It is!
Translators appear to favor the translation “taking away” due to its possible connection to verse 6. But verse 6 does not use the word used in verse 2 (Greek: airo). More importantly, verse 2 clearly deals with those who are “in Me” (15:1). Verse 15:6 identifies the result of those not abiding in Christ. They are taken away and burned.
To be clear, verse 6 does speak of branches that are fit to be taken out and thrown away. It “does not abide in Me” (6). We are not refuting that all branches are in Christ or abide in Him; clearly they do not. Some look like believers, sound like believers, and maybe even give as believers (Heb 6:1-8), but they are not. I have defended this view in great detail here.
Remember the scene. Jesus and the disciples just celebrated the Passover in John 13. It was just prior to this time that Judas Iscariot revealed his true colors and left to betray Jesus. Judas Iscariot was for change and revolution rather than for Jesus. He finally understood Jesus would disappoint his own plans and give Himself to the Romans. He had no patience for that; he only had one life. But you see a pattern here—not abiding in Christ. Judas all along never had a heart for Christ and the poor—he pilfered the money sack. John 15 continues on from the Passover celebration without Judas. As they proceeded on to the Mount of Olives where Judas would betray Jesus, Jesus paused and, no doubt, referred to a nearby vine on their path as He taught this vine illustration. The disciples would soon wonder what happened to Judas, who had been with them these past year years. But Judas was no longer with them. He was unclean (John 13:10-11), but Jesus could, without reservation, tell His eleven disciples, “You are clean” (John 15:3)!
The disciple should not be concerned about the security of his/her salvation unless they really don’t believe, desire, or follow Jesus. But like the Gardener, each should be concerned, as the Father is, on how much fruit they bear. The shutdown of the global society makes this a precarious time including not holding regular “church” events. During these times, one can sneak away from the church, the brethren, and even the Lord. This is what happens when you do not abide. Be careful, you might leave the only One who offers life. Jesus asserted He was the true vine. The world with all of its religions, practices, and philosophies stands condemned because they do not abide in Christ. Jesus knows our only hope is to share the cup of communion with Him and to become “in Christ.”
The Gardener lifts up the hopeless, discouraged, and wandering believer, while Satan uses his devilish ways to confuse them. Fortunately, the Lord encourages His children, by the way, He gets involved in our lives.
Of course, if the vine was not attached anymore, it would do no good to paint the leaves green or tie it up on the support. The life is in its attachment to the vine.
- Have you lost hope? The Lord has hope in you as you rely on Christ.
- Have you stopped reading, maybe believing, the Scriptures? Get back to Him through reading the Word. Ask Him to help you believe.
- Do you see yourself as one of the branches not bearing fruit? The Lord is there to help you get out of the mess you are in by taking you in His hands, cleaning you off, fixing you up, and tying you back up with the other productive branches.
If you are such an unproductive, helpless branch, tell the Father right now that you are waiting and dependent upon Him to pick you up, hug you, and set you right. This is the Father’s love. You might never have had a father that could help you when you failed, but our Heavenly Father does. Every Christian leader needs to have such a heart filled with compassion, hoping the best for every believer.
(2) The Growing Believer (John 15:2b)
“And every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”
The second kind of believer are the ones that bear fruit. We are very surprised on what the Gardener does to the branches bearing grapes. He prunes them! After all, they are not the unfruitful branches.
I remember one time, back in 1999 when I was happily pastoring, loving my whole life. An author (Blackaby) challenged me on if God had something better for me, would I want it? I inwardly laughed, as I thought my life, family, and ministry was going great. I had a salary for the first time since in ministry. I had lots of ministry opportunities, teaching family and students.
But the Spirit prompted me, through the study guide, that I should be open to something better. What if, there was something better? I had to be open, right? Well, when I finally humbled my heart and agreed (I think the Lord wanted to train me in this way and waited for me to seek this), my whole life started facing radical changes. I went through this time, talking and praying with my wife. In the end, it would lead to a radical pruning, even when actively raising seven children. The huge pruning took place in my life, cutting off my income, even stripping away my teaching/preaching delights. This is when I began to focus more on writing and started a non-profit. I would never have guessed where I am today as an international instructor and author. He brought much more fruit through the pruning.
Truly, there are many smaller types of pruning. I like gardening. Sometimes, one merely needs to clip small branches to make them more fruitful. The Gardener is looking at all sorts of things when He prunes. His chief purpose is to make the garden more fruitful. He has big and small ways to make the needed adjustments to produce more fruit.
The key here is to trust the Lord’s work in your life. We cannot immediately connect how the cuts in our branches create more productivity. We naturally insist on growth and expansion, resisting all sorts of cutting back due to our little faith that difficulties can lead us to better circumstances in the Lord’s hands.
As an older Christian, I can guarantee that the Lord will work through all sorts of issues, events, and people to cause us to be more fruitful. In Isaiah 38, we read of Isaiah the Prophet telling King Hezekiah to get ready to die. Wow! God would snuff out his whole life, but it also stood as an opportunity for Hezekiah to cry out to the Lord. God healed Hezekiah and gave him another ten years of life. That was a foretold pruning, but it cut away at his pride of life just the same.
Much smaller pruning happens all the time. If we are smart believers, we will better understand how God works in our lives. Some believers get stressed out about the very things God said He would clearly do. Usually, this means that they do not know how God works through everyday events to grow them. They look at difficult people, unresolvable problems, conflicts, etc., as nasty things. They can be difficult, no doubt whether it be running out of gas or going low on cash, but do you think the Gardener is not involved in conducting all of life around you to cause you to grow? Sure He is. As the Creator and Maker of all, all of life’s resources are in His hand. If you are a growing believer, bearing fruit like love, patience, and serving God, you should know He has involved you in various situations where you can grow more, and in turn, bear more fruit.
So the Lord uses large and small issues to cause us to bear more fruit. When we understand this truth and God’s purposes for the difficulties that arise (yes, some, unfortunately, come from our sin), we can be much less stressed out.
Higher levels of stress admit that we do not have enough patience, time, money to care for life events. Peace admits that we have sufficient trust in God’s hand in life affairs to watch over our lives. Stress is born in doubt while peace in faith. Our understanding, or lack of understanding, of the truth reflects how we conduct our lives.
- The Lord looks at the church as a vineyard and anticipates a very fruitful harvest. The Father, therefore, tenderly cares for His people and works with them to bear fruit.
- Our Father patiently tends those having no fruit. Satan wants us to live in fear, but the Father is caring for us, even when we fall. Are you fallen away, come back. Let Him left you up and replace you where you can start to thrive again, bearing fruit for His glory.
- He seeks to increase our fruit and sweetness; this is our success. Every event in life for believers can be understood from this framework. He daily is in the vineyard tending to us, using circumstances, for good or bad, for the greater purpose of bearing fruit.
- The Lord watches over each branch (us). There is no time the Grand Gardener forgets us as a lonely, untended plant. Even if it appears or feels like God is far away, you can, in faith, draw near thanking Him for the way He cares for you.
- The branches are wholly dependent on Him. We must never forget our joy, love, life, and breath are all from Him. The more we deliberately reach out to Him, we will gain further spiritual strength.
Bible Study Questions on John 15:1-3
- Who are the main characters introduced in John 15:1-2?
- How many kinds of Christians are described in verse 2, and explain what is the difference between them?
- What would you say that the Gardener’s overall purpose is His involvement in visiting the vineyard? What does that mean for God’s involvement in our lives as Christians?
- Why does the author suggest that the translation in John 15:2a of “lift up” is better than “take away?”
- Describe what “lift up” might mean or refer to in the handling of unfruitful branches. (Think why they might not be bearing fruit.)
- What might pruning mean in light of it being applied to fruitful branches?
- What does the author mean by small and large pruning? Give an example of each from your life.
- Share if you are going through any pruning in your life now.
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Other Articles on John 15 by Paul J. Bucknell
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