The true vine. 15:1-8
In the style of a parable, Jesus uses the ancient Hebrew image of Israel as a vine and applies it to himself. Explaining the image, Jesus makes the point that the person who abides in him, as a shoot abides in the vine, that person will bear forth fruit in abundance. The imagery used by Jesus is somewhat unclear, but it is likely that he is illustrating that most basic of divine commands, best summarized by John in the words "this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another", 1 John 3:23.
v1. Israel was a fruitless vine, but Jesus, representing faithful Israel, takes to himself the role of a fruitful vine.
v2. God the Father, functioning as the vine dresser, removes the fruitless branches and tip-prunes the fruiting ones so that they produce more. This pruning images the ministry of the gospel. Some hear and do not believe, others hear and believe and so bear fruit.
v3. Jesus, alluding to the disciples, makes the point that they are the tip-pruned branches, the cleaned or purified ones, and this is because they have heard the good news proclaimed by Jesus and believed it.
v4. As the branch abides in the vine, drawing sustenance from it, so the believer must abide in Christ, they must be united to Christ through the cleansing power of the gospel. Commentators are divided as to what it means to "abide" in Jesus. Some suggest it is obedience, but it is more likely faith. As a consequence of our abiding in Jesus, our believing in Jesus, fruit will follow. Again, commentators are divided on what this fruit consists of, but it is most likely the fruit of love. The compelling love of Christ will shape love in us.
v5-6. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. If our faith is firm in Jesus, that is, if we abide in him, then the fruit of love will flow. Of course, without the grace of forgiveness in Christ and without his indwelling compelling, we will be devoid of the fruit of love. We are then like a bundle of cuttings good for burning, but nothing else. To become like a "dry stick that men pick up and use for firewood" illustrates the wastefulness of a life lived apart from Christ.
v7. A person who puts their faith in Jesus, who abides in Jesus, who has taken the gospel to themselves, who has allowed Christ's words to abide in them, that person can ask whatever they wish and it will be answered. Yes, there is a qualification; it is always ask whatever is according to the will of God. In the context, the request is for a faith that moves spiritual mountains and a compassionate love that images Christ's love for us.
v8. So then, when a person, on hearing and believing the gospel, lives as a disciple of Christ, that is, lives by faith in Christ, abides in Christ, and expresses that faith in the fruit of compassionate love, it is then, in that person's life, that God the Father is glorified.
Faith and love
The image of Jesus as a vine with ourselves as the branches, is a very beautiful image, an image made more beautiful by the descriptive word, "abide". But, what does it mean to abide in Jesus?
As we might expect, there are numerous interpretations. There is the sublime mystical idea of union with Christ, touching the divine, entering into his being. Techniques of prayer and meditation are the instruments by which we reach union. It's all a wonderful idea, but of course, few of us have ever experienced the mystical in our Christian journey. So, have we failed to abide in Christ?
At the other extreme there are those who argue that abiding is obeying. If we fail to obey Jesus then we can expect to be cut off from the vine and cast out of the vineyard. Of course, the trouble is none of us are very good at obeying. We all fall short of our Lord's expectations; our righteousness is but filthy rags. So, have we again failed to abide in Christ?
The image of our abiding in Christ is actually very simple, in fact, the whole of John's gospel is quite simple. Following the prologue, the main section of the gospel, the book of signs, is virtually a constant restatement of John 3:16. Each sign, with its related discourse, presents the good news of salvation in Christ. The next section, chapters 13-17, the upper room discourse, concerns living by faith, which faith, in the power of the indwelling compelling of Christ, prompts brotherly love.
So then, in our passage for study, Jesus the true vine, what is meant by abiding in Christ? It simply means living by faith in Christ, trusting him, resting on him, relying on him, walking with him through life's narrow way. This is not a difficult concept. Consider how it works out in practice. We take on board the promises of scripture, for example, the gospel promise of eternal life, and we simply rest on it, rest on the promises. Taking Jesus at his word; that's what abiding means.
There is an interesting consequence that flows from abiding, it is the bearing of fruit. It's not quite clear, but it does seem that Jesus is speaking about the fruit of love: compassion, acceptance, forgiveness toward our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. We could easily miss the significance of Jesus' point here, namely, that abiding produces fruit. The person who abides in Jesus bears much fruit, ie. faith prompts love.
Far too often love is seen as a doing thing, but in fact, it is a receiving thing. The more we rest on Jesus, the more Christ-like love takes root in our lives. Faith, not obedience, produces love. For example, we may encourage a brother to forgive, but often, the more we encourage the more resentful they become. On the other hand, we can remind a brother of their forgiveness in Christ; the more they think on that forgiveness, the more forgiving they become.
So, let us abide in Christ, let us rest in faith on Christ and his promises and allow his indwelling compelling love to renew us.
1. Research the many possible meanings of "abide / remain in Christ."
2. Research the many possible meanings of "bear fruit."
3. If scripture interprets scripture, why must "ask anything you wish and it will be done for you" be qualified.
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