When life changes occur, and when the years ahead of us are fewer than the years behind us, we tend to grow a bit more philosophical about pretty much everything. I know for many, this sort of philosophizing is a good thing… especially when it results in the kinds of adjustments that glorify God.
I’ve been in that stage of life for the past six years or more. I’m learning things now that I wish I’d known when I was in my 20s. Here are some thoughts that have been either in the back or front of my mind for a while now. Thoughts about bearing fruit, which have to do with the meaning of life. I’m coming from John 15, which contains one of Jesus’ eight “I AM” statements in that gospel.
First, the John 15 scenario.
“I am the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser,” Jesus told His men the night before He went to Calvary. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:1, 2)
Here Jesus introduces two possibilities. One is the possibility of the person in Him that does not bear fruit. The other is the possibility of the person in Him that does bear fruit. Later in the passage, Jesus describes the bearing of more fruit, and then much fruit.
Fruit … the New Testament has a lot to say about it. In some passages, fruit is equated with good works. In other passages, fruit is described as Spirit enabled qualities that show up in and through one’s life… qualities like love (agape), joy, peace, etc. In other passages, fruit is what shows up when someone repents. The new repentant one is now different. A noticeable change has occurred. It (fruit) can refer to a person’s behavior, which indicates what he/she is inside. Fruit is descriptive of soul-winning in John chapter 4. Sanctified worship is even called “fruit,” when we, with the fruit of our lips, give thanks to His name.
However we might describe fruit and what it actually is, it’s very clear that the Lord is looking for it in our lives. He expects it, and rightly so. After all, “it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture” (Psalm 100:3). Since He made us, it’s His obvious right to expect whatever He might desire from us. According to Jesus, those who bear fruit will bear it with in varying degrees—“some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 21:19).
So there are branches in Christ that bear no fruit, those that bear some fruit, those that bear more fruit, and those that bear much fruit. Of course, Jesus Himself is the One that originates this fruit, just as the vine originates the fruit of each of its branches. It’s our live in Him, and His life in us, that gets it done.
Unfortunately, many believers in Christ don’t act like it, and don’t live like it. Notice from the passage in John 15 that these are clearly believers. They are “in Him,” which can only describe true children of God. Yet at a certain time and for whatever reasons, believers sometimes bear no fruit. Is it sin in their lives that’s the problem? Is it because they’ve set aside the Word of God and are walking with their own limited wisdom?
In any case, what the Lord does with this kind of believer is take it away. The Greek word used by Jesus is airo, which Strong’s defines as meaning “to lift; by implication to take up or away; fig. to raise (the voice), keep in suspense (the mind); spec. to sail away (i.e. weigh anchor);:—away with, bear (up), carry, lift up, loose, make to doubt, put away, remove, take (away, up).
I greatly favor and agree with Bruce Wilkinson’s interpretation of this verse from his classic little book The Secrets of the Vine. In that book Wilkinson translates airo as meaning to lift up, in the same way that a vineyard owner lifts up the branches that are hanging low and too close to the ground. When that happens, these branches are subject to dirt, mold, and disease. So the grape farmer comes by and literally lifts up these branches, cleans them off with water, and then attaches them securely to the trellis. In practically no time at all, life returns to the branch, and eventually fruit is the result.
This “lifting up” of a branch that’s too close to the earth (i.e., carnality and worldliness) takes place through the twin processes of conviction and discipline. The Lord convinces us of the bad place we’re in, and He also may bring circumstances into our lives which give us a good spanking. This is done because He loves us and has our absolute best in mind (see Hebrews 12:5-11).
This condition generally describes the believer that is not currently under discipline or conviction, at least not to any large degree. The Word of God within him is doing its work, and fruit is the result. It’s not more fruit, and it’s not much fruit, but it’s still fruit… a very good thing. It’s been produced by Christ Himself, who is the Vine. The branch is somewhat healthy, lifted up from the earth/world, and is receiving His life.
The process of producing more fruit has to do with pruning. Have you ever seen a vineyard after it’s been pruned? It looks like there’s nothing there, like it could never again produce a single grape!
Of course, pruning has to do with removal. Removal of the unnecessary. Removal of that which is using up too much of the Vine’s life, and wasting it. Removal of hindrances and barriers to greater fruitfulness.
Ouch. Naturally, we don’t like to be pruned, but it has to happen. This attitude must go and be replaced by a new one. That habit must go. This character flaw must be severely adjusted. That possession/toy/recreational pursuit/business interest/hobby is sapping my spiritual strength and diverting the Vine’s power from the core of my being. The Vinedresser cuts it off. He prunes it away. At first, we object. We don’t understand what’s happening. But eventually, we experience another level of life, freedom, and fruitfulness. We didn’t need that thing after all. It was just dead wood. It needed to be lopped off, although we didn’t know it at the time.
This, of course, is the work of our Eternally Wise Heavenly Father. Father knows best, and He loves us. When He takes out His pruning shears and saw, He is not trying to hurt us. He is zealous to get more of the life of His Son flowing through our lives. Therefore, He cuts away. But in the cutting, He knows exactly how much and when to cut. Again, He is our Eternally Wise Heavenly Father. He does not cut randomly or carelessly. He knows which parts of us have to go. He does all things well.
Our part in this is to cooperate and not try to wiggle out from under His shears. We also need to recognize this process, because that will help us endure it. We will eventually say to ourselves, as we obtain more experience being under the Vinedresser’s masterful care, that we need this.
The lovely result is “more fruit.” At this point, we’re closer to fulfilling the purpose for which we’ve been created than ever. We are starting to be like Joseph, described in the following passage:
“Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; his branches run over the wall. The archers have bitterly grieved him, shot at him and hated him. But his bow remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel)…” (Genesis 49:22-24)
There is a way to go from “more” fruit to “much” fruit, but it’s sort of a tricky thing. It runs counter to our natures. In our way of thinking, “much” fruit must be the result of trying harder to produce “more” fruit. We just ramp things up a bit, and much fruit will be the result.
Not so. Going from more fruit to much fruit happens through an unexpected process called abiding. It’s not a step forward in the sense of more activity and human inertia, but rather a step backward perhaps. It may even be a “less is more” sort of thing. Less work, less effort, less anxiety, less striving, maybe even less planning. In the place of these things is this mysterious, elusive, yet wonderful thing called abiding. Remaining. Resting. Living. Being at home with. Resting comfortably in the presence of. Dwelling in. Being present with. That’s the key, according to Jesus.
Abiding is a two way deal. The believer abides in the Vine, and the Vine abides in the believer. The believer learns to remain in, rest in, live in, be at home with, rest comfortably in the presence of, and dwell with Christ Himself. Conversely, the believer learns to allow Christ to remain in, rest in, live in, be at home with, rest comfortably in the presence of, and dwell with him/her. Paul tells us that this part of the relationship happens by faith:
“…That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” (Ephesians 3:17a).
In this stage of fruit-bearing, there is a conscious attempt to let go and let God. It’s the New Covenant as Paul described it in 2 Corinthians 3:5:
“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God…”
“Everything coming from God, nothing coming from me” (as Ray Stedman phrased it in his great book Authentic Christianity).
I have to ask myself the question, which measure of fruitfulness describes my life?
Am I in the fruitless stage, where I need the conviction of the Holy Spirit and discipline of my Father to free me from self and worldliness? Have I allowed the world to squeeze me into its mold? To put it another way, do I need a spiritual spanking from the Lord?
Or is my life bearing some measure of fruit. If so, then I must expect pruning. No vinedresser would ever let his vines grow wild year after year. They must be pruned, or eventually they’ll be incapable of bearing any fruit at all. Are you going through a time of pruning in your life right now? If so, rejoice! The good news is that you must have been doing something right. Now it’s time for more work to be done, usually inside of the heart.
Finally, there is the possibility that pruning has been taking place for many years. Now the Lord is asking for me. He wants my heart, my love, my devotion, my very life. He wants to produce fruit, more fruit, and much fruit, true… but He also wants me. He wants that kind of closeness that John the apostle knew with Him, leaning upon His breast. What a wonderful picture that is! A grown man leaning on the breast of the Savior. John would refer to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” John knew about abiding, that’s for sure. It’s no wonder to me that he was also known as the apostle of love. Fruit. The fruit of the Spirit is love.
Personally, I’m aware of the fact that I’m currently going through a very challenging period of life. I know the Lord will work it all out for good in the end, I’m confident of that. I’m also very blessed to know that the Vinedresser and the Vine are active in my life. He is working a work that will last and that is real.
Thanks for reading.