Remain In Me
How many times a week are you out checking your crops or your garden? At this time of year, we are very focused on fruit bearing. If your wheat is not developing a good head, you become concerned. If you see plants with indication of disease on them, you quickly run to the agronomist. Many of you are checking your plants - are there flowers on the tomatoes, are they setting, is the fruit developing. On the field and in the garden, we expect fruit bearing in the proper season. Fruit bearing is normal and expected.
Do we have the same expectation of ourselves?
I. God Expects Fruit Bearing
One of the crops commonly grown in Israel was grapes. The growing of grapes is not very familiar to most of us, but was very common in Jesus’ day. If you have ever seen grape vines, you know that they are often grown on trellises. They have fairly prolific growth and require quite a bit of pruning to help the plants produce a lot of fruit. Apparently the plants are not permitted to produce fruit for the first three years. There are two types of branches - those that bear fruit and those that don’t. The non-fruit bearing branches are removed and the fruit bearing ones are pruned so that they can grow more fruit. The branches of a grape vines that are pruned are good for nothing. They are like the pile of branches that have fallen from our willow trees or those that I have pruned from trees that are placed in a pile in the back yard so that some time in the future, the pile will be burned.
The picture of growing grapes is the picture behind John 15:1-8 in which Jesus compares our life in Him to that of a grape vine. Read text.
A. Fruit Bearing Normal
What we notice first of all is that God has created grape vines and other plants to produce fruit. In Genesis 1:11 God says, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.” God created plants to reproduce, to bear fruit. This is a natural thing and we share this expectation of fruit bearing, especially at this time of year.
God has the same expectation of us. He has not created us to live for our own sake and contribute nothing. He has created us to bear fruit.
There are a number of places in Scripture which indicate this expectation. In Matthew 7:15-23, we have several thoughts along this line. There it says, “every good tree bears good fruit.” Later in the same passage, Jesus talks about those who claim to know Him, but do not bear fruit. He says to them, “I never knew you.”
In the passage before us this morning, the expectation of fruit bearing is communicated throughout the passage. In particular, we note in John 15:8 that we bring glory to the Father when we bear fruit. The Westminster confession indicates that it is the chief end of man to bring glory to God. We have been created to bring glory to God and we bring glory to God when we bear fruit.
Furthermore, we notice that there is a strong connection between fruit bearing and being disciples of Jesus. In the NIV, Jesus declares that by bearing much fruit you show “yourselves to be my disciples.” There are different translations, but what is the same in all of them is that there is a strong connection between fruit bearing and being a disciples of Jesus. Those who belong to Christ and are His followers are expected to bear fruit.
B. If Not…
The passage also indicates what happens when we do not bear fruit. As we identify the characters in the picture presented in this passage, we note that God is the vinedresser, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. If we do not bear fruit, God assumes that we are spiritually dead and he cuts off all those branches that do not bear fruit. This is a pretty radical action and yet it is done because God acknowledges that there is no life there any more.
When we lived in Manitou, we had an apple tree in our yard. The year we moved there, it was just mature enough to begin to bear fruit and it bore large apples. They were tart, but tasty apples, particularly good for pies. That year, there were only a few apples on the tree and we were expecting more the next year. The next year, was a drought and it did not bear any apples. Each year, I pruned it in hopes of a good harvest and finally one year it bore boxes of apples. It was very exciting. The following, year, however, it did not bear many and after that fewer and fewer until branches began to die and I realized that the tree was dead. It no longer bore fruit and so there was only one thing to do and that was to cut it down. That is how God finally treats those who do not bear fruit. I am not sure what it means for God to cut off those who do not bear fruit. There is some kind of a judgement intended. What is clear, however, is that God realizes that those who do not bear fruit are dead. The useless branches are those which refuse to listen to Jesus, those which listen, render lip service unsupported by deeds or those who accept him as Master, but then - due to trial or self desire, abandon him. God judges such branches.
On the other hand, those branches which do bear fruit, God prunes. He works in them. He removes what is not growing well. He trims back what is useless so that there can be the most effective growth. The imagery is good. Although I don’t know much about grape vines, I understand it from rose bushes and apple trees. The more you prune, the better the fruit bearing. That is what God does in us because fruit bearing is so important, it is expected of all who claim to know God and who are His followers.
II. What Kind Of Fruit?
But when we talk about fruit bearing, what kind of fruit are we talking about? The Bible mentions a number of different things.
A. Fruit Of A Changed Life
In Matthew 3:8 we read the story of John the Baptist and about those who were coming to him for baptism. He warns them that they should not only repent, but also bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance.
This indicates that a life lived in God must bear the fruit of a changed life. If God has come into a life, the result is change in that life.
One major change is that a life lived in God must now be a holy life. Ephesians 5:9 says, “(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth).”
There must be the fruit of a life lived by compassion. In John 15:16, 17, Jesus talks again about bearing fruit and then goes on to talk about obedience to His command to “love one another.”
Galatians 5:22,23 summarizes the fruit of a changed life when it says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Is your life bearing the fruit of change?
B. Fruit Of An Exemplary Life
The Bible also speaks about the fruit of an exemplary life. Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
There is a pride that boasts of the goodness resident in a person. “Look at me, see how well I am doing.” That is not the fruit of an exemplary life. There is the pride of a person who hides his life - the false humility of a person who never lets his light shine before men. That is also not the fruit of an exemplary life. What this passage talks about is neither of these things, rather, it talks about a person who recognizes what God has done in their life and is not afraid to display the work of God - the fruit of God active in a life. That kind of fruit must be displayed before all men so that others will be drawn to God.
Is your life bearing the fruit of being an example to others?
C. Fruit Of A Worshipping Life
Then we also discover in the Bible that the fruit that is expected in us is also the fruit of a praising life. In Hebrews 13:15 we read about, “…a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess his name.”
Since we returned from our vacation, I have been quick to jump on any opportunity to talk about our trip. Are we as quick to speak about God and what He is doing in our lives? The fruit of a life in which God is at work is praise, talking about God’s work, giving glory to Him.
Is your life bearing the fruit of praise?
D. Fruit Of A Serving Life
Furthermore, there is also the fruit of a serving life. Paul speaks about this several times in his letters. In Philippians 1:22 he declares his desire when he says, “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.” His whole life was lived with the intention of bearing fruit in the kingdom, bringing others to Christ and discipling them in Christ. In Colossians 1:6 it says that “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”
Is your life bearing fruit in the lives of others?
The imagery of fruit bearing breaks down a bit at this point because there is not just one fruit that is expected in the life of a follower of Jesus. But what is clear is that just as we expect our field crops and our gardens to produce fruit because God has created these plants to do so, it is also expected that all who are followers of Jesus will bear fruit - the fruit of a changed life, the fruit of an exemplary life, the fruit of a worshipping life and the fruit of a serving life.
III. Bearing Fruit
When we look at fruit bearing, we always look at it from the perspective of the farmer. When the crops are too dry, we hope for rain, or we begin to irrigate. Many places in Western Canada have fields which are irrigated and in some places that is big business. If we notice that weeds are going to have a negative effect on good fruit bearing, we apply herbicides or grab the hoe and get to work. If the soil isn’t very nutritious, we add fertilizer. There are certain things that we can do and which we do in order to make sure that our plants produce a good harvest. Rosenort Agro exists just for that purpose.
But as we examine this passage, we need to remember that we are not the farmer in the picture. The very first verse says “my Father is the gardener.” The Greek word is “georgos” which is the word from which my name comes and it means earth worker, or farmer or gardener. God is the one who causes the growth. God is the one who can water or fertilize or weed us. He is the one who can work in our lives to produce more fruit. We do not do any of those things.
We need to remember who we are in this illustration. We are the branch. We are connected to the stalk, to the root and as such we cannot make the fruit by our efforts. What this passage teaches us is that fruit is produced by abiding, or remaining in the vine. In fact, so strongly is this idea presented in this passage that it is repeated at least 6 times. In verse 4 we are told, “remain in me” and then again “it must remain in the vine” and furthermore in the same verse, “unless you remain in me.” In verse 5 the idea is repeated again, “if a man remains in me…” and again in that verse, “apart from me you can do nothing.” Once again the idea is reinforced in verse 7, “if you remain in me.” If saying something once is a whisper, twice is a command, three times is a shout then the idea that we bear fruit by abiding in Jesus is shouted with the aid of a powerful microphone and speaker system. You can’t miss it. If we are to bear fruit, we do not need to add fertilizer, we do not need to water ourselves, we do not need to get rid of the weeds around us. All we need to do is abide in the vine.
Of course, at this point, the illustration breaks down again. A branch of a grape vine cannot help but abide in the vine. By its very nature, it must abide. It cannot of itself detach itself from the root. If it becomes separated, it is always some outside force that would detach it. We are different, however. We can become detached from the vine and so we need to be told to abide in the vine.
The vine spoken of here is of course Jesus. The imagery of a vine was a common picture in the Old Testament. There are many passages which speak about Israel as a vine. But the symbolism is always negative. Israel is identified as a vine that produces only bad grapes. The message is that God has cared for Israel, but she has gone astray. Jeremiah 2:21 describes Israel as a “wild vine.” This is the imagery used throughout the Old Testament. That is why Jesus uses the statement, “I am the true vine.” He is not like the previous vine, Israel. He is a vine that is true to God. He has truly represented God on earth. He is closely connected to the vine dresser and when we abide in Him, we will bear much fruit. This is the promise - it is by abiding in Jesus that we bear fruit.
The question then becomes, “how do we abide in the vine?”
A. Mystical Sense
We sometimes think about abiding in Jesus in a mystical sense. Some people have a relationship with Jesus that can be described as a mystical unity. They know Christ in an intimate way in which they have a physical sense of his presence. I have to confess that although I have longed for such a relationship, I know it only by thinking about it and by the description given to me by others.
B. Contact With Jesus
However, just because we do not experience intimacy with Jesus in this mystical way, does not mean that we cannot abide in him. There are other ways of understanding what it means to abide in Jesus.
Above all, abiding in Jesus means contact with Jesus. It means that we maintain a relationship with Jesus through the study of His Word and through prayer. It is a way of thinking in which we choose to be consciously aware of the presence and help of Jesus throughout the day. We learn to ask Him for what we need whenever a need arises. We speak to him throughout the day as we go through various experiences. We immerse ourselves in His Word. If you read this passage again, you will notice the important place of God’s Word and prayer in the matter of abiding and bearing fruit. It is as we listen to God and speak to God that we maintain contact. It is as we learn to do so daily at a time set aside for communication with Jesus. We do so daily as we learn to take the frequent upward glance towards the one who is always with us.
Some writers have described abiding by comparing it to keeping contact with him as with a friend. Another writer speaks about abiding as “arranging life, arranging prayer, arranging silence in such a way that there is never a day when we give ourselves a chance to forget him.”
It is very helpful to take note of how Jesus was in constant contact with His Father. As we learn from the intimacy Jesus had with His Father in prayer and in silence and in going away to spend time with Him, we begin to understand what abiding in the vine means by keeping contact.
There is another sense of abiding revealed in vs. 10 where we discover that abiding is obedience. It simply means that we obey Jesus when we know what He wants. There is a sense in which we separate ourselves from Jesus when we disobey what He says. On the other hand, we keep contact, we abide in Him when we obey what He says.
This passage is interesting in that it speaks about two ways of abiding. On the one hand, we are to abide in Him, but just as critical is His abiding in us. This is what the passage says in verses 4 & 7. Abiding in Jesus involves our active efforts to maintain the relationship. But the other perspective - Him abiding in us - is the encouragement which indicates that He wants to stay near to us so that we can bear fruit. Our responsibility is simply not doing those things that would prevent Him from approaching us as He desires.
I have brought my raspberry bushes to church today. They are almost ready to bear fruit and I am looking forward to eating these berries. I am going to put them in the corner of my office and as soon as they are ripe, when I get hungry, I will slide my chair over to the corner and eat them.
Of course, it doesn’t work like that. These branches are going to dry up and die because they have been severed from the trunk and there is no life in them any more. They will not bear the hoped for fruit because they are not abiding in the vine.
What makes us think that we will do what God has created us to do, and that is bear fruit, apart from abiding in Jesus?
I have struggled with this sometimes. I get caught up in doing what I am doing and practicing what I know I can do. I hope for fruit. I hope that by my effort, I will learn to control my tongue and that by the work I do, I will win people to Jesus and be a spiritual encouragement to them. But as I read this passage, I know that this will never happen. It is only as I remain close to Jesus from day to day that I will be able to bear fruit.
I received a testimony this week from one of the workers at the Billy Graham Telephone Ministry. She talks about what happened to her as she was consciously seeking to abide in Jesus.
She had spent the evening answering phones at Calvary Temple. As she left she writes, “I had led two people to Jesus that night…and so I was flying high. I asked the Lord to protect me as I walked up Hargrave to Portage to catch my bus…As I walked, I became aware that I was being filled with a level of inner strength I had never encountered before. A woman and man were walking toward me…visibly drunk or high on something. I had this inner knowing that they wanted money before they even said anything.” She goes on to describe the conversation which she had with this couple. They wanted money for drink and she was able to be gracious and friendly to them and to share Jesus with them. As she left them she said, “Keep the money but please seek Jesus with all your heart because His Bible says that you will find Him when you do.”
The story illustrated for me what happens when we abide in Jesus. As we obey Him, as we spend time with Him, as we pray and seek Him, we will bear fruit.
Do you want to bear fruit?