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The Benefits of Union with Christ

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JOHN 15:1-11  

The context is the farewell discourse given by the Lord as he is about to be arrested, tried, and crucified: “Jesus knew that his hour was come…” [31:1]. His announced departure brought sorrow to the disciples: “let not your heart be troubled…” [14:1]. Jesus addresses them for their consolation and for the purpose of instructing them as to how they should live in his absence.

The discourse harks back directly to the introduction to the Last Supper in 13:1-30; the imagery of the vine and its branches not unnaturally recalls the words of the Institution regarding the “fruit of the vine” [Mar.14:25] which Jesus gave his disciples but which he would not drink again; the thought of sharing in the body and blood of Christ inevitably entails the concept of unity with the Christ in his dying and rising [see Paul in 1Cor.10:16-17], a theme which lies at the heart of the vine parable.

This first section, like the corresponding section in the first group, contains the thought which is pursued in detail in the following sections, the thought of corporate, living, fruitful union between believers and Christ, which is developed afterwards in its manifold issues of joy and sorrow. The succession of ideas appears to be this. The life in union is begun but not perfected (vv. 1, 2); and the vital relation must be “freely” maintained (vv. 3, 4) in view of the consequences which follow from its preservation and loss (vv. 5, 6). Such being the circumstances of union, the blessings of union (vv. 7, 8) and the absolute type of union (vv. 9, 10) are set forth more fully.

  1. THE CONTEXT  

1.        Jesus Departure

The physical presence of Jesus is to be lost to the disciples: “yet a little while I am with you…” [13:33].

§         The distress: “Let not your heart be troubled…” [14:1].

§         The confusion: “Lord, we know not where you are going…” [14:5].

2.        Consolation

The farewell discourse is for their consolation:

§         The short-term consolation: “I will not leave you comfortless…” [14:18].

§         The long term consolation: “I will come again and receive you to myself…” [14:3].

3.        Instruction

The farewell discourse is for their instruction:

§         The example: “for I have given you an example that you should do…” [13:15].

§         The life of discipleship: “if you love me, keep my commandments” [14:15].

Summary

  1. THE LIVING CHURCH  

1.        The Proclamation

The parable announced: “I am the true vine…” [15:1].

§         Ἐγώ εἰμι - “I am” [15:1],

§         ἄμπελος - “vine” [15:1], ‘grapevine’;

a.        The OT Church

In the Old Testament the “vine” is a common symbol for Israel, the covenant people of God: “the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel…” [Isa.5:7].

§         The salvation of God: “thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt…the hills were covered with the shadow of it…” [Psa.80:8-11].

§         The preparation of God: “My beloved has a vineyard in a very fruitful hill…what could have been done more to my vineyard…” [Isa.5:1-7.

§         The planting of God: “Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed…” [Jer.2:21]; “it was planted in a good soil by great waters, that it might bring forth branches, and that it might bear fruit, that it might be a goodly vine” [Eze.17:8].

i.        The Failure

Israel failed to bring forth fruit unto God: “Israel is an empty vine, he brings forth fruit unto himself…” [Hos.10:1].

§         Failure to produce good fruit: “And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it…” [Isa.5:2].

§         Israel became a degenerate vine: “how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me” [Jer.2:21].

ii.      The Judgment

As a result of Israel’s failure, the vine becomes a symbol of judgement:

§         The judgement of God: “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD; As the vine tree among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so will I give the inhabitants of Jerusalem” [Eze.15:6].

§         The enemies: “He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white…” [Joel 1:7].

§         Judgement causes the vine to be fruitless: “And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, whereof she hath said, These are my rewards that my lovers have given me…” [Hos.2:12]; “Israel is an empty vine…” [Hos.10:1].

b.        The True Vine

Jesus does not say that he is ‘like’ a vine; He says: “I am the true vine…” [15:1].

§         ἀληθινὴ  - “true” [15:1], ‘genuine’; ‘sincere, upright’; ‘true, correct’;

§         Jesus is the fulfilment of all the symbolism of the Old Testament: “that was the true light…” [1:9]; “my Father gives you the true bread from heaven…” [6:32].

§         Jesus here supersedes Israel as the very locus of the people of God.

i.        The Prophecy

The Lord is viewed in his representative capacity, the Son of God – Son of man, who dies and rises that in union with him a renewed people of God might come into being and bring forth fruit to God. There may be a precedent for this in Psalm 80:14-18:

§         The prayer for the vine: “Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine” [Psa.80:14].

§         The prayer for the man: “the man at your right hand, the son of man whom you have raised up for yourself” [Psa.80:14-18].

2.        The Living Union  

The passage is the Johannine counterpart of the Pauline view of the church as the body of Christ and of believers as “in Christ”.

§         The living, spreading, fruit-bearing vine is the emblem of my church: “thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt…the hills were covered with the shadow of it…” [Psa.80:8-11].

§         Jesus death did not dissolve the union; death was the means by which the union had life.

§         Death means the end of the natural union: “if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband” [Rom.7:2].

§         Jesus will be physical absent but yet powerfully present with his disciples: “The Spirit of truth…he dwells with you and shall be in you” [14:17].

§         So understood, it is remarkably similar to the figure of Christ as the Body that includes the Church [1Cor.12:12-27].

In the old dispensation union with Israel was the condition of life; in the new, union with Christ.

  1. THE DIVINE GARDENER  

1.        The Husbandman 

a.        The Proclamation  

The proclamation: “my Father is the husbandman” [15:1].

§         πατήρ μου - “my Father” [15:1],

§         γεωργός - “husbandman” [15:1], ‘one who tills the soil’; ‘share-cropper’; ‘vine-dresser’; ‘one who cultivates vines’;

§         The function of the husbandman: “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waits for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain” [Jam.5:7].

b.        The Relation to the Son

It is hard not to see in the relation between the “vine” [15:1] and this “gardener” [15:1] a reflection of the kind of subordination the Son displays towards the Father.

§         The Old Testament provision of God: “thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt…” [Psa.80:8].

i.        The Planting of the Vine

The Son is the Father’s provision: “the Father who has sent me…” [14:24].

§         The incarnation: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” [1:14].

§         The justice of God and substitutionary sacrifice: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” [3:16].

§         The resurrection: “the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead…” [Rom.8:11].

Application

The “husbandman” [15:1] has put the “vine” [15:1] in place; he has shaped it and formed it;

2.        The Relation to the Disciples   

The life of the disciples is in their union with Christ in the “true vine” [15:1]. Their life “in Christ”, although real and abiding, is not yet perfect; there is the need to progress and develop. 

a.        The Judgement

i.        The Fruit

The fruit of the vine: “bears fruit…” [15:2].

§         καρπὸν - “fruit” [15:2], ‘produce from crop-bearing plants or trees’;

§         The nature of the fruit is according to the essential nature of the tree: “by their fruits you shall know them” [Mat.7:20]; “do men gather grapes of thorns…every good tree brings forth good fruit” [Mat.7:16-17].

§         The fruit-bearing in the context is that of Christian character: “he that has my commandment and keeps them, he it is that loves me…” [14:21]; “keep my commandments…” [15:10]; “love one another…” [15:12].

ii.      No Fruit

The fruitless branches: “every branch in me that bears not…” [15:2].

§         πᾶν - “every” [15:2], ‘each individual in a class’;

§         κλῆμα - “branch” [15:2], ‘shoot,’ ‘young twig,’ which is broken off to be replanted’;

§         μὴ φέρον - “bears not” [15:2], present active participle, ‘to carry, bring forth, lead’;

iii.    The Identity

The identity of the “branches that do not bear fruit”: 

§         The concept of the visible church: ‘body of people who profess to believe’.

§         The close contextual reference to Judas Iscariot must have been on the disciples’ minds: “one of you shall betray me…” [13:21].

§         There is no real spiritual union with Christ, the “living and true vine” [15:1].

iv.      The Judgement

The judgement: “he takes away…” [15:2].

§         αἴρει - “takes away” [15:2], present indicative active, ‘to raise, take up, lift’; ‘to take up and carry away’;

§         We could not regard this as evidence that true believers may fall away; according to Jesus, this cannot happen: “no one can pluck them out of my hand…” [10:28-29].

Application

b.        The Divine Care  

i.        Fruit-Bearing

The fruit-bearing branches: “every branch that bears fruit…” [15:2].

§         πᾶν – “every” [15:2], ‘each individual in a class’;

§         φέρον – “bears” [15:2], present active participle, ‘to carry, bring forth, lead’;

§         τὸ καρπὸν - “fruit” [15:2], ‘produce from crop-bearing plants or trees’;

ii.      The Pruning

The Father’s action: “he purges it…” [15:2].

§         καθαίρει - “purges” [15:2], present indicative active, ‘to take down’; ‘to clean’; ‘to prune, clear unproductive wood’; ‘to make clean by removing an undesirable part’; >>> painful; expertly carried out; 

§         Divine chastisement: “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord…” [Heb.12:4-11].

§         Fatherly care: “whom the Lord loves he chastens…” [Heb.12:6].

§         The providential trials: “for a season, if need be, you are in heaviness…that the trial of your faith” [1Pet.1:6-7].

iii.    The Purpose

The purpose: “that it may bring forth more fruit” [15:2].

§         φέρῃ - “bring forth” [15:2], present active subjunctive, ‘to carry, bring forth, lead’;

§         πλείονα - “more fruit” [15:2], ‘greater degree’; ‘more extensive quantity’;

§         The Father’s discipline is for our good: “he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness” [Heb.12:10].

§         The Father’s goal: “being much more precious that gold that perishes…might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” [1Pet.1:7].

c.        The Encouragement

Jesus is not reproaching them, but encouraging them. He is pointing out the way in which they may continue to progress spiritually.

i.        The Encouragement

The disciples are not to think that they are being singled out for criticism: “now you are clean…” [15:3]: “now you are clean through the word…” [15:3].

§         καθαροί - “clean” [15:3], adjective, ‘free from defilement or wrong’;

§         ἐστε - “you are” [15:3], present indicative active, ‘to be’;

§         The knowledge of eternal election: “I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen…” [14:18].

ii.      The Instrument

The instrument: “through the word which I have spoken…” [15:3].

§         διὰ - “through” [15:3], ‘by way of’;

§         τὸν λόγον - “word” [15:3], ‘word as embodying an idea’; ‘the gospel’; ‘his teaching in its entirety’;

§         λελάληκα - “spoken” [15:3], perfect indicative active, ‘to speak’;

§         The cleansing power of the “word” [15:3] Jesus has “spoken” [15:3] to his disciples, then, is equivalent to the life of the vine pulsating through the branches.

Application

The fruit of Christian service is never the result of allowing the natural energies and inclinations to run riot…

§         Left to itself a vine will produce a good deal of unproductive growth;

§         God employs appropriate means for removing whatever is calculated to prevent Christians from growing in holiness and in usefulness.  

§         Everything is removed from the branch which tends to divert the vital power from the production of fruit

3.        Pruning of Plants

a.        The Principle

Pruning in landscaping and gardening is the practice of removing diseased, non-productive, or otherwise unwanted portions from a plant. The purpose of pruning is to shape the plant by controlling or directing plant growth, to maintain the health of the plant, or to increase the yield or quality of flowers and fruits. Proper pruning is as much a skill as it is an art, since badly pruned plants can become diseased or grow in undesirable ways.

§         In general the smaller the wound (smaller the branch that is cut) the less harm to the tree. It is therefore better to formative prune the tree when juvenile than try to cut off large branches on a mature tree.

b.        The Branch Structure

Branch structure and how they are attached to each other in trees falls into 3 categories: collared unions, collarless unions and codominant unions.

§         Each specific attachment has its own unique way of being cut so that the branch has less chance of re-growth from the cut area and best chance of sealing over and compartmentalising decay.

§         This means that there are 3 types of cuts made, whether that be to remove a little branch coming of another or cutting a whole branch off back to the trunk. This term is often referred to by arborists as "target cutting".

c.        The Types 

Regardless of all the various names used for types of pruning there are only two basic cuts. 'One cuts back to an intermediate point, called heading back cut' and the other cuts back to some point of origin, called thinning out cut.

§         Removing a portion of a growing stem down to a set of desirable buds or side-branching stems. This is commonly performed in well trained plants for a variety of reasons, for example to stimulate growth of flowers, fruit or branches, as a preventative measure to wind and snow damage on long stems and branches, and finally to encourage growth of the stems in a desirable direction. Also commonly known as heading-back.

§         Thinning: A more drastic form of pruning, a thinning out cut is the removal of an entire shoot, limb, or branch at its point of origin. This is usually employed to revitalize a plant by removing over-mature, weak, problematic, and excessive growths. When performed correctly, thinning encourages the formation of new growths that will more readily bear fruit and flowers. This is a common technique in pruning roses and for simplifying and "opening-up" the branching of neglected trees, or for renewing shrubs with multiple branches.

§         Topping: Topping is a very severe form of pruning which involves removing all branches and growths down to a few large branches or to the trunk of the tree. When performed correctly it is used on very young trees, and can be used to begin training younger trees for pollarding or for trellising to form an espalier.

d.        The Practice

The general rule to pruning is to always cut in a location where growth will occur, whether the cut is next to a bud or another branch.

§         Cutting a branch beyond where growth will occur effectively kills all portions of that branch back to the closest branch, bud, or dormant bud clusters, leaving a stub of dead wood. The withered stub will eventually rot away and fall off.

§         Prior to that, however, it will prevent the plant from forming a callus over the cut surface, which will in turn invite insects and infection. All cuts should be relatively smooth since this will aid in healing.

§         Also, the pruning cut should not be too large when compared to the growing point. For instance, a large cut on a 20 cm trunk down to a 15 cm branch should be fine, but the same cut to the trunk down to a 1 cm twig or bud is considerably less ideal and should be avoided if possible.

Pruning to bud

A correct pruning cut will allow for quick healing and promote vigorous growth from the closest bud to the cut. The cut should be close enough to the bud to reduce the size of the stub of dead wood that will form from the cut, but far enough away to prevent the bud from being adversely affected by the cut though desiccation. Cutting too close to the bud (under-cutting) sometimes results in the death of the bud, which results in a scenario similar to cutting too far away from the bud (over-cutting). In general, a correct cut should be angled at a moderate 35-45 degree slant such that its lowest point is situated on the same level as the tip of the growth bud. This technique is usually applied when pinching or when cutting-back.

e.        The Timing

Pruning small branches can be done at any time of year. Large branches, with more than 5-10% of the plant's crown, can be pruned either during dormancy in winter, or, for species where winter frost can harm a recently-pruned plant, in mid summer just after flowering. Autumn should be avoided, as the spores of disease and decay fungi are abundant at this time of year.

Application

The Father gets rid of the dead wood so that the living, fruit-bearing branches may be sharply distinguished from them, and may have more room for growth.

§         There are no true Christians without some measure of fruit; fruitfulness is an infallible mark of Christianity.

§         The alternative is dead wood…these have no life in them; they have never borne fruit; or else they would have been pruned, not cut off.

§         If we must think of branches with no real contact with Jesus we need look no further than Judas Iscariot.

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