Sunday, April 29, 2018
Jesus said, I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of Mine that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, so that it may bear more fruit.
Georgann and I are friends with the owners of Ferrante’s Winery in Geneva which is home to the world’s finest vineyards. On one of our trips, I noticed that they had completed planting a new vineyard and my eye caught rows of vines that had just been pruned. It was depressing. All that was left of those beautiful grapevines were rows of ugly-looking stumps and a few “runners”.
I said to her, that looks disastrous, to which she replied, don’t worry, we do that for three years to every vine, we cut it back, before it’s allowed to yield any fruit. For these vines, this is the third year. Just wait a few months, and you will see grapes nearly as big as ping pong balls!
That’s an image to get your mouth watering, grapes as big as ping pong balls. But there’s also a lesson here for us, no pruning, no cutting back, no luscious looking fruit.
Jesus said, I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it’ll be even more fruitful.
Those are powerful words and I hope you’ll give them your undivided attention for just a few moments. There’s an important message here. My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
These words are directed to both the church and individual church members. Christ is the true vine. We are the branches. And we have one job. That’s to bear fruit. That’s why we’ve been called together as a community. We’re not here simply to enjoy one another’s company. We’re here to be nourished so that we may bear fruit in our homes, in our community and in the world for which Christ died. So, the question for the day is, where is your fruit? Is our church a better church because you’re here? Is your home a better home because you’re there? Is the world a better place because you’re here? Where is your fruit?
Some of us have grown “too comfortable in Zion.” We could be doing so much more for the sake of the Kingdom, but we’ve forgotten that our main task is to make a difference in the world. Our main task is to make Christ known in this community. Our main task is to help people know that they’re loved. Our main task, in other words, is to bear fruit. Jesus put it as clear as possible. The tree that doesn’t bear fruit, will be thrown into the fire. That’s kind of imagery is a little bit scary. The tree that doesn’t bear fruit will be thrown into a fire.
What good is a grape vine without grapes? What use is a fig tree without figs? Tear them down, strip their branches, throw them into the flames. Nothing could be clearer than this: we are to bear fruit. That’s our job. Now how do we go about doing that?
First of all, we produce fruit by staying connected to the vine. Later in this passage Christ says, abide in Me, as I also abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. Again, this message is clear. The secret to bearing fruit is staying connected to Christ.
Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control and calls them the fruit of the spirit That’s an important rule: If we’re to bear fruit, we must stay connected to the vine which is Christ. He only is the source of our life. I hope that’s the primary reason you’re here in worship today. You want to stay connected to Christ so that you can bear much fruit.
But there’s a word of warning in this passage. Actually, there are two warnings. Listen again to Christ’s words: I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit. What does that mean? Deep in our hearts we know what it means, don’t we? There are some people in every group who just aren’t interested in bearing fruit. People who work around fruit trees or grapevines are familiar with the term “sucker shoots.” Sucker shoots are branches that have no fruit but literally suck up the nutrients other branches need. Sucker shoots never bear fruit, but they reduce the quantity and quality of fruit the other branches can bear. Every group has them, including the church. People who only take up space. They’re not really interested in bearing fruit. They’re only interested in making themselves look good.
Even worse, there are a few people who are poisonous to the group. There’s a tree that grows in countries around the Caribbean that can kill you. Eating its fruit brings painful suffering, sometimes death. The natives use the sap of the bark to make poison darts for hunting. It’s called the Manchineel [man-chuh-n`eel] Tree. It produces a small, green, apple-looking fruit, about the size of a large crabapple. But don’t eat them! They’re quite poisonous, and if the fruit doesn’t kill you, you’ll probably wish you were dead. And it’s not just the fruit that is toxic. It’s the entire tree, roots, trunk, bark, branches, the sap and the leaves! Just standing under that tree can be a horrifying experience, especially if it’s raining. When it rains, drops that touch the leaves fall on you. The result is severe rashes and blistering of the skin. Christopher Columbus encountered this tree and called it the Tree of Death. You don’t want to have anything to do with the “tree of death.”
There are also poisonous personalities in every group, including the church. These people not only don’t bear fruit. They do enormous harm to the work of the kingdom. They love to sow dissension. They delight in passing along rumors and innuendos. They think they’re harmless, but they’re enemies of God. Make sure that you don’t allow them to infect you. But be loving to them, pray for them, treat them the way you would like to be treated. Understand that they’re misguided. God knows their heart. God knows the kind of fruit each of us is bearing or whether we’re bearing any fruit at all. Note Christ’s words again at the first of this passage: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit.
I’m sure what being cut off means, and it sounds scary to me. It means they’re cut off from God’s love. It means that they’re shut off from God. That in and of itself would be bad enough, but what happens to a cut-off person when the earth opens up beneath their feet, or the loss of a child, or a spouse, or even a job? What happens when they get a bad report from the doctor, when they reach out for God, will He still be there? We’ve turned God into such a Santa Claus figure that the words “cut off” are probably not in our vocabulary. And yet they’re here in Christ’s teachings. Sucker shoots and poisonous trees had better beware. This is God you’re dealing with.
But there is a second group Christ mentions besides those who don’t bear fruit. He says that God cuts off every branch, that bears no fruit, then He adds that “every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes so that it’ll be even more fruitful.
I believe He’s talking about us and is saying that even if we do bear fruit, life isn’t going to be a picnic. Pruning can be painful. When the owner of the vineyard prunes a vine, not only does he cut away all the dead wood. He also cuts away some of the live wood. The vineyards in the early spring look like a bunch of naked, bleeding stumps, but in the fall, they’re filled with abundant purple grapes. As the farmer wields the pruning knife on his vines, so God cuts dead wood out from among His saints, and often cuts back the living wood so far that His method seems cruel. Nevertheless, those who have suffered the most there often comes the greatest fruitfulness.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to look like a barren, bleeding stump. But here’s what Jesus is saying to us. Sometimes life hurts. You’re not immune to tragedy. In fact, some of God's most prized saints have experienced tragedy because they were His followers. Now when tragedy comes, as it does in every life, there’s no point in asking God, why did this happen to me?
We know that’s one question God never seems to answer. Here’s the question you should ask when tragedy strikes, Lord, is there some way you can use this event to prune me and cause me to bear more fruit to your glory? I guarantee that’s one question that’ll always receive an answer.
Maybe this is the difference between those who are “cut off” and those who are “pruned.” It never occurs to those who are cut off to ask that question. They aren’t interested in bearing fruit. So, tragedy is meaningless. They may even view it as punishment from God. All that’s left for them is to lash out at God in anger. But the person who’s able to pray in the face of great tragedy, Lord, is there some way you can use this event to prune me and cause me to bear more fruit to your glory? They’ll find a source of strength they never dreamed possible.
God can use all things to the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). It doesn’t mean that God causes bad things to happen to good people. He doesn’t send bad things into our lives. A fallen world will send enough trouble on its own. But God can use any difficult event that occurs in our lives to help us become the kind of people He has called us to be.
So, there is another question besides, where is your fruit? That question is, have you been pruned? It’s only after we’ve been pruned that we can bear the most splendid fruit of all. This is what the writer of the book of James means when he writes, consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Can you do that? Can you take any adverse trial and pray, Lord, is there some way you can use this event to prune me and cause me to bear more fruit to your glory? If you can, God will use you in a wondrous way.