Abiding in Christ or “The Art of Tree Maintenance”
One is either a branch living on the vine or a branch cut off from the vine. Vs.2
What does it mean to be cut off from the vine?
Vs 6 – “If anyone does not abide in me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.
This word picture resonates with me, as I grew up on an orchard. I grew up learning about pruning, and helping with the orchards. My dad would go through the rows and rows and trees, pruning off branches that did not belong. He pruned off branches that were growing the wrong direction. The goal of a tree is to grow up. If a branch is growing down or straight out, it gets pruned. He pruned off branches that weren’t healthy, so that they would not cause the rest of the tree to become unhealthy. He pruned off branches that were dead, so that the tree would not expend energy trying to feed and grow dead branches. Instead, the tree would be able to direct that energy to the branches that were living and growing as they should be.
As my dad would prune the branches, he would just let them land where they would. My job was to come along after, and pull the branches into the center of the orchard rows. From there, my dad would use the tractor to push them down the row, into a huge pile, and would burn them. They were useless branches, so they were destroyed.
There is an art to pruning trees, and the farmer is the artist. He has a plan for his orchard, and he is ensuring that the trees will carry out his plan. He is seeking to grow much fruit, and reap a good harvest each year.
Jesus uses this metaphor of pruning branches from a vine.
It is a terrible thing to be cut off from the vine. A branch cannot live without its source of life. To reject Jesus is to reject life. This rejection results in being thrown into the fire, being burned. I think these words intentionally draw us to think of the fires of hell. Rev 21:8 “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
This is speaking directly about Israel. They, as a nation, were cut away from the vine due to their unbelief. They, as individuals, can and will be grafted back in the moment they believe. The same is true of anyone who believes. God is desiring to graft in all people. God desires that all would believe, that all would come to him. He is not willing that any should perish.
But we also should remember that God’s Word teaches that chances can run out. Those who persist in unbelief may be hardened to the truth. God does not harden hearts as a punishment for unbelief – the punishment for unbelief is eternal judgment in hell. But he hardens hearts in order to accomplish his purposes and bring glory to himself.
Let’s turn our attention to the branches that remain on the vine. These are the branches that believe and belong to Jesus.
These branches have three jobs
1. Bear fruit
2. Get pruned
3. Abide in the vine
1. Bear fruit
What does this mean, to “bear fruit”? In a way it is self-explanatory. We know what it means to bear fruit. It is what a good tree does. We enjoy the fruit that many trees produce. This analogy makes much sense. But what exactly does the fruit stand for? What kind of fruit is God expecting his branches to produce?
Bringing others to belief – Scripture talks of the gospel “bearing fruit and growing”
Living righteously – Col 1:9-10 “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
Gal 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
So to bear fruit is to live like Christ. And this makes sense with the vine and branch analogy. The job of the branch is to be part of the vine and produce the fruit that is identified with the vine. You don’t have a blackberry vine that produces grapes. In the same way, if we are abiding with Christ, being part of him and identifying with him, we should be accomplishing his works. We should be bearing his fruit.
2. Get pruned.
Rather than being rewarded for bearing fruit, a branch gets pruned more when it bears fruit. A farmer is not walking the rows of trees, congratulating the branches on their fine fruit this year. He is not giving them the next year off because they worked so hard this year. Rather, once the fruit is harvested, the farmer immediately turns his focus on making the next crop even more successful. He will prune the branches as needed.
Pruning the good branches – keeping them healthy (just as a gardener might deadhead flowers).
How God has pruned me throughout life – broken engagement, 7 years of singleness, getting married, having children, ministry, etc. God has pruned me throughout my life, sometimes in ways that meant much joy, and sometimes in ways that meant much sorrow. I was engaged for the first time at a young age. Looking back now, it was obviously not God’s best for me, but at the time it seemed like the perfect plan. However, that engagement was broken, and it was a painful, terrible time for me. It shook up my whole world, and I grieved the loss of that relationship for a long time. It’s a good thing I didn’t know at the time how long it would take me to fall in love again, or I would have felt even more desperate. I was single for 7 years after that, with not so much as even a date. Talk about pruning. God did an bunch of pruning in my life during those years. Those were years of depression, loneliness, discontentment. But they were also years of adventure, gaining confidence, making some great decisions, and learning how to follow Jesus.
And then I finally met my husband. It was not love at first sight, but it was nearly love at first date. We had a whirlwind courtship, and then I was married. And entering another season of pruning. Sharing a life, a house, a family, a name, a love with someone else is a beautiful challenge. The first year of marriage was incredibly hard for me. It was very eye opening to see myself through someone else’s eyes. God used that first year, as well as the following seven, to prune me in so many ways. We celebrate our eight anniversary this June, and I look forward to many, many more years of being pruned through this special relationship.
Just when it seemed like the worst of the pruning was over, I had kids. I don’t know about your kids, but my kids help me to see my own sinfulness and inadequacy on pretty much a daily basis. God has pruned some of the selfishness, pride, anger, and impatience out of my life, and I am sure He is just getting started. My kids are young. But the branches he has pruned have allowed new branches to grow. A new understanding of love, patience, kindness, selflessness.
Getting pruned is a good thing. The branches shouldn’t strive to grow the right way in order to avoid pruning. They should trust the farmer. Pruning might be a painful thing at the time, but the rewards are well worth it.
How God will be pruning the disciples, though they have no idea what is to come yet. Verses late in chapter and in 16.
3. Abide in the vine. Abide in Jesus. 1 John 2:3-25
1 John 2:3-8 Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. Abiding in him means doing what he says and what he does. It means keeping his commandments.
1 John 2:9-11 Abiding in him means loving others
1 John 2:15-17 Abiding in him means loving God, not the world or the things of the world
1 John 2:24 Abiding in him means holding on tightly to the Word of God – the things we have heard from the beginning.
And when we abide? The reward, the promise is that we will obtain eternal life. And not just eternal life, but eternal life spent with the Vine. Eternal life spent with the one our soul loves. Eternal life in which we no longer have to fight to love what is right and no longer have to fight to abide and no longer have to fight to love others. But in the eternal life that Jesus promises, there will only be what is good and right. What a promise!