Fruit or Foliage? – John 15:1-2,5

grapevine“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit…I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.” (John 15:1-2,5, HCSB).

These verses contain the last of seven “I am” declarations made by Jesus in John’s Gospel.  “I am” is an allusion to God’s name by which God identified Himself to the Israelites: “God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14).

Here’s the analogy Jesus makes in these verses: Picture a vineyard. Jesus is like all the grapevines in the vineyard. His followers are like all the individual shoots attached to the vines. And God the Father is the vineyard keeper, the viticulturalist.

The reference to God the Father as the viticulturalist would call to mind Isaiah’s first vineyard song, where God is depicted as tending His vineyard only to be rewarded with sour grapes (see Isaiah 5:1-7).

The analogy is repeated in verse 5, but this time Jesus elaborates on the association between the vine and the branch. The shoot or branch must remain attached to the vine in order to produce fruit because the shoot can’t produce it’s fruit without being attached to the vine.

In John 14-16 Jesus offers final instructions to His disciples prior to His arrest, execution, and death to encourage them to stay faithful. But, the primary meaning packed in the analogy seems to be productivity in God’s Kingdom. 

Fruitfulness!

And it almost seems like Jesus was issuing a warning to His disciples that they are expected to be productive, to bear fruit, if they are to remain His disciples! And the only way they can remain His disciples and be productive is to remain in Him–that is, closely associated with Him in a personal relationship that draws its life, strength and consequently, its fruitfulness from Him.

So the way we become productive or more productive in God’s Kingdom is through pruning. God trains and prunes us just as a viticulturalist trains and prunes the shoots on a grapevine to bear more fruit.

Grapevines require proper pruning to assure a bountiful harvest. Proper training of grapevines is essential to maintain plant size, shape, and productivity. If left unattended, grapevines can become unruly, and fruiting will be poor due to the overproduction of vegetation. And grapevines that have not been pruned become quite tangled.

If there is not a proper amount of fruit production to store the carbohydrates produced in the leaves, a grapevine will overcompensate with increased foliage. But, if an appropriate number of clusters is left on a grapevine, there will not be excess foliage.

So we could expand the analogy like this: God the Father, the Keeper of the vineyard, must train and prune the shoots or branches (us, Jesus’ disciples) on the grapevine so that they are productive or fruitful. Disciples, like the shoots on a grapevine, will become unruly and even get tangled up among themselves if they aren’t properly trained and pruned.

And if there is not a proper amount of fruit production then, like the grapevine, disciples will produce foliage rather than fruit. That is, their labor for God will be to make themselves feel good or seem important. They will do their own will–in Jesus’ name. They will build themselves up rather than building God’s Kingdom.

Eventually, if a disciple doesn’t produce fruit (or produces foliage rather than fruit), then God may cut off that disciple so the productive ones can be even more fruitful.

So are you a fruit or foliage disciple?

Let God prune you into a disciple that bears fruit, and even more and more fruit, for His Kingdom.

“Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline–which all receive–then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:7-8, HCSB).

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