I grew up in a small town. In many ways, we were sheltered from the activities of people that live in more populous areas. Our summers were spent taking care of our farm animals, weeding in our sizeable vegetable garden, mowing grass, and helping out in our orchard and grape vineyard. Working in the orchard and vineyard was always my favorite as I always enjoyed the “fruits” of our labors.
One of the most important aspects of owning an orchard or vineyard is the discipline of pruning. Plants that bear fruit, in most cases, have to be pruned. The trees or vines start growing new branches every year and some of these branches must be pruned. We would always make a pile of these pruned branches, and when we had them all in one pile, we would burn them as they were useless. My dad always called the branches he cut away “sucker limbs.” When I asked him for an explanation, he told me that the branch, due to its location, would more than likely not produce fruit and would just suck the life out of the other branches that were actually producing fruit.
To illustrate this to me, he took me to the grape vineyard next to our orchard. We had spent countless hours over the years in the orchard, pruning, and getting the trees producing beautiful apples, pears, and plums. The grape vineyard had not been touched for many years. The grapes it did produce were at best sub-par, and many times so unappealing to the eye that no one would even pick them, let alone eat them.
Jesus uses this whole process as an illustration in the New Testament. John 15:1-2 says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Jesus describes Himself as the “Vine,” and that we as the “branch” need to be bearing fruit. If we are not bearing fruit, then we are to be pruned, so that branches that are bearing fruit can produce more.
Jesus goes a little deeper into the illustration. Verses 4-5 say, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” By definition, the word “abide” means to accept or act in accordance with. Abiding with Jesus, or to accept and act in accordance with Him, allows Him to accept and act in accordance with us!
That should be enough to motivate us, but Jesus gives us a final warning. In verses 6-8, Jesus says, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” By abiding in Jesus, we are connected to the Vine. By being connected to the Vine, we will by default produce fruit. If we are producing fruit, we will glorify God, and people will know that we belong to Him! If we are connected to the Vine, our fruit will be the same fruits of the Spirit that He displayed. In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul describes what our fruit should look like, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” By being connected to the Vine, the Holy Spirit is given to us so that we can produce heavenly fruit. That is the fruit that will make us appealing to humanity, and will give us the opportunity to share the only way to be connected to the Vine! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is what grafts humanity into the Vine.
Our vineyard through the skilled hands of my dad, though overgrown, over time started producing beautiful Concord grapes. The pruning process removed that which was taking away from the fruit growing in a fashion the way God designed it. Your life may look like an overgrown mess right now, but allow God to remove the things in your life that distract you from abiding with Him, and before long you will be producing beautiful fruit!