About ten years ago we moved to our home in the country. Our acreage has many features. Along with our home, there is some tillable ground, a little wood lined creek, an old barn, and a few apple trees. Having never pruned or cared for an apple tree before I asked Grandpa Kindred for some advice. One chilly Saturday in March Grandpa came up and showed me what to do. While Betty and Grandma stayed warm in the house Grandpa Kindred and I worked on the trees. We hacked out the dead branches, cut off the sucker branches that will never grow apples, and trimmed away some of the good to open the trees up and improve the fruit.
Our next facet of the diamond of who we are in Christ is “branches connected to the vine.” In John 15:1-11 Jesus uses the metaphor of a grapevine and its branches to paint a picture of the believer’s vital connection with Him. In His example, Jesus describes our relationship with Himself and with the Father, the necessity of pruning, and the expected results.
Jesus makes it clear that He is the vine. He is the life-giver and sustainer of the branches. There are many people and things that make those same promises in our world, but only Jesus is the true vine. Not only does Jesus give life to His followers but He provides what is needed to grow His fruit in their lives. There is a vital life-giving relationship between the vine and the branches. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NASB95) Without that connection, we’re nothing more than fruitless and lifeless dried up sticks. Jesus also tells us that our vital connection with Him flows with His word, His love, and our obedience. All of which results in joy.
While Jesus is the vine, the Father is the gardener who prunes to branches. He removes the dead wood which can foster disease and pests. He prunes away the unneeded branches that will never produce fruit. Grandpa called these suckers. In apple trees, sucker branches tend to be rather prideful and grow straight up instead of branching out and they never produce fruit. I think that even though it hurts at times we are grateful when God prunes away our dead and unfruitful branches. We know that we must put those things aside to become more fruitful in Him. But when God begins cutting away some of our productive branches we may start to wonder at what is going on.
I’ve often encountered believers who in their zeal to serve have allowed themselves to become overburdened. I’ve been there myself. This can happen in several different ways. Some just can’t say no, since being needed satisfies the desire for significance. Some can’t lay things down because they feel they’re the only one that knows how to do the job or that really cares. Some grow just a bit protective, refusing other’s help because this is their fruit; their ministry or service. In all of these, we tend to forget that we’re just a branch and that Jesus is the vine. Over the past few years, God has taken me on a journey of pruning away fruitful branches so that my fruit in Him may improve. It’s been a confusing, painful, and frightening time filled with feelings of uncertainty. But God did this to improve this servant’s fruit. I’ll let God and others determine whether it is good fruit.
The expected outcome of being connected with Jesus and all this pruning is fruit. But not just any old fruit. People can be fruitful in many ways without Jesus. Some folks are just naturally loving, or caring, or giving, or courageous, or ethical and moral, or self-sacrificing, or peaceful, or happy. The fruit we are growing in Christ will be Christlike in its nature. He is the vine. James, when speaking about the power of the tongue, made this observation, “Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.” (James 3:11–12, NASB95) Our fruit will be like the vine we are connected to. If we are abiding in Jesus, our vintage will be full of Christlike flavors and attributes.
I believe that Christlike fruit will have three qualities. First, It will reproduce life in others. Fruit contains seed and the primary purpose of fruit is to reproduce its attributes. It is something that comes naturally and often organically. Next, good fruit is both desirable and nourishing. You can eat a sour apple or sour grape, it is nourishing but not very desirable. On the flip side are desirable fruit flavored candies that kind of remind you of the real thing, but they have no nutritional value. On the other hand, there’s nothing better than biting into a fresh off the tree, perfectly ripe apple. Its shape and color are inviting. That first bite is full of flavor which is wonderfully crisp, fresh, juicy, tart, and sweet all at the same time. The fruit of our faith in Christ should also be fresh, always ripe, and real. Paul listed the attributes of our fruit in Christ as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Lastly, fruit is to be given away and enjoyed by others. There is joy in the harvest and I’ve never met a stingy apple tree. Although I have had many times when I’ve picked one apple and three more fell down as well. Jesus follows up His example of the vine and the branches by saying, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12–13, NASB95) We benefit greatly from our fruitfulness in Christ, but we are also to willingly and generously give what we’ve been given to others.
When we shine the light of Jesus on this facet of the diamond of who we are in Christ what should we see? I think that this aspect shines with two words; growing and giving. Our life in Christ should fruitfully glow with life as we abide in Christ. Where there is life there is both growth and fruit. Finally, I have this encouragement to offer. Consider inviting God, the master-gardener, to prune you, even those parts that are already fruitful. Ask Him to prune away the dead branches, the unfruitful branches, and to prune back even those areas which are fruitful so that you may produce a generous harvest that is even more desirable, nutritious, Christlike, and effective.