Pastor Rich reflected on John chapter 15 as part of the Harvest Service this week. His text included the opening of the chapter, when 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 will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain 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.”
This is a great image as it evokes the image of the life-giving vine nourishing the branches. This vine (and its extensions) are tended by a skilful gardener (the Father) who insures that the branches are fruitful.
We cannot do God’s work in isolation from God. “Good works” and “God works” are not necessarily the same thing. Remember we each are flawed, and no matter how hard we try we will at some point get it wrong. Here is where being attached to the living vine comes in. It is our connection to that life (and as much as we might dislike it) and the occasional pruning of those misdeeds, through which we make a true difference in the world.
As a tended branch, we are linked to the divine. While mixing the metaphor somewhat, Paul provides some embellishment. He writes, “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again (Romans 11:17-23).”
God prunes and He proves, but he also grafts. We that are not of the physical line of Israel have been given a link to the Holy Root Stock by grace. As wild branches we are grafted into the promise, and as such we too can be fruitful. But like Jesus’ warning about unfruitfulness in John 15: 6, “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” So too can those of us grafted-in fall short.
Here again we can take comfort in God’s promise, “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness.”
Let us, both natural branches, and those grafted in strive to remain linked to the vine (or tree) and His kindness. Let us be fruitful in God’s works.