By Daniel Bobinski
In John 15:5, Jesus uses the metaphor of a vine and its branches to describe the relationship between Him and His followers. Speaking to His disciples, Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
It’s a great analogy. Especially the part that says, “apart from me you can do nothing,” because if you’ve ever trimmed a branch off any kind of fruit tree, you know that the severed branch will no longer produce fruit. If you don’t dispose of the branch, it might eventually get used for firewood or maybe for making a basket or other item, but it certainly isn’t going to produce any more fruit.
Every place the Greek word translated “vine” is used, it’s referring to grapevines, so it’s commonly assumed among Bible scholars that grapevines are what Jesus had in mind when He gave this metaphor. With that, it might help us understand our relationship with Christ if we discuss what a vinedresser does and why he does it.
Typical grapevine training and pruning: In order to maximize a grapevine’s ability to produce what the grower wants, grapevines must be trained and pruned. Training a grapevine is a multi-year process. When the vines are young and pliable, a vinedresser identifies which shoots show the most vigorous growth and then starts positioning them so they continue growing in a particular direction.
It’s usually during the plant’s second year of growth that the strongest canes are identified. These will become the permanent arms of the vine, and weaker or unhealthy branches are removed, or pruned. Then, in the third year of growth, the two permanent arms of the plant are tied to a trellis wire. Healthy and well-positioned branches are tended to, and any wayward side shoots are removed. By the third year the plant is usually producing grapes in keeping with the grower’s wishes.
Once the vine is established, it is pruned each year in order to remove dead or diseased wood and to encourage the growth of new shoots and fruiting wood. Pruning also helps to regulate the amount of fruit that the vine produces, which can affect the quality and flavor of the grapes.
Getting pruned by God: A common phrase in Christian circles is that God loves us just as we are, but He also loves us so much that He doesn’t want us to stay that way. It’s with this idea that we hear Christians say they are being pruned by God. That phrase is used when God removes things from our lives that inhibit spiritual growth.
Think of Proverbs 3:11-12, which says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” In the same way that a vinedresser prunes vines to fine-tune the quantity, quality, and flavor of grapes, God will remove things from our lives to improve our walk and our witness.
Personal application: Digging deeper into this metaphor, we should realize that the life flowing through the vine is the same life that flows into the branches and thus into the fruit. God prunes us because He wants us to have a better walk, a better witness, and better results in the things He gives us to do. But if we ignore God’s purpose in pruning us and turn instead towards things He doesn’t want us to do, not only are we not doing God’s work, we won’t be very nourished by God while doing them.
It is for this reason that we should prioritize spending quiet time with God, listening with our hearts and our spirits so we can ascertain the activities and directions He wants us to go. God wants us to bear much fruit. What that looks like will be different for each person, so to bear the fruit God wants us to bear, we each should seek to be aligned with God’s will for our lives.
There’s a downside to this if we don’t. We can receive the blood of Christ by faith and in so doing have eternal life with God in His kingdom, but if we continue doing things that God doesn’t have planned for our lives, then the branch of our life will not be as fruitful as it could be.
To describe the disappointment that would occur by missing out on the rewards coming to us in heaven by not following God’s will, the Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of a builder, saying that the quality of his work will be tested by fire on the day of judgment. In 1 Corinthians 3:15, Paul says, “If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”
Being changed from within: The cool thing about aligning ourselves with Jesus is that the more time and effort we put into this, the more His will for us becomes a “want to” instead of a “have to.”
I once heard a non-believer say to a believer, “Now that you’re a Christian, I imagine there’s a lot of things you have to do, right?” To which the believer responded, “It’s not a ‘have-to.’ It’s a ‘want-to.’ Deep in my spirit, I want to do what God has called me to do. Being in His will is most fulfilling.”
So yes, even though God will prune us from time to time, we should take comfort. It means we’re still connected to Jesus, the source of spiritual life. Jesus is the true vine, and so long as we are connected to Him and pruned according to His will, He will use us for His purposes. And it is most fulfilling.
Daniel Bobinski, Th.D., is an award-winning and best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at [email protected] or (208) 375-7606.