Keeper of the vine
By the Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh, Special Writer
Background text: John 15:1-17
Devotional text: John 15:5
I once knew an Italian man who came to live in America. He had a large garden in his backyard. It even included a fig tree, but the most memorable piece of his gardening was the grapevines he grew over his carport.
His carport was constructed of a metal frame, sides and top. He planted his vines along each side and they grew to cover the top. As the leaves and fruit began to cover the framework each spring and summer, he would water and prune the branches. By harvest-time, the vines were bursting with an abundance of juicy grapes.
He used the grapes for his wine-making. After the harvest was complete and the branches were bare, he would prune them back in readiness for the next growth season the following year.
Through him, I learned about the necessity of caring for and pruning the branches to have room for the grapes to grow to a full harvest.
This week, we’re going to look at scripture from the gospel of John 15:1-17, in which Jesus referred to himself as the true vine, and to his Father God as the vineyard keeper (also translated as vine dresser and gardener).
In this scripture, Jesus was speaking to his disciples following The Last Supper, on the night he was arrested. It is the last of the seven “I Am” teachings of Jesus, found only in John’s gospel.
Today, we are looking at the scripture by taking it in sections and discussing the works of Jesus. His opening statement gives us the analogy focusing on himself: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. 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 that I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (verses 1-4).
We see that when Jesus called himself “the true vine”; he was referring to himself as our Savior and we, as followers of Jesus, as the branches. God, as the vineyard keeper, is the one who cares for us and helps us to grow into healthy, fruit-bearing branches, connected to the vine.
The branches, we as the believers, who bear much fruit, are those of us who remain close to Jesus, being aware of the opportunities he gives us so we can show his love and care in the world. In this way, we bear fruit, giving other people the opportunity to know God and to seek a better life through following Christ.
Meanwhile, those who say they believe but really do not — the ones who are actually superficial believers — are called the unproductive branches. If they never realize the true saving grace of God, they will eventually lose their place in the vine, being cut off.
This analogy goes right along with the work of the vineyard keeper. If he sees that some branches are bare and have no life in them, he cuts them off to make room for the branches that are flourishing.
Let’s look closer at these verses concerning pruning. Here, Jesus spoke to us about two kinds of pruning and made a distinction between both.
While the branches bearing fruit are pruned so that they can bear even more fruit, once again we see the analogy looking at true believers. These are the times when God is teaching us in order to bring us closer to him, closer in understanding and closer in our belief. These are the times in our lives when we have a growth spurt in God. The pruning isn’t always easy, but it always leads to a strengthening in the trust we have in God.
Getting back to branches that bear no fruit — the ones that eventually start to go dry — they represent the half-hearted believers who turn their backs on God, who are no longer following the way. God will eventually separate them from the vine, because an ineffective branch has a tendency to affect the branches around it.
It is like the people who turn their backs on the good news of salvation, who also try to get others to turn away from God. Separating ends their connectedness to the family of God and allows those who do believe to prosper in their Christian growth, reaping the glory of God.
The final verse in this section tells us that we can only grow in Christ by remaining in him. Branches do not grow by themselves. They must be connected to a root system. Jesus tells us we must remain in him, and he in us, in order to grow as true believers.
In doing so, we are connected to Jesus, and, through Jesus, to our Father God. When we choose to believe in Jesus as our Savior, we receive all the benefits of Christ’s teaching, such as his peace that passes all understanding and the comfort of the Holy Spirit who is also our Counselor who nudges us along the good path in life. We receive protection and guidance through God our Creator.
As God teaches us through reading our Bibles and taking to heart what we read, we also learn to speak to God through prayer. We seek to meet with other Christians during church and fellowship time. We attend Bible studies in order to learn the deeper meaning of God’s word, and we come to recognize in our connection with God that he does have a good plan for each of our lives.
Next week, we will continue with John 15:7-17, to learn more about connecting to God’s love as the vineyard keeper.