Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Vinedresser, the True Vine, and the Branches (John 15:1-11), part 2 of 2

We easily overlook the word "true" in Jesus' clam "I am the true vine" and so we miss its significance. He was building on the Old Testament concept of Israel as God's vine (Psalm 80:8-9; Isa. 5:1-7). Under the new concept, there is only one vine in God's garden. A person must be attached to him to be counted as God's own. Being an Israelite doesn't automatically mean you are in God's vineyard; you must be connected to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Somehow I fear, that some of you think you are close to God just because you are connected to an organization formed 17 years ago. You may be diligent in attending the services and activities of Guiding Light Christian Church Dagupan. You may have signed the membership documents. When you are asked by friends, "To what church do you belong?", you answer proudly and without hesitation, "GLCC Dagupan". Surely, many souls were enriched here for all these years. Yet they grew spiritually not because they belong to a special organization, but because they heeded the command to abide in Christ. Even your stay at GLCC Dagupan will not do you any good unless you abide in Jesus.

Fruit-bearing: the result of abiding in Christ (John 15:5)
I heard it a few times; at least once or twice from the mouth of pastors. They assert that "fruit" here means "souls won for Jesus". And so these people measure your fruitfulness by counting the number of souls you bring to the church. Perhaps this is a result of the Evangelism Fallacy. They may have failed to understand that the command to evangelize and make disciples were not given to individuals but to the church. And the church fulfills the Great Commission as various gifts and skills empowered by the Spirit are faithfully used by its members. The gift and skill of gospel communication is one of them, but it is not the only gift.

So what are fruits? I propose that fruits are:

  • The manifestations of a godly life (Gal. 5:22-23). In contrast with the works of the flesh (5:19-21).
  • Accomplishments of eternal value  (John 15:5b). Jesus doesn't mean here that a man separated from him could no longer do woundrous feats. He could still conquer lands, build structures, invent useful things for humanity, create breathtaking artworks-- all the good things in man's eyes. By his common grace, even non-Christians could do great things. What he means by saying “part from me you could do nothing” are deeds that will be remembered and rewarded in eternity.

C. T. Studd said it well: “Only one life, twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last.” Only deeds done for Christ and produced out of abiding in him are the ones that will last for all eternity. What a joy reserved for those who would cling to Christ! Not so to the wicked. The destiny of those who will not bear fruit is eternal destruction (John 15:6; Matt. 3:10-12)

Abiding in Christ vs. Christmas Tree Spirituality

Perhaps you were frightened by the mention of fire and destruction in verse 6. So now you make a resolution: “I will try my best to show fruit so I will not be judged.” You don't get it man! What is commanded of us is to abide in him, and by abiding in him, the branches will bear fruit naturally. Aside from falling into "Salvation by works" mentality,  the other danger with this resolution is we might present a Christmas tree spirituality. It's like bringing a shrub indoors. You attach to it artificial fruits: shining balls, sweet candies, miniature figures and other decors. You display a form of spirituality and morality yet it did not come from the true vine. It's all flesh, devoid of the Holy Spirit's power. What God wants are fruits produced in branches by being nourished by him.
“To be connected to the vine means that the life of Jesus is flowing through us, and this leads to fruitfulness. Fruitfulness will be the inevitable outcome of an interior spiritual life with Jesus” (Gary Burge, NIVAC)
I like the quote because it shows how the fruitbearing operates:
  1. it is from the life of Jesus flowing in us. And since it is Jesus, how could he be fruitless? Never!
  2. it takes place inwardly, not a fruit artificially attached.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Vinedresser, the True Vine, and the Branches (John 15:1-11), part 1 of 2

Among the “I am” Sayings of Jesus, what makes this one unique is the prominent role given to the Father. He is the Vinedresser. That truth alone should us comfort in the assurance that the gardener is not lacking in skill. He is a perfect vinedresser. Some of his actions may be unpleasant to us branches but we have to trust that the vinedresser knows what he is doing. Some of the things the Vinedresser does are two time-tested practices in viticulture:

a. Taking away fruitless branches
Someone is absent in this scene—Judas—he just left a few hours ago to betray his Lord in exchange of 30 pieces of silver. Just like the rest of them, he too was exposed to Jesus' teaching for three long years. But he developed no love for the words of Christ. Judas is unclean (John 13:10-11). He is an example of a branch that was taken away. Those who will persist in their love for sin shall be thrown away from the vine for the health of the vine.

b. Pruning fruit-bearing branches for improved production
The Greek for 'prunes' also means cleans. The means of cleaning the vine is the word of God (verse 3). Three years of continued exposure to the words of Jesus made them clean. And so as long as you keep on exposing yourself to the word of God, you are being cleaned for a fruitful life. Merrill Tenney comments:

“The means by which pruning or cleaning is done is the Word of God. It condemns sin; it inspires holiness; it promotes growth. As Jesus applied the words God gave him to the lives of the disciples, they underwent a pruning process that removed evil from them and conditioned them for further service.” (John and Acts, EBC Vol. 9)

The place of this pruning process is the doctrine of sanctification where we are changed into his image more and more. Sanctification is God's will for us (I Thess 4:3). If you have stayed long enough in the vine, you know that pruning often involves pain. For sure it would be unpleasant, yet it's end result is greater fruitfulness for the vine (Hebrews 12:5-11).

The need to prune sometimes  involves sin just like in the case of David. For this reason, we should not despise those who have underwent severe discipline because of some grievous sin. If they have already repented, and they have undergone that painful process of restoration, then expect productivity from them. Expect to be blessed when you are near them. If they have already humbled themselves before the Lord, they will soon be lifted up (James 4:10).

The need to prune is sometimes preventive of sin as in the case of Paul. "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me." (2 Corinthians 12:7)

The need to prune sometimes involves  no known sin at all, as in the case of Job.  Here is a man walking uprightly yet he was put to some of the most unbearable tests. In fact, the Lord is so proud of him. He told Satan: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." (Job 1:8)

So before you murmur and complain, “I am walking in holiness Lord. I can't understand. Why are you allowing this suffering in my life Lord?”, consider the possibility that the Lord may be so proud of you as His child. Perhaps he told Satan, “Have you considered my servant __________? (put your name in the blank). There is no one in Pangasinan like him.”

Maybe you are already fruitful, but there is still room for improving your yield; so he lets you go to that painful process called pruning. It may not pleasant at the present time but soon you will see the yield and your joy will be complete.