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Four Degrees of Fruitfulness (John 15:1-5)

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I’m growing a Meyer lemon tree in a container in my kitchen.

It’s inside the house because they’ll die in the cold, so it’ll stay in my kitchen until spring.

I grew it from seed. It’s now a seedling with leaves, and I hope that, in a few years, it will start to flower and produce fruit.

If Christians are like fruit-bearing plants, what stage of the Christian life are you in? If you’ve believed in Jesus, then the seed was planted and germinated, and you sprouted. Are you now a seedling? Have you begun to show flowers? Are you producing fruit?

If you didn’t know, God’s goal for your life is to be fruitful. Jesus once talked about four degrees of fruitfulness. But instead of lemon trees, He spoke about grapevines:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He [lifts up]; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:1-5 NASB).

First, you can have no fruit (v 2a). No plant produces fruit right away. It always takes time. And if you’re not producing fruit, then the Father will take action. Your Bible translation might say the Father removes, takes away, or breaks off the unfruitful branch. That’s a mistake. No vinedresser would do that. You don’t cut down a seedling. The Greek word is airo, and it can mean “raise” or “lift up” (Moulton and Milligan). And that’s precisely what grape growers did to unfruitful branches. Picture them lying on the ground. If they stayed there, they would put roots into the earth, and instead of drawing life exclusively from the vine, they would partially draw it from the ground. To prevent that, the vinedresser lifted those fallen branches into position, propped them up with a rock, or stretched them on an arbor, so they could draw their life exclusively from the vine. Likewise, if you’re a non-fruiting branch, God will gently lift you, pull you away from the earth, and encourage you to help you flower and grow in Christ alone.

Second, you can bear some fruit (v 2b). Eventually, with Jesus as the source of your life, you’ll produce some fruit. But no farmer, gardener, or vinedresser would be content with some fruit, let alone small, sour grapes.

Third, you can bear more fruit (v 2b). The vinedresser will prune the fruiting branches to help them bear even more fruit. That involves training, trimming, and removing suckers from the branch. And that's how God will operate in your life—cutting away here and there—making you smaller. It may be painful, but it isn’t punishment. He is preparing you for the next growing season—removing the things of the self so your whole life can be focused on producing fruit for Him, bringing Him glory. And where the vinedresser uses sheers to prune the branch, God prunes you with His Word.

Fourth, you can bear much fruit (vv 4-5). This is the goal of the vinedresser. While pruning brings more fruit, something else is required to produce much fruit. But what? You must abide in Christ: “the one who remains in Me, and I in him.” As you remain in Him, your relationship to the vine deepens. You learn to draw your life from Him—to depend upon Him for everything because “apart from Me you can do nothing.” Instead of receiving a trickle of sap, you receive all that the vine can be for you.

Thought for the day: If the Lord is tending your branch, don’t confuse pruning with punishment.


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