As that is the case, the natural branch does not think about fruit production, or do anything in particular in the way of work to bear fruit. The branch has the ability in its DNA to have buds and bring forth fruit, because that is its state of being. Its sole responsibility is to stay attached to the vine. It is the same for disciples of Christ; their state of existence is to bear fruit. As a branch has in it all the potential to be filled with fruitfulness, so does the believer. Growth in the kingdom of God is possible by abiding in the Vine, who is Jesus Christ. The problem with this eternal truth is that it does not take our ingenuity, our creativity, it does not take our money, or charisma. Those things, so highly touted in the church today, behave as a disease which interrupts the flow of divine life, from Jesus the Vine.
To inject our thoughts or modes of ministry or ingenuity does produce numbers in the way of attendance figures; whether it be the mega-church or large church or mid-sized church or even the little selfish ones under 200. Yet those numbers are not impacting the darkness around us at large. In fact these numbers have created an unquenchable focus on numeric growth as a measurable. If we only took heed of the scripture, we would understand that the desire for more, which is never satisfied, is not only confined to dollars or things… “He that loves silver will not be satisfied with silver nor he that loves abundance with increase” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
Sorry to burst the bubble of large numbers of pastors and Christians who declare “I know numbers are not important but they do indicate something”; because numbers are not God’s measure for growth. One need only to look to king David to understand that our desire to innumerate the faithful, comes from a position of pride in our strength (II Samuel 24; I Chronicle 21). This happens when we forget who is our strength, protection and gives us the power to live and give life to others.
John 15:1-8 (NKJV) 1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
The above passage was part of a series of messages I preached, the first six weeks of ministry in the church I currently pastor. At that time I communicated what you will read today and in subsequent posts. I could not have foreseen how prophetic this message would be for our fellowship, as over the next three years we would live through those first six week’s messages. It is for this reason this post is named “Prophetic Produce”. “Produce” meaning fruit produced for consumption and ready to be consumed; “Prophetic” referring to how the Lord has been preparing us to bare fruit (over the last 3 years). The real tangible Holy Spirit results will not hit any of the modern measurables for church growth, but who cares, I’d rather be in fellowship with God’s measurables. In spite of the last statement the passage is not about the “produce” or bearing of fruit primarily, but what brings about that kind of growth; ABIDING.
The chapter begins with Jesus declaring He is the Vine and His disciples the branches. In vs. 2 we read the result of branches that do not bear fruit; they are cut of and cast into the fire (eternally serious). In vs. 2 we also read the result of those who do bear fruit; they are pruned (also with eternal temporal and eternal implications). It is very important to see that both sets of branches are in the Vine. Much like the parables that Jesus told us on the kingdom of God, where tares are among the wheat, we find to the undiscerning eye, knowing the difference between the dead branch and the alive fruit bearing branch, is not always apparent. This can be understood in the natural world by considering the grape vine, to which Jesus is referring. To the untrained eye, telling the difference between the fruitless branch and the pruned branch is near impossible. Yet after the dead branches are detached and placed in a burn pile, even the untrained eye can understand, they lost their ability to give life, therefore they are dead, therefore they are destroyed.
A summery of His words in verses 5-6 enable us to understand the difference between the fruitless and the fruitful… If a disciple abides in Him, Jesus will live in Him providing the necessary life to produce fruit; If a disciple chooses not to abide in Him, Jesus would not live in Him and with no life from Jesus in and through them, there is no fruit. This is a serious and weighty matter, for not only can that person not give the life of Jesus to another, no matter what they know biblically or profess about Jesus as Lord, they also do not have His life in them. So the true need of the disciple is to know how to abide and whether they are or not.
When dealing with branches and vines it is not difficult to understand why a branch goes dead and fruitless; It no longer has sap working the vines life through its fiber. This can happen for more than a few reasons, but the point is that although still attached and long before it looks like a burnable commodity, it is already dead. In like matter this is the case with a fruitless disciple and sadly many will not know this is their state of being until they are resurrected and standing before Christ, at the Great White Throne, where they will profess “Lord, Lord have we not”, only to hear “Depart from me you worker of iniquity I never knew you”. The Lord Jesus gives us some help in understanding what it means to abide…
- To remain in Him with other branches (vs. 2, 5-6; Hebrews 7:19-25)
- To remain in Him as His Word is in you (vs. 7, 9-10; Psalm 119:9-12)
- To grow in our relational intercourse with Christ (vs.7, 11, 16, 26; John 14:26)
- To endure the pruning of our Father (vs. 5; James 1:2-4)
A little elaboration is necessary concerning the constituent parts of abiding in Christ. To remain with the other branches is not merely to attend a building where you hear the word of God, sing some songs, offer some prayer, and listen to some guys “opinion” about the bible. Nor is it to augment that practice with Sunday school or small groups for “community” sake. To remain in him with the other branches is true community of faith, but only because you impact and catalyze the other branches as they impact and catalyze your most holy faith.
WITHOUT PRUNING FRUITLESSNESS IS CERTAIN
In like manner, we as branches have the same issues in dealing with our Vine. When in Him, He gives us His own life and divine nature, in order to grow us into mature and life giving disciples. We as His branches have fruitfulness in our spiritual DNA. Our problems arise when we turn our focus to our selfish need to produce fruit; ministry fruit, legacy fruit, material fruit or people fruit, instead of focusing on abiding in the Vine. Instead of letting Him produce fruit and allowing Him to decide which fruit and when that fruit should remain. A focus on church growth, may produce a yield of multiplicity of tiny, sour and uneatable fruit devoid of the life of Christ; or fruit so dry as to not remain attached to Christ. That yield can produce so many shallow and carnal converts that it changes the perception of the bride of Christ in a particular geography. The reason for this is that Christ’s fruit in us is to be inviting and life giving, filled with the same supernatural and miraculous resurrection life we are to be living from.
Is this why the church in America has been marginalized, being that we have all kinds of Christian talk but very few Christians filled with Christ’s fruitfulness? The answer to that questions is so obvious as to not need me to type the three letters that make it up. And this is the lesson we have learned, where I pastor. We all thought the Lord would grow us differently. Some thought a new pastor and family with a great wife and five kids would ensure church growth. Some thought the emphasis in preaching and worship would bring church growth. Some thought our evangelism would bring church growth. Some thought, like me, that our focus on the Christ life and prayer would bring appropriate church growth. We all thought wrong, although I was a little closer to the mark (this time).
What the Lord has done over the last three and half years is to remove branches incapable of bearing fruit for not wanting to abide. What the tender Vinedresser, our Father has done, is to prune us and that happened after we would rejoice in what we thought was growth. What the Vine has provided to us in the midst of this all is Life… Holy Spirit resurrection Life, which has grown us as a branch in His kingdom!!! Life which has grown us thicker and stronger and more able to produce the fruit He has ordained.