Abiding in the Vine: I. An Introduction

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:1–11; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Grape vines in a vineyard, Napa Valley, CA. Photo by Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons 2.0 license).

The Bible is filled with agricultural imagery. This makes sense: God spoke His Word to and through people living in an agricultural society. The people who knew Jesus were often either farmers or fishermen. They grew or captured their own food. He spoke parables about sowers who scattered seed, not about stock boys at Walmart and the people who got lost in the cookie aisle.

This agricultural mindset needs to be kept in mind as we read the Bible. While the cultural background may be foreign to many readers, its message is timeless and universal. When Jesus says “I am the true vine…you are the branches,” He is speaking to residents of urban and suburban communities as well as rural Americans and ancient Israelites. We sometimes need to dig deep to understand Jesus’ message, but once we understand it, we find immeasurable spiritual riches to claim.

Many have written volumes about this passage. Perhaps my favorite treatment of John 15:1–11 is The True Vine by Andrew Murray (my copy is the 1982 edition published by Whitaker House). Readers who are inspired or encouraged by this series of posts may want to read that book or a similar devotional by others.

Some of Murray’s key thoughts, in chapter 3, “The Branch,” are as follows:

  1. “There is the lesson of entire consecration. The branch has only one reason for which it exists, one purpose to which it is entirely given up. That is, to bear the fruit the vine wishes to bring forth.”
  2. “There is the lesson of perfect conformity.” A branch is exactly like the vine, since it partakes of its nature. Likewise, the believer must recognize that he is a partaker of the divine nature (see 2 Peter 1:4).
  3. “There is the lesson of absolute dependence.” A branch survives on the life, sap, and strength of the vine.
  4. “And then there is the lesson of undoubting confidence.” A branch receives all it needs from the vine. It does not look elsewhere.

With this in mind, we can consider a few additional lessons in the next few articles. It might be helpful to remember that much of what we say about a vine here can also apply to other plants with branches, including trees and shrubs. As Jesus spoke these words to the disciples, they had just finished eating the Last Supper, a Passover feast including wine. They were walking to the Garden of Gethsemane, an olive grove on or near the Mount of Olives. One can imagine that they were walking past a vine or vineyard as Jesus gave this teaching. The disciples would have more time to ponder its meaning while Christ prayed in the Garden and they were surrounded by olive trees. The lesson of the vine could easily be extracted from an olive tree. So, we can safely switch between the imagery of a vine and a tree throughout this series of reflections.

As Andrew Murray observes in his book, the relationship between a vine and its branches is an intimate image of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His followers. As we reflect on this parable in this series, I pray that we may all grow in our intimate interconnection with our Savior.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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