Commentary by Walter Albritton


February 25, 2007


Our Source of Life and Fruitfulness is Jesus the True Vine


John 15:1-17


Key Verse:  I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5


Jesus uses many figures of speech to help his disciples understand his true identity. These lessons from the Gospel of John have richly stretched our concept of who Jesus is.

We have been helped to see that no single metaphor can tell us all there is to know about our Lord. He is indeed the Bread of life but he is actually more than that, just as he is more than the Light of the world or the Water of life. He is like a diamond, offering us many angles from which to view his magnificence.

So now we search for new insights into Jesus’ teaching that he is the vine and we are the branches. The idea of the vine’s significance was not new. Isaiah, with whose writings Jesus was well acquainted, had spoken of the Israelites as God’s vineyard. Isaiah expressed God’s sorrow and disappointment that his beloved vineyard, “the house of Israel,” had produced wild grapes instead of the fruits of righteousness and justice.

When Jesus declares that he is the “true” vine, he is also indicting Israel for its failure to produce a harvest of good grapes. God’s vineyard had yielded only bad fruit. So, centuries later, God sends his Son Jesus to serve as the true vine of Israel. Now the branches that remain attached to Jesus will bear fruit pleasing to God.

One of the great promises of Jesus is the one found in John 15:5 – “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Scholars have used different words for the key word in this promise. The NIV translates it “remains.” Older versions employ the word “abides.” One of the best translations is the word “dwells.” We think of living in a home as “dwelling” in it; it is our dwelling place. Jesus’ meaning is quite clear: “If you dwell in me and I dwell in you, you will bear much fruit.”

The branch has no life without the vine. As Christians we draw our very life from Jesus. Without him we are dead. So we must remain vitally connected to Jesus for the life of God to be in us.

The Spirit produces fruit in our lives not because we “try hard” to bear fruit but because we remain securely attached to Jesus.  The gracious fruit of the Spirit is not then something we do, but something Jesus does as his power flows through us.

Some of us are slow to admit the truth of Jesus’ words: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Our ego gets in the way of our growth in grace. We foolishly suppose we can make it on our own. Often we have to fall flat on our faces before we are willing to admit we need the Lord’s help.

As a young man my life verse was Philippians 4:13 – “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Though that verse was often on my lips, I tried to do everything in my own strength. It was as though I had shortened the verse to read, “I can do everything.”

Finally I realized that all my efforts, without Christ, produced nothing, at least nothing valuable to the kingdom of God. Actually my hard work did produce something – stress and frustration for me and the people around me. There was little joy in my life because I was trying so hard to “be” a Christian.

One of my associates confronted me one day. In love, and without anger, he said, “Walter, you are like a bulldozer trying to move a mountain of work. You run over people as though you are trying to prove something to God.”

His stinging words drove me to my knees and to take a new look at myself. The Lord helped me to admit that my colleague was right. As I prayed for a new relationship with Christ, the Lord graciously showed me the way forward.

One day I heard the Inner Voice say gently to me, “Walter, why don’t you stop trying to impress me with all your hard work. Just relax in my love and start enjoying being my man.”

Only then did I begin to experience joy, the joy of Jesus that he wants to give every believer. I am still learning how to relax in his love and let him fill me with his joy so that one day my joy may be complete.

I am not there yet but I believe I know the way. The secret is in being willing to be a branch and allowing Jesus to be the vine. Life-giving power surges through this connection.

Fruitfulness and joy flow naturally out of our lives when we learn to dwell in him and let him dwell in us. Apart from him there is no fruit and no joy. Dwelling in him we become like healthy branches producing the fruit that proves we are his disciples.

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