Text: John 15:1-8, 16
I want you to open your Bibles tonight to the Gospel of John, chapter 15. As I have read this chapter over and over again, I have decided that I will confine myself to the first 8 verses of this chapter.
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. He removes every branch in Me that bears no fruit; every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in Me as I abide in you. Just 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; those who abide in Me, and I in them, bear much fruit; because apart from Me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch, and withers; such branches are gathered and thrown into a fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done to you. My Father is glorified in this, that you bear much fruit, and show yourselves to be My disciples.
You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in My name.
A few years ago, my wife and I attended the Southern Baptist Convention in Portland, Oregon, which is in the northwestern part of the States. Our convention, which is supposed to be the largest non-Protestant denomination in America, has an annual meeting, and 20,000-30,000 of us gather together. We go and listen to speakers and they have exhibits and specialists on different aspects of church work. My wife and I love to go to conventions.
When the Southern Baptist Convention was over, we really weren’t ready to go home. I happily noticed in the newspaper that the FPA was having their annual convention that year. You’ve heard of the FPA—Fruit Pickers of America. So we decided to attend the Fruit Pickers of America Convention. Surprisingly, it was a lot like our own convention. That had exhibits, a room full of stalls and exhibits where they were showing the latest shears for doing this, and the latest fruit picking instruments, and the latest baskets—different colors and sizes. They also had speakers, and we really enjoyed them. One I liked was “Fruit Picker Burn-out,” which evidently was common among the fruit pickers of that day. I think the message I enjoyed the most was the last one. This was the fellow who led the convention the year before in fruit picking. He was telling everybody how to do it. He was really dynamic. He just challenged and challenged those men and women to go out and pick more fruit than they had ever picked before—challenged beyond their ability.
When they dismissed, they all grabbed their baskets and went out for an afternoon of fruit picking. Kaye and I hung around to see the results. As the hours passed, the fruit pickers came dragging in without any joy, without any enthusiasm, and mostly without any fruit. So they couldn’t understand it. It stymied the convention. After they had all these exhibits, the latest techniques in fruit picking, and these motivational speakers, how could they go out and not pick a single fruit.
So they did what you usually do. They appointed a task committee to study the problem. Well, we couldn’t hang around for that; we went back home. But I read the results of it later. It seems they came to this conclusion: you can’t pick fruit unless, first of all, you bear fruit. They had concentrated all their efforts on the picking of fruit and none on the bearing of fruit.
You’ll notice how often in this passage of Scripture that Jesus speaks to us of bearing fruit. He says, unless you abide in Me, you cannot bear fruit. In this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit. The sense I get from this passage of Scripture is that we are to be fruit bearers. The emphasis here is on bearing fruit. In verse 8 he says, herein is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit. All of us want to glorify God. That ought to be the theme of every song, the theme of every sermon—that God be glorified. Well, how do we glorify Him? He says that God is glorified when we bear much fruit, and we become his disciples. The Greek literally has the idea of you show yourselves, prove yourselves to be disciples. So I want to talk to you tonight a bit about fruit bearing.
In these closing words as Jesus gives us what is normally called the Upper Room Discourse, he is speaking things of importance to these disciples. These are his last words. Notice the progression there: that we not just bear fruit, but that we bear more fruit, and much fruit. That is God glorified. So let me just mention three or four things about this.
1) Bearing fruit is proof that we are in Christ.
It is the proof of our union with Christ. You’ll notice that at the very beginning he says, I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser (or vine grower). He removes every branch in Me that bears no fruit. Later on in verse 6, he says, whoever does not abide in Me is thrown away like a branch, and withers. Such branches are gathered together and thrown into a fire and are burned. So the idea is that abiding in Jesus and bearing fruit are synonymous. If I am abiding in Jesus, if I have a vital union with the life of Jesus, the natural result will be fruit in my life.
He says, every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He removes it. Later on, he says, every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes it. Notice he doesn’t say that he prunes these non-bearing branches. He removes them. But the ones that do bear fruit, he prunes them. There is a big difference between pruning and removing. Now I don’t believe you can take this statement and say, oh, there’s proof there that a believer can be lost even after he is saved. I don’t think that is what he is talking about. The very fact that these branches bear no fruit proves that they have no vital union with Jesus.
I talked to a vineyard keeper about this sometime ago. I asked if he would help me throw some light on this. He said, oh yes, that’s very easy to understand. He said, in every vine there are branches who have only a superficial attachment to the vine—just a skin attachment. You can take a knife and cut that outer skin all around and the branch will fall off because the branch itself is not penetrating into the vine. And it has just enough of the life flowing through it to bear leaves and to stay there. But it has no vital union or connection. Therefore, it does not bear fruit. So he removes it. Why? Because if I am in Christ, and abiding in Christ, and he is abiding in me, then the evidence of that will be fruitfulness in my life.
Now, I think we need to define fruitfulness. What does the Bible mean when it talks about fruitfulness. I know it is this way in the States when we talking about bearing fruit, our minds immediately go to winning people to Christ. That is a very important part of bearing fruit. But I think it goes much further than that. Let me give you a definition of fruit. I don’t think you’ll find this in any book. Actually, you will find it in mine. That’s where I got this definition—from reading my book.
Fruit is the outward expression of the inner nature. Don’t you think that will work? If I see an apple hanging from a tree, I assume that is an apple tree. I see an orange hanging from a tree, and I know that’s an orange tree. I see spaghetti hanging from a tree, and I say, that’s a spaghetti tree! Now some people can tell what kind of tree it is by looking at the leaf, or at the bark. I can’t. I have to see the outward manifestation. I have to see the fruit. So, fruit is the outward manifestation of the inner nature. What is our inward nature? It is Christ himself. If I am abiding in Jesus Christ, somehow or in some way his life or character is going to be manifested in my life in an outward way so that people can see.
Now, it may not be a bumper crop. I remember one house where we lived when I was a boy, the people before us had planted a big grapevine in the back. They had tended it, but we didn’t know what to do with it. So we did nothing. It bore grapes, but they looked more like raisins than grapes. They were tiny, shriveled and tasteless. But they were grapes. They were the outward manifestation of the inward nature. I have to tell you, I have seen some Christians that you have to look hard to know if they are saved or not. They look more like raisins than they do grapes. They have no taste to them. But at least there is some manifestation of the character of Jesus. I say to you, a person may profess to be a part of the vine, but if he is not bearing fruit, if there is not the outward manifestation of the inner nature of Christ, he does not belong to Jesus. Fruitfulness is proof of our union with Jesus.
The wood of the vine and the branch is of absolutely no use apart from bearing fruit. As a matter of fact, in the Old Testament when they were prescribing the different kinds of wood that could be brought to burn as a sacrifice, they definitely said “not the wood of the vine.” Why? Because it doesn’t burn well; you can’t use it for fuel. It’s too soft and unstable to use for building. The only thing a branch is good for is bearing fruit. I take that as Jesus saying, the only way I can justify my existence in the Lord is if I am bearing fruit. A branch is worthless if it doesn’t bear fruit. I must say to you—and to myself—that unless I am bearing fruit, I am absolutely worthless to the Kingdom of God—just taking up space. So the first thing is this: fruitfulness is proof of our union with Christ.
2) Fruitfulness is produced by our union with Christ.
Notice the branches don’t produce the fruit. They bear the fruit. It is the vine that produces the fruit. The branch is just a grape rack that God has there to hang his fruit on. The branch can do nothing of itself. Jesus said, without me you can do nothing. It is the Lord Jesus who produces the fruit. I simply bear it. Now, what this means is that if I am going to be a fruitful Christian, I need to live the life of a branch. That’s it. Live the life of a branch. Abide in Jesus. Just rest in him; trust him for the results—the fruit. I want to make clear that when I talk about abiding in Jesus, I am not talking about idling in Jesus. I am not talking about sitting around passivly, with your arms folded. Oh no, Jesus was one of the busiest men you ever saw. And so were his disciples. Every Christian is going to be busy. What I am talking about is this inner abiding, resting in Christ.
You see, all a branch is required to do is make itself available to the vine. You make yourself available to the vine, and that’s all God asks of us. In our labors, we need to labor remembering that we rest, abide in him. You remember in Isaiah, chapter 30, verse 15, that great statement where he says, in quietness and confidence shall be your strength. You see, if you go back to chapter 30, verse 1, the people are running down to Egypt, trying to get horses and chariots from Egypt to save themselves. They are hustling and bustling back and forth, all this activity, and God says, no, that’s not the way. In returning and rest shall be your salvation. In quietness and confidence shall be your strength. But the very next words say, yet they would not do so.
I’m afraid this describes us so much today. We live such busy, busy lives thinking that our busyness is going to somehow produce fruit. But it is the Lord who does the producing. My responsibility isn’t to produce fruit; my responsibility is just to be available for God to hang it on me.
The other day I was passing through the kitchen. I glanced down at my water faucet, and it was looking downcast. I could tell it was discouraged. So I stopped and said, water faucet, you are looking low today. The water faucet said, I am feeling low. I said, why are you feeling low? He said, well, it’s because I haven’t done anything for you today. I’ve seen you pass by a dozen times, yet I’ve never once quenched your thirst. I’ve never once washed your hands. I tried to turn myself on two or three times, but I managed to squeak out a few drops, but they didn’t amount to anything. I am sorry, lord, I haven’t served you today. I said, oh, you dumb water faucet. I don’t want you turning yourself on; all you will do is to make a mess. I have passed by you a dozen times today, and I have always noticed you were there. You were there, and I knew if I wanted to use you, all I had to do was touch you and turn you on, and you would quench my thirst, and you would wash my hands. I said, water faucet, you have pleased me today because you have been what:? –abiding. You’ve been there available to me. If I had wanted to use you, I could have used you.
You see, I am to live the life of a branch. I make myself available to the Lord. Now, this should take a great deal of strain off of anybody who thinks that it’s up to you to produce No, Jesus does the producing.
In the States they have a bad habit of calling churches by the name of the pastor. I pastor MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church, but they call it Bro. Dunn’s church. You’ve heard of Dr. W. A. Criswell? Oh, we went to Dr. Criswell’s church last Sunday. We know it’s not our church, but we begin to think maybe it is. Oh, Lord, it’s my church, and I’m responsible for all these people. I am responsible to see that the church grows, and that the budget grows. That’s why we have over a thousand men leave the ministry every year in the States, just in my own denomination. It is too much.
One day I was reading in Matthew 16 where Jesus said, upon this rock I will build my church. I said, Lord, you mean to tell me this is your church? He said, yes. I said, man, it’s yours! I was never so happy to shed anything in all my life. Then I read a little further, and he said, I will build my church. I said, Lord, I thought I was supposed to build it. He said, no, that’s been one of the problems. You’ve been trying to build it. I will build my church. I want to say to you, friends, the responsibility for fruit, results, growth is not with us. That’s God’s responsibility. One man plants, another man waters, but it is God who gives the increase. My fruitfulness comes simply by being available to help—and resting in him, knowing that as he lives in me, and I keep up this vital communion and union with Jesus Christ, that will happen.
We used to have a farm in Arkansas, and we had a dirt road that led down to a lake. There were four magnificent trees that lined that road. It was a beautiful picture as you stood at the head of that road looking down towards the lake. As I was walking down that road, I noticed something peculiar about the last tree in line. It was as though somebody had taken a ruler and drawn a line right down the center of that tree. One side of that tree was alive with green leaves; the other side of that tree was as dead as a door nail. All the leaves on it were dead. That was an interesting phenomenon. We were back in November for Thanksgiving, and by that time all the leaves had changed and had fallen off the trees. I was walking down the road, and I came to that tree. Lo, and behold, on the side where it was alive and had the green leaves, the branches were bare. All the leaves had fallen off. But on the other side of the tree that was dead, the leaves were still there. I thought, that is strange. I noticed another thing. While I had been there that summer, we had done quite a bit of cutting, and I had cut quite a few branches off some trees. We didn’t have time to burn them all, so we just let them lay where they fell. I noticed that the leaves on those branches were dead, but they hadn’t fallen off. They were still attached to those branches. Now, I didn’t understand that.
I had a friend who is now in glory. He knew a little bit about everything. When I got back home, I said, Dr. McBeth, here is what I saw at the farm. I said, can you explain this to me? He said, oh, yes. He said first of all I must understand that dead leaves don’t fall off trees. They are pushed off by the sap as it begins to fall in the tree. The life pushes the dead leaves off. And where there is no life, the dead leaves remain.
I got to thinking about that. Isn’t God smart? What if every fall, I had to climb every tree on the farm and pull the dead leaves off those trees. Here I am. I’ve been up in this one tree all day long, just about got all the dead leaves off, but there are 150 more trees to go. I’ll never finish by spring. And the Lord said, son, what are you doing? I said, well, I’m pulling off these dead leaves, Lord, so that you can put on green ones come spring. God said, I don’t remember creating anybody that dumb. He said, son, that’s not necessary. All you have to do is to make certain that the life is flowing through the tree, and it will of itself push all the dead leaves off and produce the new leaves and fruit. Isn’t that great? All I have to do is to make certain that the life is flowing unhindered through that tree. That is the same way it is in the Christian life. All I have to do is to make certain that the life of Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s fullness, is flowing unhindered through my life. You know
what? He’ll push off the old dead leaves of hate, pride, jealousy; and he’ll push on the new fruit of love, joy, patience.
3) Our fruitfulness progresses by our union with Christ
I have already mentioned this progression, and I think we need to pay attention to it. First of all, there is that branch that bears no fruit. Then he says that every branch that bears fruit, he does what? He prunes it. Well, that’s a fine way to reward me, Lord. He prunes it so that it can bear more fruit. The one thing the Lord wants out of you is to bear more fruit, and eventually much fruit.
So, here I am, a branch in the vineyard. Suddenly, the word comes down through the grapevine. The vinedresser has entered the vineyard, and he has big shears with him. Oh, I’m nervous. Then he is standing before me. I say, you’re not. He says, I am. He starts, and I say, not that one Lord. That’s one of my prettiest branches. Lord, why are you doing this to me? Here is another one. Oh, no, Lord not that one. I really like that one. He unmercifully takes the pruning shears and cuts it off. After awhile I don’t have anything. I look down, and I say, Lord, look at all these you took off. He said, oh yes, I only have cut off that which was draining strength from you so that the good branches could bear more fruit.
I tell you there are many times in the life of the believer when we are going to go through trials and tribulations and pain. It’s a purging, a pruning. Why is the Lord doing this? He is cutting off my best work, some of my best activities. He’s taking away, removing. These are good things—nothing wrong with them. He says, yes, they are good, but your involvement in them is draining away your energy and strength so that it cannot be given over to the primary purpose of bearing fruit. So, he prunes us.
Remember, pruning is not punishment. You may feel that the Lord is punishing you at times. My dear friend, it’s for only one reason—so that you might bear more fruit–so that the inner Christ might be made more obvious in your outer life. Remember, it is the father who does the pruning, not you. He doesn’t trust your judgment.
If the Father left it up to me, I’d save everything. I’d say, oh, but these are good works. He would say, yes, but some of them are good, but not the best. The Father prunes. I don’t do the pruning. I know some people who walk around with their finger on their pulse all the time, wondering how they are doing–trying to be their own Holy Spirit, and convict themselves. You don’t need to worry about that, folks. Listen, if you need pruning, he will see to it that you are pruned.
You come to the place where you bear fruit. Then you bear more fruit. God prunes you even more. Listen to me carefully, folks. The reward for being fruitful is pruning. Does that strike you as a little strange? You say, oh, I want to be fruitful for my Lord. I want people to see Jesus in me. Well, you are inviting the vinedresser into your garden. You are inviting him to prune your life. I don’t see how you could come through a Keswick week without somehow praying and desiring in your heart to be more like Jesus. Lord, I want to bear more fruit. Remember, if you want more fruit, you don’t add more branches. That’s what Baptists do in the States. We are not reaching enough people; let’s start some more activities. I know you don’t do that over here, but that’s the way it is over there. You don’t make a vine more fruitful by adding more branches; you do it by making the branches that you have healthier. Then, when we bear much fruit, our Father is glorified.
Dr. J. P. McBeth, whom I mentioned a moment ago, knew a little bit about everything. He was an expert vinedresser. He would call me on the phone and say, Bro. Dunn, the grapes are ready. Come on over. We’d drive 15-20 minutes over to his house. I have never seen grapes like those. They must have been grapes like they had in Canaan. They were huge. You couldn’t keep Dr. McBeth from talking about his grapes. He talked about his grapes all the time. He would push so many grapes on us that we would have to let some of them rot. We couldn’t eat them all. But, you know, he was proud of those grapes. They glorified him as a great vine keeper. And Jesus says, my Father is proud and glorified when you bear much fruit.
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2006