I AM THE VINE
Notes of a lecture given at Rehoboth Chapel, Bromley, September 2003.
The language is that of a parable, an illustration of spiritual things by use of a familiar picture from the natural world.
As with all parables it is important to grasp the main lessons and not to struggle to give a spiritual meaning to every secondary detail.
The importance and relevance of the subject.
It is a sad feature of church life in this country that there is so little fruit. Few in numbers, little warmth of love, lacking in holy zeal and hard-working commitment.
It is a sad confession that so many of us bemoan our lack of fruit and the fact that we are, as Lady Huntingdon puts it, `prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.’
What then, are the main lessons of the passage?
1. Jesus Christ is the Vine. This is the vine stem with its roots and constant supply of life to the branches, v.1.
A great declaration. An exclusive claim. There is no spiritual life apart from Christ who is the Life. Every evidence of spiritual life is evidence of union to Christ. All true believers are deeply conscious of their total dependence on Christ for spiritual life.
2. God the Father is the Husbandman or Gardener tending the Vine and its branches, vv.1-3.
It is the great concern of the Father that His Son be honoured by the fruitfulness of the believers. Fatherly chastisement is the purging away of that which hinders fruitfulness, v.2. It is through the words of Christ, v.3, that we are cleansed or pruned, this is sanctification. See also v.8, the Father is glorified as we bear much fruit.
3. Disciples are the branches. This is a picture of the Church, vv.2 and 5.
The disciples Christ was speaking to are a prototype of the spreading Christian Church. Those who would believe on Christ through the testimony of these men, as in John 17.20.
4. Our Lord’s concern is that branches bear much fruit, v.5. Notice the progression, v.2 fruit, v.2 more fruit, v.5 much fruit.
5. Fruitfulness is dependent on union with the Vine.
Notice how insistent the Lord is about this union in vv. 1,4,5,6,7. We need then to ask how this union is experienced. It is spiritual. It is prayerful. It is meditative. It is in the experience of spiritual need recognised and supplied by the Vine.
6. No fruit is evidence of no union and has the most solemn consequences.
The Father removes unfruitful branches, v.2, v.6. What are these branches? They never had a vital relationship with Christ. This does not teach that real believers can fall away. It does teach that some look like
branches and are very much involved with the real branches but are apostates and fall away in barrenness to be burned in the final condemnation.
7. The Saviour’s words, the Holy Spirit’s work, and our prayers are intimately involved in fruit-bearing.
The whole concept of `abiding with the Vine’ implies a relationship in which there is a two-way correspondence. The Lord’s words to us in Scripture and by the Spirit in us, and our words to the Lord in our prayers to Him by the Spirit in us. In v.7 it is our fruit-bearing that will be a very important part of our praying.
8. The Saviour’s love for us and our love for Him are essential to fruit-bearing, v.9.
Just as a vine and its branches need the warm sunshine to prosper, so do believers need to live in the warmth of the Lord’s love, and this will draw out our love to Him.
9. Keeping our Lord’s commandments is one great aspect of our friendship and love to the Lord and is part of this fruit-bearing, vv.10 and 14.
Living in dependence on the Lord clearly implies living a life of humble obedience to His commands. Sometimes there is resultant fruit when our example and testimony are used in the conversion and strengthening of others. The life of the barren branch is a life of disobedience. It is in this obedient life we shall know real joy, as in v.11.
10. The love of others is another great evidence of fruitfulness, v.12. This mutual love is very much in our Saviour’s mind as He moves towards the Cross, that greatest of all evidences of love as in v.13. Notice Galatians 5.22-26.
11. Fruitful disciples are chosen disciples, v.16, who bear fruit in conversions.
God’s choice of us not ours for Him. Notice this strong word, `ordained you’ to go, to go into all the world, to bear fruit in the conversion of sinners and the building up of the Church.
Pray without ceasing. Obey without delay. Abide in the Vine.