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The Upper Room Ministry (5)

C Jones, Cardiff

John Chapter 15

In John chs.13 and 14 we read of the teaching given by the Lord Jesus Christ to His disciples in the Upper Room. He spoke words of comfort and instruction in anticipation of His separation from them. Soon He would glorify His Father and make possible the salvation of believers by suffering, bleeding, and dying on the Cross. He suffered there, instead of us, the punishment our sins deserve from God. The Lord had spoken to them of the things that would happen in the future and about how they should behave one to another (ch.13). He had spoken to them of their future relationships with Himself, His Father, and the Holy Spirit (ch.14).

"I am the true vine"

The Lord had concluded the discourse recorded in the previous chapter by saying to His disciples, "Arise, let us go hence" (Jn 14.31). It would seem that the Lord and His disciples left the Upper Room, and as they made their way to Gethsemane He continued to speak words of encouragement and warning to them. The disciples would soon be called upon to glorify God, to witness, to bear spiritual fruit, and to suffer for their departed Lord in a world which was hostile to them.

In the Old Testament, the vine is used as a symbol of Israel (Ps 80.8). God showered blessings upon Israel but the nation did not produce the fruit He desired (Is 5.4-7; Hos 10.1).

Fruit expected from the vine

The Lord said to the disciples, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman". Now He spoke of His Father as the husbandman, of believers as the branches, and of the branches bearing "fruit" in accordance with the will of God for His glory. The Lord is the true vine and the believer should bear fruit, that is, likeness to Him in thought, word, and deed. The Holy Spirit will produce this Christ-likeness in an obedient believer. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness [kindness], goodness, faith [faithfulness], meekness, and temperance [self-control] (Gal 5.22,23). It is the will of God that a believer should be fruitful, with Christ-likeness that results in communicating the gospel and doing good works as led and empowered by the Holy Spirit (Col 1.6,10; Eph 2.10). Such fruit will glorify God, bringing joy and blessing to the believer, and show the reality of his profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 1.11).

Tending the vine

God, the husbandman, will prune and clean the fruit-producing branches so that they bear more fruit (Jn 15.2). He will remove from believers the things of the world that would hinder their spiritual development and service. A tree, planted in an appropriate situation, and fed and cared for, will inevitably grow and bear fruit (Ps 1.3). This fruit is evidence of the life flowing from the roots through the trunk and into the branches. A tree can be identified by the fruit it produces (Mt 7.16-20). Believers should bear fruit all through their lives, even in old age (Ps 92.12-15).

God "taketh away" any branch which does not bear fruit (Jn 15.2). It must be stressed that believers cannot lose their salvation (Jn 3.36; 10.28,29). The verse could refer, as in 1 Corinthians 11.30, to the physical death of a believer who is not bearing fruit. However, the words translated "taketh away" could be translated as "picketh up" or "lifteth up". If a branch of a vine touches the earth it puts down roots and does not bear fruit. The unfruitful believer must be lifted away from earthly, worldly things so that he will become fruitful. God the Father is the husbandman, tending the branches and watching for believers to bear fruit. A branch has to stay in contact with the vine if it is to receive nourishment from the vine and so bear fruit. Life is given through the Lord, and the Holy Spirit, who indwells every believer (1 Cor 6.19), causes fruit to be produced by a spiritually healthy believer. The believer, therefore, must abide in Christ and feed on the Word of God, being taught by the Holy Spirit (Ps 119.105; 2 Tim 3.16; 1 Pet 2.2), spending time with fellow-believers, to be edified and to edify them through the exercise of spiritual gifts.

Unfruitful believers

If a believer prayerfully meditates on the Word of God, and obeys its teaching, then he will grow spiritually and bear spiritual fruit. On the other hand, un-confessed sin and worldliness in a believer’s life will hinder the production of fruit and grieve the Spirit (1 Jn 1.9; Eph 4.30). Those who love the world and the things of the world will not bear spiritual fruit (James 4.4; 1 Jn 2.15). In some cases worldly success and love of money has stunted a believer’s spiritual growth (1 Tim 6.9-10). Even what appears to be service for God can cause a believer to fail to become more Christ-like if that service is not carried out for the glory of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Such service is undertaken using only human ability and with the intention of exalting self.

Bearing fruit again

Unfruitful believers may once more bear spiritual fruit by responding to the teaching and cleansing of the Spirit through the Word of God (Jn 15.3; Eph 5.26). God may inflict chastening upon them for their blessing and His glory. This is not pleasant, "nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Heb 12.11). Fruitfulness will be enjoyed by those who lead lives which are separated from the world and to God (2 Cor 6.14-17; Ps 1.1,2), and whose minds are fixed on things above and not on earthly things as they constantly turn to the Scriptures to be nourished (Col 3.1,2). It must also be remembered that believers received a once and for all cleansing from sin when they were saved, but also require daily cleansing by the Word of God (Jn 13.10; 15.3; 2 Tim 3.16).

Branches for fruit bearing or burning

The branch of a vine is good only for bearing fruit or for burning, it cannot be used for any other purpose (Ezek 15.2-4). Without the Lord, a believer will not be fruitful. The fruitful believer must abide in Him, obeying His commandments, and continually depending upon Him for grace, strength and enabling. Without the Lord we can do nothing (Jn 15.4-5).

The branches referred to in v.6 are seen by some as believers who have not remained in communication with the Lord and, in consequence, have failed to produce spiritual fruit. The dead works that they produce in their own strength will be burned up at the Judgment Seat of the Lord Jesus Christ, though they themselves will be saved (1 Cor 3.11-15). However, v.6 could refer to those who profess to be believers, and may even be found among true believers, but they themselves have never been saved by grace through faith in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ and His completed work on the Cross (Eph 2.8). These false professors have no spiritual life in them. Their testimony will be rejected by men, and they will ultimately suffer eternal separation from God in the lake of fire (Rev 20.14; Mt 13.40-42).

Those who abide in Christ and have His words and teaching abiding in them will grow spiritually. They will know and obey His will. Their prayers will be in accordance with His will and for His glory, and these prayers will be answered (Jn 15.7,16). As they obey the will of God they will be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. They will grow to spiritual maturity, serve God, and bear "fruit", and then "more fruit" and then "much fruit", as they become more and more like their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (vv.2,5). In so doing they will glorify God and show to the world that they are the Lord’s disciples (v.8).

To be continued.


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