John 15:1-11 | Abiding In Christ | Andrew Gutierrez
Topic: Worship Gatherings Passage: John 15:1–15:11
Please turn in your Bibles to John 15. We begin a new chapter and with it a new section of John, still considered part of the upper room discourse. There’s debate as to whether Jesus was actually in the upper room at this point, but it’s still part of the final instructions he’s given his disciples before he departs.
John 15:1-11 is our text for the morning, but I’ll be honest with you right from the beginning, we’ll get to verse 2 and that’s about it. So, if you’re excited about 3 through 11, that’s good. You’ll have to come back in the weeks to follow. It’s kind of hard to do these entire eleven verses all in one message, so we’ll kind of take our time and let it marinate for a while, if that’s okay with you.
Well, with this new chapter, as I mentioned, we start a new section really in this last discourse, this upper room discourse. I’m calling this series “The Vine, the Branches, and the Vinedresser.” I think that’s what it says up there. Yes, “The Vine, the Branches, and the Vinedresser.” In this text, it’s clear that there are exhortations for the believer, the remaining believer.
While Christ goes to heaven, he expects his believers to do certain things, to depend on him in a certain way. And we see all the players involved in this section, at least specifically in the first seventeen verses. You see Jesus calling himself the true vine. You see the branches talked about, and that’s us. There are actually two different kinds of branches. And also you hear about the vinedresser, or the farmer, the husbandman, whatever you may call him. The one who tends to the branches.
All three are mentioned in this passage, and so we’re going to look at it together and find out exactly what Christ is saying to us and all that goes into his exhortations. So, follow along as I read John 15:1-11.
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.
I want you to maybe go back to a time where you may have been driving down a road or walking or whatever it may be, and you come across a vineyard. Vineyards are some of the most beautiful places, in some of the most beautiful places in the world, actually. Oftentimes in coastal or cool settings. If you’re in California, there are a number of vineyards in California.
But I want you to picture yourself looking over a vineyard. Maybe you see the clouds, and there’s fog coming in. You see the rolling hills. You see grapes, and maybe over to the right you see someone tending to the grapes. You see a lot of things when you kind of get a bird’s eye view of the vineyard; and in a sense, that’s what we’re going to be doing in John 15.
Jesus calls his disciples to bear fruit, and he likens them to the fruit of the vine or a grape. And he likens his father to the one tending to the branches. So, Jesus is telling us to do something, to live a certain way; and he wants us to understand some things before he gets to all of these exhortations.
This passage (John 15) isn’t just bear fruit. There’s more to it than that. He’s teaching us what it means to bear fruit, what happens if you don’t bear fruit, what will happen when you do bear fruit, who’s overseeing the bearing of fruit, who is the power behind the bearing of the fruit. There’s a lot here, more than just bear fruit.
And so what I want to do in a sense is, as you kind of have in your mind this picture of a vineyard and you’re looking at the people managing it and the fruit and the different items in the vineyard, I want you to think spiritually. I want you to kind of see in a sense all the things Jesus is teaching us about bearing fruit. What all do we have to learn about being obedient out of love to him?
In this passage, we’ll see an explanation of the vinedresser, the vine, the branches, different types of branches. We’ll look at pruning. We’ll look at what happens to dead branches. We’ll look at the term abiding and what it means. We’ll understand the love Christ has for us and the love the Father has for the Son. We’ll understand glory, we’ll understand joy, and we’ll understand answered prayer. There’s a lot in here, and so we’re going to try to seek to maybe take a bird’s eye view and look at every aspect of abiding in Christ and bearing fruit for him.
And before we get into this chapter, what does it mean to bear fruit? What’s that mean? Well, in a simple definition you can say this: Bearing fruit is growing in loving obedience to Christ. Growing, advancing, progressing in loving obedience to Christ. That’s what we mean when we say bearing fruit; or better yet, that’s what the Holy Spirit means when he says bearing fruit.
So, if we are going to grow rightly, we must understand the entire scope of what Jesus teaches in regards to fruit bearing. So what we’re going to do over the next two, maybe three, ten—I don’t know—weeks is we’re going to go through nine features in the panorama of fruit bearing. What all does fruit bearing entail. We want to see the whole picture as Jesus walks us verse-by-verse through nine features in the panorama of fruit bearing.
1. The Father and Son are Active in Fruit Bearing
Number one: First thing to know before we even start to think about obeying and bearing fruit, the first thing to understand is that the Father and Son are active in fruit bearing. The Father and Son are active in fruit bearing. Jesus is about to give his disciples detailed instruction on bearing fruit for him.
Now, remember, just to set this in context, Jesus is about to leave. Last week we learned that he said, I’m not going to be speaking to you very much longer. He’s about to go to the cross, die, be buried, rise again. He’ll reveal himself to about five hundred eyewitnesses. Then he’ll go back to heaven. He’s about to leave and no longer teach them in the same way anymore. And he’s promised that he would leave another teacher, the Holy Spirit, with them to teach them. And this teacher will actually be better for them in a sense, because no longer will the teacher be outside of them, but now the Holy Spirit will be inside of them.
So Jesus is promising his disciples a number of things, and now he’s about to get to the part where he exhorts them to live a certain way. But before he does that, he shows them that the Father, who he’s been talking about all through his earthly ministry, the Father and the Son himself, they care about the disciples’ fruit bearing. And the Father and the Son care about your fruit bearing and my fruit bearing. The Father and the Son care; and in fact, they don’t just care, they play a role in our fruit bearing.
Jesus says in verse 1: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” Now, why would Jesus say that he is the true vine? The opposite of true is what? False. The false vine. Jesus is distinguishing himself from another vine. See, if you were a disciple hearing this straight from Jesus’ mouth about 2,000 years ago, when you heard vine, you would think of one entity—Israel. You would think that Israel is spoken of in the Old Testament as the vine, the one that’s meant to be prosperous. When you heard vine, you also pictured prosperity. Israel was meant to be the prosperous nation which would show off God to all the other nations. Israel was meant to be a vine, a picture of prosperity for the Lord, as a testimony to the Lord.
Psalm 80:8-9, the Psalmist says this: “You brought a vine out of Egypt.” Now, you remember who came out of Egypt in Exodus? Israel. “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.” So he brought the vine out of Egypt, drove out the nations from Canaan. It wasn’t their land in the first place. It was God’s land. Drove out the nations of Canaan, land of Canaan, planted Israel in that land, in his land.
And they were meant to prosper and to actually bear fruit for the nations. “You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.” And if you go through the rest of Psalm 80, the Psalmist basically says, why are you dealing so harshly with the vine? And the answer is, we know, because Israel was not following the ways of the Lord; and therefore, they were not being prosperous for the rest of the nations. But Israel was meant to be the vine, although they failed.
So, Jesus comes along and says, I’m the true vine. Now, that would have been a rather blasphemous statement to make, but Jesus made it. Why? Because he is the true vine. He is the only source of prosperity for the world. He is true, incarnate God. He’s the true vine, but that’s not the end of it. “My Father is the vinedresser” or husbandman or farmer, owner. He’s the one that owns all of the branches and will see to it that they produce what he wants them to produce. That’s what Jesus is saying about the Father.
The vine and the vinedresser in this way both desire the production of fruit. A vine brings nutrients to the branches and they bear fruit. So, the vine is the source of strength for the branches in order to produce fruit. But this is also saying that the farmer is intent on seeing a final production of fruit. So, the farmer and the vine both have a desire for fruit to come off of those branches.
The Father and Son in that way both desire the righteousness of the believer to increase. The Father and the Son both desire (yours and mine) our righteousness to increase. The Father and the Son don’t just desire this, they’re active in growing us, active in bringing about fruit. And this is from eternity past to the present to eternity future.
Now, I’m going to ask you to turn to a few places this morning, so got your Bibles and hands ready? All right, Ephesians 1 is the first place we’re going to, and what I want to show you, as you’re turning there, what I want to show you—I’m going to have you turn to three places immediately. I want to show you the Father and the Son’s role in eternity past, in the present, and in eternity future of bringing about what they desire in a believer.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ [so there are two members of the Trinity right there], who [speaking of the Father] has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
So, the Father in eternity past chose us—didn’t just choose us for salvation—chose us specifically to be saved in his Son. So, the Father and Son had a plan from eternity past that you would be saved in the Son, in Jesus Christ, for the purpose of the Father, for the Father’s will, for what he intended for you. So, that’s eternity past. The Father intended to save us in the Son and to receive something from us, receive glory, receive praise from us. That’s eternity past.
Now, turn to 1 Thessalonians 5. The very end of this letter to the church. 1 Thessalonians, starting in chapter 5, verse 23. “Now may the God of peace [and when you see God in the New Testament epistles, that’s almost always referring to the Father] himself sanctify you completely.”
Now, we often talk as believers about pursuing our own sanctification and pursuing holiness and Christ-likeness, and that’s true. Sanctification is said to be synergistic—two workers. We work. God works. Where do we start and he starts, and we end and he ends? We don’t know. We work. He works. Paul acknowledges this in 1 Corinthians 15 when he says, I progressed more than all the other apostles. Yet not I, the grace of God in me. So Paul realizes there’s two workers in our sanctification.
Now, in our salvation, how many workers are there? One. Here’s what we bring to salvation: deadness and sin. And he raises us to new life. So, one worker in salvation. In sanctification there’s two workers. We’re called to work. We’re called to obey, and when we obey, we look back and we go, my goodness, the grace of God working in me.
So, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, we understand what it means when he says, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you,” make you more holy, set you apart, make you like him. “May the God of peace sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
So far, who is the one spoken of as sanctifying us? The Father. Verse 25: “Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” So, the Father sanctifies us, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is with us to empower us, the Father and Son are presently active in our growing in holiness, in our sanctification.
Now, turn to Romans 8, finally. Romans 8. Well, maybe they had a plan, the Father and Son, in eternity past; and maybe they’re sanctifying us now, but what if they lose us? What if we don’t make it to the end? Well, don’t ask that question, because that can’t happen.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew [that’s eternity past] he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified [future].
This is saying that when the Father and Son—you put all these three verses together—when the Father and Son choose you, choose myself, to be in the Son for salvation from eternity past, they will continue that work in the present. They will sanctify us. And in the future, we will end in final glorification because of what they do. They see it through from beginning to the end, the Father and the Son.
That’s why Jesus says to the disciples, who are scared, nervous, will be tempted to walk away from him and actually at times will do that for a few moments—he says to those men that the Father and the Son not only care about their growth, care about their obedience, but will be a means for it. Very important to us as believers today.
This passage—one of the doctrinal truths you can see in John 15—is the idea of a New Testament believer being in Christ, united to Christ. It’s not as if the Father and the Son are up there watching us with a clipboard, grading us, saying, I wonder if they’ll make it. Christ has sent his Spirit to be inside of us to grow us, to give us power. And we’ll see later on in John 15 that the Son is telling us how to receive that power, how to abide in him in order to see that power come about and actually bear fruit.
So, back to John 15. The Father and the Son are active in fruit bearing. One is the true vine. One is spoken of as the vinedresser. Jesus wants the disciples to know that he and the Father are active in fulfilling what they want us to accomplish. The Son and the Father are active in fulfilling what they want the disciple to accomplish.
When we lived in Los Angeles, we lived in the San Fernando Valley, which was rather warm. There were actually two temperatures in the Valley: hot and hotter. So, when it was at the hotter temperature in the summer, we would go to the beach sometimes; and we’d oftentimes go to Zuma Beach over in Malibu. To get from the Valley to Zuma Beach, you would have to go through a canyon, through some mountains, through this canyon, and there’s a small vineyard as you go from the 101 to the 1. There’s a small vineyard up on a hill, small enough that really one man probably could have managed the whole vineyard.
As I was preparing for this message, I thought about that vineyard. One man going through this vineyard examining every branch. But there’s a problem with human farmers. There’s a problem. They’re at the mercy of the weather. Adverse weather might affect the crop negatively. Maybe a human farmer is tired, short on time, whatever. Maybe he can’t get to all the branches, can’t care for all the branches. There’s certain limits to human farmers.
But the heavenly Father controls everything. Nothing will affect a branch that he does not intend. He is sovereign over the entire vineyard, sovereign over every single branch, sovereign over every single piece of fruit. And this is what the Lord wants us to understand. The Father is the vinedresser. There is no part of your Christian life that is somehow out of his control or that he doesn’t care about. He cares about it all. He’s sovereign over it all. He will maneuver it however he determines and calls for you to be faithful in that.
Now, we’ll get later on in John 15 to the human side of this, but for a moment at the beginning, John’s talking about the sovereign side, the divine side of our growth. And both exist. God, the owner of our spiritual vineyard, owns all the branches; and he will receive fruit from the branches that bear fruit. He never tires in caring for them; and in fact, the vine that they are connected to is actually the perfect vine with perfect power that offers perfect nourishment, Jesus Christ the Son.
A final production of fruit will be obtained from the lives of all believers. Philippians 1:6 says this. Paul says this to the Philippian church at the very beginning of his letter: “I am sure of this [What are you sure of, Paul?], that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.” That sounds pretty definite. When the Father has a plan for our lives, chooses us in the Son from eternity past, he will make sure that he brings about the purposes for our life in the Son until that final day. He will do it.
The Father, Son, and we know from other passages, the Holy Spirit, view our fruit bearing as absolutely necessary. Now, I want that to be two things for you. That statement—the Father, the Son, and the Spirit view our fruit bearing as absolutely necessary. I want us to take away two things from that. One, comfort. God is not up in heaven just waiting to see if you’ll do everything without giving you any power to do it. He is working in the lives of his people. So is the Son. So is the Spirit.
But I don’t just want it to be a comfort, I want it to be a challenge to you because later on he’ll start to give you commands to obey. If it was all just based on the Father’s doing, you’d just kind of sit back and go, great. I’ll get there one day. But he calls us to do things like obey, repent, trust, act, work, strive—all with his power.
I think some of us may need to be reminded that the Father and Son are active in our fruit bearing. Some of us sometimes act as if God were distant, and we were constantly on our own as believers. If that’s you and you have a tendency to act as if it’s just, me, poor me; I don’t have any power to overcome this trial, whatever it may be, you need to hear that the Father and the Son are active in our obedience. They empower us.
But some of us may need to be reminded that our constant fruit bearing is a priority to God. Well, I retired from my career; I’ll just kind of retire from serving the body of Christ. No. Well, I’ve kind of done so many things in my past. I’ve read these books and memorized these passages, but right now I’m just going to kind of coast until the finish line. No, the Father and the Son’s priority is that you finish the race with endurance.
You know track coaches teach their runners, you run through the finish line. You don’t slow down at the end. The faithful runner runs through the finish line for the glory of Christ, using every last bit of strength he gives, for his glory. Whatever we can do, we strive to bear fruit to the glory of God.
2. The Father Takes Away and Prunes the Branches
Now, what does the vinedresser, the Father, do about different kinds of branches? That’s point number two. Second point in understanding the panorama of fruit bearing: The Father takes away and prunes the branches. The Father takes away some branches, and he prunes other branches. Verse 2: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away.” Now, there are two types of branches according to this verse.
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit is the first type of branch. Let’s examine that type of branch first. Who are these branches? So, this is a question that many believers will have. Who are these branches? There are branches that don’t bear fruit, and then the Father takes them away. Who are they? Who is this speaking of?
Well, there are a few options. One option: true believers who fall away. So, true believers, once in the vine, but then fall away because they don’t bear fruit, and the Father takes them and takes them away. I do not believe that that’s what he’s talking about.
Why? Because earlier in John he said these words. John quoted Jesus saying this: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29). You combine that with Ephesians 1 that says the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance, and you’ve got three members of the Trinity hanging on to you. This isn’t a believing branch that somehow gets lost, falls off because it doesn’t bear fruit.
John 6:37, Jesus says this: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” He doesn’t say, all the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I’ll probably keep most of them. I’ll never cast out any of them. You start in Christ, you finish in Christ. So it’s not the first option.
Maybe there’s a second option. Maybe these branches are Christians taken to heaven as discipline. So, they’ve been in Christ, but maybe they’re in some sin for a while, so the Lord says, okay, you’re done here. I’m taking you to heaven before you can do anymore damage. Maybe that’s the group this is talking about.
Well, these branches, if you look further down in John 15:6, we learn more about what happens to these branches. “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.” Now, that’s language of judgment and damnation. That’s language that Jesus uses for those people who are not in him, who are judged by him. This isn’t talking about believers.
The only other place where fire is used to speak of believers—well, I shouldn’t say the only—1 Peter. But 1 Corinthians 3 says that a believer will be rewarded for their good works in the body; and if they do things that are just kind of wood, hay and stubble, those things will be burned away. But 1 Corinthians 3 makes the point, this isn’t the final burning. This isn’t the final judgment. It’s just talking about our works as a believer that aren’t so wonderful. He burns those away so that we may stand pure before him. But everywhere else—fire, taken away, gathered, taken away—that’s spoken of as being gathered for final judgment.
So, these people are not Christians. Verse 6. These are people who do not abide in Christ. When you become a Christian, immediately you are in Christ. That’s the beauty of the gospel. It doesn’t say, okay, you said your prayer, you repented of your sin and trusted in Christ; we’ll see how that goes for a probationary period for a year or so. And then if you kind of do a good job, then we’ll put you in Christ. That’s not what happens. When you’re a believer, you’re immediately in Christ. These branches are not in Christ.
Third possibility for who these branches could be: professing believers severed from superficial connection to Christ. Professing believers severed from superficial connection to Christ. Now, this not only makes sense theologically as you look through the rest of the Bible, this makes sense in John’s own gospel. Who is the exact picture of this? Judas. The exact picture. Well, maybe Judas was a believer before, but then he didn’t believe anymore. That’s not what John 6 says.
Here’s what John 6:63 and 64 says: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Now, Jesus is not talking to the Pharisees. Jesus is talking to the disciples that were following him; and he looks at them and says, there are some of you, and they would have called themselves followers, disciples, there are some of you who do not believe.
And then in parentheses John tells us this: “(For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)” Jesus knew from the very beginning that Judas would betray him.
If you go earlier in John, chapter 2, it says that people were coming to Christ, but he himself did not entrust himself to all men because he knew what was in all men. He knew that some were coming out of true repenting hearts and saying, we trust in you; we’ll follow you wherever you go. And he knew that some were coming just saying that. But he knew what was in their hearts.
John, same friend of Jesus, the one whom Jesus loved, the one who reclined at the side of Jesus, the one who writes to us and knows all of these things, John, later on in his life writes a letter to the church and says this about those who went out from them. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (John 2:19). They went out because it’s plain that not all people who profess to be in Christ are actually in Christ. These are the people referred to here.
Now, it seems that today in our age many Christians don’t have a category for this type of person. If you looked one way twenty years ago, and you walk away from the faith, people oftentimes think, well, they’re probably in Christ but just having a bad few decades. Maybe they’re still okay.
And I’m not trying to make light of that at all. But people try to hold onto something they saw in an eight-year-old or a twelve-year-old or a twenty-one-year-old. All over the New Testament the Scriptures teach that when you’re in Christ, you progress. It’s not perfect. Watch any of our lives. It’s not perfect, but you do grow. You do become more holy.
And to say that, well, maybe some people don’t, really diminishes the work of the Holy Spirit and God the Father and God the Son. We believe God is actually so powerful that he can raise a dead person to life and once they’re alive can keep them growing. To say that he just gives power at salvation and then kind of takes the hands off the wheel and says, we’ll see where this turns out, is not the testimony of the New Testament.
He finishes what he starts. You can see examples of this in Matthew 7, Matthew 13, 1 John 2, the book of Hebrews all over the place, and Jude. There is a call to these type of people to come to complete faith in Christ. Let go of your entire sin, abandon yourself, turn to him, finally.
I’ve read this verse before, so if you’ve been with us in John, you’ve heard this referenced every time we come to a passage like this. And if you’re new, here’s a verse that speaks directly to this idea. Actually, three verses. Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus preaching to a religious group says this:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?”
I’ll pause there. I think in today’s day and age: Lord, Lord, I was in Sunday school or he was in Sunday school or she did this and she started this Bible club. She used to pray so faithfully. Many will say I did all of these things. Jesus speaking:
And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you [He does not say I once knew you; I never knew you.]; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
The obvious example in all this is Judas. Obvious example is Judas. And listen, we all know people who currently look like Judases in our life. Around the things of Christ, but now appear to want nothing to do with him. Let me give you an exhortation. The thing to help those Judases is not, just come back to church; just come back to the culture that you once identified with. The call to our Judases who we love is, Judas, repent. Christ will forgive. He will forgive. Repent of what you’ve done. Come to him in a sense for the first time. Abandon yourself. Fall on his mercy, and he will never cast those people out.
We don’t want to bring people back into an environment where they might fake it again. Sure, they can come back to church and hopefully hear the gospel and repent, but the solution is not fixed when they just come back to church. Oh, good, they’re back in church. People can fake it in church. The solution is repent and believe. Repent and believe.
And by the way, this should not be discouraging for us if we have Judases in our life. Should not be discouraging, because I’m not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. The gospel has power in it.
This is clearly speaking of people who have looked as if they’re in Christ but do not bear any fruit. The Father removes these branches, takes them away.
But in verse 2 there’s another kind of branch; and if you’re a Christian, this is you. We are this branch. “And,” verse 2 continues, “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Every branch that bears fruit (true disciples). Remember Galatians 5? People who actually have the fruit of the Spirit. If the Holy Spirit dwells in you, you will start to look differently. Love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. You will have the fruit of the Spirit in you.
Every branch that bears fruit—these are true Christians, true disciples. Notice that if you bear fruit, you will be pruned. Not always easy to hear. Sometimes we say things like, you know, you as a believer are in some sort of sin; you better repent of that sin or else the Lord will discipline you. Well, this is the statement that if you actually obey and bear fruit, guess what, he’ll still put you through things that are difficult so that you grow, that aren’t always comfortable. It’s just going to happen to every Christian. He will prune. He will grow us.
To prune: Merriam Webster helps us with this and says “to reduce, especially by eliminating superfluous matter.” That’s what it means to prune. So in the life of a believer, there are times, and you all know those times, and you can identify what the superfluous matter was. Maybe it was an ambition, maybe it was a person in your life, a situation, a hope, an idol. Those things are eliminated because they don’t help our growth. God desires a constant increase in fruit bearing.
And by the way, there’s another exhortation here. There’s another implication we could gather actually from this. God is never satisfied with just a certain level of fruit bearing. If you bear fruit, he’ll prune so that there’s more. How much fruit does God want in our lives? Here’s the answer: more. More, until we finish. More. God desires a constant increase. Pruning is painful, is it not? Pruning is painful, but pruning is productive.
Listen to Hebrews 12:11: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later [listen to this] it yields the peaceful fruit [fruit (John 15)] of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” The Lord will discipline the ones he loves in order to bring about fruit, and it will be painful, and it will seem painful, but it yields, it brings about peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it.
We oftentimes treat, as believers, things that cause us pain as enemies. We treat things that cause us discomfort as believers as enemies. But God is not our enemy.
I want you to turn to Revelation 3, if you will. The Lord not only prunes individual believers, he also prunes and disciplines churches as well, local churches. I want you to see an example of this in Revelation 3:14, the church at Laodicea.
And to the angel of the church of Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
This is Jesus. So, angel of the church at Laodicea, tell them what I’m saying. This is Jesus speaking. Verse 15:
I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
By the way, side note, this is a church saying, I’ve prospered, I’ve arrived. We have more people than the national average in a church. That’s a bad place to be. A thriving church is always a humble and dependent church who’s not enamored with their own external glory but enamored with their king who leads them. It’s so important that we go through a time of confession in our service every week. We’re not the story. He’s the story.
I counsel you [Jesus speaking to the church] to buy from me gold refined by fire [It’s not always comfortable.], so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. [Listen to this] Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
We use the “R” word a lot here—repent—because the Lord calls his people to be zealous and repent. And when they do that, you know what they are? Rich, healed, forgiven, cared for. And so even in the pain the Lord is communicating love to his people. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”
Back to John 15. We cannot treat uncomfortable circumstances as enemies, uncomfortable people in our lives as enemies. They may be the means God is using to lovingly discipline us. We are disciplined by the vinedresser. We have things snipped away. and because we are disciplined by the vinedresser, because we have things snipped away, it shows that we are loved by the vinedresser. We are loved by the vinedresser. False professors who bear no real lasting fruit will be taken away, but in the lives of all true believers, the Father will see to it that fruit is produced.
Now, the Lord disciplines us in many ways. Many ways. Many of you are going through times of discipline now. The Lord disciplines in many ways. I’ve got an example here of a particular way the Lord disciplines from John Piper.
John Piper talks about a time when he was cruel to his wife, Noel. There was evidently a crate of pears that they had bought in the early years of their marriage. There was a crate of pears they bought, and Noel left them in the garage, and they began to rot. So, John, doing what many husbands do, thought he’d come and give her a piece of his mind. He came in and said, what about the pears? How could you let the pears rot? Her answer: I forgot about them. He kept going on and on, which husbands can do, kept going on and on. Finally, she went back to her room and he went out to take out the trash.
Listen to what Piper says:
She’s hurt, and I’m mad as all get out, and to kill time I pick up the garbage and take it outside to put it by the street because it’s garbage pick-up day.
And when I got on the driveway the sun was as bright, as glorious as could be. The sky was blue. A sweet breeze was blowing on my face. And I stopped and cried. I just cried, because God was kissing me on the cheek after that rotten attitude. And it broke me like nothing else.
You know, he could have caused a car to careen over the curb and smack me into the hospital, and he would have been absolutely right to do so, but instead he smiled upon me. So the point there is God is always disciplining us. Out of his goodness he is always doing things for our good, both gentle and hard things.
What strikes me is that last sentence. “Out of his goodness he is always doing things for our good.” Now, that’s a lot of good right there. God’s goodness being good for us. And Piper says so appropriately, he’s doing all kinds of good things, both gentle—that’s good—and hard—that’s good too.
The Lord disciplines those whom he loves. Sometimes he does it gently. Maybe some of you it’s a sermon like this that really it’s like, okay, that kind of pierces, but it’s not physical pain. It’s not the loss of relationship. Maybe you’re just hearing this now thinking, I’ve got to be zealous and repent and knock this off. That’s a rather gentle way of disciplining.
But for some of you it happens with loss of job, maybe loss of health. And I’m not saying at all that loss of health is always a discipline because of sin. The Bible doesn’t say that either. Can be. It doesn’t always mean that. But the Lord disciplines us in gentle ways and in hard ways and they’re all under the umbrella of good.
My exhortation to our church, in an uncomfortable situation, please do not run away as your first action. We are a comfort loving people, are we not? We love our comfort, but oftentimes discomfort is what God uses to change us. God uses all sorts of means to discipline us: undeserved kindness, sickness, rebukes from other people, financial hardship, and the list goes on. He uses all sorts of things to discipline us.
Often, especially those in a wealthy environment like America, often we blame God or blame others for making us uncomfortable. So if someone comes and rebukes us, they are the enemy when in all reality we’re acting like an enemy of God in an area of our life. But they’re the enemy because they’re treating us bad.
We’ve bought in to the culture’s view that we are wonderful and perfect and can do no wrong. The culture teaches us that everyone is right all the time if they really mean it. And we have to be honest as a church, we’ve bought in to that more than we want to admit. So when someone rebukes us—how dare you—when maybe we can say, how Biblical are you. A rebuke is grace from God. It’s a good gift. We blame God and blame others oftentimes for the uncomfortable feeling that we have when perhaps the Lord is trying to teach us something.
So, I have in closing seven points of counsel for difficult situations. We’ll go fast. Seven points of counsel for uncomfortable situations.
1. Recognize the situation as an opportunity to grow.
Recognize the situation as an opportunity to grow. Now, don’t be so quick to figure out is it because of sin or not. Lord, is it because of sin? I mean, can you give me some sign that it’s because of sin? I don’t know. It might be because of sin, might not be. Just at the very beginning say, hey, this is uncomfortable, and whether it’s sin or not, I can grow from this.
Recognize a difficult situation as an opportunity to grow. It may be because of sin. It might not be, but we can still be strengthened by it. We can still learn to endure, in the words of Romans 5:3-5. So, recognize the situation as an opportunity to grow.
2. Do not attack the means of discomfort.
Do not attack the means of discomfort, which can be a person or people or a pastor or God. Do not attack the means of discomfort. I don’t feel well because you said this. Well, maybe granted they said it in a wrong way and even missed part of the truth, but maybe they had a shred of truth in there. I think the Lord would have us pay attention to that instead of using the other things as an excuse not to pay attention to it. Do not attack the means of discomfort.
3. Know God to be a loving father.
Know God to be a loving father. If you view discipline as coming from a harsh judge, you don’t know what God the Father is like for his own children. Know God to be a loving father.
In that same article that that Piper episode was detailed, he writes this at the end. He’s writing on discipline, and he contrasts God with a father who’s out of control and cannot control his emotions and specifically his emotion of anger. And Piper says this: “God never loses control like that. If he spanks, if he brings any kind of hardship into our life, it is with measured, careful, wise, loving application of his wisdom and his grace to our situation. And so he is calling for us to have greater faith and greater humility.”
It’s so important when you’re going through discipline to know God as a loving father and not as an angry father. God is angry at the wicked every day, the Bible says. God is displeased by his children when they disobey; but make no mistake, he’s displeased like a loving father is displeased. And he is a loving father. We need to know that.
4. Ask the Lord for understanding and patience.
Ask the Lord for understanding and patience. When you are in that difficult environment, ask the Lord: Lord, teach me what you want me to know. And sometimes I think we pray that in a mystical sense, thinking that I’m never going to really know what he wants from me. Pray that and read your Bible: Lord, teach me what you want me to know. And read his word, his word to us.
So ask the Lord for understanding and patience because oftentimes trials don’t end in a day. Sometimes people ask the question why is the book of Job so long? Because that’s what trials are like. They seem to not end. So ask the Lord for understanding and patience.
5. Listen to others and listen to the word.
Listen to others and listen to the word. There’s a reason the wisest man on earth, as the Bible calls him—Solomon—tells his son, faithful are the wounds of a friend. Son, faithful are the wounds of a friend. Listen to other people when they bring you bad news. Oftentimes when people bring us bad news or rebuke, we oftentimes want to attack them in response. Well, you don’t know the whole story. Well, you did this last week. Well, the only reason I did that is because they . . . Listen, listen to them. And listen to the word. Read the word, understand the word, see where it pierces, see where it points things out, and respond.
6. Recognize your tendency to give yourself a pass.
Recognize your tendency to give yourself a pass. Recognize your tendency to give yourself a pass. When it’s someone else bringing a rebuke to us, immediately we’re thinking of all the reasons why we did that thing. Well, you did this. Well, the reason why I did it was because of . . . Immediately, the inner defense attorney comes out. Well, you don’t have all the facts lined up, A to Z. You got to prove everything perfectly until I will admit it. Just own it. Just own what there is to own.
Recognize your tendency to give yourself a pass. Listen, we are all biased in our own favor. When there’s a dispute, we always think that we’re on the right side. Are we seriously right in every dispute from the moment we were newborns to the moment we die? Like, man, I’ve been on the right side of an issue a hundred percent of the time in my life. Amazing. No, no. Recognize your tendency to give yourself a pass.
7. Be zealous to repent.
We are not a people who are normally zealous to repent. We are zealous to make other people think we’re not as bad as they think we are. That’s different. A lot different. We must be zealous to repent. In uncomfortable situations, we often want God to change something—circumstances, someone being in our presence. We want another person to stop confronting us. They need to change. Our focus should be zeal for our own change into the image of Christ.
And in parentheses, if you will, write down 2 Corinthians 7, verses 9 and following. Look at what true repentance looks like in the heart of a believer. Study that section. Maybe go through it in small group, with a friend. Know what all those terms mean. Look at what honest Christian repentance looks like.
I love this Spurgeon quote. He seems to sum it up when he says this: “I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the Rock of Ages.” Such a helpful way to view trials. I’ve learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the Rock of Ages. Our Father prunes the branches that he loves.
There are more aspects of fruit bearing to be made aware of, but we will, Lord willing, tackle that next week. Let’s pray.
Lord, the theme really of these two verses are that you have a plan, you have power, you have pruning, you will see to it that fruit comes from our lives. And Lord, I’m asking on behalf of us, we do love our comfort so much, so maybe the thing that we’re tempted to take away from this is, oh, no, life is going to hurt when really the thing that I believe you want us to take away is, let’s go bear fruit for our King. Let’s bear fruit for our Lord. He’s given us power. He’s given us strength. This is what he wants us to do.
Father, may this people, year after year as we grow together, be more and more and more and more like your Son. More fruitful. More obedient out of loving hearts to you. Father, we know in advance that if you were to answer that prayer, it will come because there’s pain in this body. Conflict. Sickness. Difficult circumstances. Lord, be near to us when we are brokenhearted. Be near to us, care for us, communicate your love to us, heal us, grow us ultimately for your glory, for your name’s sake. And it’s in your name’s sake, Jesus Christ, that we pray this. Amen.
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