Life In The True Vine

Easter 5B

John 15: 1 8


An Overview of the Setting

Back to Chapter 14: Jesus Remaining In the Disciples

In Chapter 14, we notice there is no confrontation and challenge. Jesus is addressing only his disciples and thus the Christian readers of the Gospels. All that he says has to be interpreted by the events that are soon to follow. He has promised the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, who will be the confirmed divine presence to help them continue the mission of Jesus. He will remain with them and within them. He will teach them everything and make them remember everything Jesus taught.

On to Chapter 15: The Disciples remaining in Jesus

In Chapter 15, Jesus shifts the emphasis to the disciples' abiding in him, by means of faith in him and obedience to his word. The first eight verses record Jesus' teaching about the vine and the branches and his comparison with the union between him and each disciple.

The Value Jesus Places On A Personal Relationship

In the first eight verses of John 15, Jesus is concerned with emphasising the importance of an individual, personal relationship of each disciple with him as the source of their life. He is not so much concerned here with the collective relationship of disciples as his Church. That is covered elsewhere.

Some Notes On The Text

Verse 1

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.

Jesus begins his discourse identifying himself as the "true vine" and his Father as the caring gardener. The word "true" has important links with the scriptures. In the Greek Old Testament (which St. John would have used) Israel is called the "true vine" (Jeremiah 2: 21). St John uses the same adjective in recording Jesus' statement. Some commentators are quick to declare that Jesus is distinguishing himself from faithless Israel. But Jesus is in fact emphasising that he is the reality of which the Vine of Israel is but the type (forerunner). In light of this it is worth reflecting on Isaiah 5: 1 — 7, Ezekiel 15: 1 — 6 and 19: 10 — 14. Why a vine? The vine is of no real use except for bearing fruit. It is fit for either producing grapes or for fuel!

Verse 2

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

The vine is constantly watched by the caring gardener who cuts away branches which do not bear frit. He does this for the sake of those that do bear fruit, to strengthen them and help them to be more fruitful. Jesus is stating in no uncertain terms, the displeasure of the Father towards faithless followers. Note that it is the Father who does the trimming and even the fruit bearing branches have to take a trim. Some of the branches cut off may have borne fruit previously but that does not save them.

Verse 3

You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.

Then comes a very brief statement to the disciples in Verse 3. "You have already been trimmed and cleaned up through the power of my word". What word? None in the particular. All that Jesus has taught about Israel's history and prophetic insight has taken root in them. They have welcomed his word, which has become part of them.

Verse 4

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

And so he can say to them "Remain in me and I in you". This does not mean "If you remain or abide in me then I will remain in you". It is the double imperative. "See that you remain in me and see that I remain in you". The branch can receive no sap from the vine unless there is constant and unimpeded contact between them. The supreme condition of fruitfulness, is abiding (remaining) in Jesus; as the branches draw sap from the vine, so believers must derive their strength, wisdom, holiness and power from their Lord. The message is clear, they must continue closely united to him and continually receive from him the power to do good (i.e. bear fruit). But how? Jesus has already hinted that obedience to his word kept alive in them, will keep them faithful.

Verse 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.

Again he says, "I am the vine", but adds the reassuring phrase "you are the branches". The early Church, looking back realised that the presence of a traitor was not allowed to weaken the rest. At a certain moment he was removed so that the other branches could grow even stronger. So the "true vine" is sending out new branches. You are those branches Jesus says. This is a very special moment to ponder. But what is the fruit Jesus is talking about? The fruit of the beatitudes: humility, true sorrow, meekness, striving for purity of heart, enduring persecution and injustice for his sake.

Verse 6

If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

And now another warning: abide or depart! We do not need to push the allegory too far and treat the fire as a symbol. Jesus is striving to show how strongly his Father disapproves of branches which soak up the living sap and grow fat on it without giving fruit in return. There is absolutely no place for them!

Verses 7 and 8

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.

This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Verses seven and eight bring this little section to a conclusion. Jesus explains: "True union with the true vine is characterised by true submission to all I have taught you. This will always lead to fruitfulness and it is by this fruit that you will be known as my disciples, and thus give glory to God".


Abiding in the Word

The first eight Verses of John 15 offer us a unique insight into Jesus' teaching on prayer and meditation. For nowhere else does he so adamantly point out the need for us to remain in him by keeping his word always within and before us, nurturing it, treasuring it, constantly listening for every new intimation the Holy Spirit brings to life within us. Two quotations from Biblical scholars will help us be more convinced of the real value of listening to his word and being obedient to his will. "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you"
(John 15: 7).

Real and Continuous Union With Jesus Christ

This union, if characterised by true submission to the will of Christ, is certain to result in fruitfulness: "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you." Here a new element is introduced, namely prayer; but the relationship is vital. One who is united with Christ in trustful obedience, one who meditates upon his word, one who is guided by his indwelling Spirit, will be lead to pray for the success in the divine work, in his own experience and in the world, and, for prayer so originating, there is no limit to its power. Fruitfulness must result; God will be glorified and believers will thus show themselves to be true disciples. (v. 8)

From "The Gospel of John" by C.R Erdman
(Westminster Press 1964)

Union With Christ and The Mind of Christ

"If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask," etc. Here, it will be noticed the Lord begins to abandon the figure of the tree, "for my words abide in you," cannot properly be said of branches. The unconscious branch begins to disappear in the conscious person, in whom words can "abide" by memory and active obedience. But what words of Christ? All Christ's words. All must be accepted, retained, and pondered, and acted out so far as our limited faculties will allow.

"Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." Why should Christ's words abiding in us be the ground of this particular promise? Evidently for this reason: the more the words of Christ abide in us by our receiving them in implicit faith, and appropriating them, the more the mind of Christ will be in us; for the words of Christ convey the mind of Christ, and the more we have of the mind of Christ the more we shall fall in with the will and purposes of God: and so our desires will be expressed in prayer to God for what He is most disposed to grant. The words of Christ abiding within us will inspire us to pray for what He wills, and what He wills His Father approves, and will bring about.

From "The Gospel According to St. John" by M.F Sadler.
(George Bell & Sons 1898)

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