We live in a neighborhood with lots of trees. In part, it was those trees that helped to attract us to our house. This towering canopy of sycamores, oaks, elms, and maples keeps our back yards shaded, and our streets lined with beauty. Over two years of living in this house, however, I have come to learn a few things about trees.
First of all, I have learned that tree branches that fail to stay connected to the trunk of the tree become a real hassle. This never became more true than in December 2007 when an ice storm dumped a half inch of ice all over every tree branch in the neighborhood. At first the ice was pretty, then we realized it became very destructive. Under the heavy weight of the ice, branches all over our yard and neighborhood began snapping off and crashing to the ground. The damage was so bad that CNN, The Weather Channel, and NBC nightly news all broadcast about the damage within a short walk from my house. After the temperatures warmed and the ice melted, my neighbors and I began surveying the damage. We lost thousands of pounds of branches. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I would drag all these branches to the curb for the city to pick up. My neighbors would do the same. Eventually, our entire neighborhood looked like it had a log cabin hedge lining every street. The beauty of the branches that once hung green above the streets below, now lay in lifeless, brown piles awaiting destruction in the fires of the city collection areas.
Second of all, I have learned that trees require care if they are to remain vibrant. Left to themselves, trees will actually overproduce branches. We once had an apple tree. That apple tree would produce thousands of grape sized apples if I let it. Over time, however, I found that by trimming several branches off the tree, the tree would actually produce bigger, tastier apples. Without the strain of those extra branches, the tree could produce better fruit. This made pruning a priority for me, because the reason you have an apple tree is to produce apples!
These two truths that I have learned about trees are echoed in John 15:1-17 when Jesus compares His relationship with His followers with the relationship between a tree trunk (the vine) and its branches. This parallel is true in at least a couple of ways.
First, Christians who fail to remain connected to Christ in their daily lives, cease to be beautiful. Now, I am not talking about physical beauty, but spiritual beauty. When Christians live their lives dependent upon Christ and allowing Jesus to produce His fruit in and through them, their lives are beautiful and attractive. People want to be around them, and they reflect God’s glory. However, when these same Christians decide to do their own thing, rely on their own strength, and detach themselves from Christ, they quickly dry up and wither. Their lives may have once had a spiritual vitality or beauty to them, but now they lay lifeless by the roadside of life. As Jesus says in John 15:6, “If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers.”
Second, it can be noted that God’s purpose for Christians is to produce His fruit in our lives. In John 15:8, Jesus tells us “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” In order to have a life that produces Christ’s fruit, however, we must remain dependent upon Christ AND allow the Father to prune us for maximum growth. In Jesus metaphor, God the Father is the gardener who comes into our lives and cuts away “extra” things so that what is left might sustain more of the fruit He desires that we produce. John 15:2 says, “He (the Father) 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.” This can be a scary thought to think of God pruning our lives of the “extra branches,” but it need not be. God is always good and always right, so the things that He cuts away are things that we never needed in the first place and that were getting in the way of what we really want . . . to glorify God with our lives. Pruning is a priority for the Father because the purpose of Christians is to produce Christ’s fruit!
As you have read and reflected on this passage, I want you to examine your own spiritual life for a moment. How are things going? Is your spiritual life alive or dead? Are you producing Christ’s fruit, or are extra things getting in the way? This passage reminds us that spiritual vitality comes from abiding in Christ as a branch does in its vine. The key to spiritual life and growth comes from living a life of dependence upon the Savior. Further, if you find your spiritual life producing some fruit, but not “much fruit,” then think for a moment about what is in your life that might be an “extra branch” that the Father might need to prune off to allow for more growth. Maybe your extra branches are relationships that pull you away from Him, addictions, time wasters, etc. Whatever they are, invite the Gardener to examine your life and see if He might want to clip a branch here or there to encourage future growth.
All Christians are a collection of branches attached to one tree. When we stay attached to Him, it becomes a beautiful sight for all to see.