When you think of a church being fruitful, what fruit comes to mind? The metrics of mankind and the metrics of God are often totally different from each other. The fruit God seeks is justice and righteousness. Paul reveals more about fruitfulness writing, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23) Jesus used the concept of the vineyard in a number of his parables and it reached a crescendo in John’s gospel when Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” (John 15:1) No longer were the disciples to think of Israel as the vine, they were to see Jesus as the true vine. He was and is the fruitful vine, the life-giving vine, the vine that would be everything his Father, God was looking for from his vineyard. Jesus is, in Isaiah’s words, the choicest of vines. Equally wonderful is that our heavenly Father is the Gardener. Our Father who loves us, who is for us, who has made our salvation possible is the Gardener. This is the Gardener who created all things, who planted the garden of Eden, and who loves his creation.
The image of the vineyard is important to us because Jesus went on to say, “‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) There is an expectation that we, the branches, will bear fruit. We become fruitful when we 1) remain in Jesus and 2) the Father prunes the vine. Eight times, in seven verses we have the word remain. Five of these say, remain in me. The key to Christian fruitfulness is clearly that we remain in Jesus. Older versions have a warmth I like, translating this, abide in me. In my mind, abide is a more intimate word. There is a beautiful symmetry to this when we read, Abide in me as I abide in you. (Jn 15:4) The Message Bible translates this, Make your home in me just as I do in you. (Jn 15:4).
The other aspect of tending to the vine is pruning. Unfruitful branches are simply cut off. Christians need not be anxious about this because in Jesus words, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3) The Greek word translated here as clean has the same root as the word for prune. It is a play on words. Jesus’ teaching had already cleansed/pruned the disciples. The reason for pruning is so we can become even more fruitful (John 15:2).
In Greyfriars we encourage people to join a growth group, with the intention of helping them grow spiritually. Growth Groups are all about connection and care. They meet for mutual support, fellowship, encouragement, Bible study and prayer. People have an opportunity to develop new friendships, take time for study, help and be helped, pray, and worship together in a more personal way. We aim to grow in Discipleship, Fellowship and Service. Growth groups allow connections so we can remain in Christ, as he remains in us. If at times that involves pruning, then it happens with the prayerful support of others who want you to succeed in your faith.
- Have you ever grown a grape vine? How might lessons from that help you understand the imagery used in our bible passages?
- Read Isaiah 5:1–7. Why do you think Isaiah introduces this as a song for the one I love? Describe the care the owner of the vineyard took to ensure a good crop? What was the fruit God was seeking?
- Read John 15.1 What do you know about the “I am” sayings of Jesus and why are they considered to be important?
- What do you think Jesus meant when he spoke of himself as the true vine?
- Why is remaining/abiding in Jesus important, and how do you go about doing that?
- Why does the gardener prune the fruitful vine? How does God “prune” our lives? Read Acts 2:37 – have you ever felt cut to the heart? If appropriate discuss this with the group.
- At Greyfriars we are having a year of special focus to help our church family grow spiritually and engage in God’s mission. What part do you think growth groups can play in this? What part might your growth group play in it.
- What questions or insights do these bible passages raise for you? (Are there questions the group might help to answer for you?)
Rev John Malcolm