During the last couple of weeks a particular passage from the gospels has kept cropping up in my day-to-day life. It came up at a worship event at church, on a blog I follow, in my house group, and in a chat with my lovely Dad. Sometimes it just came into my head on its own. It was a passage from John 15 – the vine and the branches.
John records some words Jesus says to his disciples about fruitfulness. Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus describes himself using the “I am” metaphors – “I am the light of the world”, “I am the bread of life”, “I am the good shepherd”, and so on. Here in chapter 15 he describes himself as a vine, God the father as a gardener, and his disciples as the branches.
He uses these metaphors to show the disciples (which means not just the Galileans he hung out with during his earthly ministry but those who follow him now!) how they can bear good fruit for him. His goal for his followers in this regard might come as a very pleasant surprise! He doesn’t say “Make a list of jobs you need to do for me”. He doesn’t say “Keep thinking of new stuff you can do for me”. He doesn’t say “Wear yourself out for me”. He simply says, like branches in the vine, we are to “remain” in him. He uses the word “remain” ten times throughout the short passage! Remain. Remain. Remain. The Greek verb is “menó” which can also be translated, as some versions of the Bible do, as “abide”. He’s asking us to stay close to him, indeed to live with him, in order to bear fruit and thus glorify God the Father.
Sometimes we can make our lives sound very task-orientated, a list of the things we do day in and day out. This is perhaps understandable if we believe that the world says we need to be defined by these things – our jobs, our charitable work, our family set-up. The world says “Make a to-do list”. The world says “Here is our organisation’s vision for 2016”. The world says “Put it in your diary”. The world says “Have two children”.
I think the trappings of the world can, if we’re not careful, easily snatch us away from the “remain in me” that is Jesus’ best for us. Maybe that’s why he says it ten times.
“What do you do?”
This is a question that we ask, in our culture, perhaps when we’re meeting someone for the first time or talking to someone we don’t know very well yet. When I’m asked this question, I tend to reel off the various church-related ministries, school things, and family responsibilities I am involved with. I believe those roles are valuable, I believe I was created for them, I believe that they make Jesus Christ known in the world, and I do them out of love for him and for the people that are served by them – not out of duty. What’s more, provided I look to his strength (rather than my human strength) to carry out these roles, they bear fruit. “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (verse 4).
But these ministries won’t last for ever. I mean, look at 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”. While we’re living here on earth, there might be times of cutting and pruning to ensure that we’re really remaining in Jesus as we serve him. And ultimately, when we go home to Jesus, we won’t take them with us. All we will bring before him is our character. All we will have left is our relationship with him.
I once heard a talk given by a very lovely church leader who is currently based in the UK but spent some time living in New Zealand. He said that when New-Zealander Christians are asked the “What do you do?” question, they don’t reply with a list of “things”. They simply say “I’m a Christian” (OK, so there are bound to be some Christians in New Zealand who respond in this way and some who don’t – but you get my point, yes? Good!) And why not respond this way?! That’s exactly who we are. That’s our identity – people who are “in Christ”. The Bible is our story just as much as it is the story of the Galileans who walked the earth two thousand years ago. Whether we work for an organisation, run an organisation, do voluntary work, bring up children or whatever, the Bible tells us we are in Christ. So we can be sure of it! We can choose to remain in him and be expectant to see what blossoms out of that.
Have a think:
- Are you being fruitful for Jesus? Does something need to be pruned, or cut out?
- Would you, like me, secretly love to answer “I’m a Christian” next time a stranger asks you what you do?! I dare you!