John 15:1-6 (New King James Version)
The True Vine
1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
Here we have Jesus’ words regarding the vinedresser and His actions. A superficial reading of this passage can lead to confusion, so I want to take a look at what is being said.
At first, it would appear that God simply removes those who do not bear fruit and prunes those that do manage to bear fruit so that they bear more fruit. Realizing that we are the branches, this seems rather harsh, and at first appears to to put the burden on us to at least bear some fruit before God can work to improve our fruitfulness (verse 2). Verse 3 doesn’t appear to fit, and then verse 4 returns to the idea of bearing fruit, stating that we must abide in Him to be able to bear fruit. To the casual observer, parts of this will make sense, but other parts will seem to contradict.
To better understand this passage, we need to realize that Jesus is talking to his disciples. The “you” in this passage is referring to Jesus’ disciples – those who have accepted Him as their Lord. If we are unfruitful, we need not worry about being “taken away” as stated in verse two. Jesus is more gracious than that. The word translated “taken away” is Strong’s G142 – airō. This is a beautiful word!
“Taken away,” according to the first definition of the Greek word, might also be translated “to raise up, elevate, lift up” as you would with a weak or hurt branch that has fallen to the ground. Further, the second definition of this word is ” to take upon one’s self and carry what has been raised up, to bear.” So, it is reasonable to say that if we are in Jesus, and are His disciples (one of His branches), and we are not bearing fruit, that the vine dresser will lift us up, and even carry us and bear us, and then, take us away (in His arms, as He has lifted us up and is carrying us). He will take us away from the junk that is stifling our bearing of fruit. This is a far different picture from the believer simply being cast off because of his or her unfruitfulness.
Ah, but as always with God’s Word, it gets better. Let’s look at the idea of pruning in verse 2, where we who are bearing fruit will be pruned so that we will bear more fruit. Horticulturist will tell you that pruning usually involves removing the dead or unfruitful branches which are stifling the growth of other branches. Looking at the Greek, we see that the word translated “prunes” is Strong’s G2508 – kathairō. This word literally means “to cleanse, of filth impurity, etc.” In vegetation terms, the word means “to prune trees and vines from useless shoots” and it also can refer to the removal of guilt. How beautiful! If there is an aspect of our lives that is not bearing fruit, God (the Vinedresser) will pick that part up, bear it on himself, and take it away). Those parts that are bearing some fruit, he will cleanse of impurity, removing guilt because He has atoned for our sins, so that we can bear more fruit!
With this, verse 3 no longer seems so random and out of place. “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” It is the Word – abiding in the vine of the Word, who is Jesus, that strips away all of our junk so that we can be more fruitful for Him. Verses 4 and 5 make sense as well, and no longer seem to conflict with the being “taken away” of verse 2.
Verse 6 is the warning, but here Jesus is no longer referring to “you” – the disciples. He is referring to those who do not abide in Him. Here, “cast out” means just that – cast out, without regard. We are to abide in the vine, so that He will cleans us and remove our junk, so that we can be fruitful for Him, and in being fruitful, we will bring in others – the lost, lest they suffer the consequences of not being in the vine.