Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
We live in the midst of Oregon wine country. Traveling down any rural road around Newberg and Dundee yields a plethora of tourist signs leading to vineyards and wineries with hard to pronounce names. Gentle hillsides that once grew part of the world?s largest crop of Christmas trees are now covered with grape vines. Oregon vineyards produced 34,400 tons of wine grapes, valued at $60.2 million in 2006, according to recently released figures from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Production was up 38 percent compared with 2005, thanks to high yields and an increase in newly producing vines. Oregon?s mild winters and warm summers, coupled with ample rain and cool Autumn days combine to produce world class grapes.
But it?s not just climate that determines whether a particular vine will produce fruit worthy of being bottled into a fine vintage or simply cut down and thrown away. The difference is in the care of the vine.
Right now in vineyards throughout the Willamette Valley and especially here in Yamhill County, vinedressers are busy preparing grape vines to produce this year?s crop. Each spring at this time a process of pruning takes place?as much art as science?to encourage growth, and not just any growth, but the right kind of growth to produce the best kind of fruit. Different regions grow different kinds of grapes better than others, and there are dozens of varieties of grapes in all sizes, flavors, and colors. Grapes are in fact the most widely grown fruit in the world. The quality of the grapes are dependent entirely on the rooted stock. Individual branches are grafted onto that stock in order to produce.
Why do I bring this up? Because as part of Jesus? last words to his friends before his arrest, Jesus uses the vine and process of pruning as a metaphor for the care he and the Father take of the vines and branches in his vineyard.
In Chapter 14 Jesus promised that he was preparing a permanent home for those that trusted in him, and that far from leaving them as orphans, Jesus would go away only to send a Comforter to take up that same permanent abode in our hearts?transforming us from the inside into someone that thinks and acts like Jesus.
In Chapter 15 he continues this thought progression to talk about how that process occurs. It goes like this:
Fruit comes from a spur (branch) that is 1) connected to a live vine, 2) is properly trained and pruned each spring by a vinedresser to 3) produce a better and better quality of fruit each year.
The concepts in verses 1 ? 6 are:
- What is the ?true? vine
- What does it mean to bear fruit or not bear it (what is fruit)
- What does it mean to prune?
- Why are we ?clean? from hearing Jesus? words?
- What does it mean to ?abide? in the Lord and in his Word?
- What does it mean to not abide and be ?thrown away??
To understand the context of what Jesus is talking about we need to go back to what was probably his source in the Old Testament, Isaiah 5:1-7
Isaiah 5: 1
God loves his people, that is what motivates him.
God created the right growing conditions and rootstock and protection against enemies to allow fruit to blossom and mature.
3 ? 4
God did everything he could to encourage production, but the vineyard brought forth wild grapes. The words in English for grape are the same, but in Hebrew they are two different words. ?Grape? means ?to produce fruit? whereas ?wild grapes? comes from a word that means ?stench?. The word means ?poison berries.? So instead of bringing something that sustains life the fruit of these vines produces death.
5 ? 6
This poisonous outcome means God will no longer provide a growing medium for the vines that they might not produce even more poison. He will not protect it, provide for it, or prune it any more.
To bring the analogy home, God identifies the vineyard with Israel as a people, his offspring. The fruit he was looking for was evidence that his character was rubbing off on them, but instead they just got worse in their sin. By the way, there is a bit of word play in Hebrew here. The words for justice and bloodshed sound alike in Hebrew, as do the words righteousness and outcry.
What does this mean? God gave them his Word, which pointed them towards trust and reliance on Yahweh for their every need. But the children of Israel were more interested in being like all the nations around them and getting all the ?stuff? that they thought was so cool from the world rather than go through the discipline of having to wait on the Lord and trust in him to get them through difficulties and provide for their needs.
Jesus said in Matthew 7:18 ?A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.?
Later, Paul the Apostle would echo these words this way:
Galatians 6:7-9 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
So that brings us around to John 15?God gives us words that if followed foster trust and reliance on Him for the source of life, if rejected, the natural course is death?more poison.
I imagine Jesus walking along with the boys on their way from the Last Supper and perhaps they are walking by or even through a vineyard.
1 Jesus the Real Vine
If Jesus is the ?true? vine, is the current religious system in Israel the ?false?? In Jeremiah God talks about Israel having become a degenerate vine:
Jeremiah 2:21 Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine? ?Choice? is the same word in the Greek version of the Old Testament as ?real? is here in John.
The idea of the ?real? vine is that which can be trusted. It is a vine that continually produces fruit year after year. Jesus is the real thing. He is the only real thing. He is a source of real enduring life, not the life on loan here on this earth. The Father is the gardener, the owner of the vineyard, the vinedresser. God causes the life to flow and the fruit to bear.
So here, you have both those that trust in Jesus for that life and those that do not. They are all originally part of God?s vineyard but those that will not seek life from Jesus are like the dead wood from unproductive vines. A vine branch is either alive or dead. Again, what is the fruit? It is trust and reliance on Jesus for life. Eventually, God will cut off the dead wood and throw it off because it refuses the life giving sap from the vine.
The live wood he prunes. Pruning can be a painful process for the believer, but it is essential for growth. Grapes bear fruit on one-year-old wood. So year one the branch has fruit and then there are buds left after the season ? the promise of fruit next year. The vinedresser comes along and cuts just the right buds to produce the best fruit.
Thompson grapes, for example, produce fruit on buds 8 ? 14, so the vinedresser prunes the buds back so only those are left. This leaves the plant to focus on the most productive fruiting buds. If it had to support buds that won?t produce or won?t produce much it would waste energy that could be put into making superior grapes on buds 8 ? 14.
In addition, you can have a branch that is overly vigorous. This can age the vine, causing it to not produce regularly over the long haul. The vinedresser cuts back the vine to de vigor the growth to provide balanced growth. Essentially you have a head, where all the vines come out from. There are several ways to do the pruning depending on the variety.
So what does that mean to us spiritually? I think it is a process of building trust through the experiences we have with the Lord. You may go through a difficult time where that reliance is tested. It bears some fruit. God comes along and lops off that experience and a new one pops up with the buds left from the last. We build upon our experience in trials so that next time we are stronger and more reliant on the Lord.
Parts of our lives, though, that don?t lead to trust get cut off. But notice how it works ? the power for that trust emanates from the vine. We must stay connected to that vine for our lives to bear fruit.
Too much fruit makes the vine weak
Not enough pruning makes the vine unproductive
In fruit trees there is wood that does not produce fruit (water sprouts look impressive but are unproductive and are just for show)
Don?t look for fruit too soon
Grape plants aren?t allowed to fruit for a couple of years so the vine can mature. As a young believer I think there is a bit of a honeymoon period when everything seems like it will always be so exciting and wonderful and full of glory. If you try to push out fruit too soon it will be of poor quality, just like if a young Christian is pushed too hard into ministry too soon. They need to mature first.
It is also good to remember this as more mature believers too. When we start going through pruning we think ?why can?t it just be like when I was a young believer. I must be doing something wrong.? No, you are just going through that period when pruning produces fruit.
We want the branches that produce in our lives to keep on going and not be pruned
When an area of our lives is fruitful?we?ve gone through trials and the Lord has done some shaping and we think?wow I?m pretty good here! Then we want that to just continue and for that vine to grow more and more out. But the further we get from the head of the vine the poorer the fruit will be and the weaker the vine will be. That?s why pruning is so important. God cuts us off before we start focusing on how beautiful our branch is and forget about the source in the vine.
Mature plants look pretty gnarly but produce great fruit
A properly maintained grape plant can produce for many many years. If you have ever seen the head of a very mature plant it looks pretty gross?all cut upon and scarred. But the fruit it produces is excellent! You may have gone through many years of trials and feel like God can?t really use you and you are just used up. Quite the contrary. Those scars mean God is shaping you into his image?not so great on the outside but wonderful on the inside, where it counts?where the fruit comes from.
The buds are the promise of future growth, set during past growth
The results of God?s faithfulness in our past trials, and our growing reliance on him sets buds in our lives so that we can grow in new areas as our walk progresses. So look for related growth. You come into a hard time financially when you can?t pay a bill. You learn to trust God?he moves in you to not hold on so much to ?stuff? perhaps?then later on you lose your job and could be really panicky, but instead the bud from that one experience can become a fruiting branch that is even better but is based on the growth you had earlier.
Hearing the Word is a vital first step towards the cleansing power of pruning
Jesus says in verse 3: ?Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.? Next time we?ll look at what it means to ?abide? in his word. But we must realize that the process doesn?t even begin until we hear the words from the Word of God: Jesus Christ. He is the source of life in the vine and unless we tap into that we can?t have life.
God prunes differently for different branches
Remember how some varieties of grapes produce fruit on only certain bud numbers? Don?t worry if God is pruning you on one bud but not someone else. Each of us is pruned to produce the best fruit for our variety!