The issue of change is one which receives much debate.
But then, there are probably things we’d like to change, such as, to make things more attractive or to make rules fairer. There are things that we don’t want to change, because they provided a measure of support and are the basis of things on which we rely. And there are the things, which seem to do nothing else but change, and it seems to be change for the sake of it.
Of course, one of the problems with change is that each of us has different things we’d like to change, and each of us has things we want to stay the same. Furthermore, each of us copes differently with change. Some might be more resistant, while others embrace it more easily.
But against all those things is, that whether we like it or not, change is part and parcel of the world in which we live and, to some extent, is something we need to learn to accept. And just as that is true for the world, so it is true for the Christian church as well.
Because in this passage from John’s gospel, Jesus talked about him being the vine and us being the branches. And in doing so he raised the subject of change—things that shouldn’t change and things that should.
B. I AM THE VINE
1. The Symbol of the Vine
Now, in New Testament times, the vineyard played an essential role in the life of the community. And in addition to the obvious—the production of wine, which I might add was nowhere near as alcoholic as it is today—grapes played an important part in the diet of the day.
Indeed, they supplied iron and other essential minerals, and a portion of the harvest was preserved in raisin cakes, which was a welcome food for the hungry, being full of energising sugars. Furthermore, raisins were easily carried, and, because of their practical uses, they made very acceptable gifts.
But as well as the practical value of the vine, the vine was also seen as a symbol of prosperity and peace. It was used as a symbol of God’s chosen people. They were the vine that had been chosen and planted in a particular choice land. They had been given all the attention necessary for the production of outstanding fruit. However, as history had shown they had only yielded wild grapes.
So, when Jesus made the statement that he was the ‘true’ vine, what he was effectively indicating was that yes, to some extent some things shouldn’t change. The idea of the vine, being essential for the spiritual diet was just as important as it had always been. However, regarding the need for the people of God to be productive, then there was, indeed, a great need for change.
2. The Things That Shouldn’t Change (1)
And the things that shouldn’t change, Jesus said, were the personnel and the roles they had to play.
a). Jesus – The Vine
Jesus said that, whereas God’s people of the past had considered themselves to be the vine, he was the ‘true’ vine. The people of the past had been unreliable and not very fruitful. However, he was the one who could be relied upon, the solid rock on whom people could depend. And he would remain consistent and faithful to his calling.
b). The Father – The Vine Dresser
Furthermore, the Father’s role was that of the vinedresser—the one who would keep the branches of the vine in order. Trimming the branches where necessary and removing the limbs that were totally unproductive.
c). Believers – The Branches
On the other hand, the church—the people of God—was simply the branches attached to the vine. The church had an organic relationship with the vine and was dependent upon Jesus for its very existence and survival. But, as a consequence, the church was not to get beyond itself, and should not try to usurp the place of Jesus.
Now sometimes it’s true that the church does tend to forget where it is in the chain. And it’s very easy to get carried away with our programmes, or whatever we have planned, and forget just who it is who is supposed to be in charge.
It’s good to be reminded, therefore, of Jesus’s statement regarding the vine and the players within it. Because it provides a solid basis for the practice of our faith—a framework that can be relied upon, which does not change. And therefore, can provide great comfort and strength in our relationship with God, in our spiritual journey.
3. The Things That Should Change (2-5)
So, we can be assured of our unchanging place in our relationship with God. But Jesus’s comments about the vine also talked about the need for change. And the things that he said should change are regarding our ability to produce fruit. According to Jesus, the Christian faith is dynamic, not static, and no-one can rest, even on the basis that they have been a Christian for many years. For there is always the need to continue to produce fruit for the vine.
a). The Father – Pruning (2)
Now, this is where the part of the Father is decisive. Because the Father’s role is to watch over the vine and take action, like that of the vinedresser, to secure fruitfulness. It is the Father’s role to discard the fruitless branches, and to trim even those who are fruitful so they can bear even more fruit.
Now, the emphasis, here, is on the need for believers to bear fruit, and pruning is essential to ensure good fruit. Left to itself the vine would produce a great deal of unproductive fruit. So, to obtain maximum fruitfulness, extensive pruning is essential.
The suggestion here then is that not only will a lack of fruitfulness be pruned away. But natural energies and inclinations to run riot will not be tolerated either. The action of the Father is, consequently, to cleanse his people so that they will live fruitful lives.
b). Believers – Abiding In Jesus (3-4)
Now, it must be said, that the words of Jesus were not aimed at his disciples as words of criticism. They were not a reprimand for what they had failed to do. His intention was not one of reproach. Rather, it was one of encouragement, pointing to the way that they could continue to progress spiritually.
As a consequence, the emphasis in this passage is not on the pruning, but on the continuing need for a closer walk with Jesus. According to Jesus, a disciple must live in him in order to remain fruitful. No branch can bear fruit in isolation. A believer must have that vital connection with the vine. Because without giving themselves totally to Christ, fruitfulness is just not possible.
c). Jesus – Abiding In Us (5)
And just as they must live in Jesus, so Jesus must live in them. There is a mutual relationship, which is a condition of fruitfulness. And in isolation from Christ, no spiritual achievement is possible.
In the Christian walk, then, There are things that shouldn’t change: the personnel and their roles. And there are things that should change: and that is our constant need to become more like Christ, and to reflect that in the things that we say and do.
4. Resistance to Change (6)
And for any who would stubbornly refuse that life changing dynamic relationship with God . . . Well, the image is the same as what happens to any useless branches on a vine. They will wither away, and then be removed from the vine, and burnt, leaving plenty of room for everyone else.
Some strong words, then, from Jesus regarding the nature of our relationship with God.
There are some things that shouldn’t change. And in respect to our place on the vine: Jesus is the vine, the Father is the vinedresser, and his church is the branches. A situation which should give us a solid basis for the practice of our faith.
And the things that should change—is the need to do the things that are expected of us. We are to be truly fruitful members of his flock.
6. Practical Application – Two of The Fruits (7-8)
And if we are fruitful . . . bearing in mind that Jesus’s message was intended to be taken positively, and not critically? Well, Jesus concludes his teaching by outlining two distinctive outcomes:
a). Prayer (7)
Firstly, our relationship with Jesus will be that we will grow in harmony with him, and that our prayer life will reflect the wishes and desires of God himself. As a consequence, we will pray for the things of concern to God, and our prayers will be answered.
b). Glorifying God (8)
And secondly, our faith, and our actions will bring glory to God, in terms of the work that he’s given us to do in bearing much fruit, and in the fact that we will be living examples of what it means to be the people of God, for everyone to see.
Discipleship, then, cannot stay the same. On the contrary, discipleship should be a growing and developing way of life that is open to constant change. But not change for the sake of change. But change, so that we can become more in tune with God and, as a consequence, more fruitful in his service.
Being fruitful, or becoming more fruitful, then, is the call to all Christians—and not just as individuals, but the church as a whole. And it’s an important part of Christian living which we cannot afford to ignore.
So, then, how do we, as individuals and as a church, continue to grow and bear fruit to the glory of God?
1. Acknowledging Our Place
Well, the first thing we should do is to acknowledge where we are in the context of Jesus’s teaching. And to do that, we must remember that: Jesus is the vine, the Father is the vinedresser, and we are the branches. And we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.
The most common mistake among those who claim to be church people, I believe, is to believe that this is our church and that we are the ones who say what does and doesn’t happen in it, when it happens, and the way that things are conducted.
In reality, however, this isn’t our church, it’s only a building with which we have been entrusted. And it can’t be our church, because the church belongs to God not us. And therefore, what happens in this building should be what God wants, not necessarily what we would wish.
So, the first thing we need to do, is to keep that unchanging order in its place.
2. Abiding in Christ
The second thing is to remember what it means to have a proper relationship with Jesus Christ. And to do that we need to make sure that we have given ourselves over to him totally. We need to acknowledge that he lives in us, and we need to accept that our relationship is mutual. So, we should stifle the work of the Holy Spirit that is within us.
The process of becoming more like Jesus is a very important aspect of the Christian faith. After all, how can we be the people of God, if we stick to our old sinful ways? How do we stop being the sinful people that we are, if we’ve nothing to put in its place? And how do we know what we need to do, without the support, encouragement, and the example of our Saviour himself?
Building a relationship with Jesus then is a vital aspect of our walk with God. Because without it, the only place we can lead other people is astray. We cannot lead others to what we don’t know ourselves. So, getting to know God through talking to him, through reading the bible and through sharing with other believers, are essential parts of any believer’s life.
3. Being Fruitful
And, if we get the first two right, Then and only then, thirdly, are we in a situation, that we can be fruitful. Because being fruitful isn’t just a matter of running around doing things and being active for activity’s sake. After all, all that usually means is unproductive activity. No! Being fruitful is about doing the things that God wants us to do, and in the manner he wishes us to do it.
In this world, then, there may be some things we’d like to change, and there may be some things we’d like to stay the same. And in the church the same might be true.
However, in regard to the church, some things are supposed to stay the same—the personnel and the roles they need to play. But in regard to being fruitful members of the church, some things are just not meant to stay the same at all.
The Christian walk is supposed to be dynamic not static, based on the foundation of knowing our place within the scheme of things, and based on an intimate relationship with our Lord Jesus.
These words of Jesus were intended to be words of encouragement, not criticism. But, even so, the warning regarding being rotten or wild grapes is something we need to heed.
Posted: 30th December 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis