Formations 05.17.2015: Bearing Fruit

John 15:1-8

af24_3_051715_a_smMy father-in-law passed away around this time last year. Before he retired, he worked in a factory grading the lumber that would eventually be turned into furniture.

As my wife tells it, though, what Otto Piercy really was, was a farmer. He lived on farms, worked on farms, and kept a small vegetable garden almost till the day he died. He bought his daughters Christmas presents with the extra money he got stripping tobacco in southern Kentucky. He was a man of the land who could tell you the name of any tree in the forest and list all the things it was good for. I feel sorry for people who never had the chance to taste tomatoes fresh from his garden.

Dad never grew grapes. As far as I know, grapes don’t grow in that part of the world. Even so, when I hear Jesus compare God to a vineyard keeper tending his vines, I picture my father-in-law and imagine that I understand this passage better because he passed through my life.

Jesus compares himself to a vine under the care of the heavenly Vineyard Keeper, but this analogy quickly expands to include his followers as well. If Jesus is the vine, his disciples are the branches (v. 5).

I picture God studying those branches, meandering up and down the rows like visiting with old friends. He’s going to do everything he can to make sure they bear fruit. He needs to see which ones are drawing life from the vine and which ones need to be trimmed back so he’ll have a bumper crop in the end.

We abide in Christ, he abides in us, and the Father watches over us both. By remaining in Jesus, we are meant to produce “much fruit.” And, as in 14:13, the goal of all this is to bring the Father glory.


• Have you ever grown your own vegetables? What kind of effort or attention goes into producing a healthy crop?
• What similarities do you see between discipleship and fruit-bearing?
• What does it mean for believers to “remain” in Christ and to “produce much fruit”?
• What are we to do with the warnings in this passage about the failure to produce fruit (vv. 2, 6)?

Reference Shelf

The Vine and Its Branches

Viticulture provided the biblical writers with a useful model by which to characterize God’s relationship with his people. Israel is a vine that Yahweh has brought out of Egypt and planted in the promised land only to find it unproductive, yielding worthless fruit. As a result, he has broken down its walls, allowing it to be ravaged and to deteriorate (Ps 80:8-16; Isa 5:1-7; Jer 2:21). In the NT Jesus describes his relationship with his true followers as that of a vine and its branches (John 15:1-8).

Raymond Hargus Taylor, “Vine,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 948.

The True Vine

The Last Discourse of Jesus, 13:31–17:26, consists of three components: a first farewell speech (13:31–14:21), a second farewell speech (15:1–16:33), and a long prayer (17:1-26). The first version of the farewell speech contains three parts: (1) the soteriological priority of Jesus and the derivative nature of the disciples’ existence (13:31–14:14); (2) the difference between the disciples and the world (14:15-24); and (3) the consolation offered by Jesus in the face of imminent separation from his disciples (14:25-31). The second version of the farewell speech is also comprised of three subunits: (1) 15:1-17, a meditation on Jesus as the source of the community’s life (i.e., the derivative nature of Christian existence); (2) 15:18–16:15, a meditation on the tensions between the disciples and the world; and (3) a meditation on the sorrow of passion separation and the joy of Easter consolation (16:16-33). Both versions of the farewell speech are built out of similar materials and are organized in terms of a similar three-point outline….

John 15:1-17 is the first of three components in the second farewell speech, 15:1–16:33. It is a meditation on Jesus as the source of the community’s life. It falls into two parts: a figure (vv. 1-6) and a reflection on the figure (vv. 7-17…).

The first paragraph of the figure begins with the last of the “I am + predicate” sayings: “I am the true vine” (v. 1; “I am the vine,” v. 5). The vine usually symbolizes Israel in Jewish and early Christian tradition (Hos 10:1-2; Isa 5:1-7; Jer 2:21; Ezek 15:1-5; Ps 80:8-18; Leviticus Rabbah 36 [133a]; 1QH 6.15-16; Mk 12:1-11); occasionally the king (Ezek 17:6-8) or the Messiah (2 Baruch 36–37; 39:7; Didache 9:2?). Here Jesus speaks of himself as the true vine (i.e., the faithful Israel, in contrast to faithless Israel that has become a wild vine, Jer 2:21; the true Messiah, in contrast to the thieves and robbers, 10:8). Since the “I am + predicate” sayings in John speak of Jesus’ role in salvation, for him to be the true vine is for him to function as the source of life and fruitfulness for the branches. The emphasis is on the derivative nature of the disciples’ life.

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 219–20.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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