This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: John 15:1-17
Sermon prepared by Rev. Adrian Eising, Flushing, Michigan
There's a lot of difference between one apple tree and another. Sometimes you find an apple tree off on some abandoned farmstead, and the tree is kind of crooked and has lots of dead branches. All it produces is a few spindly apples with numerous spots. And then if you go to a commercial apple orchard, you find trees that are just loaded with juicy red apples. What's the difference? Well, a lot of the difference is in whether someone takes care of the tree, sprays it and prunes it and fertilizes it and so forth.
Now which of those 2 apple trees are you like in your spiritual life? Most of us would probably say that we're somewhere in between, right? But which are we closer to? Are we closer to producing a lot of great fruit or closer to producing some imperfect fruit? That's a question you'll have to answer yourself. But maybe instead I should ask, "Which would you like to be? Do you want to be producing a few wormy fruits for God, or do you want to be producing lots of delicious fruit for him?" I would hope and expect that you would say the second. But let me ask you, "Are you willing to pay the price?" It takes something to produce great fruit. It does not happen automatically
So what does it take to produce great fruit? This passage gives us several secrets.
The most important secret to great fruit is remaining in Christ. Unless you remain in Christ, you're not going to produce much fruit. The picture is given here of a vine and branches and what happens if a branch does not draw nourishment from the vine. Well, friends, it's obvious. It may produce some fruit, but the fruit is kind of dried and unappetizing. That's the kind of fruit that we produce when we fail to draw our sustenance from Christ.
So what does it mean to remain in Christ? It means to draw your nourishment from him daily, fill yourself with him, to make him the heart of your existence and hope and life. We often try to do things on our own strength. We get a plan for how to make a living, how to make a church grow, how to make a relationship right and we barrel straight ahead with our plans on our own strength instead of resting in Christ and listening to his plans and living in his strength. Too many Christians do not draw enough of their sustenance from a daily attachment to the vine, a drawing from him in all things. We have a choice: we can either remain in Christ and produce loads of luscious fruit, or we can continue in our own strength and produce a few spindly fruit.
Another secret is laid down in verse 2. Let me read that verse for you: “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.” I'd like you to note 2 things in this verse. The first thing to note is that there are 2 different conditions: namely bearing fruit or not bearing fruit. We fit into one of those two categories. Now I'm sure that we'd all like to say that we're in the bearing fruit category. And we can look at our lives and see people we help or whatever. But are we really bearing MUCH fruit? I hope so. Because if you're not bearing fruit, you're going to be cut off.
The second thing to note is God's response to the two different conditions. Those who don't bear fruit are cut off. Verse 6 speaks of branches that are cut off and wither and are thrown in the fire and burned. That's not the kind of situation I'd like to be in. Who do these branches that are cut off represent? I don't think they represent the general unbelieving population of the world, because they were never on the vine in the first place. Who would be people on the vine already? Well, when Jesus was speaking, it was the Jews, God's chosen people, in danger of being cut off the vine if they didn't accept Jesus, if they didn't show fruit. Today it refers to people who are part of the people of God, covenant children and adults who are a part of the church. They are part of God's family, his covenant, "on the vine." They must be careful because, as they reach the age of accountability, whatever that is, if they are not showing fruit, the fruit of a Christian life, they will be cut off. They are in danger of being picked up and thrown in the fire, if they do not accept Jesus as their savior "and Lord" and produce fruit in keeping with that profession. That's a sobering thought that those who don't produce fruit are cut off.
But what really struck me is God's response to the person who is bearing fruit. How do you think that God should respond to a person who is bearing fruit for him? Reward him, right? Well, elsewhere God does speak of rewarding good deeds, but God also does something else to those who bear fruit, and that is highlighted here. "Every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes." Pruning? Sounds like it hurts, right? Maybe you think that you'd just as soon not be pruned by God. But friends, pruning is what God does to all Christians. The choices are between on the one hand not bearing fruit and being cut off and on the other hand bearing fruit and being pruned. There is no third choice mentioned.
Now I'm no fruit expert or pruning expert but as I understand it, fruit trees and bushes should be pruned for several reasons.
1) in order for them to bear more fruit
2) to make them healthier and
3) to give them a better shape
Pruning also takes at least 3 different forms:
First, pruning involves cutting out dead branches. I understand that dead branches can injure the other healthy branches.
Secondly, pruning involves cutting off branches that were too long and straggly and stuck out too far. If a branch is too long, it's weak and easily broken. You don't want it to break in the middle of summer or when it has fruit on. You want thick enough stems for their length, not only for strength, but also to get enough nourishment there for the fruit or leaves or whatever
Thirdly, even with branches that are alive and good looking, you still cut a little piece off the end. Apparently that stimulates new growth and gives the plant a bushier filled-out look.
Those same things apply to us when God prunes us. Sometimes we have dead wood in our lives that needs to be removed. There are sins in our lives that need to be cut out. There are influences or habits in our lives that are ungodly. They need to be pruned away, cut out of our lives if we are going to bear more fruit. It's not easy cutting sin or bad habits or influences out of your life. Sometimes it's three steps forward and two steps back. It can be painful, but it's necessary. And it's good, good for us, good for God, good for our fruit bearing. You cannot bear much fruit if you let the deadwood of sin remain in your life.
God also prunes back straggly branches. Sometimes we have areas of our life where we are weak, where we've overextended ourselves. God prunes us back. It might not seem so nice at the time, but he doesn't want us to break. He takes care of his plants so that they can bear much fruit. And in time we may grow in that direction and bear much fruit, but, in His time, and in His way.
Sometimes we are imbalanced. Now I recognize that we each have gifts and strengths and that God designed the church that way. But those are more like the different flowers that make up the beauty of a flower garden. Specific plants still need pruning and still need to be balanced in themselves. If we are not strong on patience, or faith, or prayer, it may be hindering those areas where we are strong. God may prune us so that our Christian life is more balanced, that we grow in our areas of weakness so that we can shine more in our areas of strength. It can hurt to be pruned, to be called by God and forced by God to work on some area of weakness. God prunes us for our own good.
Even in those areas where we are strong and healthy, God still prunes us. Even if you're strong in faith or prayer or giving, he may give you a little nip and it may call you to a new level of praying or giving or whatever. God is not happy with us just sitting back in our spiritual easy chair. He wants to see us grow. And not just grow, but bear fruit. And not just bear fruit, but bear much fruit. That's why he prunes us.
How does God prune us? Pruning by its very nature involves pain and cutting. God may prune us through trials. We like to escape troubles and trials. We even pray thanking God for sparing us from trial. We sometimes sing, "Let thy congregation escape tribulation." But you know, trial is often part of God's plans for all of us. He wants to prune us, to shape and mold us. Why? So that we bear more fruit. Maybe we don't like pruning, but hopefully our desire to bear much fruit will make us willing to ask God to prune us.
Pruning can be tough at times. If you are relying on your retirement investment portfolio only to have God cut it in half, that’s tough. But it serves to remind us of where our earthly security is. God wants us to depend only on him. As long as you've got “this” put away or “that” asset, it's hard to truly rely on God and look to him like a servant looks to his master.
Or let's say there's a young man who's putting sports ahead of his walk with God. Part of God's pruning may be to allow his knee to get hurt so that he can't play any more. Hopefully he'll realize that this is God calling him back to put His walk with God first. Pruning is painful. Painful, but good, and necessary for bearing fruit.
Too often, it takes trial to bring growth and fruit. Too often we are like Israel in the time of the judges. When everything is going well, we drift from God. When trouble comes, we return to him. Few of us would choose trouble and trial. But consider this, is it not often trouble and trial that bring us closer to God?
Granted, not all pruning happens in the context of trial. Sometimes in times of little or no trial, we grow. To be overwhelmed with busyness can make a person look hard at what God is really calling them to do, to look at what their priorities are, or what they should be. That can lead to pruning, to thinking about what can and should be pruned from my life. Sometimes God prunes us and straightens us and calls us back simply through a sermon or a word of God read or a conviction in our heart.
But usually pruning in painful. We must bear in mind, though, that even if it's painful, it's worth it all. Too many Christians are more eager for an easy life than for fruit. They would rather not be pruned. If they only produce a few spindly fruit, “Well, hey, that's life. As long as I get to heaven, I’m fine.” That's too bad. They are missing out on real joy. Verse 11 talks about our joy being complete and about how the more that we remain in him and obey his commands, the more that our joy will be complete. God did not intend for us to simply get by with a mediocre amount of fruit. He wants us to produce fruit, much fruit, an abundance of fruit. He wants to see us full of red apples. As verse 8 says: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” God wants us to know the joy of bearing much fruit and the joy of sweet communion with him.
Do you want that joy? It will not come easy. It's going to take remaining in Christ, drawing our nourishment from him. Apart from him, we cannot bear fruit. It's going to take relying on Him as the vine, filling ourselves with his word, seeking him out often, making our thoughts turn to him often. It's also going to take pruning. We know it may hurt, but we willingly submit to that and long for God to prune us as individuals and as a church and that he prunes the church in North America. Not that we’re masochists who like trial or trouble, but we long to be fruitful for the Lord and we know the price. And so we pray (and please do pray with me now): Lord, prune me, remove the deadwood in my life, the sins that are in my life, the bad habits, the wrong influences. Prune me, Lord, remove the straggly branches, the places where I have overextended myself and not relied on you. Prune me, Lord, so that I am more balanced, that the weak areas of my life may become stronger and not hinder my ministry in the stronger areas. Prune me, Lord, so that even in areas where I am strong, that I may grow new and green and vibrant. Lord, I know that pruning will hurt, but I want to be a branch of yours that bears much fruit. Amen.
Order of Worship
Welcome –we welcome each person here to experience the warmth of the people of God in our midst
Call to Worship: Psalm 147:1
Silent Prayer and sung response: 625 Lord Listen to Your Children Praying
Greeting- Our Father, we pray that your grace, mercy, and peace will rest on us today. Amen
Opening Songs: PsH #171 It is Good to Sing Your Praises
#572 Jesus, Priceless Treasure
God's will for Our Lives: Psalm 51
Prayer of Confession
Song of Confession: #255 God, Be Merciful to Me
Song of Preparation: #220 I Am the Holy Vine
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture: John 15:1-17
Message: The Master Gardener at Work in Us
Song: #287 Have Thine Own Way, Lord
Benediction –Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, send us forth with your blessing today. Amen.
Doxology: #632 To God Be the Glory