Ever met someone who loves to garden. As soon as the season begins they are out churning the soil, carefully planting each seed, making sure the right plants are in the right places for optimum growth, there are so many things to think about if you are a gardener. It is an art and a good gardener has good fruit. Now maybe you have never thought of God like that before, but in this passage Jesus refers to him as a gardener. The picture is of God caring for us as a gardener for his vineyard. He takes special care in how we are doing and if we are being productive or not. There are a few very practical lessons to learn about being in His garden that I would like to speak to you about tonight. I’d like us to consider 3 points:
1. Jesus is the Vine
It is important for us to begin with Jesus because without him we wouldn’t be in the garden. It is only through him that we qualify to be in the best garden in the world, like well chosen grapes. In this role Jesus becomes for us our source of nourishment (life) and structure. In verse 4 Jesus says, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.” Jesus is asserting himself here as the only vine that is true and anyone who is separate from this true vine cannot produce any fruit. He represents the system by which we receive nourishment and life. He brings to us the life giving ability to produce the kind of fruit we were made to produce.
Jesus also gives us a secure and sturdy structure that can never be destroyed. Our strength and stability is found in Him and not in any strength we have in ourselves. We can trust the strength of the vine for he holds us together like Paul says in Colossians 1 that, “everything was created through him and for him…he existed before everything else began, and he holds all creation together.” Like the head is to the body the vine is to the branches. He provides us with the structure to bear fruit and without the vine there can be no fruit.
2. God is the Gardener
Have you ever known someone who talks to their plants? Now my father is a great gardener, but I can honestly say that I never once saw him talking to his plants. Well the mentality behind it is that they are living things and so need that kind of TLC to grow well. I guess it is an interesting thought especially when you think of God and his garden. This is a new picture of God that I think is one of a meticulous care giver who cares about the branches that he tends to, but also about productivity, like any vineyard owner. He moves through the vineyard going over his precious branches, talking to them and encouraging them to be all that they can be. He tells us how, through his great mercy, he chose us to be in his garden. As he carefully inspects our fruit he cuts away what does not belong and what may be hindering us from producing fruit. This pruning process is not fully explained here by Jesus but, as John Stott suggests, “…we need not doubt that pain, sorrow, sickness, suffering, loss, bereavement, disappointment and frustrated ambition are all part of the pruning activity of God the gardener.”
Now to some this may seem harsh, but God is only interested in us fulfilling what we were created to do, which as a branch would be to bear fruit. It doesn’t matter how long, tall, or straight you are as long as you are bearing good fruit. Anything that does not bear fruit or removes itself from the vine is piled up and thrown into the flames to be burned. Anyone who has ever done gardening would know that you throw away what is dead because it has no use.
3. We are the Branches
Many times people ask me, ‘What am I here for, what is my purpose?’ Well by looking at this passage it is clear that if we are branches on the vine then we were made for the production of fruit. Understanding this helps us remember a few very important things that should always be in the back of our minds. First is that we are only made fit to be in this vineyard because of the work of Christ. He made a way possible by making a way that we could come to God through him, which is why the picture of him being the vine works so well. Second is that anyone who comes through Jesus becomes a functioning part of the vineyard. There are no priority positions on the vine; we’re all there for the same purpose. Thirdly we are only to be concerned with our own production, not the state of other branches. One branch cannot help another anyway, so our sole focus should be on the quality and quantity of the fruit we are responsible for and if possible be an example.
Knowing our role in the process is very important as well. We have to focus on staying connected to the vine, from where our life flows. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” When looking at producing fruit in this manner we understand that Jesus gets the credit if we bear much fruit, because it comes from abiding in him. God also takes the credit in this process because he is involved in shaping us for optimal production. He is the one who carefully forms us and shapes us so that we can bear much fruit and in so doing we bring him glory (vs8). Nobody would ever praise the vine for the fruit that it produces. It is always the gardener that receives the praise for the fruit in his garden, same with God, the constant gardener.
I guess the point that I want to make tonight is that wee are challenged, not so much to produce fruit, but to remain or abide in Jesus, if we do this then much fruit will be produced. We have to concentrate on being obedient and learn to love as Jesus loved. If we devote our lives to doing this then we, like Jesus, will produce fruit through our lives in everything that we do. It is his love which we need to emulate, love described in 1 Cor. 13. If we can learn to love then we will unconsciously fulfil the whole law (Romans 13:10). As branches it is more about being than doing. This is why there is no formula to producing fruit; it is not something we can strive to do, but strive to be, to remain in him. If we can do this then we will, through Jesus the Vine and God the Gardener, produce fruit worthy of the gardener’s glorious name. We will also know an overflowing joy, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” How many of you are comforted to know that we have a Gardener that is constantly interested in us and tends to us. Gad cares deeply that we become what He created us to be and He cares enough to give us what we need, not what we want.