He is de vine, we are de branches…
A classmate shared recently the following quote from Richard Rohr: “What is the source of your spiritual power? It’s radical union with God, not just doing good things or holding a role or function. Often we make the basis for ministry professionalism, education, and up-to-date-ism, which are all good in themselves. But in the end, the only basis for fruitful Christianity is divine union. Such people change you and change the world” (emphasis mine).
In John 15, Jesus said, 1″I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He 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. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
This is a complex and beautiful passage and I won’t go into it in detail. Instead, I simply want us to notice a few things. First, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. There is a picture of mutual indwelling. We are connected to Jesus by faith in such a way that we take our live from the vine (Jesus) and he is connected to us so that he bears fruit through us.
Second, we are completely dependent on Jesus for life and fruit. Verse 4 tells us that if we remain in Jesus and he in us, then we will bear fruit. We cannot bear fruit any other way. As Rohr wrote, “the only basis for fruitful Christianity is divine union.” Think about it. What is the job description of a branch? Does it leave the vine to go fetch water from the well? Does it run off to get a shovel and dig irrigation ditches? Does it fan itself to keep bugs and birds away? Does it run off to the store and buy its favorite fruit and then glue the fruit on to itself? NO! The job description of a branch is to suck all the life-giving water it can from the vine. It has to stay connected to the vine. Without that connection, there is no fruitfulness.
Jesus went on and said, 5″I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
Being is more important than doing. Good trees bear good fruit. 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them (Matthew 7:17-20).
God is a God of intimacy and action. Knowing God and loving God intimately should move us to witness and serve. It is our connection to Jesus – to the vine – that gives us life. As we grow more deeply in him, we become good trees and he will cause us to bear good fruit.
Our ministry should flow from our relationship with Jesus – from our connection to the vine. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing. Many say they believe that, but then they live as if it everything depended on them. People who live like that are really “functional atheists.” A “functional atheist” is a person who says he/she believes in God and believes certain things about God, but then goes out each day and lives like everything in their lives depends on themselves. They might say they believe God will provide, but then they worry that they have to work and work to make ends meet. They might say they believe God is with them all the time and they need to depend on him in everything, but then not think of God at all for huge parts of their days. They might say they believe that Jesus’ work on the cross was the perfect sacrifice for their sins, but then live as though they need to earn God’s approval and acceptance. They might say they believe that prayer changes things, but then not take time to pray.
We need to affirm that He is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from him we can do nothing. Then we need to go and live that out. We need to cultivate hearts that are bent toward Jesus. We need to do things that create space in our lives for the gracious work of the Holy Spirit to transform us. Primarily ministry needs to flow out of our relationship to Jesus. But I have a fear that we don’t live like that. I fear that we say our ministry depends on Jesus but then live as though we were the ones in control – as though it really depended on our ability and wisdom.
Ultimately, we need to live passionate, holy lives of intimacy with Jesus. We need to be deeply connected to the vine. We need to be in constant conversation with him throughout the day. We need to be constantly vigilant to the work of God all around us. We need to hunger and thirst for more Jesus. When we seek God through spiritual practices like silence, solitude, study, self-examination, prayer, and simplicity, we will be good trees bearing good fruit for we will be connected to the life-giving vine.
Rohr is right that “…the only basis for fruitful Christianity is divine union. Such people change you and change the world.”
May we be followers of Christ who change our worlds.