Here we learn of the cultivation of vineyards and how important it was to the life and economy of Israel (vs. 1-11). And, as Jesus teaches, he uses things that the people could relate to. So, he speaks of the vine. And, if ever a nation had everything it needed to be successful, it was Israel. But, the vine produced wild grapes. Instead of justice, they oppressed. Instead of righteousness, it produced unrighteousness and so, God had to deal with the nation Israel and chasten it, but even that did not produce lasting results. So, when God’s own Son came to the vineyard, they cast Him out and killed Him (Matt. 21:33-46).
Now, the present Vine is our Lord Jesus Christ, and, of course, the vine includes the branches. He is the “true Vine,” that is, “the original of which all other vines are a copy” and Christians are the branches meaning, we have a living relationship to Christ and belong to Him so that we may bear fruit. For, by itself, a branch is weak and useless. It is good for either bearing or burning, but not for building. The branch cannot produce its own life; it must draw that life from the vine. And so again. it is our communion with Christ that makes possible the bearing of the fruit. And, the sooner Christians realize that we are but branches, the better we will relate to the Lord. Thus, we must abide in Him, serve and sacrifice to Him.
Now, the vinedresser is in charge of caring for the vines, and Jesus said, this is the work of His Father. It is He who “purges” or prunes the branches so they will produce more fruit. And, it is ironic that Christians pray to bear more fruit but they do not enjoy the pruning process that follows. Still, the vinedresser prunes the branches by cutting away dead wood that can breed disease and insects, and by cutting away living tissue so that the life of the vine will not be so dissipated that the quality of the crop will be jeopardized. This shows us that God does not let the believer alone to have his own way. Instead, because God loves us, He “prunes” us and encourages us to bear more fruit for His glory.
But, how does the Father prune us? Sometimes He simply uses the Word to convict and cleanse us. (Jn. 13:10; Eph. 5:26-27.) Sometimes He must chasten us (Heb. 12:1-11). At the time, it hurts when He removes something precious from us; but as the “spiritual crop” is produced, we see that the Father knew what He was doing. Thus, the more we abide in Christ, the more fruit we bear; and the more fruit we bear, the more the Father has to prune us so God is glorified by a bigger crop that is also a better crop.
As for the fruit, we are not producing fruit to please ourselves but to serve others. Thus, we should be the kind of people who “feed” others by our words and our works (Prov. 10:21). For, we bear fruit when we win others to Christ (Rom. 1:13). and, since we are a part of the harvest (Jn. 4:35-38), as we grow in holiness and obedience, we are bearing fruit (Rom. 6:22) of a dedicated life (Gal. 5:22-23). This is why it is such a terrible shame for a once fruitful believer to fall from grace and lose his/her privilege of fellowship with the Savior. But, our abiding in Christ certainly ought to produce His love, joy, and peace in our hearts. So, as branches in the Vine, we have the privilege of abiding and the responsibility of bearing fruit.
But now, we turn to the second picture Jesus shows and that is a picture of friends. Most of us have many acquaintances but very few friends, and even some of our friends may prove unfriendly or even unfaithful. What about Judas. (Ps. 41:9)? Even a devoted friend may fail us when we need him most. Peter, James, and John went to sleep in the Garden when they should have been praying; and Peter even denied the Lord three times. So, our friendship to each other and to the Lord is not perfect, but His friendship to us is perfect.
However, we must not interpret this word friend in a limited way, because the Greek word means “a friend at court.” It describes that “inner circle” around a king or emperor. It is this kind of a relationship that Jesus described when He called His disciples “friends.” It was certainly a relationship of love, both for Him and for each other. And, these friends could not compete with each other for attention or promotion because they did not promote themselves, but to serve their King. What a rebuke this must have been to the selfish disciples who often argued over who was the greatest!
Yet, our friendship with Christ involves love and obedience as well as knowledge: He “lets us in on” His plans. Indeed, He is our Master (John 13:13, 16), but He does not treat us as servants. He treats us as friends, if we do what He commands. And, it is interesting to note that, in John’s account, it was the servants who knew what was going on! The servants at the wedding feast in Cana knew where the wine came from (Jn. 2:9), and the nobleman’s servants knew when the son was healed (Jn. 4:51-53). Thus, one of the greatest privileges we have as His friends is that of learning to know God better. And so, as branches, we share His life and bear fruit; and as friends, we share His love and bear fruit. As branches, we are pruned by the Father; as friends, we are instructed by the Son, and His Word controls our lives.
Now, in vs. 15-16, it summarizes for us what it means to be a friend of the King of kings. It is a humbling experience, for He chose us and we keep our ears open and listen to what He says to us so that we might obey Him and get His work done. Next, Jesus closed this part of His message by reminding them (and us) of the most important commandment of all: Love one another. This command was repeated twice and will be told many more times in the New Testament letters. Thus, the friends of the King must not only love Him, but also one another. What joy it brings to His heart when He sees His friends loving one another and working together to obey His commands. So, if we are not abiding as branches and obeying as friends, we will never be able to face the opposition of the world. And, if we do not love one another, how can we ever hope to love lost men and women in the world? If we are not marching together as the friends of the King, we will never present a united front to the enemy. Remember, Jesus said, “Without Me, ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). But if we abide in Him, if we stay close to the throne, we can do anything that He commands us to do!