In the Vineyard with Jesus

By Gary Walter

Fruit. More fruit.

Jesus was a peripatetic teacher—he taught as he “walked around,” using observations from everyday life. One compelling instance is on the night of his arrest, as recorded in the Gospel of John.

After sharing a last meal with the disciples (John 13-14), he goes with them to the garden to pray (John 17). On the trek between the supper and the supplication we have John 15-16, when Jesus is presumably talking while walking. These are “red letter” chapters, a lengthy record of Jesus pouring out his heart.

The assumed route would have taken them past vineyards, which Jesus uses to illustrate fruitful faith.

Fruit results from abiding. “I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus familiarly says (15:5). He underscores that no branch can bear fruit by itself, but only through abiding in the vine. An organic connection to the vine is a necessary condition for having a fruitful branch.

That is why for us faith is never just about reductionist doctrine. Doctrine does matter. The Apostle Paul admonishes, “watch your life and doctrine closely.” But a living faith does not reside in mere intellectual assent to a statement; it resides in the transformed heart continually transformed by the living Christ. That is why the question, “How goes your walk with the Lord?” has been so foundational to our Covenant identity.

Are you nurturing and nourishing your relationship with Jesus? There is no fruit apart from continuously cultivating an earnest companionship with Jesus. Fruitful faith is open-hearted, yielded to the Holy Spirit, who seeks to produce in us the character of Christ (fruit of the Spirit) and service to Christ (gifts of the Spirit).

So, abiding produces fruit. And then, pruning produces more fruit. At the time of Passover, the vineyards Jesus and the disciples passed would have been pruned back, with the branches just beginning to grow out. Harvest would not be for several months, late in the summer.

Jesus says, “Every branch that does bear fruit [my Father] prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (15:2, NIV). The link between fruit and more fruit is pruning.

Are you feeling the pain of pruning? Pruning is not ruining. Pruning clips away all but the essential. It pares back with the redemptive intent to gain and coalesce strength for a next season. Pruning takes us all the way back to just Jesus and ourselves. When Jesus is all we have, we find reliance that starts growth all over again.

At the Covenant Annual Meeting in June we will honor the service of Debbie Blue and Curt Peterson as they conclude service as executive ministers of Love Mercy, Do Justice and Serve Globally, respectively. Evelyn Johnson will also be recognized for her interim service with Make and Deepen Disciples. All three are models to me of fruit, and then more fruit. Each of their stories is about abiding in Christ, each with a vibrant trust in the Lord they serve.

I also know each of them has experienced contours and stark moments of pain and hurt and loss and danger and disappointment at places along life’s journey. Because they have allowed God to use those experiences redemptively, their fruit—our fruit—has increased. It is always an honor to honor people in whose lives we see the power of the gospel at work.

Will the same be true of us? I hope so. If Jesus talks about abiding and pruning in the moments leading up to his absence, these become emphases he is underscoring for our endurance until he returns.

Abiding. Pruning. We might wish there were artificial floral arrangements to make us look pretty in faith, but this is the authentic way of growth.

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