“I am the true Vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that continues to bear fruit, He [repeatedly] prunes, so that it will bear more fruit [even richer and finer fruit]. You are already clean because of the word which I have given you [the teachings which I have discussed with you]. Remain in Me, and I [will remain] in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself without remaining in the vine, neither can you [bear fruit, producing evidence of your faith] unless you remain in Me. I am the Vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him bears much fruit, for [otherwise] apart from Me [that is, cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown out like a [broken off] branch, and withers and dies; and they gather such branches and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you [that is, if we are vitally united and My message lives in your heart], ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you, My Father is glorified and honored by this, when you bear much fruit, and prove yourselves to be My [true] disciples.” (John 15:1)
A little while ago our Bible study class was discussing this passage in the book of John; pondering it brought to mind the many years that I had my gardens. Specifically it reminded me of tending to the couple dozen tomato plants I would plant in my vegetable garden each year.
Left alone tomato plants will overtake a good portion of your garden space while producing little or no fruit. They love the heat and the sun… add water and you have the makings for some pretty big plants. Notice I say “big plants”… I didn’t say a lot of tomatoes, just big plants.
Check out this description from Fine Gardening Magazine: “A tomato is a solar-powered sugar factory. For the first month or so, all of the sugar it produces is directed towards new leaf growth. During this stage, tomato plants grow very rapidly, doubling their size every 12 to 15 days. Eventually, the plants make more sugar than the single growing tip can use, which signals the plant to make new branches and to flower. This usually happens after 10 to 13 leaves have expanded, at which time the plant is 12 to 18 inches tall. In the next few weeks, the entire character of the tomato plant changes. If unsupported, the increasing weight of filling fruit and multiple side branches forces the plant to lie on the ground. Once the main stem is horizontal, there is an increased tendency to branch. Left to its own devices, a vigorous indeterminate tomato plant can easily cover a 4- by 4-foot area with as many as 10 stems, each 3 to 5 feet long. By season’s end, it will be an unsightly, impenetrable, disease-wracked tangle.”
What does all that have to do with John 15:1? Everything! First, let me say that I know the scriptures here are speaking about grape vines and not tomato plants. I’ve never planted grapes; I’ve planted lots of tomatoes though. Lots and lots of tomatoes.
Tomato plants usually head into the ground at 6 -12 inches high. They are small but sturdy enough to hold themselves up. But, the gardener knows that the plant will eventually need support, so he will place a wooden stake in the ground next to each plant and gently tie the plant to the stake – loose enough that the plant is not strangled, yet firm enough that it doesn’t topple over under its own weight.
Over the days and weeks to come the gardener periodically adds some nourishment. He waters the plants daily – this gives the plant what it needs to begin producing fruit. As the plant continues to grow taller the gardener continues to tie the plant to the stake to keep it from falling down into the dirt and mud. By now what we have is a wonderfully large, green plant with its beginnings of fruit bearing coming from the flowers it has produced. Herein comes the caution… by now the plant is healthy, watered, fed, supported, basking in the sunshine, pushing out abundant green leaves, yellow buds and the start of tiny little tomatoes.
Looks perfect… or does it?
There is this thing that happens to tomato plants, they are called “suckers”. As a tomato grows, side shoots, or suckers, form in the axils, between the leaves and the main stem. The suckers begin as just a tiny leaf that begins to grow; left alone this sucker will grow into a complete branch of the tree. Can it produce fruit? Yes, sometimes it can. But, what mostly happens is that this sucker is attempting to drain the sugars and energy of the main stem and can also attempt to drain energy away from the existing branches. This can cause the original fruit to be smaller and perhaps not as sweet. The gardener knows that these suckers must be pruned from the plants.
Tomato plants, that are tended to by an efficient and attentive gardener, will produce bushels of goodness. Even long after the growing season has ended, and the plants have stopped producing fruit, my family and I enjoy the nourishment of these plants through proper canning and storage… until the next year.
When I think of Jesus as our Vine and God our Father as the Vinedresser/Gardener, the teaching becomes crystal clear to me. I may be little and young, yet when I am planted in good soil, and staked up and supported… when I am nourished, fed and watered, and tended to such that my growth is enhanced with warm sunshine… when my Gardener sees that I am producing suckers and they are creeping in to steal my energy and growth, and He prunes them to stop them from rerouting my efforts … the likelihood of me producing excellent, strong, vibrant is all but guaranteed.
Or is it?
As the plant… what is my role? My role is not just to grow into the plant that I am supposed to be. My role is also to submit myself to the Gardener. To absorb His light, seek His nourishment, bend to His vine training, stay secure in His support, and welcome His pruning. My Gardener knew, when He created the millions of seeds, how each would grow and what each would become. He knows what my seed will be when He is done with me… for now let me wait in the light, be fed with the Living Water, welcome His pruning and stay close to the Vine.
“‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’… ‘We are his offspring.’” (Acts 17:28)