In this chapter, Jesus makes the seventh and last of His “I AM” statements affirming His deity. Jesus uses two illustrations of believers-branches and friends-to reveal our privileges and responsibilities. As branches, we have the privilege of sharing His life and the responsibility of abiding. As friends, we have the privilege of knowing His will and the responsibility of obeying.
First, we see that fruitful branches must abide (1-8). The cultivation of vineyards was an important part of the ancient world. The Old Testament portrayed Israel as God’s vine. Psalm 80:8 says, “You have brought a vine from Egypt; You have cast out the nations, and planted it.” Isaiah 5:4 asks, “What more could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?”
Jesus is the true Vine. He is the original and all others are imitations. The picture of the vine and branches is similar to the head and body of the church. We must be directly connected to Christ in a living union to sustain life. Believers are the branches. A branch is weak and useless by itself. It is good for bearing fruit or burning in the fire. A branch cannot produce fruit without the vine. Our communion with Christ makes it possible for us to bear fruit. The operative word here is “abide.” It’s used eleven times in verses one to eleven. To abide means to stay in fellowship with the Lord, spending time daily in the Word, confessing our sin, communing with Him in prayer and worshipping and serving with other believers.
The Father is the Vinedresser. He is overseeing and caring for His vineyard. This emphasizes the Father’s loving concern for the vine (Son) and branches (believers). The vinedresser has two main responsibilities: to remove branches that do not bear fruit and to prune the fruit-bearing branches so they will bear more fruit. The pruning process is the most important part of the whole enterprise. Vinedressers must train for two or three years, learning where to cut, how much to cut, and even at what angle to cut or they can destroy an entire crop. How does the Father prune us? Sometimes He uses the Word to convict and cleanse us. The word “purge” in verse two is the same as “clean” in chapter thirteen verse 10. Sometimes He chastens us (Hebrews 12:1-11). Left to itself a branch might produce many clusters, but they will be inferior in quality. God not only wants much fruit, He wants quality fruit. Your Heavenly Father is never closer to you than when He is pruning you!
Jesus mentions fruit several times here. A popular misconception is that spiritual fruit is outward success. Having a large church does not necessarily mean a successful ministry any more than having a large family means you are a successful parent. Results do not equal fruit. There are many unbiblical ways to get results! Scripture mentions several types of fruit. The fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 describes Christian character. The fruit of souls (Romans 1:13) is when we bring others to Christ. A joyful heart in worship to God produces the fruit of praise (Hebrews 13:15). The fruit of a holy and righteous life (Philippians 1:11; Hebrews 12:11) glorifies God and attracts people. A true branch united with the vine will always bear fruit.
We also see that faithful friends must love (15:9-17). Most of us have many acquaintances, but few close friends. And some of our friends prove to be unfriendly or even unfaithful at times. This word “friend” describes the inner circle around a king: close enough to know the king’s secrets, but still, subjects who must obey the king. This is perfectly illustrated in the life of Abraham. He is called the friend of God (II Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23) and the servant of God (Genesis 26:24). In Genesis 18 when the Lord and the angels visit Abraham, Abraham acted as a servant, tending to his visitor’s needs. In the second half of the chapter, Jesus sat with Abraham as a friend and told him of His plans for Sodom and Gomorrah.
Jesus segues from abiding to loving. He experienced His Father’s love because He obeyed the Father’s will. We can experience the love of God by obeying and abiding in His will as expressed in his Word. Obedience brings joy and blessing (11). A natural result of loving the Father and Son is that we will love the family members (12). Jesus sacrificially died for us and we should be willing to do the same. But only those who abide in Christ will have the capacity to love like that. It is humbling to realize that God chose us long before we responded to Him (16). Certainly, our will is involved but if we are saved it is because “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).
Jesus closed this message with one of the most important commandments of all-love one another (17). All the “one another” statements in the New Testament could be summarized in “love one another.” If we are not abiding as branches and loving as friends, we will never be successful as Christians. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing,” In other words we are not simply handicapped or hindered, we are hopelessly paralyzed! We can do nothing without Him.