“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
There is a forest across the street from our home. It is dense with trees, bushes and vines. I have never seen any fruit hanging from the branches of any of those vines. In fact, many of those vines wrap around trees with so many branches that they seem to be strangling the trees. When Jesus is speaking in John 15 about the vine and the branches, he is talking about a different kind of vine.
In the Old Testament, Israel is often referred to as a vine. But when God checked it for fruit, it had none. Instead it was much more like the vines in the woods across the street—the ones that are sapping the life out of their host trees.
When Jesus refers to himself as the vine he is saying that he is the True Vine, and branches that sprout from the True Vine will bear much fruit. You may ask, “What kind of fruit is Jesus talking about in this Scripture?” The vine referred to here is the grape vine which was very common in Israel. What type of fruit would we expect from the branch of a grape vine?
How about grapes!
If the type of fruit borne by the branch reflects the type of vine from which it has grown, then when Jesus says that we bear fruit as branches springing from him, the True Vine, that fruit must reflect him. In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit (of Christ) as love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control.
These attributes of Jesus are very different from what we would ascribe to the spirit of the world in which we live. The contrast is striking. Would any of those words be used to describe the society of today? And yet, we are being cultivated by the “Gardener” to be foreign to the culture of today and to reflect Jesus, who is himself love; who considered it joy to die for us; who is our peace; who is so long-suffering with this world (and his branches!); who is so gentle with us as he cultivates our fruit; who is all that is good; who cannot be anything but faithful; who was meek and lowly; and who had complete self-control, even when experiencing the most devastating rejection and most brutal death imaginable.
A grape vine only bears fruit through its branches. Jesus has chosen us, the branches, as the means by which he brings his fruit to a fallen and darkened world. Our neighbors around the world will get a glimpse of Jesus through the fruit of his branches.
The world is desperate for this fruit. Although giving isn’t listed among the fruit of Galatians 5:22-23, I suggest that giving for the benefit of others is the expression of all those attributes. Jesus expressed who he is by giving himself for the world.
Roy Heggland is Associate for Biblical Stewardship for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.