For Greater Fruitfulness
Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.(John 15:2)
Jesus speaks in John 15 of how God prunes every fruit-bearing branch so that it will be even more fruitful. In the natural realm, pruning is important for fruit bearing.An unpruned vine will produce a great deal of unproductive growth but little fruit. Cutting away unwanted and useless growth forces the plant to use its life to produce fruit.
In the spiritual realm, God must prune us. Because even as believers we still have a sinful nature, we tend to pour our spiritual energies into that which is not true fruit. We tend to seek position, success, and reputation even in the body of Christ. We tend to depend upon natural talents and human wisdom. And then we are easily distracted and pulled by the things of the world- it’s pleasures and possessions.
God uses adversity to loosen our grip on those things that are not true fruit. A severe illness, the death of someone dear to us, the loss of material substance, the tarnishing of our reputation, the turning aside of friends, or the dashing of our cherished dreams on the rocks of failure- any of those things can cause us to reassess what is really important in our life. After experiencing such difficulties, position or possessions or even reputation no longer seems so important. We begin to relinquish our desires and expectations- even the good ones- to the sovereign will of God. We come more and more to depend on God and to desire only that which will count for eternity. God is pruning us so that we will be more fruitful.
We often resist this work of God in our lives. But as we look to God, we may be sure to see how in due time His discipline “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”(Hebrews 12:11)
Left to itself any fruit-bearing tree or vine will produce a lot of growth in branches and leaves but little fruit and the fruit it does produce is small. Any gardener knows this to be true. To produce large tomatoes, for example, means the plants have to be pruned, the excess foliage removed.
One day as Jesus and the disciples were traveling, He stopped at a fig tree. This tree was apparently of fruit-bearing age and no doubt its foliage was plentiful and full. In other words it looked good. When Jesus approached it, intending to get some of its fruit to eat, He found it bare. Now we all know the creative power of Christ. He could have touched that tree and it would have immediately bore fruit. After all it had been created to do so. It was in its DNA to produce figs. It had the potential. Instead we find Him rebuking the tree. He proclaimed that since it bore no fruit, it would never bear fruit. The next day as the disciples passed by that place they saw the tree withered and dying.
Now early in the morning, as Jesus was coming back to the city, He was hungry. Seeing a lone fig tree at the roadside, He went to it and found nothing but leaves on it; and He said to it, “Never again will fruit come from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.
On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He was hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if He would find anything on it. But He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “No one will ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening [to what He said]. In the morning, as they were passing by, the disciples saw that the fig tree had withered away from the roots up. And remembering, Peter said to Him, “Rabbi (Master), look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered!”
In both accounts, Matthew and Mark connect the cursing of the fig tree with the cleansing of the temple. Our lesson is that we have been created and called to be fruitful- reproducing after our own kind. That means that every Christian ought to be producing more Christians and that ought to be as natural as every tree or vine produces natural fruit.
The issue with the Jews was that the temple was being used for human purposes rather than God purposes. The temple had been built to be a place where humans connected with God and instead it had become a place where human ritual had replaced its true purpose. It was a busy place for sure. Offerings were received, sacrifices were made, formalities were observed, but those who participated still sat in darkness. Those who worked in the temple were on the treadmill of going through the motions every day without ever once thinking about why they were doing what they were doing. It became a ritual for the sake of the ritual. It’s meaning had long been lost. Rather than understanding the purpose of the sacrifice, they were more interested in whether it met their standard. So Jesus cleansed the temple, removing the obstacles that hindered the connection between God and man. Not many days later He removed the barrier of the veil for God had never desired to be hid from mankind. The sins from Adam to now is what erects such a barrier, so Christ tore the veil and made a way for us to come into the very presence of God.
Like the fig tree and the temple it’s easy to become busy with all kinds of programs and rituals and the like. I think one of the things the pandemic has taught us is that some of the activities we were so busy with were not really all that important. Perhaps we have been pruned. Our question both personally and corporately is whether our actives are producing fruit in the kingdom of God or are we just producing leaves and branches that are bare.
Jesus was clear when He said that the branches that were fruitless would be cut off and removed and the branches that were fruit-bearing would be pruned so they could produce more fruit. The adversities and struggles are not designed to destroy us or rob us of peace and joy. They are used by God to help us see what is really important in the light of eternity. The most important thing we can possess is the knowledge that we have been born again and the greatest gift we can give another is the gospel. I pray that as we move through the pandemic environment that we do not forget to be fruitful. If people needed the Lord before the pandemic, and they did, do they not even more so? While there may be good tasks to complete and good causes to support and good works to do, isn’t the world’s greatest need the transforming saving grace of Christ. May we His people and we His church become fruitful!
15 “I am the true Vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 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]. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have given you [the teachings which I have discussed with you]. 4 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. 5 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. 6 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. 16 You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you and I have appointed and placed and purposefully planted you, so that you would go and bear fruit and keep on bearing, and that your fruit will remain and be lasting, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name [as My representative] He may give to you.
Now what if we haven’t been fruit-bearing? Is our case hopeless? Are we doomed to be cut off and tossed aside? Only if we refuse to repent and change. Luke gives us a parable of hope for the unproductive vine.
Then He began telling them this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree that had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it, but did not find any; 7 so he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and have found none. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground [depleting the soil and blocking the sunlight]?’ 8 But he replied to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, [just] one more year until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; 9 and if it bears fruit after this, fine; but if not, cut it down.’”
Here is the grace of God. If you’re reading this devotion and you have to confess that you haven’t been fruitful in the kingdom of God, turn to Him with all your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to loosen the crusty, set in your ways, soil around your heart. Ask Him to dig out any hindrances or sins that are keeping you from being fruitful. Ask Him to give to you the Words of Life to fertilize your soul. Don’t stay in that place of fruitlessness presuming on the continued mercy and grace of God. Be moved by the Spirit to bear fruit, fruit that is pleasing to Christ. Move beyond going through the motions without results. Refuse to continue to give time and energy to anything that does not make you fruitful. Feed your soul with the Word and water it with the Holy Spirit and pray over the seeds you sow and expect an abundant harvest.
Dr. John Thompson