“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.” John 15:5

The ‘YOU ARE’ statements Jesus makes about us are messages of hope which carry with them the responsibility for us to live in a Christ-like manner. So far we’ve looked at the fact that we are Salt and Light, that we not only add delightful flavor to the lives of those around us (which is salt), but we also are called to be a light to guide others to a deep love relationship with Jesus Christ. The third ‘YOU ARE’ statement Jesus makes involves what we might call community.

Jesus says, in John 15:5, that “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.”

In order to fully understand the meaning to this passage as the disciples would have seen it, we need to remember that the vine and branches of a grapevine are different than many the branches of the trees we see in our yards and forests. The branches of the grapevine are so closely intertwined with each other and the main vine that it can be difficult to tell where the vine ends and the branches begin, or where one branch ends and another begins.

When Jesus tells us we are Salt and Light he is characterizing our relationship with others, but here his emphasis is more on our relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ himself. The lesson is simple and two-fold – We aren’t in this alone and we have the power of Jesus Christ behind us.

While the strength of a light was dependent on its source, the same is true for the branch. The strength of a branch is only as strong as the vine it is a part of. There are many ways in which our lives are like branches.

  1. A Branch can only give what it gets from the source. If we aren’t receiving nourishment from the main vine there is no way we can grow. For the believer that means a consistently as possible we need to be reading God’s Word and praying. Like a tree branch that breaks in a storm, when separated from God our spirit withers and we grow weak.
  2. A Branch is flexible during times of storm. Have you ever noticed how trees can bend in a storm? Especially small trees? At times they seem to be able to bend all the way over to the ground. They are also flexible when bearing the weight of fruit. I’ve seen apple trees with branches so heavily weighted that they touch the ground. Yet once the fruit is harvested they spring back.
  3. That brings up another point about branches. They bend when needed to meet a certain situation. In life that may mean that from time to time we need to change our way of thinking for the good of others. Brittle lives, like brittle branches break under pressure. The older the branch the easier it is to break because it becomes resistant to change.
  4. Branches, especially grapevine branches are completely interdependent. They need each other. In the same way we need to remember that we need each other. The Christian life is a life of fellowship, unity and togetherness. Believers in Jesus Christ are not islands to themselves but communities with different gifts, different backgrounds, different likes and dislikes, but a common bond of love and unity based on Jesus Christ. In the same way, when one part of the branch is wounded, the vine and other branches are injured.
  5. Branches are made to bear fruit. Jesus gives a beautiful word picture of God’s tender care for us. The grapevine will produce, from time to time, small, unhealthy branches that will sap the strength from the main branch and decrease the quality and quantity of the fruit. The vine dresser (God) will work to remove those small branches (pruning) and lift the main branch up higher to get more sunshine and get healthier fruit.

I grew up in the church. In fact, my father was a preacher for over 68 years. Having grown up in the church, I have heard many sermons on this particular passage. It seems like most of them have focused on the pruning and the casting off of the bad parts of the vine. The message was almost always negative and issued as a warning to us that we better behave or the gardener was going to come and cut us off. But now, as I look at it, I see this passage differently. I see this passage of the vine and branches as a deeply passionate love story. The phrase ‘if you remain in me’ uses the word ‘abide’ in some translations.

What Jesus is telling us is that the relationship he wants with us is so intimate, so close that we are intertwined; wrapped up in each other; so much in love with each other that it’s hard to tell we are two separate people! All this even though I am a weak and rebellious child. All this inspite of my failures.

Later on in John’s gospel Jesus says ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.’ (John 15:16)

Imagine that. We are chosen by Jesus. Remember Junior High? Remember lining up to choose teams? Some of us hoped we’d be chosen first. Others of us, like me, just hoped we’d be chosen. With Jesus we are his first pick. And He chose you because he wants you to succeed, he wants you to bear fruit.

Some may think bearing fruit relates to great spiritual victories. I think that when Jesus talks about bearing fruit he’s talking about being the best that you can be; of living in the power of His Holy Spirit and showing the fruit of the Spirit. The Apostle Paul writes: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23.

Now, you might say, “That sounds good preacher but you don’t know my past. You don’t know the people I work with. You don’t know the difficult family situation I’m in. You don’t know about this huge load of debt, fear, guilt, worry (fill in the blank) I carry.

Ah, but that is the second beautiful part of the love story. Jesus says the vine dresser, a picture of God himself, comes in to lift us up when we struggle. He takes away the things that weigh us down (prunes us) and lifts us up. What a marvelous story of God’s grace and compassion for us.

My prayer for you today is that if you are struggling with the weight of the world on your shoulders you will open your heart to the work of Jesus in your life through the power of the Holy Spirit. He wants you to succeed. He doesn’t say you CAN be a branch. He says you ARE a branch.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, I thank you for this picture of love and grace. I thank you that as your branch you have chosen me to be fruitful. Lift those of us up who struggle with life. Empower us with your Spirit to live fruitful lives. In your name I pray, Amen.