Abiding: A deed done, something sharp, inside, within or amid.
In earlier chapters I have gone to great lengths to stress the importance of foundations.
Indeed, the previous 11 chapters form the foundation for now looking, in detail, at the words spoken by Yeshua in John 15:1-2.
“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 bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
We have already considered the far-reaching meaning of the words in Verse 1. Yeshua is the True Vine, as opposed to satan who is the false vine. Yeshua is a planting of God the Father who is the Divine Gardener, fully controlling everything that happens within His Garden. Indeed, it is God the Father who ordains that branches should be cut free from the false vine and grafted into the Life of His Son Yeshua, the True Vine.
Also, we have noted the centrality of fruit-bearing in the plans and purposes of God the Father as the Sovereign Gardener. However, this is the first time we have come face to face with the reality of what will happen if we fail to produce in our lives, as branches, the fruit of the Spirit. Yeshua expresses these consequences in more detail in Verses 6:
"If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
There has been a popular notion at large amongst Christians known as, “once saved always saved”. Naturally, this notion leaves no place for these straightforward words of Yeshua. His words leave us in no doubt that anyone having been cut to the heart, cut free from the false vine, circumcised in heart and grafted into Christ the True Vine and yet remain unfruitful will be cut off and cast into the fire of hell!
Hebrews 6:4-6 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
Why would the writer to the Hebrews have stated these things if it were not possible for the Divine Gardener to cut off those branches that He has grafted in?
Romans 11: 17-21 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in." Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.
Indeed, why would Paul write such words to the Romans if they were not a true reflection of Yeshua’ words in John 15?
You see it isn’t even enough to have been cut free, circumcised and grafted in. Unless all these things lead to a steady flow of the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Yeshua into, and through, our lives every moment of every day, to the end that the Holy Spirit can produce His Fruit upon our lives, then we are in very great danger of being cut off as unfruitful branches.
This is a harsh reality, but a reality nonetheless. It is a reality that Christendom needs to face, rather than trying to conjure it away with theological slight of hand.
You would think that the reverse side of this coin ie. fruit bearing, would be much more pleasant to our ears, but it is not. Yeshua says that those branches that are fruitful will be pruned!
As has already been established, being cut to the heart, being cut free from the false vine and circumcised in heart are all painful experiences. So, too, is the process of being pruned.
Sadly, we have been so indoctrinated with an expectation of a “trouble free, `bless me’ life in Christ” that we can barely stomach the ramifications of what Yeshua is saying.
Yet, the Apostle Paul, together with the other Apostles and many of the believers in the First Century Church, understood with the greatest clarity what this pruning involved.
2Corinthians 11: 23-31 Are they ministers of Christ? I speak as a fool; I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness; besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.
Hebrew 11: 35-40 Women received their dead raised to life again. And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
God the Father has one purpose in pruning and that is to render us more fruitful.
In the natural, a pruned branch must draw even more strongly on the life of the vine, or it will die. So too, when God the Father prunes us we must learn to draw on the life of Christ, which is in the Holy Spirit, the Life-giving Sap of the True Vine.
There are many ways in which the Father can choose to prune us. Yeshua mentions one way when He says:
John 15: 3 “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
The Word of God, both the written Word and the Living Word are pruning shears in the hands of God the Father. And pruning cannot be separated from our need for continued cleansing. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth and as He flows through us He will reveal the inner-most secrets of our hearts, He will uncover anything of our sinful flesh that would compromise our abiding. But once these things are uncovered it is up to us to yield to the pruning of the Divine Gardener.
Even though Aaron and his sons were cleansed at their consecration into the priesthood, there was also a continual cleansing required as they fulfilled their office as priests unto God. We are very foolish if we think we can serve as Priests under the order of Melchisedek, who is Christ, and yet not be subjected to the continual cleansing, which comes through our being pruned.
Another pruning tool in the hands of God the Father is satan! This is a truth that very few Christians wish to embrace. How could a loving God use satan, His enemy, to prune us, the people He loves? The answer is very straightforward. God the Father is the SOVEREIGN GARDENER!
Both Peter and Paul learnt the reality of being pruned by satan.
Luke 22: 31-32 And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. "But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."
1Corinthians 12: 7-10 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
The sole reason for the fruitfulness of the life and ministry of Peter and Paul lies in their understanding of, and acceptance of, the pruning that took place in their lives under the watchful eye of the Divine Gardener.
The key purpose of God the Father in pruning His saints is that we might abide in Christ more completely and that we might be fruitful and become even more fruitful.
John 15: 4-5 "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
John 15:8 Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so, shall you be my disciples.
Not only is fruit-bearing the purpose of God the Father in pruning our lives, it is also how we become mature disciples.
Kenneth Wuest, in his translation of the NT, expresses Verse 8 of John 15 as follows:
“In this My Father is glorified, namely, that you are bearing much fruit. So, shall you become My disciples.”
It is also worth noting here that even though the branches bear the fruit the credit and the glory is always attributed to the Gardener. You never hear people praising a vine, or the sap or the soil, or even the branches for the wonderful fruit they have produced. No, people praise the gardener. As in the natural, so in the spiritual. All glory and praise and worship are due to God the Father, as the Divine Gardener, for the fruit that is produced on our lives, as branches that are abiding in Christ the True Vine.
Yeshua is making a vital statement here, which Christian communities in general have not heeded. Not even Yeshua is to receive the glory for the fruit produced, nor is the Holy Spirit, even though they both play a vital role in rendering us as fruitful branches. The glory must always go to the Father!
When we set this alongside another clear statement made by Yeshua it should prompt a great deal of heart-searching regarding what passes for worship in Christian communities of our day.
1John 4:23-24 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
You see, worship as far as Yeshua is concerned, must have as its foundation our abiding in Christ. But the object and recipient of our worship must always be the Father.
Philippians 2:11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Let us turn our attention for a moment to look at several key words in John 15. As you read this passage you will quickly notice that the word “abide” is the central theme of this passage.
The Hebrew word picture meaning, which you read at the start of this chapter is: “a deed done, something sharp, inside, within or amid”. To my mind this definition encourages us to always relate abiding to the realities that we have been grafted in and we will experience ongoing pruning.
Both grafting and pruning involve a deed done, (by the Divine Gardener) with something sharp, to position us inside or within Christ the True Vine (grafting) or, to remove something unfruitful inside, within or amid our lives (pruning).
In the Greek, the word abide means: to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy); to abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand.
I particularly like the rendering of this word provided by Kenneth Wuest. In his translation of the NT, he uses this phrase: “maintain a living communion”.
This phrase captures more fully what it means to abide in Christ, who is the True Vine. It is a union in which both the Vine and the branches share something in common and the basis of this common-union is that both the Vine and the branches share the same life. As it is in the natural, so it is in the spiritual. If God the Father has grafted us into Christ, then we have the actual life of Christ flowing through us, just as surely as a natural branch has the life of its new parent vine flowing through it. This is accomplished through the ministry of the Holy Spirit who becomes to us “the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Yeshua”.
However, our ability to maintain a living communion with Yeshua is a matter of co-dependance. We must learn the reality of Yeshua’s words in Verse 5 when He states: “for without me you can do nothing”. This means that outside of being in union with Yeshua there is no life that has any eternal value. Sure, you can live a full and meaningful life in the eyes of the world, but if you are not abiding in Christ then your life amounts to nothing! Outside of abiding in Christ I cannot consider myself to be a Christian, I cannot consider myself to be a husband, a father, a Bible teacher, an intercessor or anything else you might want to add to the list. Yeshua says: “without me you can do nothing” and I for one believe He means NOTHING!
This is a hard pill for us to swallow, especially if we have been exposed for any length of time to the passive teaching of many a denomination and movement (which we referred to in Chapter 1) that we are in fact most useful to God. All we must do, according to this passive teaching, is keep busy in some form of ministry and we’ve got it made.
There is an element of truth in the fact that we can be useful to God, but this element of truth has been grossly overemphasised and distorted in most denominational settings.
We are useful to God only because He has grafted us into Christ so that we might produce fruit. Remember the Gardener cannot bear the fruit, the Vine cannot bear the fruit, and neither can the Sap bear the fruit. Only the branches can bear fruit. But the fruit is the result of the branches depending on the Gardener, the Vine and the Sap. Therefore, abiding in Christ, maintaining a living common-union with Him is foundational to the life of a saint.
Unless the fruit produced by our lives is the direct result of our abiding in Christ we are useless rather than useful, as far as God the Father is concerned.
Another key word in John 15 is the word OBEY.
The Hebrew word picture meaning for the word obey is: to see the name.
You will recall that when we looked at the symptoms of hardness of heart the first symptom was an unwillingness to obey. That is, an unwillingness to hear clearly and to put into practice what has been heard.
One of the key ways, then, in which we maintain a living common union with Yeshua and keep our hearts free of hardness, is through obedience.
John 15: 10 “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.
John 15: 14 “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
John 15: 17 “These things I command you, that you love one another.
Love is the summation of the life of Christ and it is the primary fruit that should be evident on every branch abiding in the True Vine. If we are maintaining a living common union with Yeshua through obedience to the words He has spoken to us, then the result will be the love of Christ flowing through us and touching the lives of those around us.
John 15: 9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.
But, here again, our obedience must be built upon the right foundation.
John 15:14-15 “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
"No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.
There was a time when the disciples were servants. The meaning of this word is: a bondman, bondservant.
A slave is totally dependant on his master for food, clothing and shelter, as well as instructions as to what to do next. Slavery is tied-in with the realisation that outside of Christ we are nothing. It is only when we have understood our slavery to Christ that we can progress, through obedience, to being called His friends. However, we are very foolish if we ever forget that our friendship with Christ continues to depend upon our foundational understanding that apart from Him we can do nothing (we are like slaves).
But to truly abide in Christ’s love we need to learn yet more about our role in maintaining our living common union with Christ through Communion or the Lord’s Supper.