A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on October 2, 2011.
15‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes* to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed* by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become* my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants* any longer, because the servant* does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’
I’ve been thinking aloud with you about what it means to be fruitful for God based on what Jesus taught in the Parable of the Sower. In that teaching Jesus explained that God’s grace and truth is extravagantly distributed in all kinds of people. But divine grace and truth never takes root in people who live according to pedestrian morality. In others, divine grace and truth takes shallow root, resulting in living that can’t endure the hardships that come with living for God. Even when divine grace and truth is planted, well-rooted, and mature enough for fruitfulness it can be strangled and become unfruitful unless a person guards against pride, greed, and anxiety about getting everything we want.
Today let’s think about how people in whom God’s grace and truth Is well-planted, solidly rooted, and actively cultivated produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, justice, truth, and hope that God wants and deserves. Let’s begin by asking ourselves two key questions:
- Am I fruitful for God?
- Do I want to be more fruitful for God?
Jesus says that being fruitful for God and increasing in fruitfulness depends on the following factors.
Fruitfulness for God requires being vitally connected to God. Jesus said, I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing [John 15:5]. No branch can be fruitful unless it is connected to the trunk of a plant. Dismembered branches can’t produce fruit. Religious people can’t produce love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, faithfulness, gentleness, justice, and hope. God produces it in us! If we aren’t connected with God, it won’t happen otherwise. Jesus provides the vital connection we need with God to be fruitful branches.
Life in and with God is defined by love! Jesus said at John 15:8-10, My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become* my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 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. Fruitfulness for God results from loving because God is Love.
- Love is the source and center for joy.
- Love nurtures fellowship and overcomes fear.
- Love (not power) is the foundation for peace.
- Love is the source of kindness.
- Love is what produces the capacity for patience.
- Love inspires faithfulness even when being faithful means foregoing pleasure and enduring pain.
- Love is the only legitimate indicator of generosity.
- Love is the social standard by which we define justice.
- Love is what gives humanity reason to live with hope.
Life in and with God isn’t defined by rituals, rules, and traditions. Life in and with God comes from being centered on Love because God is Love. We are fruitful for God only by being connected to God in Love. Love is Life and Life is Love! Whenever we shift our attention, emphasis, efforts, and energies away from divine love we separate ourselves from everything in God that makes us fruitful.
Love is God’s commandment! At John 15:10-12, we read the following words by Jesus. 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. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Notice carefully the relationship Jesus makes between life with God, life with Jesus, love, and joy! Life in God is defined by Love. Jesus Personifies Love. Love is God’s commandment for Jesus and what Jesus commands for his followers. If we will not live in love, we cannot be alive in God! Liveliness in God is the key to Joy!
Unloving branches are always dead branches, so unloving religion is deadly, not joyful or joyous. This explains why Christians were running around making war against other people claiming to be agents of Christ during the Crusades.
Unloving religion breeds greed. That’s why Christians were sending explorers around the world to capture people, steal their land, or turn them into slaves. Oppression is always caused by absence of love.
Unloving religion is self-centered. That’s why people could somehow think of themselves as godly while they held people hostage as slaves, stole their wages, and otherwise refused to treat them as fellow children of God. Poverty always results from greed and the absence of love.
Unloving religion is unjust. Discrimination and other forms of oppression occur because we prefer injustice over loving our neighbors as we love ourselves and would be loved.
We’ve messed up religion, law, commerce, art, science, and everything else because we’ve failed and refused to obey the divine commandment of love. Love is God’s commandment. There’s no fruitfulness without it. There’s no joy without love. There’s no peace without love. There’s no patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, justice, and hope without love.
Love requires pruning! At John 15:1-2, Jesus is quoted in these words, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” Pruning involves cutting away dead, diseased, and over-grown branches of a tree or vine.
God wants more fruit, not more or bigger branches! Sadly, too many people only want to be part of a big branch, or a branch that caters to their personal interests, needs, or goals. They forget that the best grapes grow on tender vines. Tender vines are young and are closer to the stem or trunk of a grape plant. When a fruit-bearing tree isn’t pruned, the branches grow to the breaking point from the weight of fruit or the forces of windy weather.
Unfruitful branches are the first targets for pruning. God gives us time to produce fruit, but if we aren’t fruitful, God cuts us away.
Diseased branches require pruning. When spiritually unhealthy processes threaten the future of a fruitful life, God prunes us to prevent the disease from growing.
Overgrown branches require pruning. God desires growth that produces more and better fruit, not simply bigger branches. This may explain why churches and ministries aren’t more fruitful. We’re more interested in increasing the size of our branch than producing the fruit God expects and deserves.
In the coming weeks I hope to preach about the pruning implications for unproductive, diseased, and overgrown branches. This much should be clear already. God prunes us to make us more effective agents of love and truth. God prunes us because God wants more.
- More obedient followers of Jesus.
- More active instruments of God’s extravagant unconditional love.
- More peace.
- More patience.
- More kindness.
- More generosity.
- More faithfulness.
- More justice.
- More truth.
- More joy.
- More hope.
And because God deserves more of this fruit, God prunes, cuts, removes, reduces, takes away, lowers, strips down, and humbles fruitful branches. Are you producing this fruit for God? Then rejoice and expect to be pruned.
Rejoice in knowing that God is preparing you for more fruitfulness. Rejoice knowing that God isn’t finished with you. Rejoice knowing that God has a new crop in your future.
Rejoice as you grow. Rejoice as you love. Rejoice in peacefulness. Rejoice in faithfulness. Rejoice in patience. Rejoice in generosity. Rejoice in kindness. Rejoice in truth. Rejoice in justice. Rejoice in God’s pruning. Rejoice in obedience to Jesus Christ.
Rejoice because you are part of God’s Love! Rejoice because you are obeying the life of Jesus! Rejoice that God is working through you to save the world! Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.