The other day my wife brought home some vine-ripened tomatoes. There they were, red bubbles of fruit dangling from green but withering clumps of vines, boasting of true garden tomato flavor. Pavlov’s dog syndrome kicked in as I began to dream of fresh tomatoes in my haystacks (a hot taco salad) and sandwiches. Imagine our disappointment when we cut open our first tomato only to find it mushy and almost flavorless. Someone had severed that branch from the vine too early. To have good fruit requires being connected to a vine throughout the ripening stage. Being severed from the vine is a guarantee of bad fruit.
When Jesus compared our relationship with God to the relationship of branches to a vine (Jn 15) he was reiterating a principle that flows through scripture: God enjoys connecting with people. We see it at the beginning of the world when He created Sabbath so he could enjoy His creation with Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:2,3). Later, we see him coming to take a walk with them, only to be disappointed when he finds them hiding from Him (Gen. 3:8-9). We discover it early in the Exodus when he says “Have them make a sanctuary for me and I will dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8). He is so desperate to be with people that one of the names He gives Himself at His own birth is Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). One of Jesus’ final promises to his disciples before His ascension was “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Then in that great finale we see God as victor when he shouts from His throne “Now [read Finally!] the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people and God Himself will be with them and will be their God.” (Rev. 21:3).
God is so eager to be with us that Jesus returned to that theme over and over in His last conversations with His disciples as He sought to prepare them for His leaving. It is important to read John 15 in its context of chapters 14 through 17 in John’s gospel. Permeating those chapters are Jesus’ frequent reference to His desire to be with His people (Jn 14:3, 18-20, 23). He craves the intentional oneness of His people with His Father and Himself (Jn 17:20-23, 26). It is a oneness that can only be accomplished through the Holy Spirit. It is so intimate that not only is His Spirit with us but also in us (Jn. 14:16-17). Jesus desires a oneness that is so complete that He promises to be in us through His Spirit
In choosing the vine as an object lesson, Jesus deliberately chose to state that every facet of our lives is incredibly dependent on our relationship with God. To neglect that relationship brings certain death: not just for eternity, after the final judgment; but also here and now—a living death, an empty, self-destructive existence in this life. However, in choosing to accept His presence through His Holy Spirit, we discover life abundantly filled with joy, love, peace, purpose and meaning. Paul contrasts the results of those two opposing choices when he compares the acts of the sinful (Godless) nature with the fruits of the Spirit-filled life (Gal. 5:19-23).
It is in enjoying God’s presence through His Holy Spirit that we come to experience fruitful, meaningful lives. It is a natural consequence of experiencing Emmanuel, “God with us”. We often try to make it difficult by focusing on our outward behavior, but the fruits are inward attitudes not outward behavior. As we seek to purposely experience God’s presence and unconditional love, He gives us hearts that feel and act like God does (Ezek 36:25-28).
Jesus goes on to emphasize the futility of trying to grow our own fruit by declaring “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5) We are able to produce of our own power only plastic grapes, tasteless and toxic. God would rather have us disconnected and fruitless than plastic (Rev. 3:14-16).
Being focused on God’s love, keeping our eyes on His righteous, pure loving character, connects us to Him, The Vine, we find ourselves “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:10-11). Only by making Jesus the focal point or our lives, the very reason of our existence, will we ever experience the fruits of the Spirit. Those marvelous fruits of the Spirit are a natural outcome of our relationship with God, a relationship initiated and maintained by God Himself (Jn 12:32). We just need to daily allow our minds and hearts to enjoy His presence through His Holy Spirit.
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The author would like to express his appreciation for Morris Venden’s book, Grapes, published by Pacific Press, 1986. He highly recommends it as study material that complements this set of lessons.