Jesus said, "Abide 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. 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 15:4-5).
The powerful imagery of Jesus’ description of the relationship between him and his followers became clear to me one day when I was jogging on the trail beside Buffalo Bayou west of Downtown Houston, Texas. At one place along the trail, there are several pine trees that are completely wrapped up by muscadine grape vines. The last time I had run past this site, the grapes were still green. That day they were ripe and stood out boldly from the vine and its branches.
What wasn’t so easily discernible was where the vine left off and the branch began. I had never really
looked closely enough at vines and branches to notice that. Jesus’ words came to mind. The fruit that is borne by a grape vine comes as a result of the oneness of the vine and its many branches. If you cut off a branch, it will no longer be capable of bearing fruit. Actually, if there are no branches, the vine will not bear fruit until it grows new ones.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are able to bear fruit as long as we are connected to the vine and draw nourishment from it. It may be difficult for anyone to distinguish between Christ’s life and the lives of his followers, just as it is difficult to distinguish the vine from the branches. The fruit Christ wants to give to the world is the result of the mystical union of the vine and its branches – his life and our lives. The more branches there are connected to the vine, the more fruit there is.
During the Easter season, I’m leading a Sunday morning series based on Robert Schnase’s book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. The five practices are Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity. In each case, the desired result is greater fruitfulness. And in each case, that increase in fruitfulness depends upon our connection to Jesus Christ and to one another, a relationship that resembles that of a vine and its branches.
Apart from Christ, the true vine, we can do nothing. Actually, we can do plenty of things. We are amazing and resourceful creatures. But the fruit of Christ comes only from abiding in Christ and Christ abiding in us. It's not always easy to stay connected. But that's the way it works!