I love grapes.
Please note—this is not a wayward comment. It’s a well-contemplated opinion, and a high compliment at that, because I enjoy a lot of fruit. There’s competition for top banana. Speaking of bananas, I don’t like to go a day without one, because of the potassium as well as taste (though they must be slightly green for my palate). Strawberries and blueberries in the height of their season are the perfect treat. I’ve even been known to munch on a mouthful of melon now and again. But if you were to press me for my preference, my go-to is grapes.
Grapes are refreshing, yet part of my enjoyment could be nostalgia. When I eat them, they remind me of childhood summers. During special summers when my family traveled to the beach, grapes were on hand as a waterside snack. So they must bring some subconscious joy and relaxation when I eat them.
With all of this grape goodness indwelling my mind, is it any wonder that Jesus’ words in John 15:1-8 jump out at me?
The Focus Is on the Fruit
It’s a beautiful concept. Jesus described himself as a vine, and we are its branches. He produces fruit through us, and God is the gardener tending it all. Such imagery!
When you consider the details, the metaphor expands.
Over the years, while driving through various states and even in other countries, I have observed from the road a number of vineyards. I’ve seen them terraced on hillsides or out in open fields. I enjoy the visual—rows and rows of grape clusters as they hang down from the vine. Even on a dining table: a bowl of individual grapes is appetizing to me, yet there’s something aesthetically pleasing when a cluster of grapes is on display.
The focus is on the fruit. You don’t often look at a vineyard or a platter of produce and remark on how the branches appear. You look for the results. In the same way, Jesus said our goal is to “bear much fruit” so that we can show that we are his disciples. Who a person is on the inside, who and what they love and are loyal to, is shown by what they display on the outside.
When you consider others’ character, what do you describe? You might list how well people interact with others, what deeds they do, what choices they make, what words they use to uplift or tear down. You are looking at their fruit. What people do and say means something about who they are following, whose disciples they are. Are their priorities to imitate the character of Christ or are they out for selfish purposes? They don’t have to tell you; you see it by their fruit.
I do not mean to imply that only Christians can bear good fruit. Currently as I write, Hurricane Harvey has brought devastation to Texas. I see on display the most beautiful fruit—people rescuing their fellow human beings, gathering supplies and funds to send to complete strangers. I see Christians and non-Christians alike pulling together to care for people in need. It’s heartwarming.
To me that is evidence that God has created us all in his image. There’s something inside us, whether we know it or not, that urges us to imitate the character of Christ. When people serve others, it’s because God created us to love as he loves. Even when people deny that they even know or care about Jesus, they may still bear some of his fruit because he created us to do so.
But let me tell you the darker side of the story. While I have seen non-Christians bearing a nutritious, vital harvest, I have also seen Christians offering bitter and poisonous fruit. I have been hurt and devastated by the actions and words of people who claim to love Jesus, yet their displayed character does not align with being his disciples.
Just because we decide to follow Christ does not mean we will be perfect at it. At times we will be the ones who injure and malign. But are we willing to learn and grow to become better? We can’t connect ourselves to God’s holiness and remain unchanged.
This is why Jesus said that God, the good gardener, would prune us. While others are focused on the fruit, he examines the branches to determine why what we’re bearing is healthy or rotten. And he has to cut us back. Though it may pain him and pain us, we need to be confronted with ourselves—we need to be cut to the heart and reminded of who we claim to serve and what parts of our lives don’t match up to God’s purposes. He does this so that we will be more plentiful, more lovely.
What does your fruit look like? What does it say about you?
We Bear His Fruit
It’s time to eat. You yank grapes off the vine, but you look down and that tiniest branch end is still attached. It’s annoying and may get stuck to your fingers as you clean off the fruit. So you just toss it. Disconnected from the vine, the branch is worthless now.
A branch has one job—hold the fruit. If it’s not doing that, what’s the point? Jesus described himself as the vine and us as the branches. We don’t produce the fruit. We bear it. “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (v. 4). What does this mean?
We get to be a part.
Jesus came to be the image of the invisible God and to seek and save the lost. That is his fruit. He doesn’t keep it to himself—he invites us to join him. It’s a privilege. He wants us to share in his joy, the satisfaction that comes when his character is in our lives.
He produces fruit for us to nourish others. When we imitate Christ, when we stop and consider others better than ourselves, when our actions depict his unfailing love, then others learn about his amazing grace. We get to be a part of God’s redemptive plan.
Simultaneously we are nourished and fulfilled as we bring God glory. When you are living according to God’s purpose, don’t you feel healthier, stronger, more alive in this world?
We don’t have to do it ourselves.
At times we are tempted to have a God complex and feel as if we have to do it all ourselves—whatever it may be. We may work harder in our occupation, in our families, even in our churches, pushing to accomplish things and save people. But we forget our role. We’re just branches. Our job isn’t to do it all, to save everyone. Jesus is the vine. He produces and sustains and rescues. We display the results. We can’t manifest the goodness on our own—we bear what he is growing in us.
That also means the pressure is off. We don’t have to have all the answers or save every situation. We have to stay connected to the vine and seek his wisdom, his lead, allowing him to guide and act through us.
As a minister once encouraged me: It’s all right—just be a branch.
The Fruit of the Vine
Every week I sit in church and taste the fruit of the vine on my lips during communion. Jesus gave us this reminder, asking us to drink it and remember him. “Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:27, 28).
As we taste the sweet result of fruit and consider the harvest of salvation it represents, we are to remember the bitter sacrifice Jesus made to supply it.
Even for the vine, producing fruit is difficult, painful, costly. At times when we bear Christ’s character in our lives, we will experience a similar surrender of our own comfort and glory. Yet he does not ask what he has not first done.
He bore our sins unto death. What he asks is that we would bear his life-giving fruit.
Kelly Carr, formerly editor of The Lookout, writes and edits from her home in Cincinnati, Ohio (editoroflife.com).