What are your least favorite yearly chores around the house? One of mine would be pruning our fruit trees. It’s not because of the work. Well, OK, it is because of the work, at least in part. But it’s not just that.
Years ago, I resisted putting shears to our peach tree. I’d envision all those beautiful ripe peaches; every cut felt like throwing fruit away, and I held back.
Experience has since taught me the wisdom of good pruning. Without it, the fruit are many but scrawny, and branches can be overladen to the point of breaking, a much larger long-term loss. With apprehension, I began cutting back more severely, worried that I was killing the tree. The result was fewer peaches. But they were gorgeous: large, juicy, and sweet.
It’s still a bit painful to cut. But you have to do it if you want good fruit.
Toward the end of the gospel of John, Jesus tells the Twelve:
I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. … When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. (John 15:1-4, 8, NLT)
The vine is a symbol for God’s people. Jesus is the true vine, because his life demonstrates the kind of fruitful righteousness God has always wanted from his people.
Do we in Christ’s church think of ourselves as God’s people? So we are–but only in Jesus. He doesn’t just empower us to be the church. It’s not like plugging into a wall socket. We are only the church as we abide in him. Apart from the vine, the branches are nothing more than tinder.
But that’s not the end of it: even if we’re bearing fruit, we may have to endure some pruning by the gardener. All that running around, trying to be productive for God, sending out shoots in every direction–what’s the result? Good fruit? Or lots of underdeveloped fruit and broken branches?
Pruning is part of the process. It’s required for fruitfulness. If branches could talk, they might plead their own ideas–No, no, don’t cut there!
The Gardener knows better.
And me? I’m still learning.