(The book of John takes us through many deep discussions that Jesus gave at various times in His ministry. Please click here for Study #1 -- Jesus and Nicodemus; Study #2 -- The Woman at the Well; Study #3 -- At the Pool of Bethesda; and Study #4 -- Bread of Life; and Study #5 -- The Shepherd and His Flock. The next 7 devotionals are from John chapter 15, and they focus on the lessons we can learn from Jesus’ famous discourse, "The Vine and the Branches." )

Last week, in The Vine and the Branches, Part 3, we discovered that in order to bear fruit, we must stay connected to Jesus, for He is the source of everything that will produce fruit.

But what will happen if we don't bear fruit? I mean, I truly desire to stay connected to Jesus, but "stuff" happens! Circumstances, life's busyness, habit...but when I'm not connected to Jesus, I know that I will not bear much fruit. But I don't need to worry, because God is forgiving and longsuffering. He'll just wait until I reconnect. Right?

As nice of a story as that would be, this isn't exactly what Jesus' discourse teaches us. In fact, when Jesus tells us the consequences of not bearing fruit, He says it twice: "...my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit..." (John 15:1,2); "If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (vs. 6) Thus, those who don't bear fruit will be cut off from the vine!

I have had the opportunity of having grapevines in my backyard over the years, and as I think about Jesus' reference to pruning, I realize that I have never bothered to prune my vine's branches. I never saw the need! Of course it must also be noted that I've never had a good grape crop. So to learn more about the pruning process, I decided to do some more research. I googled: "Why is it necessary to prune grapevines?" Here are the reasons that I found:

1. To develop the young grape vine. Pruning back the branches on a young vine is considered to be the starting point for having a successful, productive vineyard. It sets the vine up for a lifetime of successful grape harvests.

Thus, when God prunes back unproductive branches, He is doing so to ensure a lifetime of "fruit" from the productive branches!

2. To maintain a proper balance between growth and fruit bearing. The fruitful branches of an unpruned grapevine will result in thousands of buds each Spring. The problem is that when a bud opens in the Spring, the revealed shoot does not grow from nutrients in the soil, but rather, from nutrients that are stored in the vine itself. The roots of the grapevine do not begin to supply the shoot with nutrients until it is about 2-5 inches long! As a result, the more shoots there are, the less food there is for each shoot to develop during this vital early stage. Thus, allowing the non-fruitbearing branches to remain on a vine will actually "drain" the available sources of nutrients, and will, in general, cause the fruit-producing branches to produce less and inferior fruit!

Friends, when God prunes back the unproductive branches, He does so to improve the quantity and quality of fruit being produced by the productive branches!

3. To maintain a proper crop size: It is said that one of the first and worst mistakes of a grape grower is "over cropping" -- trying to grow as many grapes per vine as possible. This will delay the ripening process by a week or two and will influence the quality of the grape. The more grapes there are on a single grape vine, the more nutrients are needed to keep the proper balance between fruit development, fruit ripening and the physiological process. What is recommended for producing huge grape crops is to find the point where your branch produces an optimum number of excellent quality grapes, and then cut it back to that point!

Let's remember the Jesus didn't just say we were to bear fruit. He said we were to bear "much fruit!" Thus, on God’s Grapevine, God, as the Gardener, is required to work back along the branches until He reaches the ones that are producing the best quality fruit, and then He prunes the branches back to that point!

4. To maintain a proper grapevine structure: The final reason for pruning a grapevine is to develop and maintain its structure. The right shape will allow sunlight to adequately penetrate the branches. This is necessary for disease control and for the ripening of the fruit. Thus, the unfruitful branches must be cut back so that the powerful rays of the sun can cause the fruit on the fruitful branches to ripen!

What does this mean for God's grapevine? Those who profess to be followers of Christ but do not bear fruit will get in the way of those who bear fruit, and they must be cut back!

In summary then, God prunes the unfruitful branches so that those who profess to be followers of Christ but do not bear fruit will not drain fruit-bearing followers of Christ, and will not stand in the way of them receiving the support they need to bear much, good-quality fruit!

Let's remember that God is in the fruit-producing business so that the "seed" of His gospel message will be spread to more and more of His beloved, but lost, children. He desires above all for them to accept His gift of Salvation and be saved from the fires of hell, but those who profess Christianity without bearing the fruit of the Spirit will stand in the way of God's endeavors. These must be "cut off" so that the world might be saved.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to be cut off. I want to bear much fruit! And in order to do that, I must stay connected to the vine. But just how does one stay connected to the vine? Does Jesus give us some clues?

Join us next week for The Vine and the Branches, Part 5: Staying Connected to the Vine.

In His love,
Lyn

Lyn Chaffart, Speech-Language Pathologist, mother of two teens, Author and Moderator for The Nugget, a tri-weekly internet newsletter, and Scriptural Nuggets, a website devoted to Christian devotionals and inspirational poems, with Answers2Prayer Ministries.

(To access the rest of this mini-series, please click here.)