Part 15: The Vine and the Branches

Letters on Spiritual Formation #15

The Vine and the Branches

This is article is part of a series of letters on spiritual growth and maturity. To read the previous letter in the series, click here.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in me, and I in you. 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. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
— John 15:1-5

un-Assumming metaphors

What many read into the statement, “I am the vine, you are the branches,” is a clear-cut distinction between us and God. If he is the vine and we are branches there must be a clear separation between us. The assumption is that the vine is over here doing its vine thing, and the branches are just kind of hanging around lucky to be a part of the vine.  Because of how we read these statements we immediately hear that there is a fundamental difference between us and him.

This assumption is incredibly flawed. The vine and branches contain the same essence, the same life. There is one plant, not a two-fold distinction. The function of the vine is to pump life to the branches and the function of the branch is to produce the fruit of the vine. Spiritual disciplines are to remind the branches (us) of the life they are partaking.  As those who are united with God are joined together with his Spirit, there is a beautiful harmony in the way life is shared in this metaphor. The vine exists to nourish, feed, and grow the branches, the branches exist to bear the fruit of the vine.

No one would ever approach a vineyard and make a distinction between a vine and the branches. When we look at a vineyard we recognize it is as just that, a place where the vine grows. The vine and branches are not two different plants, it is one plant accomplishing the function for which it was always intended. The material that makes up the branch is the same material that makes up the vine. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two. In fact, you could probably say that the two are one.

symbiotic relationships

It is the same with Jesus. We are one with him. His life is in us. In the same way a vine gives form and life to the branch, so the life and light of Christ form us. Christ within forms us and his life within makes a moment by moment difference in the type of person that we are becoming. Jesus as the vine is actively cleansing us by his word.

Our Lord gives us incredible insight into the inner life using this analogy:

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

The words of Jesus abide within and actively form us. Union with Christ comes in personal moments with him, much the way he lived and shared intimacy with the Father.  When we contain the life of the vine, his words abide within us.  And as his words abide in you, you can say that you abide in him. His word, whether spoken directly to us in moments of quiet repose, or read through scripture will impact us.

One clear mark of the abiding words of Christ is a change of will. Throughout the bible there are numerous examples where hearing God changes the will of the one listening. Moses and Elijah provide pertinent examples.

The example of Moses

After being run out of Egypt, Moses was relegated to shepherding the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro, an obvious prophetic indication of the destiny of Moses. As Moses is walking along, minding his own business, he did what what he was accustomed to doing for forty years, shepherding. While wandering, he sees a peculiar sight. There, a little ways off, was a bush that appeared to be on fire, but was not consumed. Curiosity extending, he went in for a closer look. As soon as he approached he heard a voice call to him “Moses, Moses.” What followed was a lengthy conversation where God revealed his will to Moses:

“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt." Exodus 3:10

Moses, of course, objects immediately, proving that his will was not aligned with God. He says things that would translate today as, “Who, me?” and “I’m not qualified to do that!” or “Send someone else, don’t choose me!” However, his will aligns with God as God speaks to him. When the word of God came, it fundamentally formed and shaped his life. It became a changing agent in his own view of himself.

The example of Elijah

When Elijah was on the run from Jezebel he asked the Lord to take his life, saying,

"It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers." 

An angel appears to him and directs him towards the same mountain where Moses encountered the burning bush hundreds of years earlier. Elijah is depressed. As far as he knows he is the last of God’s prophets, and he hasn’t been all that successful. There are powerful people that want to kill him, and the people are not all that into this Yahweh thing.

He arrives at the mountain forty days later and takes up residence in a cave. The voice of the Lord comes to him and instructs him to, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” A wind, an earthquake and a fire pass by, but God is not in any of them.  And then, a small whisper is heard.

“And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.  And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” 1 Kings 19:12-13

What follows is the voice of God coming to Elijah. He is instructed by God in what to do, and goes out to reform the nation of Israel. He develops schools to train prophets, raises up Elisha, and becomes one of the most famous prophets in Israel’s history. God’s word formed him. When God spoke everything changed. Just so with us, the words of God will form what is within us, and things will change. Simply put, the will of God for you is to become all that you were created to be and that is formed in you by God speaking to you.

As a vine, it is the role of Jesus within us to form fruit in our life. It is that fruit that becomes pleasing to God. Jesus is the vine, forming the branch, the Father is the vinedresser, relishing in the fruit. Cultivating an intimate, speaking relationship with God will develop his fruit in us.

Continue Reading Part 16…