When my wife and I moved into our first home here in Athens, Al I recall quickly walking in to the back yard to inspect all of the greenery. To be honest, the landscaping was a partial selling point for me because from a very early age I remember being drawn to the outdoors. This desire for dirt under my fingernails was planted deep in me by my father. I remember when I was a child growing up that my dad would always have some outdoor project for my brother and I to accomplish. I also remember the loathesome feeling I had early on when the time of year came rolling around for me to be outside working every day. But, a point in my young life came when my disdain for yardwork would give way to a strong affection for growing things.
This change took place the year my father asked me to trim up the Crepe Myrtles around our storage shed just off our back porch. I did so paying close attention to the detail of his instructions. At the time I didn’t really see the point. It seemed to me that every year my dad would work in the yard and it appeared to me that he had made little progress. But these Crepe Myrtles were young and still being formed by the careful pruning of the one tending them. He asked me to cut off any new shoots that had sprouted from the root and to clean off the main trunk of each cane to eye level. I remember that doing just these two things took quite some time, but it also gave me the opportunity to inspect the trees and become familiar with them. I learned that they were strong and very healthy. I learned that they were quick growing and had to be tended repeatedly. I also began to not only appreciate their beauty but also the work that was required to train them as they grew.
The next year came and it was again my job to tend the Crepe Myrtles, and this year I knew exactly what to do. As the years came and went I took pride in pruning these trees and I don’t recall my father having to ask me to do this from that point forward. I learned what needed to be done in order to keep these trees healthy and I worked with care to ensure that when they bloomed and flowered it would be a joy to look upon them. I came to appreciate the work of pruning that is necessary to make a tree or plant strong and healthy.
It wasn’t until I had my own home and my own growing things to tend that I began to see the work of God as one who prunes the lives of His children in order to make them strong and healthy.
Jesus said in John 15:1-2, 8, “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 in me that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit…by this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
Here are a few observations from this passage.
- Jesus is the true vine the source of life for all would be branches. This title is exclusively his and no other spiritual leader, guru or guide can bear it. He alone is the source of genuine spiritual life. Make no mistake, Jesus is boldly claiming that true spiritual life and connectedness with God the Father comes through abiding in Christ, and no other.
- God the Father is the vinedresser who prunes the vines connected to His Son in order that they will bear more fruit. It is the desire of the Father that those who are in Christ, truly regenerate Christians, would bear much fruit and therefore we must be strengthened by God’s careful pruning.
- The proof of our connectedness to Christ is displayed in our fruit that is a product of God’s careful pruning. Both the fruit of righteousness and the disicpline of the Lord are visible in the life of a follower of Christ. Today, many hold that they are Christian simply because they claim to be so. But, the fruit of faithfulness to Christ and His Word is the indication we are given here as evidence of saving faith.
In Hebrews 12 we learn that the Lord Disciplines the one He loves. We also learn that if our lives do not display the discipline of God then we are illegitimate children and not sons. No one appreciates the discipline of God. No one rejoices when we are convicted of our sin and rebellion against His law. But, we should be comforted in our discipline that we are loved by the Father. Conversely, we should mourn over a lack of God’s discipline in our lives, because quite simply this evidences our illegitimacy.
This may be a hard concept for many of us who fail to see the multi-faceted nature of God. When we focus to heavily upon one aspect of His character and nature such as love, then we fail to see that God is bigger than our one sided understanding. Furthermore, if we fail to acknowledge that true love involves discipline then we will never understand the love the Father has for His children and we don’t truly understand the cross. The substitutionary death of Christ for all those who would believe is the single greatest act of love the world has ever seen, but it is also the most horrible thing one could ever imagine; that the Son of God would willingly die for rebellious sinners.
It is a labor of love for me to carefully prune away the unwanted or dead branches from the growing things in my garden and it results in healthy beautiful plants. In the same way, God is at work in the children of Faith to prune away unwanted and dead branches that we may grow to yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness born only by those who are trained by the discipline of the Lord.