Friday, September 19, 2008

The Vine and the Branches, Part Two (John 15:6-10)

6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.


In my last post, I asked you the question: "What does it mean to bear fruit?"

Fr. Farley answers this question well: “What is that fruit bearing? A life filled with love, the sign to the world that they are indeed His disciples (13:35). It was prophesied that Israel would blossom and fill the world with fruit (Is. 27:16). This will be fulfilled by Christ’s disciples, the true Israel. The fruits of love—compassion, service, all the social works with which the Church has softened and enriched the world—this is the fruit which glorifies the the Father. It is this to which the disciples are called” (271).

In a well-known and loved passage in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul lists the fruits of the spirit: “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering (i.e. patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (5:22-23). Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but it does cover pretty much all the bases.

This type of fruit-bearing is mainly internal. But when present, it leads to another type of fruit-bearing: bringing others to Christ. Jesus said to the first disciples “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” So if we are truly following him, we should also be fishers of men. In other words, our Lord wants us not only to exhibit Christ-like character, but to help bring others to a saving faith in Christ. While these two types of fruit bearing may seem unrelated, they are actually connected. The relationship between them is seen in Jesus statement, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 6:16) and also in St. Seraphim of Sarov’s statement “Acquire the Holy Spirit (or “inner peace”), and thousands around you will be saved.”

In verse 6, we see what happens to Christians that do not remain in Christ. Just like the branches of our bouganvilla that we had to throw away, Christians who do not bear fruit (because they are not abiding in Christ) will be gathered and thrown into the fire, where they will be burned. This is a scary image indeed, and it may make some think that God is cruel. However, keep in mind that unlike branches of plants, humans have a will of their own. If people do not bear fruit, it is because they have chosen not to. God does not hold us accountable for something that we are not able to achieve.

Whether or not we bear fruit is not a question of our own ability, but of our perseverance. As Jesus says in verse 10, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in His love.” In other words, Jesus is our example. As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Fortunately for us, when we sin, the sacrament of repentance brings us back into life-giving union with Christ.

Let us now briefly look at two other things Jesus said in this passage. First, in verse 7, Jesus says “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you.” This can (and has) been misconstrued by some to say that God is obligated to do our bidding if we just try to follow him. But remember the conditions: “IF you abide in Me, AND My WORDS abide in you…” If we truly abide in him long enough, and if we allow his words to abide in us, then our will ultimately will conform to his, and what we want will be the same as what he wants.

Note in verse 8 how Jesus says that our bearing fruit gives glory to the Father.

In verse 10, Jesus seems to make his love conditional, saying “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” If this verse were the only biblical teaching about this, we might just come to the conclusion that Jesus only loves us if we keep his commandments. But this teaching (like all scriptural teachings) must be interpreted in the light of the rest of Scripture. The rest of Scripture clearly teaches again and again that God loves us unconditionally. The Orthodox Study Bible’s commentary on this verse resolves the problem: “The fact is, god does love us unconditionally, no matter what our response. But His unconditional love does us no good unless we keep his commandments and abide in His love” (254).

In other words, the verse doesn’t say “If you keep my commandments, then I will love you.” It says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” That is, my love will remain with you; you will experience it to the fullest. If we do not love Christ with a true love that issues forth in action, we will not experience his love for us.


Application: If we are not bearing the two types of fruit that I mentioned earlier, then we need to examine whether or not we are really abiding in Christ. Chances are, we have a “bad connection.” Something in our lives is interfering with our abiding, and we need to deal with it, and get rid of it, so that the fruits of God will be evident in our lives. Examine your own life. In your basic mindset, are you joyful? Do you have inner peace? Do you show love, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control in your behavior toward others? Are you helping others to find their way to Christ and to his Church? If not, spend some time in prayer and meditation, asking God to show you what is wrong with your spiritual life, and what you need to do to fix it.

1 comment:

Paul said...

I suppose I should save this for confession, but here goes to the public.


Examine your own life. In your basic mindset,

are you joyful? Not really
Do you have inner peace? never
Do you show love, show it? yes. Practise it? no
patience, yes, except to my loved ones and only through gritted teeth.
kindness, see love above
gentleness, see kindness
and self-control in your behavior toward others? usually, I've not actually physically killed anyone; yet.
Are you helping others to find their way to Christ and to his Church? only if they bring it up; so, no

ok, here, use my own axe.It's recently been sharpened.

As you say Fr...."If people do not bear fruit, it is because they have chosen not to."

I am saved in a community. I perish alone. What about those who are harmed by the community and cannot function IN a community?

"God does not hold us accountable for something that we are not able to achieve."

Does this "not achieving" encompass protecting ourselves from those we are supposed to show these fruits towards?

It is only by His mercy and grace I will get to see Him. Cause I sure ain't doing nothi'n right.