Jesus spoke these well known words to His disciples shortly before going to the cross:
“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. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:1-8, ESV).
We often think of fruit bearing as bringing others to Jesus. While bearing fruit includes testifying of Jesus, there is more to consider. To get a better perspective on this figure of the vine and branches, let’s think about some Old Testament connections.
1. Psalm 80 describes Israel asking for restoration: “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!” The psalmist describes Israel as a vine that was brought out of Egypt, planted in the land, and prospering (vv. 8-11). Yet walls were broken down, its fruit plucked, and the vine ravaged by beasts because of their sins. Now Asaph asks for God to have regard for the vine. Though others have burned it with fire and cut it down, “let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!” (v. 17). We can see connections here to John 15 as this request is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. Indeed, the Son of Man is the true vine and those who do not abide in Him cannot bear fruit but will be cut down and burned with fire. Life is found in Jesus, who restores and saves His people. What the psalmist desired for restoration can be found in Jesus Christ, the true vine.
2. Isaiah 5 uses the figure of a love song about the Lord’s vineyard (God’s people) that was planted on a fertile hill. But when the vinedresser (God) looked for good grapes, He found only wild grapes unfit for consuming. This is a picture of Israel’s faithlessness. God did everything for the vineyard: “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it?” (v. 4) God then says He would remove the hedge and it would be devoured (vv. 5-7). Just so, those who do not abide in Christ are cut down and thrown in the fire. Other passages show the same concept (cf. Isa 27:4). Life is found by abiding in the Lord.
In John 15, the disciples would likely hear what Jesus said against that backdrop of warnings about turning from God. The only hope they had of bearing good fruit would be to remain in Jesus. What, though, is the good fruit in John 15? In the greater context of John 14-16, the disciples are tasked with the mission of spreading the message of Jesus and proclaiming the truth. Making disciples of all nations would surely be included here. Paul referred to the gospel “bearing fruit and increasing” (Col 1:6, 10). Surely the seed planted will grow and bear fruit.
There is something else in the text that is necessary to fruit-bearing. Jesus reminds the disciples of His love for them, then tells them to keep His commandments and abide in His love (John 15:9-11). This is followed by a command to “love one another as I have loved you” (v. 12). We can connect this to John 13:34-35 where Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Bearing fruit as we abide in the Vine means loving Him and one another. This shouldn’t surprise us, for when we read of the “fruit of the Spirit,” love is first on the list (Gal 5:22). Without love, there is no fruit-bearing. Let us also recall the two greatest commands: love God and love others as self (Matt 22:36-40). Love is fruit and love is necessary to bear more fruit. Everything hinges on this.
Abiding in Jesus means loving Him, His disciples, and a world of people lost in sin. If we do, we will tell the story of the cross wherein Jesus showed the truth this statement: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13-14). May we seek to bear fruit by loving our Lord, loving others, and spreading the good news of salvation!