My wife has always had a green thumb.

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Patty knows so much about the care of various types of plants.  While teaching me to care for the trees, shrubs, flowers, and plants in our gardens over the years, I was shocked during our first winter in California (so many years ago) when she told me to cut our beautiful purple fountain grass back to nearly the ground. 

“It will kill it,” I said, “and winter is hard enough on it—it’s starting to die.”  But, her experience taught her that the plant would actually die if we didn’t cut it back.  For the young plant to survive, it would need the dead parts cut away.  When spring came along, the purple fountain grass came back bigger than before.  I was shocked.

Pruning had, indeed, saved the plant—and increased the plant.

You and I are not too different from plants.  In John 15, Jesus has transitioned from the Last Supper to their conversation after the meal.  Jesus told them He was the true vine, and His father is the gardener (John 15:1).   Jesus continues in John 15:2-3:

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.

John 15:2-3
New International Version

For many of you with a green thumb, this is no surprise at all.  It takes more than water to keep plants going.  It takes pruning.  The Master Gardener—the Father Himself—accomplishes this task in His vineyard.  Verse 2 informs, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.”  This demands some explanation and time.

The emphasis here is on dead wood.  Dead parts are so dangerous to a plant because dead parts can harbor disease and decay.  The plant will expend great amounts of energy on these dead parts when there’s no chance of it having life again.  As such, a skilled gardener must cut it away to save the plant.  How does this apply to the metaphor used for the vineyard of God?

It should be noted right here that every metaphor—even those used by Jesus—breaks down at some point.  Metaphors aren’t perfect illustrations, but they do help us understand hard-to-grasp ideas in more concrete terms.

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Jesus says His Father, “cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit” (John 15:2).  That’s what Jesus is saying.  Jesus is not saying a Christian who possesses the gift of eternal life through the grace of Jesus loses it and becomes dead in their sins again.  This would violate other passages of Scripture (like John 10:29).

Instead, this is an echo of earlier passages in John and those later in the New Testament declaring that a true Christian is one producing fruit.  In other words, a Christian without the fruit of righteousness in their lives is probably not a true Christian—this is what Jesus is saying.    

This is not new to Scripture, but it may be new to some of you.  In Matthew 7:16-20, we read:

“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Matthew 7:16-20
New International Version

As we see in the other part of today’s passage, the Father’s other job is pruning the vineyard.  Scripture says the Father “prunes” the branches “so that it will be even more fruitful” (verse 2b).

While the process of pruning us is painful, it is done in love by our Father in Heaven.  And this pruning has a definitive purpose: more fruit. 

We are expected to produce abundant fruit for the Kingdom, and to help us do this, the Father prunes us.  He removes what doesn’t need to be in our lives so the life-giving power of the Vine can move through us unhindered to produce more and more fruit.   

We are here to produce fruit for our Father in Heaven.  He’s serious about seeking and saving the lost.  Jesus is serious about us growing in our faith and being more Christ-like.

Our Heavenly Father has the perfect green thumb.  He knows who is and isn’t His.  He knows what sin needs to be removed—even when we don’t.  He does this for His glory and our benefit. 

Do you recall a time you were being pruned by the Gardener?  What did the Lord teach you?  How did you respond to this?  What changed in you as a result?