John 15:1-26  The Vine

John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow ( 2000

In the previous chapter John has already given us some verses about the Holy Spirit (14:12, 16-17, 25-26). There is more about the Holy Spirit in this chapter (15:26), and several more verses about the Spirit in the next (16:7-15). It seems that during the last supper Jesus' main concern was to hand the disciples over to the care of the Holy Spirit. And through that Spirit the disciples would do greater works even than Jesus did (14:12), and they would do that throughout the world..

Jesus had used the metaphor of the Spirit as wind (Hebrew ruakh as in Genesis 1:2) when he explained to Nicodemus what he was lacking (John 3:5-8). We also use images of the Spirit as wind moving us, wind breathing in us (inspiration), and wind burning as fire to warm us. Paul also gave us the very important image of the Spirit as the life of the body of a local church congregation (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, Ephesians 4:2-4).

In this chapter to picture the organic Trinitarian relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit Jesus gave the disciples the metaphor of the Vine and the branches (15:1-8).

The key is in the paradoxical words: "Abide in me as I abide in you." How can we abide in the Messiah and at the same time he abide in us? A hundred years ago A. B .Bruce gave the unforgettable explanation. "The branch abides in the vine structurally and the vine abides in the branch through its sap vitally" (The Training of the Twelve, 1901, p.403). That makes clear that in our relationship to God, the Father is the Vine grower, the Son is the Vine, and the Holy Spirit gives us life and produces fruit in us like sap in a vine branch.

In the oneness of the Trinity the three Persons have different functions, but they work with one purpose in mind. As we experience God above us, God beside us, and God within us (again a metaphor) we find ourselves being energized, spiritually pruned, and becoming effective as Christians.

For us to produce fruit that glorifies both the Son and the Father (see note on 12:23) we need to be structurally connected with the Messiah (by baptism or some form of church commitment). But an outward connection cannot produce fruit unless we are filled with the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:41, 67, Acts 4:8, 31, 6:5, 7:55, 11:24, 13:9, Ephesians 5:18).

In this metaphor the Holy Spirit is the very life of the Vine, and he works within us as branches to bring the nutrients that are needed for fruit bearing. That is why a branch that is not open to the life-giving sap soon goes dead and is broken off (15:6). And a dead vine branch is useless for any purpose except as wood for the kitchen fire (15:6). On the other hand when there is sap in a branch, it produces such luxuriant growth that the farmer needs to prune the branch so that it will produce more fruit (15:2). That suggests we need to look in faith to God the Farmer-Father rather than admiring what we have produced by way of leaves.

When we abide in Jesus the Vine, and he abides in us by the Spirit (15:4-5), we do not need to be anxious or troubled (14:1). We can imagine the foolishness of a vine branch in the winter wondering "How on earth could I ever produce bunches of delicious grapes?" Our only responsibility is to be open to the Holy Spirit, and he will work in us (by inspiration) what is needed for us to do.

It is hard to imagine anyone but Jesus, the supreme creator of parables, inventing such a metaphor of our Trinitarian life. And one of the reasons John wrote his Gospel, and this chapter in particular is to give us this astonishing last supper teaching which the other Gospels omitted. Christian faith is therefore a personal connection with the Messiah, allowing the Spirit to do his work within us, and trusting the Father like a loving parent to care for us (20:31).

As we use this Trinitarian metaphor we should not imagine that the Holy Spirit is some kind of inanimate juice or sap. We need other parts of Scripture to remind us that the Holy Spirit is a Person. He can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30), lied to (Acts 5:3), resisted (Acts 7:31). And in Jesus' explanation at the last supper the Spirit is described as the Advocate and Teacher (14:26, 15:26), the Reprover (16:8), the Guide (16:13) .

Nor should we imagine that the Spirit only creates one kind of fruit in a church congregation. In the metaphor he produces grapes. But we would need to expand the metaphor to picture the Messiah as a tree that also produces oranges, and pears, plums, and bananas, as is made clear in Paul teaching about the variety of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).

15:1 "The Vine" is another metaphorical name for the Messiah (for other names see note on 6:35, 8:12, 10:11, 14:16). The relationship between the vine and the vine grower echoes Jesus' many references to his dependence on the Father (5:19, 36, 8:16, 26, 12:49-50).

15:2 Branches without sap soon dry up and bear no fruit, so they are broken off from the vine. But branches that are alive need to be pruned for fruit bearing.

15:3 The word "cleansed" (katharoi) can refer to vine branches that have been properly pruned for the next season's fruit bearing. So Jesus suggests that, as his disciples, they have undergone the regular pruning that is needed. This points to the importance of Bible reading and its application to our lives. The growth which is not helpful for our future fruit bearing is pruned by the Word of God (5:24, 8:31-32). Similarly Paul explains that the church is continually cleansed (pruned) by "the washing of water by the word" (Ephesians 5:26-27).

15:4 Abiding in the Vine is another way of picturing what we mean by loving God. Love is received like a branch receiving the sun and the rain and the sap bringing nutrients up from the ground. Then love gives by willingly offering its good fruit for the joy of others.

The words "Abide in me"makes clear that we have a choice. We can choose to be self-sufficient. But the problem is that producing Christian fruit by self-effort is a total impossibility. This is explained from various angles by Paul the Apostle. Fruitfulness is all of grace (Ephesians 2:8-10). It is only for those who "set their mind on the things of the Spirit" (Romans 8:5-6) and "those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:8). Here the flesh corresponds to the natural wood of a branch apart from the sap that gives it life (see Galatians 3:2-5, 5:22-25).

The metaphor also suggests what we mean by being filled with the Spirit. A branch is filled with sap when the life and nourishment brought from the vine goes out into every little twig and leaf and fruit bud. So we are filled when the Holy Spirit can touch our emotions and thinking, our love life, our relationships to children and friends, our work, and our play, our eating and sleeping, and the tough situations we face in life. Paul uses a present continuous "Do not keep getting drunk with wine, but keep being filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18). A drunkard is not someone who gets drunk occasionally, but he keeps getting drunk again and again.

15:5-6 Jesus states categorically that apart from him, and the life of the Spirit within us, we can do absolutely nothing of any spiritual value. And so those who try to be moral, without being connected to the Messiah and empowered by the Spirit, inevitably fail.

15:7 But when we abide in the Vine (15:4), and the Spirit is able to nourish us with the nutrients that we need from the Word of God, we are able to pray according to the will of God (14:13-14, Romans 8:26, Ephesians 6:18).

15:8 When the Greeks came to inquire about Jesus, he explained that the glorification of a seed is when it is sown in the ground (12:23-24). For the meaning of glorification see Jesus words when Judas went out into the night (13:31-32). Here the Father is glorified (his essential nature made known) when we bear much fruit.

15:9 What does "Abide in my love"mean in practice? We might put it in personal terms. I am convinced that in spite of my faults and frailty the Messiah welcomes me "just as I am." I accept his unconditional forgiveness. He welcomes me to his family. And to my astonishment he enjoys me as a friend (15;14), wants to share and chat with me every day, and welcomes my companionship in his work (15:14).

15:10 Jesus' commandments are not a burdensome (Matthew 11:28-30) way of taking us back from freedom (8:31, 36) into legalism (see Galatians 5:1). But there are some necessary principles needed to make friendship possible (for the difference between friends and servants, see 15:14-15).

15:11-13 A mother's concern is for the joy of her children. Many people imagine that faith will make us miserable. But the supreme joy for anyone who loves God is the sense of being empowered to produce the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22). We would all love to be that kind of person, but we know it is not in our power to produce such beautiful fruit.

But Christian joy is a by-product of learning to love one another. Such love for others is going to be costly: we will inevitably be hurt in any kind of loving. And absorbing the hurt of loving involves sacrifice (see note on 12:23-25).

15:14-15 Now the metaphor changes to suggest that the branches are the friends of the vine. At first sight being accepted as Jesus friends, only if we do what he commands, seems like a contradiction in terms. But Jesus makes clear we do not obey like servants. But Jesus circle of friendship does require the personal connection of abiding in him (15:4-5), allowing the Spirit to work in us, and love for other members of the circle (15:12, 17, as in 13:34).

The early Quakers called themselves "The Society of Friends." And most effective Christian work has been done by small groups of friends of Jesus. So we picture all the branches growing out from a vine tree as a circle of friends. But Jesus makes clear we are not inanimate branches but friends with whom he shares everything that he receives from the Father.

15:16 In one sense we know when we have responded freely to the invitation of the Messiah, but we also have a growing certainty that we have been chosen. We did not choose the country we were born in, or the parents, or our first language. Like a baby born into a loving family, not only is the child welcomed long before the birth, but everything that is needed is lovingly provided. But as we saw in a previous verse the joy that the parents desire for their child is a life of fruitfulness (15:11).

Now Jesus introduces the word "go." There is the local life-long abiding in the Vine. But here Jesus adds the thought of mission which is going out to be fruitful in other places and other situations. Put another way, we might define evangelism as bringing the good news of fruitfulness by abiding in the Son of God.

15:17 Again the command to love one another in the circle of Jesus friends is repeated, as if Jesus wanted to fix it in the sleepy minds of the disciples at the last supper (13:34, 15:12).

15:18 -20 But those who love are not appreciated by those who have chosen to live by self-seeking. Nobody ever loved others more than Jesus the Messiah, but he was hated and hounded into being crucified. And Jesus friends will inevitably experience the same unreasonable hatred. But the reverse of the coin is that Jesus' crucifixion resulted in his Word being read and obeyed among all nations. And we too will find people coming to faith through us.

15:21-25 The root cause of hatred is not knowing God the Father. If that is the result of ignorance, the situation is bad enough. But once Jesus has come, there is a division, a crisis (as in 3:19-21). And it is impossible to find a reasonable cause for some choosing darkness and ultimate destruction.

15:26 The word Advocate (advocatus) means called alongside to help (as in 14:15). And in the task of sharing the good news against unreasonable opposition we certainly need his help in presenting the truth that the Messiah has revealed to us. He is called the Spirit of Truth (14:17, 16:13) because of his special function of enlightening us and others with truth.

15:27 But the Spirit works in and through ordinary humans beings just as the sap from the vine works in and through the ordinary wood of the branches.

16:1-33 Going away