Read John 15:1–17.
Our youngest son, Luke, is an aspiring gardener. Every day, this sweet three-year-old goes out into our yard to inspect the crops before reporting back all that he sees. “Daddy, there was a bug, and it was touching the ‘matoes! I said, ‘Go away, bug! It’s not your ‘mato!’”
Luke’s favorite part of agricultural life is the harvest, but there’s one small problem with his harvesting technique: Luke rarely waits until the veggies are ready to be plucked. If I turn to other concerns for more than a minute or two, I’ll return to find a collection of green tomatoes, underdeveloped cucumbers, baby squash, and the heads of several pumpkin flowers.
The first time Luke plucked a tiny, lime cucumber, I told him that “Larry” needed more time to grow big and green. Luke responded by returning to the plant and putting his new friend back where he found him as best he could. But apart from the vine, that cucumber will not grow. It needs to be connected to its source of life in order to mature and flourish.
Jesus taught His disciples what my boy is learning by experience, only in Jesus’ version He is the grapevine and we are the branches (not cucumbers). “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4). It’s our connection to Jesus that brings life and makes us fruitful.
Jesus has already talked about our union with the Father and the Son through the Spirit. With this picture of the vine and the branches, He expands on it, saying, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (v. 9). Notice the imperative nature of Jesus’ words. It is an act of our will to “remain” in His love, to maintain our connection to the vine. He says, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love” (v. 10).
Some will read those words and conclude that Jesus’ love is a fragile thing, ready to come crashing down with a single misstep on our part. We’ve all had so-called friends like this—people who stand on alert, ready to walk away at the slightest offense. These folks keep everyone at a distance, because no one can rise to their impossible standards. Rest assured, Jesus isn’t like that. He doesn’t abandon us at our first misstep.
Notice the second part of the verse: “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (v. 10, emphasis added). Jesus offers His own relationship with the Father as a model for us to follow. That relationship is not one of rote rule-following and cold obedience. Rather, it’s a vibrant, ongoing walk—a beautiful, intimate, life-giving journey filled with joy. That’s what we’re being invited into. Yes, we are to obey Jesus’ commands. None of them are optional. But our obedience grows out of the love we share. His commandments are for our good and for the blessing of this world. They are not a burden to carry, but a joy to experience.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about all this vine-and-branches talk is that, in the middle of it, Jesus calls us His friends: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (v. 15). Not too many folks are called God’s friends in Scripture, but there are a couple of godly men who wore that title in the Old Testament: Abraham was called a friend of God (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8), and so was Moses (Exodus 33:11). These men did more than follow a set of rules; they followed the Lord in faith, one step at a time, wherever He led. They stumbled from time to time, but they kept walking—and they grew more and more in love with Yahweh as they did.*
If we understand the kind of life Jesus is calling us into, we won’t settle for anything less than intimate friendship with Him. His desire is for us to be as close and as connected as a vine and its branches, with all the fruit that comes from such a union.
* In Greek, the “I am” of “I am the vine; you are the branches” is ego eimi, a call back to when God spoke His divine name to Moses in Exodus 3:14. With each “I am” statement, declares Himself to be Yahweh.