The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: T

Previous Index Next

True vine (John 15)

The figure of a vine and its branches is perhaps the best illustration of the intimate union between Christ and his followers. Other figures of speech approach the ideal, but are seen to fall short in some particular. That of the shepherd and his sheep gives us the thought of intimacy, but it is an intimacy between a guardian of a distinctly superior order and creatures of an inferior grade whom he watches over and protects. That of a husband and wife gives the idea of intimacy and union between two beings of the same order, but they are two persons with independent lives, and one of them will live on even though the other dies. And finally, that figure of the head and members does illustrate one life common to the whole, but it too falls short by comparison to the vine and branches in not being able to express the constant putting forth of new growths.

This picture of the vine and its branches has something very worthwhile to say about scriptural fellowship. Christ's words are simple yet profound:

"I am the true vine" (v 1). It is significant that our Lord does not say, "I am the stem, and you are only the branches" (cp v 5). The whole plant is Christ, and we as the branches are a part of the whole -- not just attached to Christ, but a part of Christ! Such an expressive statement gives sledge-hammer force to the warning of Christ in Mat 25:40,45:

"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
Cutting off Christ

We should be extremely reluctant to cut off brethren, and no better reason can be given than this: that through lack of love and patience we may find ourselves cutting off Christ! This is analogous to the comical picture of the man in the tree who is so busy pruning that he inadvertently saws off the limb on which he is sitting! Comical indeed, naturally speaking; but the spiritual counterpart is a great tragedy. How many lives have been blighted by what in the beginning was an earnest (if misdirected) zeal for "purity", but the outcome was the separation of the zealous remnant from any hope of nourishment which might have been received through the remainder of the vine. Children in the separated families have found this self-imposed isolation spiritually withering; the links to a healthy ecclesial life were never fused; adulthood finds them drifting away in greater percentages than their opposite numbers in the "loose" ecclesias!

Christ continues: "My Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit He taketh away" (vv 1,2). In this analogy the "branches" are pruned only by the Father. This is not to deny, of course, the scriptural duty of ecclesias in extreme situations to take the initiative and "purge out the old leaven". However, as may be seen in other passages (notably 1Jo 2:19), sometimes it has been acceptable for the faithful ecclesia to wait until the Father, in His providence and infinite wisdom, severs the diseased or dead branches from their midst. (Compare also the lesson of the seven "stars" in Rev 1:16 -- they are seen in Christ's hand. To him is committed all authority from the Father; it is his prerogative alone to extinguish them if need be.)

"Abide in me"

The central exhortation of Christ's parable in John 15 is found in v 4: "Abide in me". Each branch must abide in the vine in order to bring forth fruit. If for any reason it is severed, the branch may continue in existence for a time, but in the day of reckoning the "husbandman" will gather it together with the other lifeless sticks and cast them into the fire of eternal destruction (v 6).

All of the emphasis here is upon our duty, our necessity, to attach ourselves solidly to the true vine, and never to relinquish our grasp. There is an old fable about a dog with a bone who was crossing a bridge one day, when he happened to glance down and spy his reflection in the water. Thinking this to be another dog and a rival claimant for his bone, he bared his teeth and gave out with a growl and a ferocious bark. Unfortunately, in the process he dropped his bone, which sank irretrievably to the bottom of the stream.

Like that dog, we sometimes forget who our real enemy is, and in giving our attention to fighting a supposed enemy we may lose our grip on the real prize. Christ has wisely advised us to hold firm to our hope, and not to worry overmuch about someone else's right to that same hope. Unlike the dog's one bone, there is food enough for all in Christ; the "branches" need not squabble among themselves,

What a sad and confusing picture we have today in the ecclesial world: a veritable host of "independent" branches, each one jealously grafting other branches back and forth, as if to say, "We alone are the people, and wisdom will die with us." (In fact, some of these smaller communities are near extinction because of long-continued division and sub-division in pursuit of that elusive "purity".) But all the while, whether they like it or not, they are all attached to the one vine -- since the fundamental beliefs of each "branch" are sound (although some "branches" imply by their rhetoric that their rivals are really attached to brambles).

The wholesome picture

Let us get back to the wholesome picture of the true vine. In this ecclesial network it is our business, wherever we may be, to send out new shoots, to grow and consolidate -- so that others through us may receive sustenance from Christ the one vine. Practically speaking, we must endeavor always to strengthen our bonds, with brethren in our local ecclesia, with brethren in isolation, with other ecclesias near and far. The "vine" of the Truth must be an intricately woven web of spiritual relationships, through all of which flows life from Christ. We must not be afraid thus to put out more "feelers" and bind ourselves closer and closer together with our brethren. The more we seek to be "one" with our brethren, both in joys and sorrows, the healthier will be our attitude toward fellowship. Where true love exists, misunderstandings and suspicions will be much less frequent. We may still periodically have to remove recalcitrant members from our midst, but if we are living up to this standard it will be a truly painful experience -- as it should be!

It will not be something that gives us a secret pleasure at the thought of our own superiority. A full appreciation of our interdependent relationship with all our brethren will serve us well as a necessary check upon the traditional divisive tendencies of Christadelphia.

Previous Index Next