The Agora
Biblical Fellowship

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15. The 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. That of the shepherd and sheep gives us the thought of intimacy, but it is that between a guardian, who is of a 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 lives on though the other one has died. That of the head and members illustrates one life common to the whole body, but it falls short in not being able to express the constant putting forth of new growths” (R. Wright, “The True Vine”, The Dawn Ecclesial Magazine, Vol. 22, No. 3 — March 1961 — p. 65).
The picture of the vine — as our brother says, the best illustration of our intimate union with Christ — can teach us something about Biblical 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 ye are the branches” (cp. v. 5). Rather, the whole plant is Christ, and we as the branches are a part of the whole — not just attached to Christ, but part of Christ! Such an expressive statement gives sledge-hammer force to the warning of Christ in Matthew 25:40,45:

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto ME.”

We should be extremely reluctant to cut off our 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 that it could have received through the remainder of the vine! Children in the separated families have found this self-imposed isolation spiritually withering; their links with a healthy ecclesial life were never fused; when grown they drift away in far greater numbers than their counterparts in the “loose” ecclesias from which their parents withdrew!

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 to “purge out the old leaven”. However, as has been seen previously (Chapter 13), we all too often lose sight of the fact that usually it is better for the faithful ecclesial to wait until the Father, in His providence and infinite wisdom, severs the diseased or dead branches from its midst. (Compare also the lesson of the seven “stars” in Revelation 1:16 — see Chapter 6.)

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. A dog with a bone was crossing a bridge one day, when he chanced 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 let out 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 prize. Christ has wisely advised us to hold firm to our hope, and not to worry too much whether someone else should have a right to that same hope. Unlike the dog’s bone, there is food enough for all in Christ; the “branches” need not squabble among themselves.

This teaching, of what should be our proper attitude toward our fellow “branches”, is emphasized further in v. 16. Christ says, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” The one who chooses is the one who holds the right subsequently to refuse!

What a sad and confusing spectacle we have today in the ecclesial world: a host of “independent” branches, each one jealously pruning away whole branches and grafting other branches back in their place, 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 continuous division and subdivision in pursuit of that elusive “purity”.) But all the while — since the fundamental beliefs of each “branch” are sound — they are all attached to the One Vine (though some “branches” imply by their rhetoric that their rivals are really attached to “brambles”).

Let us return 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 send our 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 “dead” or destructive 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 affords us a secret pleasure in the contemplation of our own “superiority”. A full appreciation of our interdependent relationship with all our brethren will serve as a necessary check upon the traditional divisive tendencies of Christadelphia.

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