Saturday, December 15, 2012

Grape Trellis Based on John 15:2

NOTE: An update to this article from August 31, 2013 may be found at John 15:2 - Pruning Produced Better Grapes.

Today we finished the construction of a grape trellis in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden. Using John 15:2 as a basis, the two trellis structures are intended to illustrate the power of pruning. The trellis on the right will be pruned each January or February, while the one on the left will not. It is our expectation that the one on the right will "bear more fruit."

The verses in John 15 symbolically compare the grape vine with our abiding presence with the Lord and the commandment to love one another. Jesus begins by describing Himself and His relationship to His Father:
"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser." (John 15:1 NKJV)
Then He includes those who abide with Him:
"Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit." (John 15:2 NKJV)
When the pruning is performed in mid-winter, the grapes have already been harvested but the new growth has not yet started. As a gardener, I can easily understand these two types of pruning. If a branch has not produced fruit, get rid of that branch because it will be less productive and may not bear any fruit at all. For the branch that has produced, excess branches are cleanly removed so that more energy will be directed to new flowers – when insects fertilize those flowers, they become more and potentially larger grapes.

Our hope with this dual trellis system is to see the abrupt difference between the two types of treatment. We should see more fruit on the first, and we should see more leaves on the second. The branches on the first should be more organized because they have been instructed (via the pruners) how to grow; the branches on the second should be much more wild in appearance.

Many interpretations have been put forth regarding what John 15:2 means. When Jesus stated, "I am the vine; you are the branches" (John 15:5 NKJV), I believe he was stating that each plant represents a Jesus/person combination. The plant near the right post is one person that abides in Christ, and the plant near the left post represents a second person in Christ. The branches on each plant get pruned based on the fruit that they do or do not produce.

The timing of the pruning also seems pertinent to understanding John 15:2; it is after the growing season has ended but not at the end of the plant's life. Springtime will soon arrive and the hope is that it will produce more fruit next year. Each person in Christ goes through seasons; the Father removes from each plant that which is unproductive, and He cleans those other branches in preparation for the next season:
"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me." (John 15:4 NKJV)
Note the similarity of John 15:2b with John 15:5b for there is synergy between them:
"He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5b NKJV)
For example, in Joshua 7, the leader Joshua was pruned at Ai when his forces lost the battle – he lost prestige with his people. Rather than run or be discouraged, Joshua chose to abide – he fell on his face and sought the Lord. After Achan was exposed, Joshua became more fruitful in the next chapters because he was pruned and he abided.

Gardeners also have the responsibility of promoting the plant's health throughout the year. We will train the plants so that their branches remain attached to the trellis system. If a branch is too wild, it will be cut off and discarded:
"If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned." (John 15:6 NKJV)
The Jesus/person plant is not discarded, only that portion that is not bearing fruit. Just as dross is removed from silver or gold, the branch is put through the refiner's fire.

The grape's branches are secured to the vine by arms that are called cordons. In this way, the green growth abides to the vine and allows it to bear much fruit:
"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples." (John 15:7,8 NKJV)
The grape vine analogy concludes with the command for those who abide in Christ to love one another:
"You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another." (John 15:16,17 NKJV)

This answers the question, "Based on these verses, what is the fruit?" It is love. The fruit is not good things that we do as some suggest – concentrating on performing good works can be done without any evidence of love. And the fruit is not the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) as others suggest, although love is an aspect of each of those nine fruits.

Rather, I suggest that those things that we do (good works) are intended to exhibit love. The text says the fruit should remain – the groceries that were left for the needy person will be consumed, but the love that went with the groceries should remain. The pruning removes those things that may inhibit a better revelation of love, and the abiding promotes the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) to help us manifest love.