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News for Monday, December 23, 2013

Sunday School Lesson — Explore the Bible
Dec. 29: Stay Open and Obedient
By David R. Dean

Focal Passage: John 15:1-17

One of the “Experiencing God” songs summarizes this lesson: “I am the vine, you are the branches, He that abideth in Me and I in Him, the same bringeth forth much fruit, for without Me, you can do nothing.” John 15:1-17 is all about the true vine, abiding, fruit bearing, pruning, branches, and loving God and one another. It is the nature of a tree to bear fruit. Earlier we heard Jesus speak of the bountiful harvest He expects from those who are willing to follow Him.

New growth is where the fruit comes. But the branch must remain connected to the vine. Pruning is essential for apples, grapes, roses, and all kinds of shrubs and plants. Christ is the divine gardener and He applies good principles of spiritual horticulture in this chapter. Bountiful fruit is the goal of our relationship with Christ as described in John 15.

First, abiding in Christ is recognizing the source of our life-giving love. Christ, Himself, is the true vine and we must abide, (remain, stay connected) to Him or we will bear no fruit. Actually the text says that the Father cuts off branches that do not bear fruit. Apple trees must be properly pruned by someone who knows which branches will bear fruit. Suckers emerge which take energy from the tree, and will never have fruit. They must be removed. Even good branches must stay connected to the vine.

Second, fruit bearing is the natural outcome of a branch that stays connected to the vine. Grape vines bear grapes, blueberry bushes bear blueberries because it is in their DNA to do so. If Christ is in you, and if you abide in Him, you will bear fruit which will honor Him and amaze you. The role of the Holy Spirit in us will be dealt with in the second lesson from this chapter. We cannot help but look like our parents, for it is in our DNA. The DNA of a Christian is Christ Himself. Our lives must reflect His control of our lives, His love for us as demonstrated by our love for others.

Third, pruning fruitful branches makes them more fruitful! Pruning can seem harsh and a grape vine properly pruned, close to the vine will amaze you in its productivity. The closer it remains, the more the new growth can produce luscious grapes. I learned this in raising roses as well. One year I had a lopsided bush, with just a few buds. I pruned it drastically and watched it recover, sending out new primary branches, each with secondary buds on which appeared, miraculously, more than two dozen roses that summer. New growth produces flowers and fruit. We must allow the Master Gardener free hand with His pruning shears. What needs pruning in your life, your church, your daily walk?

Fourth, the true vine brings glory to the Father. The glory is not for the branch, but for the good of the vine. Vines are symbols for Israel and even the church. As we are the body of Christ to one another and to Him and to our world, we bring glory to the Father. Just as Jesus revealed the love of the Father, so we are to reflect the love of the Son. Verses 9-10 remind us, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love.”

Fifth, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you (v. 12). Christ demonstrated His servant love by washing His disciples’ feet. He demonstrated His obedience to the Father by His obedience even unto death. He spelled out His love — C-R-O-S-S!!! Self-denial is part of the pruning crucial to fruit bearing. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command” (vv. 13-14). We cannot love as Christ commands and continue to put selfish desires first. We cannot bear much fruit for Him without proper pruning. Christ expects us to obey Him and bear fruit. He revealed the Father’s love so that we could become fruit-bearing branches.

This summer I enjoyed a delicious Fuji apple from my properly pruned tree. I have appreciated roses each year from drastically pruned rose bushes. We made grape juice and wonderful grape jelly from the fruit of those three grape vines which I will soon prune again to assure another good harvest.

If we all abide in Christ the true vine, submit to the Father’s pruning, and obey Christ’s command to love each other, there will be a bountiful harvest — not just of roses, apples, and grapes, but of loving relationships which honor Him.

— Dean lives in Orlinda. He is the retired executive director of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association.

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