The True Nature of a Gospel Church — 5
We have looked at 4 metaphors –
A. The Building. B. The Body. C. The Household or Family. D. The Flock.
Church metaphors help us to understand God’s purpose for God’s people in local bodies of believers. This morning we think about
5. The Vine
We read John 15 a moment ago. The occasion was the last Passover meal. It had just ended and Jesus had instituted the Lord’s Supper leaving instructions for His disciples about how to remember Him. Holding a cup of wine as an object lesson the Lord Jesus Christ teaches His disciples about true relationships. This was the fruit of the vine – it proceeded by fruitfulness from the plant called the vine – through the branches – to the fruit – which is harvested and trodden and pressed and preserved as grape juice – wine. The fact that Jesus had just given them the fruit of the vine to drink as the symbol of his blood made the transition to this figure easy and natural, for the branches derive their juices from the vine.
I remember a greenhouse in Swindon in the garden of one of the members of the church there. I visited the couple who lived there in every season of the year. In the greenhouse was growing a vine. In the winter there were no leaves and it looked dead. It had been cut back in the autumn and did not look alive. However when the summer came what a profusion of lovely green leaves – and of course by the early autumn beautiful ripe grapes.
The basic picture in this metaphor is one of the main stem of a vine plant representing the Lord Jesus Christ, and the branches on which fruit is borne, representing church members, individual believing Christians.
A vine bears fruit ONLY on its branches; but nevertheless can continue to live without branches – but will not be fruitful.
The vital sap – that is all life and strength, comes from Jesus Christ, the true vine Himself. And immediately we can see that the nature of a human being left to himself, is unfruitful and destitute of anything good towards God. We do not naturally have the nature of the vine – until it is implanted in us. How does this happen? Only through the grace of God – special electing grace and love of God. God the Father is the author of all blessings who plants us with His hand – in our creation – our coming into the world. But it is only when we begin life with the Lord Jesus Christ that we are grafted to Him, the true vine and we begin to receive life from Him. Therefore any efforts that people make in their own strength to suppose that they could make themselves right with God – outside of the relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ – is a waste of time! No fruit will come from self effort to please God. Only through knowing Jesus Christ, and being joined to Him in a conversion experience – becoming a Christian – will any one find acceptance with God at the day of judgment. Are you in the vine my friend? Have you been born again and engrafted to the true vine the Lord Jesus Christ? Repent of your sins – call upon the Lord – He will graciously save earnest seekers – and grant you a place attached to Him – rooted in the perfect Vine, Jesus Christ!
The Branches are attached to the vine (that is they abide or dwell within it) but also the life of the vine is the branches.
There is an organic unity.
Verse 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
Verse 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
The power for production only flows ONE WAY – from the vine – to the branches. Believers, church members, can only be fruitful as Christ lives in them.
Has this always been the case according to Biblical data? There are Old Testament shadows of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ seen in the history of the Jewish people.
Let us look at some Old Testament references.
1. Psalm 80 v 7 – 19
We read this lovely Psalm earlier in the service.
V8 The Old Testament Church – out of Egypt
V9 God gave spiritual prosperity
V12 Brought on themselves spiritual poverty
V14 A cry to God for mercy
V15 Jesus the planter of the church
V17 Jesus the promise of redemption
This is a Gospel Psalm focussed on the Vine with a good connection with the New Testament.
2. Isaiah 5 v 1 – 7
Verse 2 – every provision was made for the “choice vine”, Israel; stones, tower, keepers, wonderful soil and a fence. All the means of fruitfulness were supplied. God planted them in rich fertile soil – ideal growing conditions in Canaan. From God’s point of view there was no earthly reason why Israel should not be fruitful. He expected good grapes. What did He get?
WILD GRAPES! Sour, bitter fruit which looks like really good fruit – but is not!
This speaks of hypocritical actions in worship – corrupt practices, legalism, self-worship; counterfeit religion. And there is only one treatment for such a vine – radical pruning! More than this – chopping down!
3. Jeremiah 2 v 20 – 23
Verse 21 –
A NOBLE vine – God says I expected much of you.
A RIGHT seed – your ancestors were true believers – Abraham, Isaac.
But now you are a degenerate plant – unfaithfulness, apostasy and wickedness.
A STRANGE VINE – “you are not the person I once knew – you have changed!”
4. Ezekiel 15 v 1 – 8
God’s chosen people the house of Israel are compared to a vine. The vine in this passage has become barren and fruitless. The branches have given up depending on the vine and are shrivelled up – and are only fit for burning.
Return to John 15
Jesus comes as the true Vine (verse 1) whose intention is to bring forth fruit through His branches. True here means the real vine – Jesus says “I am truly the vine” in the same way that He said “I am the GOOD shepherd.”
He is the Vine – and we are the branches – Christians are vine branches. Disciples – Believers – you and I – as we abide in Him.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
What does it mean to abide in Christ?
1. The Greek ‘MENO’ occurs 61 times out of 120 in the New Testament as the word ‘ABIDE’. Other renderings are ‘remain, dwell, continue, tarry and endure’.
There is a sense of ‘staying put’ in the word abide.
As contrasted to ‘no fixed abode’ – no where to be permanent.
“I can’t abide beetroot!” I can’t live with it.
2. Abiding in Christ is being united with Him – it is a union with Christ – It is Christ which liveth in me – and I who live in Christ.
3. But abiding is more than union – it is also COMMUNION – that is spending time with the Lord Jesus Christ – communicating with Him – both ways – we by prayer and meditation – and He through His word.
But this goes even further in the Local Church context. We are members one of another – we have union – we are one with each other – or should be in the Local Church – for this is what the metaphor is teaching us. It goes deep – when the church meets together for worship, prayer, singing, breaking bread, work, talking, even spending leisure time together – we are in communion.
So as individual believers ABIDE in Christ – so also a Church abides in Christ. And this abiding is characterised by two things –
1. DEPENDENCY ON THE Lord Jesus Christ.
V 4 and 5 – Without Christ, the Vine, we are nothing. We have referred already to this.
A vine branch once severed from the main stem is USELESS. The sole purpose of a branch is to produce fruit – but only as the branch lives in the vine. So unless we are bearing fruit in Christ we can be said to have no purpose!
What then is the fruit (besides grapes that is!)?
Some think it is SOULWINNING – that a fruitful Christian is one that produces more branches for the vine.
My friend this is not so!
Galatians 5 v 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
Two of the fruit featured in Galatians 5 are also mentioned by the Lord Jesus Christ in John 15.
1. Love – verses 9, 10, 12, 13.
It is AGAPE – the production of true, deep, spiritual love for Christ and for others – this is being FRUITFUL.
And we are to love with the same quality of love that Jesus loved. But oh how hard this is! We have selfish hearts and fail so often.
Long ago, there ruled in Persia a wise and good king. He loved his people. He wanted to know how they lived. He wanted to know about their hardships. Often he dressed in the clothes of a working man or a beggar, and went to the homes of the poor. No one whom he visited thought that he was their ruler. On one occasion he visited a very poor man who lived in a cellar. He ate the coarse food the poor man ate. He spoke cheerful, kind words to him. Then he left. Later he visited the poor man again and disclosed his identity by saying, "I am your king!" The king thought the man would surely ask for some gift or favour, but he didn’t. Instead he said, “You left your palace and your glory to visit me in this dark, dreary place. You ate the coarse food I ate. You brought gladness to my heart! To others you have given your rich gifts. To me you have given yourself!”
The King of glory, the Lord Jesus Christ, gave himself to you and me. The Bible calls Him, “the unspeakable gift!” And He is God’s gift of love!
2. Joy – v 11.
It is CHARA – true joyful delight in Christ and in others. The Lord Jesus Christ knew about joy – who for the joy that was set before Him – endured the cross – glad to show love which led to joy.
Massena, one of Napoleon's generals, suddenly appeared with eighteen thousand men before an Austrian town which had no means of defence. The town council had nearly decided to surrender when the old dean of the church reminded them that it was Easter and begged them to hold services as usual and to leave the trouble in God’s hands. This they did; and the French hearing the church bells ringing joyfully concluded that an Austrian army had come to relieve the place and quickly broke camp. Before the bells ceased ringing, all the Frenchmen had vanished.
The incident has often been duplicated in individual lives. They have rung the joy bells in the face of pain, and sickness, and poverty, and fear, and loneliness, and all other trials. Then the joy bells have conquered. Speedily, the foe has slunk away. Speedily, the bell ringers have found themselves in possession of the field. For no enemy is quite so strong as faith companioned with good cheer. (Amos R. Wells)
Although not mentioned in John 15 we cannot leave out a third major fruit
Someone has said that holiness is pure love. And another that holiness is not an optional extra to the process of creation, but rather the whole point and purpose of it. As Christians we are new creatures in Christ – and the fruit of that new creation, that abiding in the vine, is to be like the Vine Himself – holy. C.H. Spurgeon said that holiness is the visible side of salvation.
Robert Murray McCheyne is reported to have prayed, “Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.”
May this be our prayer too!
We need then to ask ourselves as local church members – are we first of all abiding in Christ the Vine?
Secondly are we bearing fruit? Do we demonstrate genuine Christ-like love for each other? Do we have joy in the Lord Jesus Christ and in each other? Do we know how to serve selflessly and show love? Do we know how to delight in each other’s spiritual progress and fruit bearing?
These are questions for every true Church of the Lord Jesus Christ to ask of itself.
But before we leave this metaphor and John 15 – have you ever been worried by verse 2?
Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
1. What does TAKING AWAY mean?
Every branch, which is not fruit bearing cannot be a true branch at all – it is non-productive – therefore the vinedresser, the vineyard farmer, comes along and cuts it off and throws it away to be burned.
What does the Lord Jesus Christ mean by this illustration in the metaphor?
There are false professors in many churches – some would say in most churches. Sometimes people become church members (called branches). But the Lord Jesus Christ and His angels will throw these unbelievers, false professors of faith onto the fire of punishment – verse 6
If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
Every believer needs to be regularly examining their lives to see how real their faith is –
2 Peter 1 v 10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
Peter is conscious, when He says this, of the Lord’s words in Matthew 7 v 20
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Unloving professors of Christ, unholy professors of Christ are not displaying the fruit of being genuine branches of the vine. And they will have their reward!
2. What does PURGING mean?
Every branch that IS bearing fruit is trimmed.
and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
Purging is not the same as cutting off and taking away like those in verse 6. Purging is pruning of an individual branch in order to encourage more fruit! It is the pruning of dead wood on real branches.
Things of our old nature can get in the way of fruit production – and need to be cut away – with the secateurs of the Word of God, coming with sharp conviction to the soul. Sometimes God’s word is sharp and powerful and cutting – out comes the old growth – those sins that have regained a foothold in the saint; and they are purged enabling the good wood to grow. Cutting always hurts – but it is necessary for the health of the branch. This happens on an individual basis as we go through life being sanctified by the Word of God and His Holy Spirit.
It can also happen at Local Church Level. Churches that intend to be fruit bearers will be pruned by the great Divine Vine dresser. When pruning happens – and the choice branches are taken to glory – cut out from the vine – the vine does not die – but there is potential new life. All of us are subject to this process. The pruning knife of trials, afflictions, bereavements cut sharply and hurt us as branches. It is hard for us sometimes to have to give something up or sacrifice something else when our consciences strike us – yet the Lord designs these pruning sessions for our good. We must be encouraged that God only means it for our benefit. The Psalmist says in Psalm 119
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.
71 It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.
Abiding then in the Lord Jesus Christ means life and fruitfulness. As members of a local church let us all be good branches of our wonderful Vine the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us all know what it is to be living in Christ, united in Him and subject to the wholesome and necessary prunings of sanctifying grace – so that He the True Vine may have all the glory through us!