Did you know that Jesus is intensely interested in cultivating relationships? Throughout the Old Testament, we read about God's pursuit of His children. And in the New Testament, we read about His love and compassion. But few passages reflect the nurturing love of Jesus any clearer than John 15.
And today on Insight for Living, Chuck Swindoll invites us to follow along as he portrays this pursuit of personal intimacy by using a farming metaphor. Now the vine dresser, according to verse 1, is the father. I am the true vine and my father is the vine dresser. He is the one who works with the branches. He is the one who cultivates, who spades, who prunes. You and I are the branches.
Merrill Tinney writes wise words. Live wood must be trimmed back in order to prevent such heavy growth that the life of the vine goes into the wood rather than into the fruit. The vineyards in the early spring look like a collection of barren, bleeding stumps.
But in the fall they are filled with luxuriant purple grapes. As the farmer wields the pruning knife on his vines, so God cuts dead wood out from among his saints and often cuts back the living wood so far that his methods seem cruel. Nevertheless, from those who have suffered the most, there often comes the greatest fruitfulness. You've been suffering lately. The father been pruning and cutting the stump back to the point of its bleeding.
Good for him and good for you. It's part of the process. You produce more. I don't know if you have ever tried to raise a fruit tree. I've tried to raise a number of things in my yard over the years and I have been totally unsuccessful. In fact, my gardener said to me a number of months ago, why don't we have a deal? You just keep your hands off everything and leave it to me.
I've done that and it's working beautifully. But back when I didn't have him and I thought I could do it, we had a little tree out back that produced a little fruit. And I thought, that's great. Next year ought to produce more.
So I didn't touch it. I had a neighbor that reminded me of the necessity of pruning and I thought, no way, Jose. That produced a little fruit this year with more branches. It'll produce more fruit. Well, the next year came and sure enough, a lot of fruit came along, but it's kind of small.
Didn't taste quite like it should have tasted, but I thought next year it'll probably get better. He reminded me again, you need to cut that back. By now it was the Green Bay tree coming out over the fence. By about the third year, it was all branches. It was what they call rangy. It had branches all over the place and very little fruit.
I watched him on occasion. He cut his way back. It was just an ugly stump.
But man, the fruit that he got from that tree. We don't like the father's work. We don't like the pruning. We resist the knife.
We hate the cutting. But the father is committed to our bearing more fruit. And for some, that means severe pruning.
Severe pruning. It's extremely important that we cooperate with God's game plan. In one part of it, we are active. Abide in me. That's a command.
And in another part, we're passive. He will produce the fruit. I am the vine, verse 5. You are the branches.
He who abides in me and I in him bears much fruit. For apart from me, you can do nothing. But we don't believe that. We are just too gifted.
We are just too skilled. And so we work real hard to come up with fruit. I have never heard a fruit tree groan. Never.
You can go all over the San Joaquin Valley and you will never hear one grunt. Just silently and without notice, those luxuriant orchards and vineyards bear an enormous amount of fruit. Because somehow in the process of nature, fruit comes. Now when we work real hard at it, we can produce a fruit, but it's bitter. It's ugly and it isn't rewarded. It's called the fruit of the flesh.
It's called carnality. One man writes, you can do many things without depending on Christ. This does not mean that without him you remain just an immobile blob. You can operate your business without Christ. You can pastor a church without Christ. But if you try, you will find there's no fruit, no Christ likeness, no manifestation of that beautiful character which arrests the attention of others. Instead, there will be a shabby sham, a phony imitation of the real thing, which will drive people away from Christ and produce nothing but a dull mechanical religion.
I don't know if you have ever heard men who've admitted to it, but I have. I've heard men who were pastors for years before they came to Christ. And they have described to me the barrenness, the frustration of trying to do the work of ministry in the energy of the flesh, all the anxiety, the endless turmoil, the ache of heart, the lack of energy, the impurity of motive, the manipulation, the hypocrisy. Verse 6 describes the results of an independent life like that. If anyone does not abide in me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up and they gathered them and cast them into the fire and they are burned. How you read that verse and you think, oh, I thought I was saved forever.
And I see I'm going to be cast into the fire. And that is a favorite text to be used by people who question the doctrine of eternal security. Let's be very careful that we not mishandle verses like this. Let's think very carefully now, very intelligently as we look at things like singular and plural and nouns and verbs and just be a little pedantic for a moment in this sixth verse.
Look carefully. Try to set your prejudices aside and let's see what it says. If anyone does not abide in me, he's not talking about a person who doesn't know the Lord. Only Christians can abide or not abide. So this is a Christian. If any Christian doesn't abide in me, he is thrown away as a branch and he dries up. Before I go any further, let me suggest that there are times when one can walk in carnality so long that God steps in and takes that life off the earth. It's the severest form of divine discipline. The Corinthians experienced it. Paul wrote them for their coming to the Lord's table in a carnal manner and he said, because of this many of you are weak and sickly and some of you sleep, which is a Christian word for some of you have died. You came to the end of God's tether. His long suffering reached its limit and he said that's enough and he took some of you away.
If you continue to live without abiding in Christ, he sovereignly chooses to take you off this earth, described here in verse 6 as drying up. Look carefully. Suddenly it changes to plural. Everything up until then is singular. They gathered them and cast them into the fire and they are burned.
Notice the difference. He is thrown away, but they are cast into the fire. I take it that when it changes to plural here, he changes from the person to the fruits or the results of that person's carnal life. The branch is cut off, divine discipline, but the things the branches were producing are burned up. It's described very clearly for us in 1 Corinthians chapter 3.
It really is worth a look. 1 Corinthians 3, verse 12, written again to the Christian. If any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and straw.
Right away you know that one is going to be able to handle the flame and one isn't. One category will and one won't. Each man's work, each man's produce, each man's fruit, each one's work will become evident for the day will show it, meaning the day that we stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Because it is revealed, it is to be revealed with fire and fire itself will test the quality of each one's work. If our work which we have built upon it remains, we shall receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss. But he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire. It's a critical passage to read alongside John 15 to explain one another. If I don't abide, I produce fruit that is not going to be rewarded, that is going to be burned up and if I live like that long enough, God may step in and say, that's enough.
I've had enough of that. And for his own name's sake, for the glory of Christ and for the purity of the church, he removes me and my works are burned up. Back to John 15. What if I do abide? What happens as a result of abiding? Well, there are four results that are mentioned in the balance of this passage.
We can take them rather quickly. Verse 7, if you abide in me and my words abide in you, then you'll have answered prayer. Ask whatever you wish and it shall be done for you.
Answered prayer. Second, verse 8. By this is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. You glorify God. You find that God is glorified as a result of abiding. By the way, have I spent enough time explaining abiding?
Maybe that's too important for me to pass over without another word. To abide is to trust in, is to lean on, is to rely upon. It is to draw one's motivation and direction in life from Christ. It is to begin the day by giving him the hours that are in front of us and saying, Lord, they are yours.
I don't want to operate in the flesh. I want this day to be given to you. And at each moment along the way when I hit a churning point or a struggling point, stop me, Lord, and may I come back to you. Remind me of that through this day that I might draw my strength from you. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, writes Proverbs 3, verse 5. Lean not to your own understanding in all your ways.
Acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. When you do that, it is amazing what it does to your prayer life. Verse 7, it is amazing how your life begins to glorify God, verse 8. And then you'll be motivated by love, verses 9 and 10. Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandment and abide in his love. You see, his life begins to flow through our lives.
Just as he kept the Father's word and love began to flow, so we keep his word and love begins to flow through us. Ever started the day saying, I'm going to love everybody today if it kills me. And that's usually the day you love the least. You can't produce love. You can't work it up. You can't mesmerize yourself or hypnotize yourself or talk to yourself enough in the mirror to get yourself all loved up for the day.
Because you've got a freeway between you and wherever you work. That's going to take all the love out of you. So you say to the Lord early in the morning, Lord, this is your day. I don't know what in the world is in front of me, but nothing is going to separate me from my connection with you and my reliance upon you. This is your day, whatever it may mean. Whether I come out on top or bottom, whether I sell or I don't, whether it's a profit or a loss, whether people are liking me or not, whether my grades are good or whether they're poor, it's your day, Lord, and it's for your glory. It is amazing what that does, what that does to your spirit.
It kind of opens the channel for love to flow. And then joy will reach its maximum expression. I love verse 11. These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and your joy may be full and running over.
That's the idea. Someone wrote, joy is the flag that flies over the castle when the king is enthroned. Give me enough time with a Christian and I will tell you if there's joy. It isn't that they're laughing all the time, but there is something light and lovely about them. There is a beautiful spirit of cooperation and harmony and fun, if I may use the word, just fun in life comes with abiding. Now I realize some temperaments are given to this more than others, but any temperament according to this passage would be included in that joy being made full. Oh, the value of being connected to the life.
Something dies if you're disconnected from the power. Tragic things occur if even a brief period of time passes and you're not in connection with the savior. You start running in the flesh and dreadful things occur. Brings me to the first of two very practical words of instruction from Jesus. Refusal to abide is barrenness. Don't chance it. Refusal to abide is barrenness.
Don't chance it. Now the difficulty is the flesh is very satisfying. The flesh has ways of motivating us because there is a brief period of sin that is extremely exciting and it seems even fulfilling. Moses himself described it as the pleasures of sin for a season, or at least the writer to the Hebrews describing Moses who said no to Pharaoh's daughter and chose to live with the people of God. He refused the pleasures of sin for a season. It has its pleasures. Carnality has its excitement and adventure and even the thrill of getting away with it.
But my the barrenness. A gentleman wrote me a very honest letter recently. A man who had fallen. I'm sure most people don't realize the ultimate consequences of their deeds.
I know I didn't write this very honest man. I feel sorry for those who fall because I know what they have to look forward to. I don't doubt God's forgiveness and healing but the scars go deep and the road back is so long and hard. God eventually will restore the years the locusts have eaten but it isn't an overnight transformation and some losses you never regain. Whenever you have the opportunity Chuck to tell people, tell them that the time of pleasure doesn't even begin to offset the pain of the whirlwind. The scars never leave. And I'm convinced you never really attain the joy that God originally had planned for you.
Maybe I'm wrong but it's not worth the chance to experiment with it. Regret is a gnawing destroyer of contentment. Refusal to abide is barrenness.
Don't chance it. The result of abiding is fruitfulness. Don't miss it. The result of abiding is fruitfulness.
Don't miss it. One of my longtime friends is a music composer, Don Wertzen. Some of his pieces have reached national and maybe even international recognition. Some of his beautiful pieces never got that well known for some reason.
It's sort of the way it is with composers and authors and such. In a piece most of you have probably never heard, Psalm of My Life, I think Don wrote some of his best lyrics. Like worthless chaff the wind blows away scorched by the bright desert sun through the day no root below, no fruit born above my life was thirsting for reigns of his love. While roaming far away on my own I stood with sinners with hearts culled like stone.
I sat with scoffing cynics at play until my life changed directions one day. While meditating day and night his word brought pleasure and highest delight. It quenched my thirst and nurtured my soul. It satisfied me.
It made my life whole. Then like a lovely well-watered tree nourished by rivers that flow endlessly weighed down with luscious fruit from his hand my full life prospered from him in this land. Thank you for the vine.
Thank you for being the vine dresser, Father. Thank you for pruning, for cleansing, for lifting us up from the soil, for freeing us so that we can produce fruit. Thank you very much for your forgiveness that comes upon confession. Thank you for release and hope that is a part of the work of the Spirit of God. Now, Lord, may the days that follow be different because of these moments we have spent together in this vital section of your holy word. May our motives be pure. May our thoughts be cleaner. May our actions be driven from that desire to glorify you regardless of the outcome.
We pray through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Well, let's repeat our two points of application today. First, Chuck Swindoll said, Our refusal to abide in the vine produces bareness. And then second, our willingness to abide in the vine produces fruitfulness. You're listening to Insight for Living.
Chuck titled this study in John 15 quoting from Jesus, I am the true vine. If you'd like to learn more about this ministry, we invite you to visit us online at insightworld.org. Well, as a result of hearing today's message, maybe you're prepared to take this invitation from Jesus seriously. We can assure you that his arms are open wide.
Nothing would please him any more than to see you stepping toward him. There's a wide variety of resources waiting for you to take your next steps. In fact, you'll find Chuck's teaching series online at insight.org. The title of the December study is His Name is Wonderful, and each message is paired with searching the scriptures study notes that you can easily download and share with your friends.
Again, go to insight.org slash studies. Well, before we hear from Chuck, let me extend a word of thanks to all those who support Insight for Living. It's your contributions that empower us to share these daily programs and all the free resources that come with it.
In essence, when you give, you're helping others abide in Christ, just as you're learning to do. Chuck, we never tire of hearing those stories of life change. At this time of year, we've received so many affirming phone calls and letters from loyal listeners.
If you're among those who have already sent a year-end donation, thank you so much. In recent days, I've heard so many remarkable stories from our grateful friends. They've been listening 5, 10, 20 and more years, describing how God has used Insight for Living to guide them through challenging passages in life.
These personal stories of God's faithfulness are profoundly meaningful to me. And people have said, Chuck, we know it's the end of the year, and I'm here for you, because Insight for Living has always been here for me. Let me encourage you to follow their example today. Look back over the years and do your best to measure the impact of this program on your life.
And then, look ahead to the future. Into the next year and the next, as God provides, we promise to be here for you Monday through Friday as a trustworthy companion and as a source of spiritual guidance. So, please do your part in these critical days leading up to the 31st of December. Ask God to direct the size of your gift.
Together, let's invest in Insight for Living so that this legacy of God's faithfulness extends well into the future. Thanks so much. Well, getting in touch and responding to Chuck Swindoll is easy. First, you can call us. If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888, or you can give online at our secure website. That's insight.org slash donate. Once again, if you're listening in the United States, the number is 800-772-8888, and online, it's insight.org slash donate. I'm Bill Meyer. Tomorrow, Chuck Swindoll describes another name for Jesus, the shepherd of the sheep. Be sure to join us Wednesday here on Insight for Living. The preceding message, I Am the True Vine, was copyrighted in 1988, 1992, and 1998, and the sound recording was copyrighted in 1998 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights are reserved worldwide. Duplication of copyrighted material for commercial use is strictly prohibited.
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