Jesus is the true vine and according to John 15:1. God, the Father, is the vinedresser or gardener. John explains the gardener’s work in verse 2. He writes, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” “Takes away” in the first half of this verse is an unfortunate translation. Jesus says these branches are “in” him but they bear no fruit. I believe there are true believers that don’t bear any fruit. What becomes of them? Does God “take them away?” I put cages around my tomato plants because when they crimp over, they can’t draw the nutrients from the roots and never produce fruit. But when I “lift them up” the branches are straightened out and the production can flow again. What do you do with branches that crimp, like a garden hose, and don’t produce fruit? If fruit is the desired outcome, you don’t cut them off and throw them away. You “lift them up.” God’s desire for us, his branches, is that we bear fruit. Jon Courson gets this right. He writes, “The word translated ‘takes away’ in verse 2 is airo – a word in which three of the four definitions deal with lifting up, raising up, or pulling up. Yes, the fourth definition in the Greek lexicon is take away. But there are three that precede it…Thus, the idea here is not ‘take away’ but ‘lift up.’”[1]

According to Guzik, “The idea is that the Father lifts up unproductive vines off of the ground (as was common in the ancient practices of vineyard care). They lifted them up off the ground that they might get more sun and bear fruit better.”[2] Boice[3] also agrees with this translation. Jesus speaks of the love and compassion the Father has for his children too often for this not to be the case. As a loving father would “lift up” the head of a fallen and discouraged child, so too does God lift up the head of the fruitless ones. I would argue this makes perfect sense when we realize we’re not talking about physical fruit, but spiritual. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us what this fruit actually is. It says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

When the branches do produce fruit, the gardener wants more! He therefore embarks upon a strict discipline of pruning. As we see pruning in our lives, we know it’s not very pleasant. There is always some pain involved. This is how the author of Hebrews describes this pruning process that produces fruit. Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” We often think of God’s interest in increasing our fruitfulness as something at odds with our own desires, but when we realize it’s the fruit of the Spirit we’re talking about, we see that the branch and the gardener are on the same page. Who wouldn’t want more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness and self-control? These are the real treasures of life! Give me fruit!

[1] Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 563.

[2] David Guzik, John, David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible (Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik, 2013), Jn 15:1–3.

[3] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 1162.