Powerful Paradox


Originally published in Pulpit Helps, July 2008.

Fruit is a delicious and important part of our diet, but anyone who works with an orchard or vineyard can tell you that apple or pear or bunch of grapes you may be enjoying right now didn't "just happen." It was carefully brought along by the grower, by taking proper care of the parent tree or vine.

Let's focus on the grape vine. Despite the abuse of its fruit by some, the grape vine has been a blessing to man for thousands of years-and for thousands of years, man has treated the vine harshly. And therein lies a very significant paradox, which our Lord Jesus Christ used in His lesson on the vine and the branches (John 15:1-8): "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" (v. 2).

God "purges" (katharō) the good branches. The word means "to cleanse," but it is here used to mean pruning-cleansing the branch of useless shoots which would keep the vine from bearing well. If we see how this works in the vineyard, we may gain appreciation for how it works in God's vineyard-even though we are the branches being purged!

When the pruner comes, he will select perhaps two of the strongest branches: these he will treat "unmercifully," by leaving only a few fruiting spurs, and only a few buds on these. One might think that such harsh treatment would deeply curtail the harvest, or ruin it altogether. But the vine is amazingly tolerant. When it is left with little to work with, it will pour all its energy into them-and by harvest time, large clusters of delicious fruit will be ready.

Note that this is not the grape vine's own choice. Wild grapes grow on untidy, sprawling vines, in sharp contrast to the disciplined vines trained by man. And while the untamed vines may out-produce their domesticated cousins, the fruit will generally be small and sour, and will be in stringy, unattractive clusters.

It makes little difference to the grape vine whether its fruit is delicious or bitter. The birds and small animals which will distribute its seeds as they eat the fruit are not fussy about such things. The vine's objective is reproduction, and this goal would be met either way. We may also note at this point that "natural" vines do not exhibit the surprising rush of energy which pruned vines pour into their remaining branches. If they did, the vines might well have overwhelmed every woodland in the world.

Nature does not prune, nor does it cultivate. Therefore there would be no pressure for so-called "natural selection" to build this quality into the vine. This ability was built into the grape vine not by evolution, but by God, who gave it as one of countless good gifts to man. In His wisdom, He made the vine able to live wild and free, but also capable of being tamed by man for his service.

And therein lies a lesson-one which our Lord Jesus Christ taught when He said: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 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" (John 15:1-2). Our Lord indicated that just as grape vines produce better fruit when they are pruned, so do Christians. Children of God need to be trained and disciplined, just as do grape vines.

Pruning is painful! We do not know if the grape vine hurts when it is cut back; but we know that the equivalent disciplining of Christians causes us pain. What did Jesus have in mind when He spoke of pruning? Surely He meant the circumstances of life which God uses to cut away the bad wood of pride and greed, of lust and worldly ambition. Pruning may include anything at all through which God speaks to us-from the sneer of an unbeliever to the death of a loved one.

Whatever the hurt may be, the important thing to remember is that God allowed it-and therefore there is something in this circumstance meant to bring about growth and fruitfulness in our lives. What else can Romans 8:28 mean when it tells us: "All things work together for good to those that love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose?"

So a believer in Christ Jesus should never become discouraged when God's pruning shears do their work, for as the Bible says again: "No chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Heb. 12:110). You are being pruned in order to make you more fruitful in the future. Praise God!

The Old Scot (Ted Kyle) served as managing editor for Pulpit Helps magazine (Disciple's predecessor publication) from 1993-2008. He was always fascinated by the natural world, and readily saw God's hand in every detail. Ted went to be with His Creator and Savior in April 2013.

Source: General Viticulture, A. J. Winkler and others, Univ. of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1962 & 1974, esp. p. 274 and pp. 287-300.

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