Bearing Fruit Through Suffering (John 15:1-11)
Sermon Audio: https://sermons.faithlife.com/embed/sermons/608203
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 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. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. – John 15:1-11
Suffering is inevitable, painful, productive, assuring,
Christianity is a peculiar religion because it not only affirms the presence of suffering in this world (which all religions do), but it also promises that it will actually increase your suffering in this world if you adhere to it (which almost no other religion does). Christianity acknowledges the presence of real evil and suffering in the world as the by-product of man’s rebellion against God from the beginning. And it also promises that at the end of time, God will restore His creation to its intended design to be rid of all suffering and sorrow. So, for any human being, suffering is just par for the course in this life. But, for those who submit to Christ, who become Christians, there is actually an amplified experience of suffering. We are told, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” 2 Tim 3:12. Jesus promises to His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world,” John 16:33. And in our text in John 15, Jesus promises that those who bear fruit are pruned by the Father.
What does unique Christian suffering look like?
- Godly sorrow over sin
- God disciplining you for unrepentant sin.
- Satanic opposition
- People slandering you for your faith
- People attacking you or killing you
- Weeping with those who weep
- The pain of seeing unbelief around us
Being pruned doesn’t feel pleasant. We all have a threshold for pain, a perceived limit for how much difficulty we can take before we “lose it.” Perhaps you have heard the popular proverb: God will never give you more than you can handle. Perhaps you are aware that this is a relatively loose interpretation of 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” God is throttling our temptations in accordance with our ability to endure it—that’s a wonderful promise! But, of course, this does not mean that our awareness of our limits are our limits. God knows what our limits are and, if He sends it into our lives, then according to this verse, we know we can walk through it. But this means that at times God sends things into our lives that seem to go far above and beyond what we thought we could bear. Listen to the apostle Paul, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead,” 2 Cor 1:8-9. Paul felt like he was going to die! We should be highly suspicious of any kind of “Christianity” that promises that it will always buffer us from pain or difficulty.
After my sermon last week our dear sister Joy reached out to me and asked me to clarify something. Towards the end of my sermon last week I read John 15:7-8, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my father is glorified.” And then said, “If you abide in Jesus and His words abide in you, your prayers will be answered and the Father will be glorified.” She said that she agreed with that statement, but asked if I could clarify it some. Joy prayed for a considerable amount of time for her late husband to be healed and he wasn’t. So, what are we to think about that? What are we to do when God doesn’t answer our prayers, but Jesus just promised that we could “ask whatever we wish” Surely that is a great source of pain, of suffering in our life—not only watching a loved one die, but pleading with God to do something to intervene and to be given an answer that we were not asking for.
Tim Keller in his book on prayer, commenting on Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words,” explains that God always gives us in prayer what we would have asked for if we knew everything that God knew. All of us can surely look back at things that we desperately wanted as children and our parents told us “no.” And now, with hindsight, we can see that our parents were loving us by telling us “no,” it was just hard for us to understand why or how it could be loving in the moment. God ultimately knows better than we do and is committed to always and only do what is for our good (Rom 8:28). When we receive a “no” to our prayers it could mean that what we are asking for is ultimately not what’s best for us. God is not a senile grandparent who wants to keep giving his grandkids another scoop of ice cream because he just wants to earn their affection—let mom and dad worry about the discipline, grandpa is here to have fun! He is a loving Father who is committed to our good. Sometimes we pray and pray and pray and pray for something that seems so good, so right and we cannot imagine how God keeping this from us would be loving or wise. I wonder if you can look back now on certain prayers you prayed while you were younger and are grateful that God didn’t give them to you. Is it not possible that the current “no” you are receiving isn’t also ultimately for your greatest good but you just lack the hindsight to see it as such? Friends, be assured that from the perspective of heaven all of our Heavenly Father’s “no’s” will be made perfectly clear.
But for now, on this side, we experience the pain of what seems like silence; the frustration of being told “no” but seeing no good reason why. We see spouses, relatives, children get sick and die. We see jobs lost, marriages dissolve, and clouds of depression continue to linger. And like the apostle Paul who pled three times for his thorn to be removed from his flesh, we have often been told “no, my grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in weakness.” We have prayed like Jesus in Gethsemane, “Father if it be your will to take this cup from us, but nevertheless not our will, but Your will be done.”
Look again to Jesus’ words, “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit,” John 15:2. Pruning a tree is a counter-intuitive process. You want the tree to grow, be healthy, and more productive—so what do you do? What’s the reward a tree gets for producing all this fruit? You hack some branches off. That doesn’t seem to make sense, and yet that’s exactly what happens. Trees have sucker branches that are sucking the vitality from the healthier, stronger branches, and when you lop them off, those resources are redistributed to the healthier branch. This is what the Father does to the branches attached to the vine. Doesn’t that almost sound disincentivizing? The more you grow as a Christian, the more pruned you become. Perhaps when you become a Christian you understand there are some things that need to be pruned out of your life—you’re okay with God getting rid of that addiction or that unhealthy habit. But eventually, He starts coming after things that you never thought you would have to get rid of, His shears start closing in on branches that you really love.
In Hebrews 12 we are told, “let us…lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” 12:1. The image is that of a race and we have these weights and entangling sins which are slowing us down. The assumption of the verse is that winning the race is your highest priority, so you are willing to shed whatever you need to make it across that finish line. But what happens if you love that weight that is slowing you down? What if the prize at the end of the race doesn’t seem as glorious as this entangling sin that is tripping us up? This is where we need the Father’s discipline.
Notice, in Hebrews 12 after we are exhorted to actively lay aside these weights and sins, the author then launches into a lengthy explanation of the effect of God’s Fatherly discipline in our lives. “For [our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [our heavenly Father] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 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,” Hebrews 12:10-11. The discipline of the Lord, the rebukes from our Father, produce “peaceful fruits of righteousness.” Christian, do you want to grow? Do you want to see an increase of the fruit of the Spirit in your life? Then you must enter the school of the Father’s discipline.
CS Lewis memorably explains this in Mere Christianity, “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
Lastly, the by-product of suffering in our life is ultimately assuring. Do you know which branches don’t get pruned by the Father? The fruitless ones that get bound and thrown into the fire. Listen to Hebrews again:
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. – Heb 12:5-8
If I am out at the store and someone else’s child begins to disobey their parent, I am not going to step in to discipline. I only discipline my children. And my discipline is itself a sign of my love for my child. Jesus explains in Revelation 3:19, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” This is why when I discipline my son I explain to him that the reason he is getting this spanking is because I love him and I don’t want him to think that he can disobey mom and dad and think that its okay. The Bible commands children to obey their parents, “that it may go well with you and you may live long in the land,” (Eph 6:1-3). Children, your life will go better if you honor your mother and father, if you obey them. Parents, requiring your children to obey you and disciplining them is the most loving thing you could do for them. It is precisely how God treats us.
But this is the key: God’s discipline of us is never punitive, but is always restorative. When we sin and God disciplines us, He is not exacting punishment out of us nor is He looking to satisfy His anger, His wrath, His justice. All of those things were satisfied at the cross where Jesus absorbed the rightful wrath and punishment that all my sins deserved. So now, I know that when the time for discipline comes from my Heavenly Father He will discipline my like a Father and not like an enemy. His aim is my holiness, my growth, more fruit, more joy—not my destruction. His pruning is intended to make the tree healthier; He isn’t staggering towards the tree with an ax in hand, looking to vent His anger, looking to settle the score, looking to pay me back for that big sin lurking in my past. Friends, God’s wrath has been satisfied. Your judgment day, if you are in Christ, has already passed—2,000 years ago on a hill far away, on an old rugged cross.
And I know this isn’t a sermon on parenting, but parents, this is why it is so important for you to be so careful with your discipline. Right after Paul tells the children in Ephesians to obey their father and mother, he then turns to the fathers and says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” Eph 6:4. Why does Paul single out fathers here? Are mothers not prone to exasperating their children? Are they not required to also discipline and instruct their children? Of course they are. And both mom and dad need to be so careful in how they discipline—but dads really need to be careful because they are giving their children a picture of what the heavenly Father is like. This is why abusive fathers are one of the most demonic and destructive forces in the world today. They teach their children to fear, resent, and mistrust God. And when those children grow up and difficulty and suffering comes into their life, their flinch response is that God is like their dad growing up and has finally reached His limit and has now snapped.
But that isn’t who our God is! Our God is, yes, the one who prunes, but He is also the God who says this: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love,” John 15:9.