“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
On the night before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus takes time to teach and encourage his disciples. He helps them to know what life will be like as his followers once he has risen and returned to the Father. He teaches them what the life of the Holy Spirit will be like. Among the lessons he gives to those frightened disciples is this verse in John 15: “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
On face value this seems like nonsense. We can do a great deal of things without Jesus. Many people live without following Jesus and are able to get up, go to work and accomplish any number of things without acknowledging him at all. Even Christians can be busy, active, seemingly productive people without stopping to seek Jesus during the day. Churches can also be busy, active and seemingly productive without seeking Jesus too!
But I think we misunderstand Jesus’ words if we think they are simply about being busy. It is not activity that Jesus is talking about, but fruitfulness. We can fill our days and fill our diaries without Jesus, but we will never fill our lives with godly fruit unless he is involved.
Jesus tells his disciples: “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” With Jesus we can be fruitful; without Jesus we can accomplish nothing. With Jesus there is a great harvest; without Jesus, however hard we try and however busy we are, we will never achieve anything of eternal value in God’s kingdom.
To help us understand, Jesus uses the image of a vine and branches. He puts it simply: “I am the vine; you are the branches.” Picture the most wonderful branch of the most productive vine in the best vineyard. If I were to take some shears and chop that branch off, it will never produce fruit. I can do lots of things for it, and lots of things with it: water it, talk to it, be encouraging toward it and so on. But unless that branch is connected to the vine, however wonderful it might be, it will never bear fruit.
So it is with us. If we want to be fruitful people (and not just busy people) and fruitful churches (not just busy churches) we need to stay connected to Jesus. We need to remain in him as the highest priority. I know from my own life that it’s all too easy to be so active that I can leave Jesus behind in all the busyness. That is fatal, and it will never be fruitful.
Let’s aim to be Christians, and churches, that desire fruit more than busyness, and maturity more than activity. It might be difficult and counter-cultural, but it is the only way for us to remain with Jesus and be fruitful.