In John chapter 15, Jesus talks about pruning. Pruning develops a “strong tree framework” in order to get “high quality fruit earlier” and ensure longer life of the tree. As you might expert, this includes a concept seeming to the surface eye to be ridiculous. Humanly, it looks like the thing to do to encourage more branches, but the issue for fruit bearing is not just the number of branches but whether light gets into those branches and whether they develop “upright branch angles, which result in serious limb breakage under a heavy fruit load.”
Pruning, then, removes what is alive not useful for the end in view. The pruner does not let the tree grow wildly or ineffectively. Here again, the idea of cutting out branches could seem to suggest that the branches cut are unclean, whereas Jesus told his disciples that he had already made them clean by his word. Thus, the issue isn’t a sin issue unless it turns into one by resisting the pruning.
In John 15, Jesus mentions pruning as part of abiding. Therefore, pruning is part of abiding, not an indication of not abiding. One thing too about abiding is that we learn that abiding is in Christ, not in others. Repeatedly we learn not to obsess about the other branches and instead to get on with the care of the vinedresser in one’s own being. Only than is a branch fit for real fruit bearing.
Jesus indeed is the vine. We once thought we were the vine. I know I did and people were to be branches of me. What a relief, though, it is to get this clear. My friend Karen Norris says correctly that we have all done this and that if people are branches of other people, that’s scary, almost like a cult—how everybody follows one person, and not Jesus! Yet this is what we did until we couldn’t any longer—until we saw the one vine. This gets to the core of freedom, and many a patriot swears by freedom but hardly knows its meaning. Freedom is scary—to hear God for one’s self—not that God doesn’t use others in our lives, but how can it help for Him to use others unless we see it as really God coming through and know when it isn’t God for us. This is what Peter means when he says that no scripture is “of private interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:20). The idea is that the same revelation is available to all, not just the apostles. The apostles of course were on the breaking edge and taught, but they expected each hearer to get it for himself or herself.
This means experiencing the pruning stage for one’s self and seeing it as a good thing and part of abiding. Abiding also is an interesting word because it has the idea of living some place, being at home, whereas we formerly wore ourselves out trying to attach ourselves to Christ, starting from a false view of separation rather than a view of being already attached. Abiding means you are already there. You just live there, not letting anybody run you out of your own house, and certainly not running out of it because of the pruning.
Abiding by faith means that we actually do see by faith what will later manifest. Love gets us through, and in this passage of scripture, we see that the disciples had weathered adversity in remaining with Jesus and despite setbacks, and any disciple goes through the same thing. Jesus says that he chose us to bear fruit, the fruit that abides, and we can ask what we will. It may take time for the fruit to appear, but we don’t worry about that. We just abide. In time, the fruit will appear, making it worth all the pruning and the wait.