Taken Up vs. Taken Away (John 15)
Some years ago, a fresh revelation from God’s Word opened my eyes to behold a wonderful truth about the loving character of our Heavenly Father. This is the passage that unfolded for me:
John 15:1-2 I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
Usually, when I have come across John 15:2 – “Every branch in Me that bear not fruit He takes away…”– it always caused a bit of trembling down in my heart. With everything in me, I have always longed to be fruitful for Jesus, my Savior. But, when reading this verse, I have often caught myself wondering if perhaps God just might decide that there is not enough fruit on my branch and that perhaps it is “taking away” time for me.
Interestingly, the New International Version comes across far more judgmental: “He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit…” Many Bible commentaries even group John 15:2 together with John 15:6 which states: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (NASB).
“But,” I would ask myself, “are these two verses speaking about the same thing?”
Well, as it turns out, I was preparing a teaching series from Jesus’ intimate last supper discourse with His disciples in John chapters 13 to 17. While reading over John 15:2, once again I felt myself going down that path of wondering whether God would consider me fruitful enough or not. This time, though, I just happened to notice that the New King James Version had a margin reference that gave “lifts up” as an alternate rendering of “takes away”:
I decided to search through Strong’s Concordance and Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon. My heart was thrilled to discover that Jesus’ words, “takes away” (“cut off” in NIV), are the Greek verb, “airo” which carries these meanings:
“to take up, to lift, to raise upwards,
to elevate, to raise from the ground,
to bear upon one’s self, to carry what has been raised up”
"Airo" is used in Matthew 11:29, "Take My yoke upon you..." We see it in Matthew 4:6, "He shall give His angels charge over you. In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone." It is a "taking up"! Suddenly, for the first time, John 15:2 took on an entirely new meaning for me! Rather than cutting off and throwing away a branch judged as fruitless, our Heavenly Gardener and Vinedresser lovingly takes up, lifts up, elevates, carries upward, and bears upon Himself this barren branch. This is definitely in line with the character of Jesus, as Matthew describes Him: Matthew 12:20 A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench...
By engaging a bit deeper, I discovered that in a vineyard, it would be a rare occasion for the gardener to chop off a branch because it did not have fruit. Quite the contrary, when a branch does not appear to be bearing fruit, the concerned gardener will pick that branch up, clean it off, and water it. Then he will prop it up and fasten it in just the right position so that it can receive the maximum amount of sunlight to be able to bear fruit once again.
That was one of those “AHA” moments! It was just like David wrote in his amazing 176-verse psalm all about his love for God’s Word:
Psalm 119:130 The unfolding of Your Words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple.
Now I could see a very sharp contrast between John 15:2 and John 15:6. These two verses simply cannot and should not ever be grouped together at all!
In John 15:2, Jesus says that the barren branch is “in Me” – in other words, this is a branch that is still vitally attached to the precious Vine.
In John 15:6, Jesus says, “If a man abide NOT in Me, he is cast forth as a branch…” referring to a branch that has disconnected itself, and therefore lost all vital connection to the Vine. It has no more life. Unless it is reattached, it will soon wither, dry up, and be good for only one thing: fire fuel!
Paul warned about becoming detached from Christ while writing to the Galatians who were having seduced into legalism:
If you seek to be justified and declared righteous and to be given a right standing with God through the Law, you are brought to nothing and so separated (severed) [dislocated] from Christ. You have fallen away from grace (from God’s gracious favor and unmerited blessing).
This revelation on John 15:2 can be better appreciated by considering all God did for us so that we could be grafted into the True Vine, Jesus Christ.
To begin the grafting process, both vine and branch must be cut skillfully and deeply enough to allow the branch to be inserted snugly into the vine while the sap is still flowing. It is a surgical procedure that no human could ever perform! For us, this process is a free gift; but for our Heavenly Gardener, it was extremely expensive. The kind of cut required and inflicted upon the Vine was extremely deep – all because of our depraved state! Isaiah tells us: “He was wounded for our transgressions…Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him…” (Isaiah 53:5,10). What a wonderful Savior!
When we come to Christ, the Holy Spirit uses the sharp two-edged sword of the Word to work skillfully upon us so that we can be perfectly inserted into this wounded Vine. Paul used this expression: “I am crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20). It was this faith and our confession that first brought us into Christ:
That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
It is by this “New Birth” that our “abiding” and growing experience begins:
Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is BORN AGAIN, he cannot see the Kingdom of God."
When we first receive Christ, we are crucified with Him. We are buried with Him in water baptism, and then we are raised up to walk in “newness of life” (see Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12) by the “glory of the Father”. It is the precious Holy Spirit –the Third Person of the Trinity– who, as the Vine’s Life-sap, begins to heal the grafting wounds, perfectly uniting the branch to the Vine. Being grafted into the life of the Vine is the “abiding” to which Jesus refers in this parable. What is “abiding”? Abiding simply means a definitive placing of all our faith and trust upon Christ as our only source of salvation and life.
Now here is another important truth in this Vine and branches parable that we need to grasp. Scripture says that we are a wild branch plucked from a wild plant and “grafted contrary to nature” (Rom 11:17-24). Therefore, being originally of totally foreign and incompatible composition (see Rom 5:10; Eph 2:1-3; Col 1:21), there is no way that we could ever adapt ourselves to the divine DNA of the True Vine, Jesus Christ. Every knowledgeable gardener knows that it is a total waste of time to attempt grafting two totally incompatible plants! But our Heavenly Father is no ordinary gardener! Hallelujah! He promised that if we “abide” in Him, we would bear fruit. This ability to “abide” in the Vine is certainly nothing we can learn on our own. Due to this absolute incompatibility, it takes a supernatural ability to “abide” – one which only the Holy Spirit can teach. This is exactly what John tells us in his epistle:
1 John 2:27-28 NASB As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. Now, little children, abide in Him...
Throughout John chapters 14, 15, and 16, Jesus explains to His eleven disciples the important work of the Holy Spirit. He tells them that the Holy Spirit would soon take up residence in their lives and they would enter into a new kind of life – an “abiding life” – a life within a life: Christ in us and us in Christ:
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.
At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.
This is precisely why Christ commanded the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the “Promise of the Father” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5) which referring to the Baptism in the Holy Spirit which they experienced on “that day” of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Peter’s explanation of “that day” was:
Acts 2:32-33 This Jesus hath God raised up...Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.
When we reflect upon the cost and complexity of the process that our Heavenly Gardener undertook to graft us into the Vine, how could anyone come to the conclusion that He could so quickly dispose of a branch upon which He has lavished so much tender love? Regardless of how unfruitful a branch may be, if it demonstrates a willingness to trust, believe, confide, and abide, then our loving and patient Heavenly Father will surely persist in doing everything possible to ensure successful growth.
For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
The Father will tenderly care for the barren branch until it is so united with the Vine that it naturally produces fruit to full maturity! Remember God’s promise to her who was barren:
“Sing, O barren, you who have not borne!
Break forth into singing, and cry aloud,
You who have not labored with child!
For more are the children of the desolate
Than the children of the married woman,” says the Lord.
Jesus also gives this wonderful promise to those who abide in Him:
If you abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.
What will our desire and prayer be? To glorify God by yielding fruit unto maturity:
By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
Listen to how Isaiah describes the Lord’s loving care of His vine:
In that day sing to her,
“A vineyard of red wine!
I, the Lord, keep it,
I water it every moment;
Lest any hurt it,
I keep it night and day."
Looking out upon our branch, it is so easy to become discouraged by areas of unfruitfulness. And to make things worse, the devil, the accuser of the brethren, is quick to remind us by pointing a gnarly finger at what we perceive to be barren areas on our branch! Nevertheless, instead of concerning ourselves with how much fruit we are producing, let’s be preoccupied with our loving and supernatural union with Jesus, our Vine, our Divine Source!
Our Heavenly Father is taking “every moment” to ensure that even in our “old age” we will be “full of sap and very green,” bringing forth mature fruit all for His glory:
Psalm 92:13-15 Planted in the house of the Lord, They will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green, to declare that the Lord is righteous...
Let’s always remember that our Vinedresser is never closer to the branches than He is during the carrying and propping up care that He ministers to each branch! No need to worry about the fruit. Our Heavenly Father will be busy with that. Our only responsibility is to be sure we are fully abiding, tightly clinging to, and trusting in the wonderful Vine of Jesus Christ – the One who saturates our entire being with the powerful renewing and transforming Life-sap of the precious Holy Spirit!