[THE FIRST TWO MINUTES OF THE AUDIO SERMON ARE A BIT CHOPPY. THE REST OF IT IS FINE]
In church, we talk a lot about the benefits of being in a relationship with Jesus. This is good and right and appropriate. I am convinced, on the basis of the Bible, my own experience and the experiences of others, that true joy, true fulfillment, and eternal life – and many other good things – come to us only as we are in relationship with Jesus.
But there is another aspect to relationship with Jesus that many Christians don’t talk about much, and about which some people are even unaware. God doesn’t exist merely to please us and cater to our every whim. Relationship with Jesus means that we don’t own our lives anymore. It means we don’t get to set the terms on which we live – God now does that. And, among other things, one thing the Lord wants to do with us is to purify us, and make us better at showing His love and Grace to the world.
Jesus said this:
I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that does not bear fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
I have said before, the vine in this illustration is a grape vine. Plants (and grape vines especially), receive great benefit from regular pruning. This isn’t just to make it look nicer. If a fruit-bearing tree or bush runs wild, both the quality and quantity of the fruit diminishes. A wild grape vine will bear fewer grapes, and grapes that are not as sweet as a cultivated grape vine. In an un-pruned plant, the energy that would otherwise be used to make fruit, goes instead into extra wood and stems, which are essentially useless. So the gardener cuts off extra material that is not beneficial to the plant’s purpose of bearing fruit. The process of cutting off this extraneous material is known as “pruning.”
Jesus is telling us that the Father deals with believers in the same way that gardeners deal with grape vines. Any extra “material” in our lives – “stuff” which does not contribute to the purpose for which He made us – is to be removed by God. This is not the most comfortable word-picture I have ever heard, because it sounds a little painful. To admit the truth, I like some of the things in my life that don’t contribute anything to my fruitfulness as a Christian. Also, from personal experience, I have to admit that God’s process of pruning me has been painful at times.
If you have never seen a grape vine in the autumn after pruning, it is shocking. A pruned grape vine looks like it has been destroyed. This isn’t a haircut – it is open heart surgery. The vine, if it could talk might say, “this doesn’t feel like just pruning – it feels like damage.” And it continues to look and feel devastated throughout the winter. But as extreme as it appears, the ultimate result is that when the growing season returns, the branches put out more and better fruit than before. It is in fact, made healthier by this pruning.
There is a play on words going on in the original Greek here. The word used for “pruned” is pronounced, Kath-ai-ray. Right afterwards, Jesus, says, “you are already clean;” clean is said: Kath-a-roy. Actually, both words come from the same root, and the meaning refers to purification and cleansing. When God “prunes” us, the effect is that we are made clean. Just as a pruned plant looks more “clean” on the outside, and is healthier all around, so a “pruned Christian” is made clean on the inside. So Jesus isn’t just talking about taking stuff away from us – he is saying there is an inner cleansing and pruning that the Father does in us.
The mechanism for this cleansing/pruning is God’s Word – the Bible. Jesus said, ““You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” Hebrews 4:12-13 says,
For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword it penetrates even to dividing soul spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
God prunes us through His word by a)Confronting us with our sin and b)Comforting us with forgiveness, love and grace. King David was a man who needed to be pruned after he committed murder and adultery. The prophet Nathan came and powerfully confronted David with his sin (2 Samuel 12:1-14). David’s soul was clearly “pruned” at that point – he was stricken with the gravity of what he had done, as is clear from Psalm 51 (which he wrote at that time). He also received pruning in the form of physical consequences resulting from his sin – the son born of the adultery died. David was also “made clean” by the word of forgiveness God spoke through Nathan. David admitted his guilt and sorrowed over it, and Nathan spoke the cleaning, healing word: “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.” God’s Word has a power to confront our sin, and to point out things in our life that are not helpful or useful for remaining in Jesus and “bearing fruit.” His Word also offers us the cleansing power of forgiveness – to take away sin, unholiness and guilt.
Another way God’s Word cleanses us is through simply reading the Bible regularly. I don’t mean to suggest that you will always experience cleansing, every time you open the Bible. You might read Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and get nothing. Maybe Thursday, you read something and think “Huh. That’s interesting.” Then on Friday you are frustrated and upset about something specific. You pray first; and then when you open your Bible to read, God is speaking directly to your heart. He is cleansing you. The things you read on Monday through Thursday are not lost either. Over time, as you make a habit of reading the Bible, its truth becomes a part of you, drawing you closer to the Lord, making you more as he intends you to be. It has a cumulative pruning and cleansing effect.
There is another way His Word cleanses us. Sometimes, when difficult circumstances are combined with God’s Word, it brings pruning and cleansing. There is plenty of pain, suffering and sorrow in this world simply as a general result of sinful human choices. I don’t think the Lord needs to send something difficult especially to you personally. But as a result of our imperfect world maybe you become ill. As a result of someone else’s sin, maybe you experience pain and suffering. Perhaps as a result of your own sin, you end up going through something unpleasant. The Father can (and often does) take these things, and combine them with His Word to prune us. Hebrews 12:7 says, “Endure hardship as discipline. God is treating you as sons (and daughters). For what son is not disciplined by his father?” I encourage you to read all of Hebrews 12:7-11. I will include verse eleven here as well: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
I think it can be hurtful, and give us a skewed view of God, if we assume everything bad that ever happens to us was sent by God to test us. There are times when God just feels sorrow along with us, and simply wants to be with us in our pain – as Jesus did in John 11, with Mary and Martha. I do believe however, that He wants to make use of some of the hardships that come our way, to help us grow. It seems that there are certain, specific times when God uses a difficult circumstance to discipline or “prune” us. He doesn’t necessarily cause it, but at times he uses it.
While it seems painful at the time, God uses these circumstances in this way because He loves us. Each of my children, at a certain age, became vitally interested in the electric outlets in our house. I disciplined them in order to protect them from electrocuting themselves. If I had not disciplined them, it would have been less work for me, and less short term frustration and pain for them, but the ultimate result would have even greater pain, and perhaps death for them. Only if I did not love them at all, would I have failed to discipline them.
As we seek to let the Lord speak to us this morning, ask yourself these questions: Is there any area of your life right now where you feel God is pruning you? Do you typically respond to God’s pruning with “yes, Lord, do what you have to,” or do you fight God’s discipline? Do you allow God to speak to you directly through scripture (in other words, do you read your Bible)? Are there “extra stems” or is there “extra wood” in your life that should be pruned off?
Let the Holy Spirit guide you as meditate on this word today.
I want to briefly make you aware of our situation. This ministry (Clear Bible) until recently was supported by our local church. However, we have had some changes there, and we are now a house church. Today, we have about 8 families. Our church cannot fully support me financially any longer.
In contrast, about 430 people subscribe to this blog, and an additional 300 or so each week come and visit the site. In other words, by far, most of the people who benefit from this ministry are not part of our little church.
I’m asking you internet readers/listeners to pray for us. Seriously, before you give any financial support, please give us some prayer support. I value that more than anything else. Pray for this ministry to touch lives. Pray also for financial provision for my family and me.
But then, as you pray, do ask the Lord if he wants you to give financially as well. Be assured, after a small fee to Paypal, 100% of your donations will go to help support my family and me in ministry. In turn, supporting this blog means that you are helping to bless more than 15,000 people each year who visit this blog.
Some of you may have noticed that I am also a novelist. Often, people have misconceptions about authors. Most of us, including me, make a part-time income through writing, and no more. In other words, we aren’t “raking it in” somewhere else. Now, we trust the Lord to provide, and I don’t want you to give out of guilt or fear. I just don’t want you to get the idea that your donations will only be an “extra” for us somehow.
If most of our subscribers gave just five or ten dollars each month, (or even less, if everyone pitched in) we would be in good shape. It’s easy to set up a recurring donation when you click the Paypal donate button that is located on the right hand side of this page, down just a little ways.
You could also send a check to:
New Joy Fellowship
625 Spring Creek Road
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Thank for your prayers, and your support!