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Finding Joy in a Vineyard

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: John 15:1–11

The first step toward following and serving the Lord is recognizing how utterly helpless we are. Jesus’ image of the vine illustrates this truth and shows us that spiritual fruit in our lives comes from total dependence on Him.


In Texas there is a famous oil field known as Yates Pool. During the depression years in the early 1900s, this land was a sheep ranch owned by Mr. Yates. These were difficult times, and Mr. Yates was barely able to keep his ranch going and make the mortgage payments. Day after day, as he grazed his sheep over those rolling west Texas hills, he was troubled about how he would pay his bills.

Then an oil company came into the area and told Mr. Yates there might be oil on his land. They asked permission to drill, and he agreed and signed a lease. At just over 1,000 feet deep, they struck a huge oil reserve that ended up producing 80,000 barrels a day. More wells were drilled, many of which produced even more oil than the original well. And Mr. Yates owned it all.[1]

Even though he had owned the oil and mineral rights from the day he purchased the land, he lived for years in poverty. Potentially, positionally, he was a multimillionaire; yet experientially, he was poverty-stricken. Why? Well, he owned it, but he did not experience the benefits of that which was hidden deep underground.

I can’t think of a better illustration for one of the great perspectives we need as believers today. Too many Christians attempt to make something of themselves by their own efforts, diligently working to overcome their inabilities; and yet they still live spiritually impoverished lives because they miss out on what is underneath—the hidden power of Christ within them.

As the Lord is teaching His disciples in these final hours before His crucifixion, one of the truths He wants them to grasp is the wealth of spiritual power and fruitfulness they have at their disposal.

Here in John 15, Jesus begins teaching through an extended metaphor—a word picture that invites us into a busy Middle Eastern vineyard.

He begins in verse 1:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser [the caretaker]. 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. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” (verses 1-3)

We notice right away the owner and operator of the vineyard is God the Father. The massive grapevine is the Lord Jesus, the branches are believers, and the juicy clusters of grapes represent spiritual fruit through the power of the gospel.

Now beloved, you need to keep in mind that in any allegory or metaphor, not all the details carry some kind of deep theological truth. Some details simply add color and culture to the story.

So, what does Jesus want these first disciples—and us—to grasp here? What is the analogy between a believer and a vineyard? I believe there are two connecting principles here.

The first principle is this: Spiritual fruit bearing is the result of a spiritual relationship with Christ.

The key to a branch bearing fruit is its relationship to the vine. Jesus spells out the spiritual principle for us:

“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. 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.” (verses 4-5)

If we are convinced we can produce fruit, we will just keep on trying. And we will experience nothing but frustration. The truth is, a branch does not produce fruit; it bears fruit.

While Christians understand that salvation is not earned but is the gracious work of God, some seem to believe that fruit is earned—that growing up in Christ depends on their faithfulness and their discipline and their efforts. Now we understand that discipline and faithfulness are needed. But listen, beloved, Jesus makes it very clear here in verse 5, when He says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” He does not say, “You can do a few things.” No, “You can do nothing.”

Christians are not just weak; in ourselves, we do not have any strength at all. Our dependence on the Lord is not partial—it is total.

So how do we bear fruit? What is the solution? Well, the key word here is “abide.” That word is going to appear in this passage eleven times. It means “to remain, to stay put.”  

If we are to enjoy fruitful ministry, we must be willing, as branches, to stay in a fresh relationship with Jesus, the Vine. He is the source of vitality and strength. To pull away from the Vine is to become a barren branch, doing ministry in our own strength, which Jesus has just promised will be ineffective.

The fruit of God’s character—love, joy, peace, longsuffering—is all the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We do not produce it; we simply bear it, as we abide in Him.

So, our focus today needs to be on abiding in Christ. We need to stay put in Him, stay close to Him, remain obedient to Him, develop that daily conversation in prayer with Him, and rest on His promise that He is at work in us, developing those Christlike character qualities. As the apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.”

Jesus also issues a warning here to those who appear to belong to Christ but really desire no relationship with Him at all. He says in verse 6, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown in the fire and burned.” In other words, if there is no abiding, no relationship with Jesus, then the fire of judgment is their end.

So, the first principle is that spiritual fruit bearing is the result of a spiritual relationship with Christ. The second principle is this: Spiritual fruit bearing is the result of loving obedience to Christ.

Listen to what Jesus says in verses 9 and 10:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 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.”

The truth is, even on our best days as Christians, we fail in this regard. We drift into self-centeredness, and Jesus knows that. That is why He points us to His own loving obedience to the Father as our example. Notice again, He says, “Keep my commandments . . . just as I have kept my Father’s commandments.”

He is encouraging us to act like Him. Can you imagine Jesus rolling His eyes when the Father commanded Him to teach someone or serve someone? Or course not. The Lord Jesus voluntarily and faithfully chose to obey the will of His Father. Even though we consistently fail, Jesus remains our model of loving obedience.

Jesus is effectively telling His disciples—then and now—that this kind of loving obedience taps into a well of spiritual strength. We do not end up producing oil of course, but something is produced in us as a result of loving obedience. And the Lord tells us in verse 11 what it is: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

Think about it this way: As we depend on this invisible connection between us and our Lord, as we depend entirely on the strength of Christ in our daily lives, something is produced. It isn’t a barrel of oil, but you might call it a barrel of joy—joy for each and every day.

Spiritual fruit, spiritual growth, and the joy that comes with it is the direct result of abiding in Christ and lovingly obeying His Word.

[1] “Untapped Spiritual Resources,” Sermon Illustrations,, quoting Bill Bright.

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