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John 1:1 – “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

IMG_0002There is a tree in my yard that is completely alive but for one dead branch attached to it. Day after day I look at that tree and can’t help but notice that dead branch.  It stands out like a sore thumb, or a sore foot (which will make sense to you a little further on).  Something cut off the flow of life from that tree to that one branch and now it can produce nothing.  It’s good for nothing but to be, “cut off and thrown into the fire.”  When looking at that tree, I can’t help but remember Jesus’ teaching about the true vine and its branches in the above scripture.  In John 1:6,  Jesus goes on to say, “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”  In this teaching, Jesus is making a distinction between two types of believers.  One that remains in him, as evidenced by   his life flowing through it, and one that has not remained in him, as evidenced by his life not flowing through it.  A branch can’t bear fruit on its own.  It must remain in the vine.  Apart from his life, we can produce nothing of life.  Both these branches start out “in him.”  Their only difference is that one evidences his life in them and the other does not.  Good fruit is the evidence of life.  Like it or not, Jesus says dead branches, who bear no evidence of his life in them, are cut off, tossed aside, and thrown into the fire, just like the one on my tree is going to be.  But every branch that remains in him, whose life shows evidence of its union with him, he prunes, in order that it might bear more fruit.  He is a master gardener, and he will not neglect the tiniest of buds upon the branch.  But he also will not tolerate anything that threatens to harm the growth of the vine.

In my short stint in the Hartwell Garden Club, if I learned anything, it was that sometimes it is necessary to cut off a branch that is dead or diseased.  This must be done, because, if left alone, it can infect the health of the whole tree.  In Matthew 3:7-10, John warned the Pharisees and Sadducees to, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”  John was speaking of the fruit of a changed heart that resulted in changed behavior.  When we truly repent of sin in our lives, our lives will bear the fruit of doing so, they will be “in keeping with repentance.”  Paul, in Titus 1:16 says, “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.”  That’s kind of like that dead branch in my tree claiming to be living, just because it’s still attached to the tree.  In Matthew 7:16,  in speaking of false prophets, Jesus warned,  “Watch out for false prophets.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Thus by their fruit you will recognize them.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  If a tree has bad roots, it’s usually because  its roots are not in good soil.  The soil we are planted in will determine the depth of our roots and the quality of our fruit.   That’s why Jesus warned us to watch out who we take root in and follow.  Good fruit is the character of Christ that is produced in us by the Holy Spirit, when we follow the sound doctrine of his Word.   Bad fruit is the absence of the character of Christ being produced in us, when we don’t follow the sound doctrine of his Word.  Titus 2:1 cautions, “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.”  Sound doctrine helps develop the character of Christ in us.  It is good soil.  Anyone who distorts sound doctrine, and influences others to do so, in order to serve their own choices and lifestyle, are bad soil.  If we take root in them, we are going to bear bad fruit through our union with them.  In Matthew 12:33, Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad.”  People who are bad trees, especially those in ministry, can make other trees bad also.  They hold the responsibility before Jesus of making a tree bad or making it good, by what they say and do.  Unsound doctrine and ungodly behavior makes a bad tree.  The fruit of a bad tree can be harmful to those who ingest it.  That’s why it must be cut down.  We can start out in the good soil of Christ, but end up in the bad soil of error, when we don’t remain in sound doctrine.

This is where my sore foot ties in.  I Corinthians 12:26,27 tells us, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many members; and though all its members are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.  Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a member of it.”  As such, we are told that, “its parts should have equal concern for each other,” because “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”  I can relate to this in my natural body right now.  For quite some time now I have been suffering with a hurt foot and it is affecting my whole body.  I have pampered it, I have tolerated it, I have sympathized with it, I have accommodated it, I have tried to ignore it, hoping it would get better on its own, but all to no avail.  I did seek help for it, but I haven’t yet been willing to do what I have been told I must do to fix it, because fixing it involves cutting it, and I don’t want to be cut!  Most people don’t.  We don’t want to do anything that might cause our “flesh” to suffer.  As a result, I have become somewhat accustomed to just living with it as it is.  The problem with my doing this, however, is that my foot will never be healed, and, over time, it will only get worse, not better.  Ignoring it, having sympathy for it, tolerating it, accommodating it, accepting it as it is, and just learning to live with it, will not heal it.  Just telling myself it will be okay will not make it okay.  By doing these things, I’m not doing my foot any favor.  I must be willing to do what I have been told I must do to fix it.  My failure to address the problem with my foot not only further damages my foot, but comes at the expense of my whole body.  Any type of exercise for my body that involves the foot is out of the question.  By my tolerance of the sickness in this one part of my body, I have jeopardized the health of my whole body.  This is not showing “equal concern” for my whole body.  When there is sickness in the body, addressing it is crucial in avoiding the cutting stage.  If I had addressed my foot issue earlier, I might not be at the cutting stage right now.  The longer we leave a sickness unaddressed in a member of our body, the more harm we risk doing to that member and to our body as a whole.  “So it is with Christ.”

This is a picture of what we do in the body of Christ when we fail to address sin in Christ’s body, choosing to pamper it, accommodate it, tolerate it, ignore it, and just grow accustomed to it.  Much like me with my foot, we think ourselves to be acting in compassion for the hurt member, when we are only contributing to its further harm.  Healing cannot begin until sickness is addressed.  Just telling ourselves it’s okay will not make it okay.  Over time it will only get worse, and eventually, as I learned in garden club, infect the health of the whole body.  We, as members of Christ’s body, are responsible for doing everything in our power to promote the health of each member of his body, and we are to do so in love, not judgment or condemnation.  We would never point at a member of our natural body and scorn or shame it for being sick, yet we often do so in the body of Christ.  When a part of our natural body gets sick, our whole body works together to nurture it and care for it and restore it to health.  We do everything in our power to restore health to our natural body, but sometimes our efforts aren’t enough, and restoring health requires cutting something out or cutting something off.  When that is necessary, it is not done or determined by us, but by someone else.  Someone makes that determination for us, and they make it for the good of our whole body.  Jesus said, “My Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.”  God determines when and whether a branch needs to be cut back or cut off, not us, and it is always a last resort, not a first.  1Peter 3:9 assures us, “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

When a child stops growing, it is called  “Failure to Thrive.”  This term is associated with abnormal growth and development.  It means that person is no longer growing as they should be.  When a member of Christ’s body stops ingesting truth, it’s growth and development becomes abnormal.  We need to start feeding and caring for the members of Christ’s body that are failing to thrive due to the lack of truth, instead of just ignoring them and hoping they will somehow get better on their own.  “After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds it and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body.”  (Ephesians 5:29).  We have confused what is love and what is hate in the church today.  Speaking the truth has now become hate and not speaking the truth has now become love, when, in reality, it is just the opposite.  Not speaking the truth is hate and speaking the truth is love.  Many are taking root in the bad soil of incorrect doctrine, and it is making bad trees, who are, in turn,  producing bad fruit.  If we are to nurture and care for the members of Christ’s body, we must begin, “speaking the truth in love,” so that, “we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ.”  (Ephesians 4:15).  Thrive, grow, and bear good fruit.  That’s what it’s all about.  A dead branch can’t thrive, it can’t grow, and it can’t bear good fruit.

Let’s join together, hand-in-hand
To spread God’s love across this land
You be you and I’ll be me
Let’s show this world his liberty
I raise my hands, you bow your knee
We are all branches of just one tree
I can dance, you can sing
Together let us praise his name
Your hair’s short, I like mine long
Yet to one body we both belong
I don’t like ties, you don’t like jeans
I praise him loud, you’re more serene
Members of his body we are called to be
When I help you, I help me
If one member suffers, all suffer the same
When you hurt, I feel your pain
I’m not like you, you’re not like me
He’s given us our personality
And if you love me and I love you
He’ll make us one instead of two
I’m not the foot, you’re not the hand
But together we can hold and stand

(Ephesians 5:29 – After all, no one ever hated his own body.)




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