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Divine Pruning – Part 2

Pruning

The word that Jesus uses to describe what the Father does to all who are rightly united and abiding in His Son, is the word kathairō, which means to make clean by taking away an undesirable part of something. Originally the word had the idea of sweeping something clean. It is a term concerned with purity and conveyed some idea of purging. The English word ‘catharsis’ is directly from this term. When used of vines it means to prune, as in cut back or take away some of the branch.[1] In this way, it describes the action of removing superfluous growth.[2]

Pruning is not arbitrary. It is a precise science performed with the skill of an artist. The pruning process is the most important part of the whole enterprise of viticulture (the cultivation of grapevines). It is said that pruning is the chief care of the vinedresser. If the vine is properly rooted in good soil, it may not need fertilizing or even watering, but the vinedresser cannot dispense with pruning.

The finest of vineyards are largely the result of skilled and experienced vinedressers. Serious viticulture requires a minimum of two to three years of training. Quality pruning is essential to quality produce. It is said that poor pruning can destroy an entire crop. The skilled vinedresser knows where to cut, how much to cut, and even at what angle to make the cut. All of this gives a deeper meaning to Christ’s words, “My Father is the vinedresser.” The pruning knife is in the loving hands of our heavenly Father and no other.

He Prunes Every Live Branch

“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.” (John 15:2)

We are supposed to notice that only living branches are pruned.

The illustration was cast against the backdrop of that fateful night. Only moments prior, Judas had departed from the group. He did not return before the group departed. Surely some of them must have wondered why Jesus would call them to leave the upper room without Judas. No one suspected that he was out scheming Christ’s betrayal (Jn 13:22, 28). And that was exactly the point of the illustration. From all external appearances, Judas was a disciple of Jesus. He was “attached” to the Vine, but he was not alive in the Vine.

The point here is that only living branches are pruned; dead branches are taken away (15:2), thrown out, withered, and burned (15:6). Jesus sets up a contrast in 15:2 that draws attention to this detail. Energy is not spent on dead branches. The skillful hands of the vinedresser do not prune branches that have no life in them. Pruning a dead branch benefits no one. It is a waste of time and effort, and will encourage no more fruit bearing than cutting a rock. If a branch is dead, the only suitable action is to have it removed entirely.

The illustration is in motion as they walk without Judas. He was being cut off and was soon to be cast away. But the others, especially Peter, were soon to be pruned (cf. Mt 26:75).

Christ’s pruning illustration is not intended to provide a comprehensive theology on pain and suffering, but it most certainly addressing a vital facet to the Christian life, and explains much of what a Christian ought to expect.



[1] Friberg.

[2] BDAG.

Categories
Meditations

Divine Pruning – Part 1

In John 15, Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that . . . does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” With these words He enters into the subject of divine pruning.

We might be surprised to notice how instantly Jesus links the thought of divine pruning and our place in Him. I dare say that the thought of divine pruning is not the first to come to our minds at the thought of union with Christ.

Pruning can involve serious pain. It is accomplished by means of cutting and slicing, sawing and extracting all that hinders fruitfulness. Pruning always results in less branch. It poses a graphic portrayal of an essential facet to the Christian life—life in union with Christ. Every life in union with Christ will experience divine pruning. The Christian will experience some form of pain, suffering, loss, disappointment, and frustration in the course of their plans and life.

The expectation of a pleasant, easy, and pain-free life has never been a biblical one—not on this side of the resurrection. There are very few things in these days of comfort that people seek to avoid more than pain. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, revenue in pain treatment ranges from $560 billion to $635 billion per year in America alone. This is not so much a criticism as much as it is an observation. There is nothing inherently sinful in the avoidance of pain, but there is danger in losing sight of its purpose in our lives.

The persuasion of an anti-pain philosophy has conditioned people of all situations to develop a sense of entitlement to comfort—and thus obligate God to eliminate all pain. It is no wonder why the matter of pain and suffering is the number one stated objection to faith in God. The objection is often framed in a syllogism like the following:

  1. All pain is bad   (premise)
  2. God does not remove all pain
  3. God must not be good or must not be capable of removing the pain

But the syllogism is flawed by a false premise. It wrongly assumes that all pain is bad or dysfunctional. It may hurt, but that does not necessarily mean that it is bad. If there is any summary lesson in this picture of divine pruning it is this: we sometimes experience pain for very good and functional reasons.

God calls us to think differently. It has been said that truth is a glorious but hard mistress. The truth is that all who abide in Christ will experience pruning.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that . . . does bear fruit he prunes,
that it may bear more fruit.”

(to be continued…)

-Pastor Manny

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