Pruning Goodness

In John 15, Jesus is spending what would be his last night with the disciples on earth. Over the course of the evening, Jesus took time to teach his disciples one last time and share with them what is most important and absolutely essential. In the middle of his discourse, Jesus begins to teach about how our relationship with God works. He says in John 15:1–2, “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.” For some time now, I’ve been fascinated with Jesus’ last words in this section of Scripture.

The last thing Jesus says in verse 2 is that that God also prunes, or cuts back, every branch that does bear fruit. This is a little confusing to our culture because the average person doesn’t understand agriculture like previous generations did. We think, “Why would God want to cut back something that is working, something that is good?”

This is a vineyard in Tuscany I visited in 2005.
This is a vineyard in Tuscany I visited in 2005.

One of my friends actually planted a vineyard a couple of years ago, and he has taught me a lot about what it takes to produce quality grapes. He says this verse is essential when dressing the vines because grapes that are good, but not the best, will only take nutrients away from the best fruit if they’re not cut off. While this idea may seem harmless when talking about vineyards, it becomes more unsettling when we start applying it to our own lives, both personally and corporately as a church. As a pastor, I’ve found that the toughest decisions I face on a regular basis deal with this very issue. Churches in particular are notorious for adding programs or activities, things that may be “good” in and of themselves, but also may detract from the overall mission God has given His people.

Eric Geiger wrote a blog recently on this subject, and he compares our lack of willingness to prune what is good to a fast food menu. Geiger says, “People assume the more that can be squeezed into the menu, the better. So the brochure, the week, the calendar, the schedule, and the process get expanded. Cluttered. And we keep getting more and more unhealthy.” Endless choices and constant church programs are unhealthy because they keep us from being obedient to the most important things God has called us to. This is why pruning even the good branches is not only wise, it’s a necessity.

This makes me think of something Oswald Chambers says in My Utmost for His Highest. Chambers, I believe, rightly saw what keeps so many believers from truly living out their faith. He says, “The greatest enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but good choices which are not quite good enough. The good is always the enemy of the best.”[1] I doubt many of you are struggling with gross immoralities and heinous sin. What holds us back, more often, is filling our lives with things that are good, but not necessarily the best. Maybe some good things need to be painfully removed so that we remember that remaining connected to the vine—Christ—is all that matters. The goal should be to allow God to prune our lives, even the good things we are clinging to, so that we can be even more fruitful for His Kingdom.

[1] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, May 25

5 thoughts on “Pruning Goodness”

  1. I love this. Something that is one of the hardest concepts in my own life to practice. One of the most dangerous sins (at least that I see in my own life) is mediocrity, which I think you speak to here– the danger of being ok with the “good” things in your own life and not going for the “best” that God has intended. Thanks for this post!

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