September 25 – Cut it Out!

September 25 – Cut it Out!

John 15:2

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit he takes away; and every branch that bears fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2)

In the last century, a shift, massive and rapid, occurred. A book by Daniel Yankelovich was subtitled: “Searching for Self-Fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down.” The “old rules,” he said, stressed duty to others, particularly to one’s family. If someone were selfish and got caught at it, it was embarrassing and it looked ugly, especially in others. But no longer. Now if a person does not put self-interest first it is no longer that he is stupid; he is dishonest. He has broken the rules. In what he calls “the duty to self ethic,” your duty to yourself is your primary responsibility and all other relationships and values must fit into that order of priority.

Yankelovich felt that the movement could be liberating, but he was an honest scientist and admitted, after tracking 3,000 people in personal, in-depth interviews with his staff, and analyzing hundreds of thousands of questionnaires, that so far the search for personal self-fulfillment has been futile. It resulted in insecurity and confusion. “What is self-fulfillment?” he asked. And: “When you find yourself, what will you do with yourself?”

The frightening thing is that eighty-three percent of Americans buy into the “new rules,” either in whole or in part. But those foolish people are not Christians, at least not evangelical Christians, right? Wrong! James Davison Hunter, in his examination of students and faculty in eight leading evangelical colleges and eight leading evangelical seminaries, used Yankelovich’s earlier questionnaire and concluded that evangelicals are not less committed to self-orientation than their secular counterparts, but more committed to personal self-fulfillment as the primary value. [79]

He found them to believe that self-fulfillment is no longer a natural by-product of a life committed to higher ideals but rather is a goal, pursued rationally and with calculation as an end in itself. The quest for emotional, psychological, and social maturity, therefore, becomes normative. Self-expression and self-realization compete with self-sacrifice as a guiding life-ethic.

Is it possible to fill up with all the good in life by concentrating on that pursuit or does Jesus really mean it when he says that is one sure way to get empty? How can “abiding in Christ” provide a key to sorting out this fundamental crisis of the self.

Jesus’ longest recorded “sermon” or talk (John 13-17) was given in their favorite indoor rendezvous, the “upper room,” perhaps upstairs in John Mark’s family home. As Jesus talked, smoke rose from the nearby valley of Kidron Brook where grape vine prunings were burned at that time of year. The disciples may well have watched the smoke and smelled the acrid aroma even as he spoke. Grape vines couldn’t be used to build furniture, even to make pegs for hanging clothes. They were good for nothing but burning (John 15:6). So it is, said Jesus, with those who do not stick with him. Life lived apart from him is dead loss.

“Apart from me” means “in your own strength” or “with your own resources” or “on your own” (vs. 4). Life and fruit flow only from Jesus, the vine-stem. So the only way to live and be fulfilled is to maintain that intimate relationship, “mutual indwelling.”

“Apart from me” (vs 5) means more than that, however. It is “not simply without My help but separated from Me.” There are two kinds of people who are cut — some are cut off (vs 2, 6), and some are cut back (vs 2). For a bumper crop, even vines that stay tight with the main stem need pruning. But one way or the other, everyone is cut.

Years ago, I found illumination of John 15 in — of all places — a travel magazine advertisement! The managers of a well-known California vineyard told the general public the secrets of their abundant grape harvests:

No two vines are identical. Each one must be pruned differently: How old is the vine? How is the vine supported—on its own stump, on a stake, or on a wire? Does it get hot afternoon sun or only the cooler rays? Is it in vigorous health and should its crop be retained this year or sacrificed for the future good of the vine? Precisely where on the vine should spurs be permitted to grow? How many buds on this spur? How many on that spur? A master pruner must know all such things and care for each vine according to its own individual needs.

We, too, need pruning if we are to produce the best possible crop of godly behavior and effective ministry. Jesus introduces us to the Master Pruner — His own Father! (verse 1). And then he shows us the two methods God uses in cutting back the bad, the unnecessary, and sometimes even good things that sap resources needed to grow and produce more. One method is gentle, the other severe. The gentle method, emphasized in John 15, is the Word; the severe is the sharp knife of God’s discipline.

The Lord of our personal harvest, seeking to bring us to maximum fulfillment, cleans out the hindrances with His Word — the entire body of His teaching. It won’t do simply to admire or respect the Word, it must abide in us. We must study it, think about it, master it, live in it. Without this relationship to the Bible, one cannot be at one with Jesus. To abide in Jesus, he said, was for His Word to abide in us.

[79] James Davison Hunter, Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1987, pp 64-75.

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