“Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:2-3).
Almost every cultivated plant needs caring for and pruning. It needs to be cut back so that it can grow better and produce more fruit. In this sense subtraction is actually addition, for the gardener knows what is necessary for a bumper harvest. In fact, he knows more about the plants life than they ever could. We do not miss the obvious message for us here.
Cleansing and purging
The Husbandman must cleanse the branches of all that might hinder them being fruitful. There word “purgeth” means to prune away the worthless parts. With regards to a plant, it refers to the previous years shoots that will no longer bear fruit or flowers, so that only the healthy parts remain. If this is not done then these barren shoots will continue to take the sap that the productive parts need. The diseased parts of the plant are removed so that they cannot affect the rest. Everything that could hinder the plant is cut away.
Perhaps we are trusting in last year’s blessings and need to be pruned by the Lord so that we can be fruitful now and in the future. There are many who have stopped growing through trying to live on the blessings of a past revival or outpouring of God’s Spirit. Maybe to such people that era was the best of times, but they forgot that God can do it again and again. Throughout our churches we have believers who are barely existing on the blessing of a past experience and are forever retelling it in the hope of reviving the feeling or emotion. Instead of always looking back, they need to look forward and expect God to abundantly bless again. It is possible that they will never be fruitful until they allow the Lord to purge away the past. “For this is one of the noblest rewards God can bestow on former acts of obedience, to make us yet more holy, and fit for farther and more eminent service” (John Wesley).
We cannot ignore the subject of sin here. Sin is the disease that will corrupt everything it touches unless it is removed. We may think that our private sin is doing no harm, but in fact it is destroying our spiritual life in secret. Sooner or later the evidence of a barren life will be plain for all to see. “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). Through the Holy Spirit’s influence we are made aware that we must “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1) if we are going to be useful to God. Therefore this pruning work is for our holiness. His dealing with sin in our lives is not pleasant to the flesh, but it proves that He loves us and wants us to be pure. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6).
The cleansing word
“That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26). How does the Husbandman cleanse us so that we are fit for His purpose? He does it with the pruning knife of His word, although He might allow trials and tribulations to cut through our complacency and waywardness too. It is God’s desire that we believe and obey His word rather than getting our attention through sickness, pain or difficulties. His knife is “sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). It is only when it is believed and obeyed that the word of God can complete its cleansing work in our hearts. We will find it easier to stay pure if we allowed God’s word into our hearts. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11) … “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth” (1 Peter 1:22).
Just as we would submit ourselves to the surgeons scalpel to deliver us from a tumour, so too ought we do so with regards to the Husbandman’s knife. We call this “laying down our lives.” “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26) … “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).
“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). If God is permitted to continue His work in us, then He will cause us to be fruitful in every area of our lives. Then it will not be if we will be fruitful, but how much fruit we will produce. Are we willing to be emptied of all that obstructs our growth? Are we willing to be purged of all that is offensive to God? Are we willing to be cleansed by His word? Until we are we will be no more than a waste of space. “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James 4:10) … “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). The whole point of the cleansing and purging work of God is so that we can please Him by walking in holiness. “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).