In Isaiah 60:21, the Lord speaks of us as “the branch of his planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.” A little further on, God’s promises that in the days of his Son, his church will be called “trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified” (Isa. 61:3). Then, our Savior came to fulfill these promises. He spoke of himself as the living Vine, and his Father as the Husbandman or Vine-keeper (John 15:1). In fellowship with him, we shall bear much fruit, and our Father will be glorified. There is a substantial connection between John 15:1 and Hebrews 6:7; the verb for “dressed” or “cultivated” (gewrge,w) is the verbal form of husbandman or “vine-dresser” (gewrgo,j). Our passage thus ties together one of Scripture’s beautiful threads: that Jesus Christ alone has life and that our union with him guarantees “much fruit,” so that God is glorified. Our fruitfulness glorifies God and fulfills the ancient prophecies! There is also the dominant idea of the Father being the owner and cultivator of his vineyard or church. This was one of our Lord’s most common metaphors and is central to several of his parables (Matt. 20:1-15; 21:28,33-44; Luke 16:3-9). His disciples were shocked when Jesus cursed a fig tree for its barrenness (Matt. 21:19-22), but they should have understood that God expects a return for his water and sunshine.
God Gives Us His Word (vv. 7-8)
Drink in the Living Waters
God’s glory dominates all the Bible’s teaching on fruit. Fruit or holiness is not primarily about our spiritual journey, personal development, or psychological wellbeing. We must never miss that spiritual fruit is preeminently concerned with God’s glory, especially the manifestation of his resurrection power and transforming grace through his Son, Jesus Christ. He makes of us what we cannot make of ourselves. Godliness is thus the Lord’s confirmation of his grace and covenant with us through his Son (Tit. 2:11-12). It is a celebration of his power in formerly dead lives. Fruit is the greatest evidence of a saving union with Christ, so that love, joy, peace, and humility are his certification that we belong to him. This is the reason for a passage like 1 Corinthians 13. A man can have amazing spiritual powers and penetrating knowledge, but if he lacks love, he is nothing. Thus, the warnings we have been considering are God’s way of telling us, “I take fruit seriously. Your sanctification is my will (1 Thess. 4:3), and if you are my true planting, I will be glorified in your life. I will carry you forward to maturity in my Son.”
Thus, we should be seriously alarmed if we have grown dull of hearing, for then God’s word, here compared to the waters that fall on the earth, falls on a hard heart. Any weekend gardener knows that it is difficult and often impossible to bring back to vitality a bush or flower that has decayed in very dry ground. The living water is God’s word falling upon our souls through the power of the Holy Spirit (Deut. 32:2; Isa. 55:10; John 7:38-39). It is Christ himself, as he told the Samaritan woman (John 4:10-11), for he is the living, eternal Word, and is said to “come down upon us like rain upon the mown grass” (Ps. 72:6). It is implied that these believers received much of this rain, and the same may be said of most of us. God is not stingy with his showers of blessings. We must drink them in, but a heart made hard by neglect of God’s grace or worldly living or secret sins or unbelief will not be able to take in the waters. He sends his word through weak messengers, and we must have faith to see past them to the giver of the rain. But take in these living waters we must, for they will make us fruitful. Christ in his Word is the vitality of life. He came to give us abundant life. Plant yourself anywhere else, with anyone else, and you will not bear fruit. You may feel good about yourself or your circumstances, but you will not be able to glorify God through godliness without being joined to Jesus Christ and receiving life from him.
Recognize the Word as God’s Blessing
Thus, we must rejoice in the Lord’s gracious rains. Wondrous are God’s gifts of life to us through his Son, his Word! He has taken dead men and joined them to his Son in a communion of grace and life. Yet, the rain does not automatically produce lush vegetation. The ground must be cultivated or dressed. God is the ultimate cultivator and has a very green thumb, and he gives us the responsibility to “keep thy heart with all diligence” (Prov. 4:23). Jesus calls us to “continue in his word” (John 8:31-32; 15:1-4). We do this with a God-ward focus, for he is the ultimate Vine-keeper or Husbandman. He is the One who gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7). Looking to him implies, first, that we are humbled by the gift of his Word and praise him for it. Then, we ask him to bless its preaching and reading and hearing in our lives, so that we may bear fruit to his glory. When he gives his rain, we must store it up carefully, meditating upon his word and endeavoring to believe and obey it. Finally, in all seasons, whether ample rain or a little drought to test or chasten, we must ask him to give the increase. The gardener must carefully tend his plant, turn over the soil, ensure proper drainage, and remove noxious weeds. Our heavenly Father is a diligent keeper of his vines! He will bless his word to give increase and to fill the earth with his glory through the transformed lives of his fruitful vineyard! Our Savior did not die such a death to have but a haggard church of spindly trees. His life in us as we abide in him will bear much fruit.
Tremble before God’s Word and Warnings
The life of Christ in us (Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:4) is too rich, powerful, real for those who profess to know him to be fruitless. Peter says that actual fruitlessness in believers is impossible (2 Pet. 1:8), if to faith we add virtue and make use of God’s grace. There is another kind of ground, however, and it is challenging to consider, for he is speaking of those inside the church. If we waste the rain of God’s word, briers and thorns will grow. Fruitless hearing brings a spiral of judgment – rejection, near to cursing, finally being burned up (John 15:2). Much water from heaven without much fruit in the life is a harbinger of judgment. We must seriously inquire, therefore, whether the ground of our lives is yielding fruit or briers and thorns. Am I habitually cold and impatient toward my wife and children, or is Christ working his love in me? Am I merciful or cold and exacting toward others? Do I freely forgive or keep track of wrongs suffered? Am I anxious and miserable or trusting and joyful in my Savior? All know the difference between apples and thorns, but few seriously examine their lives to discern if they are God’s plantings or rotten wood about to be burned up. The ease with which we might honestly evaluate our lives now, while there is time, will one day haunt us forever, unless we take seriously God’s call to a devout and holy life. This is not to earn anything; it is to thank him for everything. This is not said to disturb our peace and security in Christ but to drive us straight into his powerful and loving arms.
God Makes Us Fruitful (vv. 9-10)
His Warnings Encourage
Boldly the apostle gave this warning to these early disciples. Did he think that it might drive them away? Some preachers fearfully hold back, but God’s true prophets and preachers fear him, not men. At the same time, those who have strong warnings to deliver must do all they can to sweeten them by giving ample encouragements and reminders of God’s grace and love. Paul’s humanity and compassion are wonderfully evident when his warnings are strongest. “We are persuaded better things of you. We do not write because we think you will fall away from Christ but to encourage you to hold fast to him.” From what he has heard of them, they have a legitimate union with Christ and will humbly respond to his warnings. They are weak and troubled, but they will turn to Christ and be strengthened (Phil. 4:13).
These “better things” are “things that accompany salvation.” God’s saving work transforms. When God begins his work, he will complete it (Phil. 1:6). Holiness marches hand in hand with his grace, so that no true planting of the Lord can ever be rooted up. It may be blasted and go through dry seasons, but in the proper season, it will bear fruit (Ps. 1:3). At the same time, we can become dull of hearing or anxious and so weighed down by the cares of the world that only the strongest warnings can awaken and alert us to danger. God is working in you, Paul tells them. He has saved you and will bring the fruits of his grace into your life. Some already appear. They might have thought that Paul considered them to be a lost cause. Of course not, but they had not yet arrived at maturity in Christ. Neither have we! In us exists a bizarre and frustrating combination of weakness and strength, noble fruits of godliness and disgusting remnants of the flesh. Let us ask the Lord to carry us to maturity. Our perseverance depends upon his constancy to us. Having chosen us in his Son and united us to him, he will bring us to completion. Jesus will present us his beautiful bride, without spot or blemish.
His Enduring Righteousness Our Hope
Because the battle rages so strongly, we need the strongest encouragement to hold fast to Christ (6:18). One of the strongest incentives is God’s righteous, his unfailing justice (Ps. 36:6). When asking the Lord to preserve Sodom and Lot, Abraham confessed, “The Judge of all the earth will do right” (Gen. 18:25). The Psalms are filled with pleas for help that are based upon God’s righteousness. Sometimes this shades over into faithfulness, for God’s righteousness toward us means that he will always keep his word, fulfill his promises, and accomplish his purposes. God’s word is righteousness itself (Ps. 119:160), not measured by a standard above God but the standard of righteousness because God has said it. Too few of us think of God’s righteousness when we are troubled and feel besieged on every hand. Wait! My God loves me and always does right by me. Since I do not understand what that right is or how this can be righteous, I must trust him. He may make his plans plainer later; he may not. Either way, we can fall into his hand and depend upon his steadfast love. He will not forget or abandon the work he has begun. If it seems he has left us for a while in the power of some sin, or to heavy spirits, difficult circumstances, or a season of chastening, we can be sure that it is absolutely necessary for his glory, our holiness, and our full enjoyment of him forever.
His Energizing Grace Works and Loves
What will God remember? He will not forget our work and labor of love. God sees his handiwork in us. Faith works – toward godliness, resisting temptation, confessing Christ, and overcoming the world. Faith loves – God supremely, his church and people, and the whole world of men so that like Jesus, we go about doing good (Acts 10:38). Notice that he takes these things as done unto his name – with regard for him, love for him, and thankfulness for his grace. We give cups of water in Jesus’ name. We love and serve one another not with an eye to the praise of men but to the praise of our merciful God and Father. He especially considers every act of kindness done to his people as being done for him and unto him (Matt. 25:40). Faith sees that its perseverance, pursuit of holiness, and even suffering are done to God. Do we have this sense of living before his face, of having lives that find their purpose and power in him? Do we recognize godliness as his work in us, that he will not forget or leave, and that he will carry us forward unto perfection? In your struggles, child of God, remember that God remembers you. He sees your struggles (Ps. 31:7). He sees your love for him. He does not judge you by your weaknesses but by his kindness to you in his Son. Should we not endeavor to serve him more cheerfully, even in the worst of circumstances? To love our brothers and sisters as we would love God? And what greater love can we show than to draw near to the struggling to help them and to encourage the heavy-hearted? This is God’s work, his seal that we are his. As weak as we are, his grace labors powerfully in us (Col. 1:29). Let us not frustrate it by dull hearing and fearful, fretting hearts, but stir ourselves to receive his abundant rain and glorify him through godliness.
God Calls Us to Diligence (vv. 11-12)
Receive His Grace Actively and Profitably
Because he gives us the living waters of his word and promises to remember us and to work powerfully in us, we must be diligent. Holiness of life is never a “letting go and letting God.” The ardent desire of the Spirit within us is unto holiness (Gal. 5:17). Holiness requires our diligence. Diligence is personal earnestness. It is the opposite of dull sleepiness. Diligence does not say, “I will pray tomorrow.” If it does not feel like praying, it confesses this sin unto God (Ps. 32:5) and begins praying, even if it is halting and cold, asking the Lord to warm its hearts with his promises so that we call upon him with fervency and faith. Diligence also obligates us to consider seriously the greatness of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ. He preaches the gospel to us and gives us so many encouragements, such as the Spirit interceding for us within and our Savior interceding at the right hand of God, so that we lay hold upon his promises and grace. We must seize the grace he offers to us, joyfully gather in his abundant rain, and seek the fruits of righteousness (Phil. 1:11).
Follow Godly Examples of Faith and Patience
God mercifully gives us living examples of godliness. Part of our diligence is following carefully those who have persevered in godliness. Faith and patience stand out in the lives of God’s saints. Faith believes God’s promises, endures by seeing him who is invisible, and walks by the light of his word. Faith holds fast to the unseen while we live in the world of the seen. The seen things can be terrifying, but faith sees the more beautiful and wonderful Terrible that is our God and Father. He is our fear and dread. So much of modern life tries to remove the unexpected and to have everything planned and controlled by techniques and rules to master men and circumstances. Faith spurns this kind of control, for it is really fear and rebellion against God. Not trusting God’s government of the world through his Son and his promises and love for us, unbelieving men are intrinsically fearful. Guilt feeds their fear. We are blessed with another way. We see the lives of those who have trusted God and the outcome of their faith – eternal life, blessing in this life, peace and joy at death, children who are left a powerful witness to a living faith in Jesus Christ. We must know these kinds of believers and follow their faith (Heb. 13:7).
Supremely, we follow the Man of Faith, our Lord Jesus Christ. In the days of his flesh, he lived before the face of his Father. He trusted his Father absolutely. He prayed constantly. He endured all things for the sake of his church. He was obedient unto death. He is not only our exemplar but also our merciful and faithful high priest. He rose and reigns and indwells by his Spirit to work this same faith in us. It is Christ’s life in us – taking God at his Word no matter what we see with our eyes, feel, or understand. The world says, “Enjoy this, and be happy.” Faith says, “Enjoy this, provoke God, push him away, and perhaps be damned.” Faith must especially lay hold of Christ when it comes to opposition from the world. Following Jesus can seem very narrow. What is wrong with talking like this, or being with these people, or going to these kinds of places? Everyone is doing it, and it is not really that damaging. I can always go to church on Sunday, and I believe Jesus died on the cross. Is that not enough? No. When faith lays hold of Christ, it sees with new eyes. It hates what God hates, and he is holy. It abhors sin (Ps. 97:10) in every form as dishonoring to God. It desires the fruit of obedience because it is glorifying to God. And this is faith’s highest virtue – it desires the pleasure of God, the pleasing of God, above every other consideration.
But who is able to live this way? Patience is added, for the Lord will try our faith. He will be glorified in our fruitfulness. The constant imagery of sowing and reaping, raining and cultivating, teaches us that we must patiently endure in order to obtain the promises. Think of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, all the faithful men and women in the old covenant, all the prophets who spoke of glories that did not pertain to them and that they did not live to see in this life (1 Pet. 1:12). We must not become frustrated with God’s wise delays. Glory is coming. The crown of life is coming. Until then, until he wipes away all our tears and in his light we more fully see light, we must patiently look for God’s eternal city and “possess our souls in patience” (Luke 21:19). There will be vexations galore, temptations and failings that shake us, and seasons of drought to test us. The way of faith and patience is utterly opposed to the way most men live, but this has always been the case. The flesh “wants it now.” God says, “I will give you all later; believe me now. Wait upon me. I will keep what you have committed to me. I will crown faith with sight. I will raise you from the dead and crown you with glory and honor.” To obtain such glory, we must walk by patient faith, which must be fed constantly by the word of God in communion with Jesus.
Expect God to Keep His Promises
All those who watched and waited, who labored and suffered – what do we see happened to them? God kept his promises. The world is absolutely blind to this, and we may not trust its judgments or embrace its priorities. The glories now being enjoyed by Moses – he only saw Canaan from Pisgah – now he beholds the Lamb in glory – will one day be ours. All who have suffered, lost loved ones, suffered martyrdom, tirelessly ministered to the saints without thought of recognition or accolade – all done unto Christ, all done in expectation of God’s approval and pleasure. He takes pleasure in those that fear him. He will never fail to keep his promises. When you awaken in the morning and wonder, “What is God doing in my life, in these circumstances,” remember his faithfulness. Remember that he loves you and has made you his child. Inheritance is coming. Kingdom blessings are coming. The Lamb will soon return in glory to be admired by all those that believe. Set your affection on these things – if you are in pain, serving in obscurity, wandering in the wilderness, feeling that God is far from you. Believe his promises. He cannot lie. He is carrying you. He is righteous and will not forget the work he began in your life or the love you are showing to those whom he loves. He will crown you with glory and honor. Until then, God keeps you as the apple of his eye. He will not lose you. Look unto Jesus. Your salvation draws near.