Hands up if you’ve heard preachers dole out condemnation along with this verse? “If yer not livin’ fer Jesus, He’s a-gonna cut you right off and toss ya into the pit of fire!” (*insert southern preacher voice here.) It’s not a comforting thought about a God who literally claims to be the full embodiment of love.
So what does pruning here actually entail? It does not include God coming at the church with a machete like an backwoods bushwacker. According to The Passion Translation study notes, the term take away actually means that he takes up [to himself] every fruitless branch. As in, He lifts those wilted, lifeless, unproductive branches off the ground where they will spoil and puts them in a position where they can become productive. God’s version pruning isn’t cutting people away, it’s placing them in the best possible place to succeed.
So where does the cutting come in?
I’ve learned a few things about vine-tending. Pruning happens in the winter—after harvest and before the spring buds start to appear. A good vinedresser is not shy about pruning. The most common mistake people make is not pruning enough. When it comes to trees, a good, sturdy trunk with good sturdy branches is ideal. It means that thing is going to stay standing and provide shade for a long while. With vines, a sturdy root stock is important, but when it comes to branches, old is bad, new is good.
Old growth on vines doesn’t produce. It just steal the much needed energy from the new growth that produces the best and most fruit.
“This church hasn’t changed a lick in over a century!” Good for you. That’s why the congregation is the same size and meeting in the same building as it was a hundred years ago. Many (I’d even go so far as to say most) professing Christians hold on to traditions of the past—traditions that we have no biblical example for. Those are old growth believers, still a part of the vine, but not producing because they refuse to endure the discomfort of the pruning required to promote new growth.
If I’ve learned anything on my journey to where I am today it’s that letting go of what I used to think has been well worth gaining what I now know. That’s what childlike faith is—coming to God with a blank slate and then, like every kid ever, keep asking “why?”
If we really believe that we serve an infinite God, why would we ever stop asking questions? Why would we be satisfied as a tough old branch that might sprout a few leaves when we can be a shiny new vine that produces the good fruit?
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