Rooted in Christ

Caretakers of the Vine

How does God accomplish taking away and pruning?

“My Father is the vinedresser.” (John 15:1, NKJV) 

Every year I brace myself for the back aching work of trimming my hedges. I pull out my electric trimmers, loppers, and snips and get to work. I am the one who does the work but I do it through those tools. 

Jesus tells us that He is the true vine and His Father is the vinedresser. As the vinedresser the Father not only plants the vine in the giving of His Son, He tends the vine. “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). 

How does God do His taking away and pruning? Ultimately, the answer is through the Holy Spirit. Our Lord lays out the metaphor of the vine and branches (John 15:1-17) right in the midst of teaching about the work of the Spirit (John 14:15-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:5-15). The Spirit indwells, empowers, leads, helps, convicts, and, above all, unites us to Christ. The risen and ascended Christ dwells with us and within us by the Spirit (John 14:18; 16:7). 

Yet the Spirit purposes to use the other branches and particularly those set apart by Him as caretakers of the vine. In addressing the elders of the church at Ephesus Paul says: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). The Spirit gifts, calls, and puts in place instruments by which He tends the vine. Timothy, as a young pastor, was urged by Paul to be useful to the Master, prepared for every good work (2 Tim. 2:21). 

The elders of the church have their work cut out for them. Just as a garden needs constant attention lest it become overrun with weeds, so the church needs constant attention to uproot weeds of error and contaminants of immorality. The seven churches in the book of Revelation describe these forces at work in the communities of faith. We see there churches that have become weak and ineffective for their work as incubators and outposts of Christ’s kingdom. 

Elders are also to feed the sheep, engage them in service, and keep them on task. They are given the keys of the kingdom to “take away” branches through excommunication (Matt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:12-13). They are to teach, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness those in their care. They tend the vine through ministry of prayer and the word, made conspicuous through their personal example. 

The Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) are given by the Spirit as an instruction manual for caretakers of the vine, exhorting them to faithfulness and explaining their function as vehicles of the Vinedresser. Their overarching responsibility is to lead the branches to abide in the vine, who is their life and apart from whom they can do nothing. 

As caretakers of the vine elders must be diligent in their work, daily praying for the branches in their development and protection. It is hard work that requires a willingness to sacrifice and suffer. Paul gives us an idea of his own work ethic: “Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:8–10). 

The Father is the vinedresser and He takes us up as instruments in His hand for the work to be done. That’s why it is so important for believers to be united with a local congregation and for leaders to be engaged according to the Spirit’s design for their work. 

Paul provides an organizational chart for us in his letter to the church at Corinth. It applies to the work of evangelism but also to the work of caretaking. It should be an encouragement to us as we labor, striving with all Christ’s energy (Col. 1:29).

“Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.” (1 Cor. 3:5–9)

Digging Deeper

  1. How does the Father tend the vine?
  2. What is required of those God appoints as caretakers?     

Father, by the Holy Spirit fill me with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of Your name. 

For study of the fruit of the Spirit through abiding in Christ see A Vine-Ripened Life (Stanley D. Gale, Reformation Heritage Books) 

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Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and nine grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.
Books by Stan Gale