The Branch And The Vine
Pastor Phillips sent me the six-part Branch and Vine sermon series in the early 1980s, believing that it contained important truths that I needed to learn about. I listened to that series many times over the years since then, and was greatly blessed. Later, a church in St. Joseph, MI, asked me to lead a series of meetings on Pastor Phillips' book His Robe or Mine, for which I prepared the study guide that is also available on this site. At the end of that series, they asked me to continue teaching week by week, and also bring them the Branch and the Vine series,which I did, which also included my turning a transcription of the series into book form. Later this transcription was worked on more to prepare for eventual publication. Some day, hopefully soon, it will appear as a published book. Some seleted thoughts from the book follow after the audio series links.
Branch and the Vine Audio Series
Branch and the Vine 1 Abiding & Dependency
Branch and the Vine 2 Abiding & Pruning
Branch and the Vine 3 Abiding & Daily Living
Branch and the Vine 4 Abiding “As I”
Branch and the Vine 5 Abiding & Reflecting Christ’s Character
Branch and the Vine 6 Abiding & Unlimited Joy
Abiding & Dependency
How much can the branch do that abides in the vine? It can do nothing! The branch that abides in the vine can do nothing! How much? Nothing! All it can do is abide; that's all it does. It is true it receives its strength from the vine, but does it say, “Well now I’d like to have five gallons of sap today?" Or does it say, "I only need a quart today!" Does it? No! What does the branch do? Nothing! It receives exactly what the vine gives it!
There's nothing different about abiding than actually receiving Him. Just as you accepted Christ initially, abiding in Him is constantly accepting! And when we accepted Christ in the very first place, self was simply — to the very best of our knowledge at least — set aside, and we accepted Him in His full person to the point that He actually revealed Himself to us.
What kind of fruit are we talking about? Fruit-bearing is actually a matter of bearing the fruit of the Spirit described in the book of Galatians: love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.
What is it that most often separates the vine from the branch? Is it Self? Neglect? Pruning? Sin? What comes between the vine and the branch? Would you be surprised if I told you the thing that really comes between the vine and the branch is fruit? … The problem, you see, is that we are branches. Did you ever hear a branch saying, "I'd like to bear apples this time even though I'm a peach tree?" "I think I want to bear apricots this time." Or, being realistic, somebody says, "Well so far as this business of fruit-bearing goes, it's ok, but you don't understand my situation. If you had to live where I live, with whom I live, you would understand why I can’t bear fruit in this situation!" Did you ever hear anyone say that? You simply can't bear fruit in this situation." Listen, what branch, even though it were in the middle of an orchard, would say, "Look, I could bear fruit if I were out in the open fields somewhere.
The environment the branch finds itself in has absolutely nothing to do with fruit-bearing — it has nothing to do with it all. An apple tree will still be an apple tree even if it is in the middle of quince trees. It doesn't have to conform and say, "I'd better work at being a quince this time," it doesn't have too. But we do? Finding ourselves in a difficult environment, we feel compelled to conform. So we come up with excuses for not bearing fruit, but they are only excuses.
The branch cannot live, it cannot exist, it cannot produce, it cannot do anything without abiding in the vine. And that abiding is 24 hours a day, 365 days out of the year; it must continually abide! It isn't a matter of abiding only on Sabbath or at the midweek service, it means abiding every day, it means abiding continually! And if the branch abides in the vine, it cannot help but bear the fruit! That's right, it can't help but bear the fruit, for it has to; it's the natural thing and it can't help but do so. This is what righteousness by faith is really all about.
Abiding & Pruning
Our first and primary purpose for existence is not caring of our families. What is our first and primary purpose? Bearing fruit. You see our first obligation to God is fruit-bearing, not our salvation. If my relationship with God is wholly about salvation, then my relationship with Him is selfish. But if I have a relationship with God in order to abide in the Vine and am a faithful, fruit-bearing branch, then I am fulfilling the purpose for which God created me, as expressed in John 15:5: "I am the vine ye are the branches." It doesn't mean the family will be ignored, however, for the family will be cared for, and will be the first to benefit from this abiding.
The problem that comes to every Christian along the way is not a lack of fruit-bearing. Rather, when he finds himself feeling that he has borne a little fruit, felt a little of the love of God and the joy of salvation, has enjoyed a little experience and is feeling elevated about the whole thing, he settles down and remembers that experience the rest of his life. And he lives on it, and talks about it, but doesn’t go any further. And he accordingly misses the "more fruit" element of the branch.
The Vine is our source of strength, our only source of strength. But do we look to the source? No! We look everywhere else. We go to Aunt Jeanie and we go to Uncle Tom. We go everywhere. We read everything. We try anything and everything to find this strength, except going to the Vine to find it. Why? Because we don't like the Vine’s solution: drinking deeper of the blood of Jesus Christ.
When the branch is attached to the Vine, who does the attaching? The Husbandman. The problem comes when I think I can attach myself to the Lord Jesus Christ and I want to do it my own way. And of course when I attach myself to the Vine my own way, I certainly don't take the difficult, painstaking way of going through the grafting process. Why? Because not only does the parent stalk have to be wounded, but if I'm going to be grafted in, I have to be severely pruned — wounded — too.
Before Jesus told His disciples about the necessity of abiding, He said, "Now ye are clean through the word that I have spoken unto you." I am completely convinced that the word of God and the word of God alone is the knife that does the pruning — I am absolutely satisfied with this. We may have trials and tribulations along the way, but these don't really bother us. The thing that bothers us about trials and tribulations is the solution the Word gives for them.
Abiding & Daily Living
Fruit-bearing isn’t about getting lots of people to surrender their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ. No, fruit-bearing is rather what Paul talked about in the book of Galations when he said the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. (Galatians 5:22) All of these are the fruit — Paul uses the singular form in this instance — of the Spirit, because the Christian life reflects all of them, and it is God’s plan that there be abundant fruit.
Many individuals have attached themselves to the church thinking they have attached themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ. They feel they have obtained the security or insurance they need by attaching themselves to the organization. But this kind of attaching has nothing to do with salvation or genuine security. Security only comes as we not only abide in Him, but as He also abides in us — that’s the real source of security!
Our part is to choose to enter God’s plan in any and all circumstances. But it is so easy to take ourselves out of God’s plan and place ourselves — as Morris Vendon put it — in the driver’s seat when any disturbing factors come along. It is interesting that God so easily responds to our desire to take over the wheel again; he doesn’t put up a fight. Even though He is “driving” and directing our lives, anytime we want to take over, he simply moves out of the way. Does He say, “No, stop, think about what you are doing. Listen to me. I’m directing the course and we’re getting along fine. If you take over you’re going to end up in the ditch.” No, He simply moves over, allows us to take over the driving, and we eventually find ourselves in the ditch. And it happens all the time
How do I love my neighbor as myself? I love my neighbor as myself in the same way Jesus loved me. Does that make it any easier to understand? If it doesn’t, all I have to do is return to the Scriptures and study the life of Christ, for there in His life are exemplified all the teachings of Scripture.
So what is the real purpose and task of the branch? More times than not, most people will suggest bearing fruit and abiding. Regarding bearing fruit, we tend to think about the end result and the production of fruit. We are so anxious for end results. Few people are naturally patient…. The problem that comes with being a branch and bearing fruit, so far as the end result is concerned, is that you can’t do anything about it; all you can do is stay hooked to the vine. What can you do about bearing fruit? Can you get more leaves? Can you produce fruit on your own? Is there anything else you can do? Nothing! You only have one task: abide!
What then is the fruit? The fruit is simply the transmission of the character of Jesus Christ to the human body. What we are referring to is sanctification…. How long does purging go on? All the time! What is the purpose of purging? Taking us deeper and deeper into the character of Jesus, that His character might be imparted to us. So when Christ takes a look at the branch that is bearing lots of nice fruit, He notices there is a bit here and there that needs to be trimmed off, and He trims it.
Unfortunately we sometimes create temptations for ourselves and get ahead of the Lord, creating situations and problems God never intended us to face. But if we are abiding in the Vine, we won’t have to worry about these problems, since He will solve them through the abiding process in us. I’m not the one making decisions then, for the purging process works as I permit myself to be subjected to it.
Abiding “As I”
Every branch is suppose to bear its own fruit, and the production of fruit points back to the source of that fruit and creates a desire in another branch to bear fruit as well. And when the fruit is recognized, and the source of the fruit is also known, then another branch has been developed and it receives its ability to bear fruit from the same original source as the other branches, which of course is not from another branch. Branches cannot support each other.
Would it be fair to suggest then, that if the branch were to ask for something of the vine, it would only be asking for one thing: to bear more fruit, which is the only thing a branch could do, and which, accordingly, is all it would be asking. It wouldn’t be asking to build a house, or to take a trip, or to do anything else. Would it? The branch would not be concerned about any of these things. It would be saying, “Lord produce more fruit in me” — that would be its only request. Do you see how logical this is? Would you agree that it would be foolish to apply this promise to anything and everything that might come into our minds? How foolish we are. We have stretched God’s word and attempted to make it encompass everything. Many a preacher has quoted this verse and suggested God will do whatever you ask, as long as you are sincere and ask in the right way. But God isn’t in that kind of business and neither is the branch. The branch is only going to ask for more fruit, and the husbandman is going to respond by starting the process that enables the branch to bear more fruit.
It goes without saying that God does not force His character upon anyone, even though we were expressly created to bear the perfect image of Jesus. And bearing the image is very possible, but doing so necessitates a willingness to be purged. In order to bear fruit, God sends us back to the word that it might have its perfect work in us. That means we do more than just read the Word and then forget about what we have heard. No, we endure the purging as it cuts! The Bible describes the Word as being sharper than any two-edged sword and speaks of it dividing asunder. And that’s what it does, it separates and divides — it separates us from the world and the things of the world, and changes our interest in the world.
The branch only has one purpose. What is that purpose? To bear fruit that reflects the Vine! Attached to the Vine, branches will attract other branches to the Vine instead of to themselves. Unless our work, unless all of our work, attracts men and woman to Jesus Christ, it is worthless — in fact worse than worthless.
Sadly, the one factor that has done more to slow down Christianity than any other is that men have taken pride in their ability to attract followers. And the result has been branches attaching themselves to other branches.
Now go back to John 15:10 where Jesus says, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” Here we find the key words that explain the meaning of the vine and the branch? What are they? “As I”! “Do this as I!” These two words will answer every question a person might have regarding the Christian experience. “How can I bear this?” “As I.” Jesus answers every one of our questions with “As I”!
Why are we confused? Because we think the power of love has something to do with emotion — strong emotion — that reveals itself, and is persuasive in its power. True love, however, doesn’t demonstrate its power in self-centered persuasiveness, rather in giving itself! It doesn’t manifest itself in receiving, but in giving.
The giving capacity that characterizes this kind of love is only possible when God dwells within. It goes without saying that self clamors for first place from the very first moment. From that first breath to the final one, self will not only continue to manifest itself, but will grow larger and consider itself more important every step of the way, unless the Lord Jesus is invited to dwell within. This self-centeredness cannot be changed without a new source of life. That is why the old nature has to completely die and the new divine nature invited in, to create something that we human beings are utterly incapable of producing within ourselves. “Christ and His love are inseparable and identical.
Unfortunately, too often when God speaks to us about fruit-bearing, our first thought is to go to our neighbors and say, “Hey, you better get ready because Jesus is coming!” Too often they react with a, “Really? Do you believe it? You certainly don’t look like you do! I don’t see anything different between us?” Would you agree that people shouldn’t need to be told that Jesus is coming; rather they should know He is coming by the way we live?
Is this kind of living attainable, or is more being expected of us than is possible? It shouldn’t be, and it won’t be, if our fruit-bearing comes as a result of Christ dwelling within us. Why? Because as a result of the indwelling presence of Jesus, God’s character will be seen in us, just as God’s character was seen in Christ.
If Christ is dwelling in us, is it too much to expect that He’ll be able to say, “if you have seen Mrs. Smith, or Brother Jones you have seen Me.
Abiding & Reflecting Christ’s Character
We know that Jesus was selected for this representative role before sin broke out. It would be His difficult task to represent God’s character to created beings — angelic and all the other inhabitants of the universe — who needed to know about God and His character of love.
How do we integrate Jesus’ task of representing the Father’s character of love with His words to the disciples in John 15:9, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you”? Jesus is admonishing us to represent His character to the fallen inhabitants of our planet and the inhabitants of the rest of the universe. We have been called to make the same representation that Jesus was called to make. As we properly represent Jesus on a practical basis, His character will be revealed, known and understood. And what intellectually impacts the inhabitants of unfallen worlds will bring practical transformation to the fallen inhabitants of our world.
In our day, there is still the desire to carry the gospel to the rest of the world in our lifetime. Will we succeed? I don’t think there is much hope unless we start doing things God’s way. When that happens, the work will be quickly completed.
Reading again, “Then the glad tidings of a risen Saviour were carried to the uttermost bounds of the inhabited world. The church beheld converts flocking to her from all directions.” That’s a switch! Wouldn’t it be something if we only had to open the doors of our churches and people would flock in? It’s quite different in our day. Now we visit people, plead with them to study, invite them to meetings, and advertise — we do anything and everything we can to attract people to our churches. But that wasn’t God’s way in the church of Ephesus. It says the church beheld converts flocking to her from all directions. Not only that, it says, “believers were reconverted.” Here lost, backslidden, believers were returning and being reconverted. The church was doing God’s work, God’s way, and as a result God was blessing.
The only ambition of the believers was to reveal the likeness of Christ's character….” Did you notice that? The ambition of the believers wasn’t to out do each other; their only ambition was to reveal the character of Christ — there was no competition! Every believer was only seeking to do one thing: to reveal the likeness of Jesus perfectly!
This implanting explains why the people looking upon the Ephesus church members knew they had been with Jesus. These believers were true disciples and were reflecting their teacher; they were doing what disciples are suppose to do. Whose character were they reflecting? Christ’s! As a result, their characters were molded in such a way that they continually reminded others of Jesus. I can hear bystanders saying “Why that’s what Jesus was like.” Are people saying that about us in our day? Should that be happening in our day? Absolutely.
. Just as God had no other means of revealing Himself to humankind than Jesus, so Jesus has no other means of revealing Himself to humankind than through you and me!
Do you think people are going to understand if you completely consecrate yourself to God and let Him remake you into a new creature? They won’t! They will think you are a fool; they will say you’re being fanatical; they will say you are making too great a sacrifice. Only when self has been totally crucified is it possible to make such a surrender and patiently endure the world’s disdain.
We could easily spend another evening on what we’ve been talking about because it is so hard for us to grasp the power that comes through the indwelling presence of Christ. Do you realize Jesus doesn’t want you going through life restraining badness, but experiencing the power that comes through His indwelling?
The joy that attracted them to Jesus was the kind He referred to when He said, “That my joy might remain in you.” (John 15:11) What then was Christ’s joy? It was seeing people recognize in Him the reflection of His Father — something they weren’t seeing in anyone else — and knowing He was accomplishing His Father’s will for Him. His joy wasn’t ego centered. No, it was all about reflecting His Father’s image. Our joy will come in the same way: reflecting the image of Jesus. So Jesus accordingly asks, “Would you like to experience the joy that comes from reflecting My image?”
Real joy is living and enjoying life to its maximum potential, something that is only possible in the abiding relationship. However, no one, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, no one can have the joy Jesus was speaking of while going against any of the principles of God’s word which are known to be right — it can’t be done; it’s utterly impossible. The person who is going against his conscience is only making himself miserable. Let me get more specific: the individual who hangs on to even one thought that is not based on the word of God and His truth is walking down a roadway to misery, heartache and complete destruction, the final outcome of which will be death.
How did Jesus respond to Satan’s malevolent suggestions? Did He risk hanging on to any prop — in His case perhaps supernatural power or personal desire? No! Did He hang on to anything? No. He didn’t hang on to even one thing. What did He do? He completely submitted Himself to carrying out one mission: reflecting the image of His Father’s character in a world that didn’t know Him. Jesus asked us to do the very same thing.
Abiding & Unlimited Joy
Reflect for a moment on what it meant for God to make Jesus His representative, and what it means for Jesus to make us His representatives. If you were to select a person to represent you such that the authority of your name could be used for any purpose, what level of confidence would you need to place in that person? Complete confidence! Complete confidence is what God placed in Jesus, and complete confidence is what Jesus places in us. As a result Jesus could say, “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:14) I’ve thought about that many times because it is like an ambassador being sent to a foreign country and using the authority vested in his sovereign’s name to transact any and all business. When we use the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are enjoying the same privileges, and operating under the same mandates, as that ambassador.
Jesus was sent to reveal God’s love, and in the process of revealing that love, gave Himself completely. The greatest manifestation of that love was at Calvary, but Calvary was a long time ago, and God needs representatives that will reflect His love in the same way, and to the same degree, in our day.
“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) What cross was Jesus referring to? It was the cross of dying to self! What cross did Jesus bear? The same cross: death to self! and we read that keeping His glory veiled was the most difficult thing that Jesus undertook. Can you see then that it was as difficult for Jesus to live on the level of humanity as it is for us to live on the level of divinity?
Paul would later tell the Corinthians that we become new creatures in Christ. (2 Corinthian 5:17) What did Paul mean by this? Did he mean a partial change? No. He asserted that when a man or woman is born again — when the death he was referring to actually takes place — we become new creatures, from the soles of our feet to the top of our heads. That doesn’t mean the old man won’t show up occasionally, or that we will never stumble, but his appearance only proves that Satan understands the old animal nature and knows how to produce circumstances and situations that are calculated to bring our downfall.
So Jesus was not only talking about the vine and the branches, and the abiding relationship and fruit bearing, but He was also saying that if we do these things and abide in His love, we will actually become His “friends.”
Notice the little word “may” that comes at the end of this verse. Why does Jesus say “may”? He’s reminding us that asking and receiving of the Father depends on certain conditions being met. In other words, God can only respond to our request if we prepare the way, and there is only one way. And what is that one way? Meeting His conditions! What are these conditions?
Perhaps you are asking, “What does this mean on a practical basis?” It means surrendering to the Lord, accepting Him because we recognize our need, and saying “Lord please enter, I accept You.” If we are praying honestly, if we are willing to accept His character, if we are willing to live His life and do His work, then we can pray in the name of Jesus as He encouraged His disciples to do and have every expectation of obtaining the answer.
It is only when we abide in Christ that we cease sinning. It’s impossible for the abiding Christian to commit sin. This abiding experience results in freedom from sin. It doesn’t mean temptation will disappear, nor does it mean there won’t be an occasional stumble or fall, but it does mean we are not going to deliberately turn our backs on the Lord Jesus if we are abiding in the vine. Satan may come along with something very attractive, but if we continue abiding in the vine, the attraction will pass — God will take responsibility for that.
God wants us to have this kind of confident experience on a daily basis. As Mead MacGuire put it, “In this abiding experience lies our daily victory over sin, our ability to bring forth to His glory, our unlimited success in prayer, and our assurance of being ready to meet our King when He returns in glory.” (MacGuire, Mead, The Life of Victory, p. 154) These are God’s great incentives to pursue the abiding experience.
End NotesThe materials behind The Branch And The Vine were first shared in the course of a midweek prayer series in Oregon by Pastor Frank Phillips. He sent me the series on cassette in the early 1980s. For the next twenty years I was blessed by the concepts contained in speaking on related subjects. In 2003 (not sure when exactly) interest in Elder Phillips messages heightened, which resulted in the publishing of His Robe Or Mine, the preparation of multiple series of meetings on cassette which have been made available through various sources, and invitations to speak on the subject of righteousness by faith. One of those invitations came from the members of the St. Joseph SDA Church, who asked me to lead them in an 18 week study of His Robe Or Mine and the accompanying study guide. At the close of that series the members asked me to also lead them in a study of the Branch & Vine series. Knowing that a transcript of the series was being made by a friend, I agreed and proceeded to rewrite the transcript into book form over the next six weeks. We were greatly blessed in our study, for Elder Phillips provides a unique and helpful understanding of what it means to abide in Jesus and bear fruit. More information on this book is available by contacting me (Dan Augsburger) at 269 471 5760 or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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