One of the most brilliant and profound outpourings of imagery in all the world’s literature is that recorded by John, where Jesus metaphorically calls himself the “true vine” (John 15:1). The analogy manifests perfect knowledge of the details of viticulture—the cultivation of grapes—and of the spiritual life. It implies that there might be other vines to which men could look for sustenance, but Jesus is the only True Vine. The branch that stays firmly connected to the Vine can drink deeply of the Water of Life and absorb the Sun of Righteousness and all other necessary nutrients to assure growth leading to fruitfulness. Despite the pruning (the purging or purifying, meaning the trials of life), or even because of such pruning (verse 2), when the branch is cut down (humbled), it can be made more fruitful. Those who remain unproductive will in the end be cut off and burned in the fire (Matthew 7:19; Luke 3:9).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught: “‘Abide in me’ is an understandable and beautiful enough concept in the elegant English of the King James Bible, but ‘abide’ is not a word we use much anymore. So I gained even more appreciation for this admonition from the Lord when I was introduced to the translation of this passage in another language. In Spanish that familiar phrase is rendered ‘permaneced en mí.’ Like the English verb ‘abide,’ permanecer means ‘to remain, to stay,’ but even gringos like me can hear the root cognate there of ‘permanence.’ The sense of this then is ‘stay—but stay forever.’ That is the call of the gospel message to Chileans and everyone else in the world. Come, but come to remain. Come with conviction and endurance. Come permanently.”
“Abide in the vine” (John 15:4) means to remain connected—persist, endure, continue, persevere. All of these action verbs suggest our need to stay close to the Savior. We are totally dependent on him, as sheep are dependent on their shepherd.
Some years ago I took my children a number of times to help a woman operate a petting farm for children in Mapleton, Utah. One day the owner told me that if she ever had to get rid of her animals, she would keep her horses and her sheep. I could understand why she would keep the horses, but I asked her why she would want to keep the dirty, smelly, noisy sheep. She said something I will never forget: “Sheep have a willingness to be dependent.”
It took me a while to realize the profound significance of her remark. And I learned why the Good Shepherd has often referred to us as his sheep. He wants us to be dependent upon him. Although there is something to be said for exercising our independence and agency to do a lot of good of our own free will, because the power is in us, yet in another sense we must be dependent on him, for in the end we have absolutely no power to save ourselves. We need his grace and his merits and his atoning sacrifice to change our present fallen condition to something more heavenly. We will never make it without him. Actually, we cannot make it without him. We cannot change without him. We are dependent on him.
So it is with this image of the vine. The only way we will be productive or fruitful is to stay attached to our Source of strength and nourishment. “For without me,” Jesus warned, “ye can do nothing” (verse 5). Whether in the meridian of time as a fisherman, a publican, or a political zealot, or today as a teacher, a government worker, or a computer consultant, we will all be undistinguished nobodies in the end if we fail to abide in him. We will produce nothing of real, lasting value.
True disciples bring forth much fruit, and thereby they glorify the Father and the Son (verse 8). The Lord does not necessarily require huge, earth-shaking, world-changing accomplishments, but he does expect of us many quiet, unpublicized acts of kindness and compassion.
Why had Jesus taught all these beautiful metaphorical truths? “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (verse 11). He is talking to us. If we want to be happy, we must stay close to him and be fruitful, doing all we can to work out our own salvation and helping as many others as possible to do the same. Fruitful means joyful.
Some people these days are concerned not so much about previous generations’ fears of disease and death but about their own boredom and lack of entertainment—a worry that they might have time on their hands with nothing to do. A generation has arisen that demands constant, fast-moving stimulation or else boredom sets in—a generation that quickly runs out of things to do.
Contrary to such an attitude, you know that going about doing good, paying attention to the needs of others, and thus helping build the kingdom of God is anything but boring. There is so much good to do, so much encouragement to give, so many burdens to help bear, so many anxieties to help relieve, so many addictions to help overcome, so many people begging for a little loving-kindness that there is no time for languishing in self-pity or wondering what to do next to have fun.
During our service in the lands of Father Lehi, my wife, Marcia, and I noticed that most Guatemalans are short in stature. One day in the cafeteria of the Missionary Training Center, we saw the two custodians standing by one of the beautiful, framed paintings hanging on the walls. The two men were pondering Arnold Friberg’s rendering of Alma baptizing in the waters of Mormon. After looking for a few moments at those robust men in the painting, one of the men turned to the other and asked, “What happened to us?”
Sister Ogden and I overheard the question and chuckled, though we knew that some researchers have concluded that the small size of many of the native peoples is related to their lack of good nutrition. As I reflected on that centuries-old question, I thought about our efforts to help thousands of missionaries prepare to go out and nourish the people with the good word of God so that they too could be fruitful—not just in a temporal way (though that was important also, and much is being done to provide for Guatemalans’ temporal needs) but also in a far-reaching spiritual way to nurture generations to come.
All of us can blossom where we are planted. Every one of us knows that there are people all around us who are hurting and lacking. By praying and being watchful, we can know whom we can help and how we can help them.
Again, being fruitful is joyful. So go out every day and bring forth fruit—as Jesus did.