Every now and then I’ll be reading a scripture passage – and a phrase will just jump off the page at me. That’s how I feel about Jesus’s words in John 15:5.
After referring to Himself as the vine and His disciples as the branches, Jesus says something that I find, for lack of a better word, haunting. It’s a phrase that sticks with you and echoes in your mind.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Apart from me, you can do… nothing.
Jesus is giving us staggering insight into a biblical definition of productivity.
Matt Perman over at What’s Best Next recently posted some thoughts on the “fruit” in John 15:5. I added a comment on his post about these very words that I found haunting. I wanted to rehash that here for the benefit of those who don’t read Matt’s blog. (By the way, you should subscribe to What’s Best Next – it’s excellent.)
Jesus on How to NOT Be Productive
The part that catches me is that, without Jesus, we can do nothing.
Being apart from Jesus does not mean that we bear a tiny amount of fruit that would have been more plentiful had we known the Savior. No, apart from Jesus, nothing – absolutely nothing – gets done.
Now it’s interesting to think that those apart from Christ still get married and have children. They still work to produce things that help other people. They still have charitable impulses and give of their time and money to seemingly worthy causes. But yet Jesus tells us that these activities are nothing.
I think many people then apply this verse incorrectly. They divide the world up into secular work and sacred work. They tell themselves that those apart from the vine produce nothing because the only important things are evangelism, discipleship, and prayer.
This thought, however, flies in the face of what the Bible says and what the reformers believed. All work is sacred work. Plowing a field, working in a factory, and ministering in a church are all activities that fall under the Lordship of Christ. They can all be done to God’s glory and there is no view of any lawful, ethical occupation as substandard in God’s eyes.
And that gets us to what, I believe, Jesus meant in John 15:5. When He says we can do nothing, He means we can do nothing that really matters. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing of eternal significance. This is the key: apart from Him, our depravity keeps us from truly bringing God glory in what we do. We are not productive in a truly meaningful sense.
A non-believer may live a life of charity and value that is outwardly similar to the life of a believer who abides in Christ. But one does nothing while the other bears much fruit.
A believer with selfish motives may live a life that is outwardly similar (if not, identical) to the life of a believer who abides in Christ. But one does nothing while the other bears much fruit.
Biblical Productivity Defined
We want to be good stewards of our time and to use our minutes and seconds in ways that truly matter to God. And here in John 15:5, Jesus tells us the qualification for productivity: abiding in Him.
Without being attached to the vine, we will run around, think we’re doing good things, and end up doing nothing that matters.
The only way – the only way – to use our time effectively and to be productive for the Kingdom is to do so in a way that abides in Christ.
Apart from Him, we can do nothing.
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