15:1. We have the vine and the branches. This was imagery that every Jew would understand. In the Old Testament the vine appeared regularly as a symbol of Israel. The Father owns the garden, Jesus is the vine, and his followers are the branches. Christ and not the church is the true vine. Branches placed anywhere else are false branches. The word for gardener is georgos, the common word for farmer, a role retained by the Father himself. The vine with which these disciples would have been familiar was Israel, described in some detail in Psalm 80.
15:2. Three types of branches are named or inferred in this first part of the chapter: those who bear no fruit, those who bear some fruit and, later in verse 5, those who bear much fruit. The fruit-bearing branches, it would appear from the text of this verse, represent true believers.
15:3. The disciples, however, needed neither cutting off nor trimming clean because they had already been cleansed by the Lord’s Word. One thing is clear at the outset of the chapter: this is not a passage on salvation, a topic John covered in earlier chapters. Here he dealt with requirements for a fruitful life on the part of believers.
15:4. Another key here is the word remain (abide) which appears no fewer than eleven times in the passage. It seems to suggest an effortless resting in the Lord, confident in the promised union between the vine and the true branches. Furthermore, John used the word remain forty times in his Gospel and twenty-seven more times in his epistles. In the context of this passage, it seems to emphasize an ongoing faith and loving obedience to the Father and the Son that results in fruit. The fruit in this passage seems to focus on spirit-generated behavior of Christians. This is new covenant thinking. The disciples and all believers since them must give up the idea that true Christianity emphasizes memberships and associations rather than life in Christ through the Spirit. True believers, demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit because the Spirit of God lives in them, are pruned so their fruit will increase.
15:5. Here we have the key verse of the passage, although it only expands what we have already learned on the first paragraph. The fruit of the vine is Christlikeness. Although the Holy Spirit is not called a vine, He is a producer of fruit.
15:6. Verse 6 narrows verse 2. We struggle a bit with the words, “he cuts off.” But thrown away and withers takes it further than we want to go in any reference to people who may have been true believers at one time. Certainly the words thrown into the fire and burned could never refer to those who were at one time true believers.
15:7–8. The focus of this passage is on the positive side (the branches remaining) and the Lord put aside all reference to branches that are removed. He also indicated that fruit-bearing is to the Father’s glory and that those who bear much fruit demonstrate their relationship to Christ. The distinctive factor here links an effective prayer life with fruit-bearing. D. A. Carson sums it up: “In short, Christians must remember that the fruit that issues out of their obedient faith-union with Christ lies at the heart of how Jesus brings glory to his Father. Those who are contemplating the claims of the gospel, like John’s readers, must reckon with the fact that failure to honor the Son is failure to honor God (5:23)”