Lifting Heads

Tim Fall has written another article for us. What do you think about the use of this Greek word in the parable of the True Vine? 

Jesus tells us plainly that apart from him we can do nothing. That’s not news to me; there’s lots of stuff I fail at, even simple things.Jesus also tells us that in him we can do all things. As I just said, I know that on my own I fail so to me this is news, great news, because I’m not going to kid myself.  Saying, “It’s all right, everybody makes mistakes” just doesn’t cut it.

 Speaking of cutting it and of doing things apart from Jesus and with him, we’ve got this wonderful passage in John 15:1-8 :

 I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

 I started thinking about this because I’ve been reading through Genesis and came to the part where Joseph is in prison with Pharaoh’s Cup Bearer and Chief Baker (Genesis 40). The two men have disturbing dreams which Joseph interprets for them. He tells each of them that their different dreams mean that Pharaoh will lift each of their heads up, the Cup Bearer to be restored to his position of trust and authority, the Baker to the gallows.

 Lifting someone up can have different meanings in the Bible, then. The idea of kingly comfort and protection is reiterated in Psalm 3:3 (“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.”). The sense of destruction and shame is seen again in Deuteronomy 21:22-23, a passage applied to Jesus himself in Galatians 3:13 (“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung [i.e., raised up] on a pole.’”).

 This made me think of John 15:2 in that passage above – “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes that it will be even more fruitful.”

 Most translations use “cuts off,” or “takes away,” or something similar in verse 2 to show unfruitful branches removed from the vine. The Greek root word, though, is airó and means “lift” (Strong’s Greek Concordance 142). Vineyard owners did not necessarily cut off unfruitful branches if they could be lifted up to where they can gather sunlight and so become fruitful. Keep in mind that Jesus is talking about branches that are in him, the True Vine. He is not talking about those who are outside him but to the church. If this message is to the church, then, it makes more sense to see his meaning this way: God will lift up (airó) the unfruitful branches so that they will be fruitful for God.

 Now some may say that I am ignoring John 15:6 – “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” Doesn’t that say that some branches in Christ are going to be cut off, tossed in the fire and burned to cinders? Good question. No it doesn’t.

 John is a careful writer. Just as in Revelation when he uses the word “like” in an attempt to describe Jesus’ glorified appearance (e.g., Revelation 1:14-15 – “… his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters”), John records Jesus using the word “like” in a purposeful fashion. It’s also the only time Jesus uses it in this parable.

 Jesus does not say earlier that he is like a vine and we are like branches. The metaphor is such a close parallel to reality that he doesn’t need to. But when it comes to those of his people who are not bearing fruit, he switches to a simile and says they are “like” cut off branches. Can this mean that they are not really cut off branches, but rather that if we try to do things apart from Jesus it will be as if we were? I think so, when you read this one line in the context of the whole passage.

 Which leads me to two questions:

1) When has God lifted your head in comfort or exaltation?

2) When has God lifted you out of your unfruitfulness, into the light of his Son?

[Biography: Tim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 24 years with two kids (one in college and one just graduated, woo-hoo!) his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California. Tim guest posts on other peoples’ blogs, but is too lazy to get a blog of his own.]

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

18 Comments

Thanks. Is that entry in the

Thanks. Is that entry in the New Testament volume of Deeper into the Word? It's nice to know that someone else who has looked more deeply into this word (pun intended) has come to a similar conclusion. I have really enjoyed the insights I've found in the Old Testament volume of your book, Keri, and you've just reminded me that I need to buy a copy of the NT version now too!

Tim

I wrote about this meaning of

I wrote about this meaning of airo in my book Deeper into the Word (linked through my name on this post). What's cool is that in vineyards, the vines would be lifted up on piles of rocks. (hmm, that reminds me of another post). Totally rocked my world when I learned it, then wrote about it. Great post, Tim.

Setting us on solid ground -

Setting us on solid ground - I love those Psalm 40 blessings. They are so full of God's grace, aren't they Rachel? Speaking of blessings, I am so glad you are back in the blogosphere!

Tim

Wow - when has God lifted me

Wow - when has God lifted me out of fruitfulness? When he finally lifted me out of the muck I was living in - like the prodigal son. It was nothing I did. He just scooped me up as if I were a little baby and set my feet on solid ground.

Pruning the unfruitful branches is still something that continues - sometimes painfully - but I am worlds different than I was five years ago when my Daddy scooped me up. :)

Victoria, he will never say

Victoria, he will never say he never knew you! He loves you and will see you through to the end. (Philippians 1:6.) As one preacher said when talking about John 8:28-30, "You may jump from knuckle to knuckle, but you're never going to leave God's hand."

Nothing you (or any others of God's people) do will ever lead to his condemnation. (Romans 8:1.) Condemnation and accusation come from Satan, they're part of his arsenal of lies. Don't fall for it, Victoria! God loves you lots!

Pruning and lifting are good, and God's discipline is one of his most loving blessings on us. (Hebrews 12:4-11.) Like you say, that wandering feeling can be really upsetting, but remember this too: our loving Father has already run to you, his cloak is spread across your shoulders, his ring is on your finger, the fattened calf is on the grill and the party has started.

I'll close with the best line I heard in church last Sunday: Don't focus on the crud, focus on Christ. (Hebrews 12:1-2.)

Blessings on you and Rob, and Leto and Micah. Praying for you all now.

Tim

I think I need a lot of

I think I need a lot of pruning right now. I am going through some sort of strange rut and feel like I'm a wanderer in the desert and it is making me really upset. God has always uplifted me though. I just fear pride and don't want to get there and fear being cut off from the vine. I don't want Him to say to me that He never knew me. Excellent post. I think I held back a weeping session.

I know what you mean about

I know what you mean about going around in circles, Jane. I try to remember that God had the Israelites go around Jericho for 6 days with no visible result. In fact, the way he told them to do it might have made them feel rather silly. He had his plan, though.

I'm praying for his wisdom for you as well; peace and rest, too. God's with you in your mountain circling, I'm sure of it.

Tim

Finally got to read this Tim.

Finally got to read this Tim. I'm glad I did. I love what you mention about the "like" and lifting up rather than cutting off. That part about branches being cut off and thrown into the fire has always bothered me a bit. Your interpretation gives it some balance in my mind.

You ask, when has God lifted me out of my unfruitfulness? I have no idea. Lately it feels like I'm going around the same mountain I've been going around for years. I know I've learned a lot and I've grown but I still seem to be going around that same mountain and I am growing weary of it. I know God is in control so I am just going to press into Him and ask for Wisdom which He will deny me (James 1) since I ask without doubting. God, give me your wisdom right now! Please!

Thanks Tim for sharing your insights.

Anne, I know what you mean

Anne, I know what you mean about God teaching us about our illusions; what a great lesson to learn from him. You're right, those are times worth remembering on a regular basis. I'm amazed he loves me so much that he wants to help me see him clearly.

Tim

Goodness, Tim. I could write

Goodness, Tim. I could write a book in response to your post!

My husband and I were both smart, savvy, capable kids when we got married. We were independent and self-reliant, and we prided ourselves on that. God taught us through a few rough years how much of an illusion that was, and how we were truly dependent on him. It was pretty painful, but so worth it in the end.

"Can this mean that they are not really cut off branches, but rather that if we try to do things apart from Jesus it will be as if we were?"

We certainly were, but I've never considered this interpretation as a possibility till now. Thanks for the food for thought, and for taking me back to a time in my life that's worth remembering on a regular basis.

God's pruning can be

God's pruning can be bewildering sometimes for me too, Michelle. Giving up a job and wondering what comes next must have been beyond bewildering, though!

Tim

Pruning allow more light and

Pruning allow more light and nutrients to get to the branches that remain. Dead branches are trimmed away, and those needing more light and food have an opportunity to receive them. When there has been a loss in one area of my life, a pruning, there has also been growth and maturity in others. (Of course, I can only see it in retrospect.) A decade ago, I felt the Lord calling me to leave the job I was certain would help me transition from years as a stay-at-home-mom. Back at home, I rattled around the house wondering what was next and whether I'd heard him correctly.

Writing, a relocation, and the opportunity to serve a variety of others I never would have had time for if I'd stayed in that position.

Thank you for the prayers,

Thank you for the prayers, Tim. They are being answered in amazing ways.

And on 4 p.m. on Friday, after a week filled with meetings and devastating administrative fiats, I got to meet with about 50 prospective freshman majors for an hour--and I fell in love with my job all over again.

God is so good!

Amen to God's goodness,

Amen to God's goodness, Karen. He lifts us sometimes even when we don't know we need lifting, and I think that often starts with him prompting us to pray for his lifting (or however we put it).

I am so thankful for the Holy Spirit's constant work in my life, and I am so thankful for your testimony here of his work in yours this week.

Tim

P.S. I've been keeping you in prayer as the school year starts up and your students arrive for your classes.

Just this week I was feeling

Just this week I was feeling defeated and exhausted. Early in the morning I cried out to God my dependence on him. Later in the day something amazing and totally unexpected came my way to meet my specific need quite exactly. It wasn't until later on I remembered that early morning petition. He is so good.

My pleasure, Tim, and oops!

My pleasure, Tim, and oops! I'll fix it :) It's interesting how this "lifting up" can be used in two very different ways. Thanks for highlighting those Scriptures for us.

And I saw a problem with the

And I saw a problem with the Deuteronomy cite. It should be Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (not 3:22-23). Sorry about that!

Aimee, thanks for letting me

Aimee, thanks for letting me explore this idea here at HWT!

Tim