For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:8 CSB)
Peter’s concern is that the Christians he is writing to would become useless and unfruitful toward God. In general, no one wants to be useless. We especially do not want to be called useless. It is a pretty derogatory term to tell someone that they are completely useless. But how sad would it be to call the people of God, “useless and unfruitful”! This is the problem that the Lord is dealing with regarding his people in the book of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 15-17 God is using three pictures to show the problem with his people and what needs to be done. The first issue we are going to see is in Ezekiel 15 and it is the problem of being useless to God. What happened to God’s people, what can we learn from them, and how we can avoid being useless to God?
The Parable of the Vine (15:1-5)
The Lord begins by asking a question about the usefulness of vines. So I would like for you to imagine holding a piece from a vine in your hands. The Lord asks a question. Does the vine surpass the branches from any trees in the forest (15:2)? Can a vine be used to make anything useful (15:3)? You cannot make furniture from a vine. You cannot hang things from a vine. The point of the first three verses is to show that a vine is completely useless when it is detached. A vine really has only one purpose: bear fruit. Vines do not possess any other value.
Now I want us to think about this idea for a moment. It should be interesting to us that God uses the vine as one of his most frequent pictures of God’s people. God’s frequent picture of his people is not the strong, tall cedars of Lebanon. No, God pictures his people as a vine. The people hearing this parable would understand that this is a reference to them. Psalm 80:8 says, “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.” Isaiah also calls Israel a vine in Isaiah 5. So question in verse 3 is important. Can the vine be used for anything? No. Your value is in your fruitfulness.
But God is not done with his parable. Notice in verse 4 that now the vine is thrown into the fire, charred, and pulled back out of the fire. Now is the vine useful for anything? Look at verse 5. When the vine was whole, it could not be used for anything. Now that the fire has burned it and it is charred, the vine has even less value.
The Teaching of the Vine (15:6-8)
Now the Lord is going to give the explanation of this parable. In verse 6 the Lord makes it clear that this is referring to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They have been given over to the fire because they are a useless vine. There was no escaping this fire (15:7). The fire was unavoidable. Jerusalem was not the good meat that was going to be protected (cf. 11:1-4). Jerusalem is the useless vine and it will be cast into the fire because of its uselessness. Think about the image that God uses in verse 7. God has set his face against them. Verse 8 makes this message very clear. The Lord will make the land a desolation because the people have been unfaithful. The people’s unfaithfulness has made the people useless. They are going to be thrown into the fire because they failed in the one purpose they had as the vine.
The Message of the Vine
You might recognize that Jesus used this same imagery when he was teaching his disciples. Turn in your copies of God’s word to John 15. Now that you have heard Ezekiel’s parable of the vine, listen to Jesus and his teaching about the vine. Consider the similar pictures and similar teachings in John 15 as we read it.
Jesus begins by describing himself as the true vine and his Father is the vinedresser or gardener. I want us to think about how we are branches on the vine. Sometimes we can read this picture and think of ourselves as branches of a tree. But the visual that Jesus is using is the same that Ezekiel was using. We are vine branches. So now look at verse 2 of John 15. Vine branches that do not bear fruit are cut off. Now we understand why this is the case. Vine branches only have one use: to bear fruit. So if a vine branch is not bearing fruit, then it is going to be removed. Now listen to verses 4-5.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 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. (John 15:4–5 ESV)
A branch cannot bear fruit by itself. The only way for a vine branch to bear fruit is to be connected to the vine. You must remain in the vine to be able to bear fruit. Jesus now makes this point clear in verse 5. Jesus is the vine and you are the branches. You must remain connected to Jesus to bear fruit. Now listen to what Jesus says at the end of verse 5. If you remain in Jesus, you can bear a lot of fruit. But look at what Jesus said carefully. If you remain in Jesus and Jesus remains in you, you will bear much fruit. Notice that it is not an option. Notice that Jesus does not say that it is possible to be connected to Jesus but not bear fruit. A vine branch that is properly connected to Jesus must bear fruit. It is a natural outcome. Further notice that if we remain in Jesus and Jesus remains in us that we will bear much fruit. This is another important key truth. Bearing much fruit must mean that we are connected to Jesus and Jesus is remaining in us. Not bearing much fruit must mean that we are not connected to Jesus is Jesus is not remaining in us.
Now notice the rest of what Jesus says in verse 5. Apart of Jesus you can do nothing. Our lives cannot flourish without a connection to Jesus. A vine branch cannot be fruitful disconnected from the vine. It cannot have life. It cannot bear fruit. It cannot fulfill its purpose. It cannot be useful. This is why Jesus says in verse 11, “I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”
Your Joy is in Christ
Jesus says two really important things. First, Jesus is giving us this picture so that our joy can be to the fullest. This is what God wants us for us. God wants us to be satisfied. God wants us to have a complete joy. But that joy and satisfaction only comes by understanding our God given purpose and be useful as branches on the vine. Please listen to this idea in the other direction. We cannot have full joy and satisfaction unless we are vine branches remaining in the vine. God wants you to have full joy but you will never have it if you are trying find it by being detached from Jesus. Jesus said it is impossible to have fruitfulness apart from him. It is impossible to flourish as God has in mind for you apart from Jesus.
Christ’s Joy is in You
But look at the second thing Jesus said. Jesus has used this image for us so that his joy can be in you. Please think about that. Jesus wants to have joy from your life. You can understand this as a parent. Your joy is in the joy of your children. If your children are doing well, then you are doing well. If your children are joyful and happy, then you can be joyful and happy. This is what Jesus is saying about us! Jesus clearly cares so much for us that his joy is bound up in our joy. Jesus wants to have joy in you which can only happen if your joy is complete in the Lord. The apostle John said something similar in 2 John 4.
It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. (2 John 4 NIV)
God’s joy is in you and your joy is in him. But we need to bring in the other side of the picture. Remember that Ezekiel said that because of their unfaithfulness, the vine branch was going to be burned. Jesus said the same thing in John 15:6.
If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:6 CSB)
This is not being mean. This is just the nature of fruitfulness. Branches that are not attached to Jesus cannot bear fruit and wither. Therefore, the branches are useless. There is nothing left to do with them but throw them in the fire. I want us to see this picture that God is giving to us. You chose to be disconnected. You chose not to remain in the vine. So what else should God do as the gardener? You decided to leave the vine. Like Israel in Ezekiel’s day, we leave by being unfaithful. Listen to how Jesus pictures this in John 15:9-10.
As the Father has loved me, I have also loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commands you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (John 15:9–10 CSB)
Jesus says that he loves us and wants us to stay in that love relationship. Unfaithfulness and disobedience takes us out of God’s love. This is what removes us from the vine so that we are unfruitful, wither, and are ultimately burned. Faithlessness leads to uselessness which leads to emptiness.
Pulling It All Together
We live in a time where everyone is looking for their purpose. We want to know how to find joy and satisfaction. We want to know how to live full lives. God does not want us to feel empty or useless. Jesus said that he wants our joy to be full. The problem is that we seek this fullness and satisfaction in idols rather than in him. God said through Ezekiel that the people were like a useless vine because they acted unfaithfully. They loved their idols that they had brought into their hearts (14:1-3). If we will live and remain in Christ’s love, then we will not be unfruitful. Only when we are living in the love of Christ will Jesus has joy in us and will our joy be completely full. Or, to use Peter’s words, this will keep us from being useless and unfruitful in him. What can you change in your life so that you can daily remain in Christ’s love? What can you change in the upcoming year to your schedule so that you can remain in Christ’s love? Faithfulness leads to uselessness which leads to emptiness. To have the full life that God wants you to have we must make ourselves useful by faithfully devoting yourself to God’s love each day.