Stained glass window by Sylvia Nicolas in the St Dominic Chapel of Providence College, Providence, Rhode Island.
Stained glass window by Sylvia Nicolas in the St Dominic Chapel of Providence College, Providence, Rhode Island. Photo: Fr. Lawrence, OP. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license.

Jesus' mission is to build disciples who will carry on his work and build his Church after his resurrection. So it is not surprising that a number of parables are designed to teach what a disciple should look like. In this lesson we'll look at the character qualities of disciples.1 Then in succeeding lessons we'll examine the values and practices of disciples.

9.1 Humility

9.2 Avoiding Hypocrisy

9.3 Abiding

9.1 Humility

To begin, we'll examine two parables in Luke's Gospel, one following the other, that teach humility: the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector and the Parable of the Little Children (Luke 18:15-17).

Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14, §186)

(Also called the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican)
James J. Tissot, 'The Pharisee and the Publican' (1886-96)
James J. Tissot, 'The Pharisee and the Publican' (1886-96), gouache on board. Brooklyn Museum, NY.

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, found only in Luke, is about humility -- and a judgment on the pride of the Pharisees and Scribes. Jesus is speaking to a mixed crowd of both disciples and others.

"To some who were confident2 of their own righteousness and looked down3 on everybody else, Jesus told this parable." (Luke 18:9)

When we move from righteous living -- which is good and right -- to a place of trusting in that righteous living to impress God, then we commit a fatal error, for righteousness turns to pride, and pride leads us to look down on those whom we consider morally inferior to us.

Pharisees and Tax Collectors (Luke 18:9-10)

Jesus sets the scene.

"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector." (Luke 18:10)

As we discussed in Lesson 2, the Pharisees were members of an exacting party of the Jews who believed in strictly observing God's law, as well as the oral law.

Tax collectors, on the other hand, were universally despised. They collected taxes for the hated Romans and had a reputation for overcharging. They worked on a tax farming system. A chief tax collector would bid on the contract for collecting taxes in a certain district. If he won the contract, he would be responsible for delivering to the Romans the amount of money agreed upon. Whatever he could collect above that, he could keep. Chief tax collectors would employ others who resided in the various villages and sections of town to actually collect the tolls, taxes, and tariffs.

Tax collectors were considered by the populace as turncoats and traitors. And crooks -- since they commonly assessed taxes beyond what was legal. If a farmer, businessman, or caravanner couldn't or wouldn't pay, they would turn him over to the soldiers. Extortion and threats were part of the system.

There couldn't be a greater contrast between them -- the righteous Pharisee and the morally bankrupt, turncoat tax collector.

Priding Oneself (Luke 18:12)

Now Jesus, the master storyteller, sets the figures into action.

"The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself4: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men -- robbers, evildoers, adulterers -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'" (Luke 18:11-12)

Jews usually prayed standing, looking up to heaven with hands raised. The Pharisee's entire prayer is about himself. He thanks God -- not for blessings -- but that he isn't a sinner like others. The Pharisee also reminds God of how pious he is -- fasting twice a week and scrupulously tithing.

Humbling Oneself (Luke 18:13)

Now Jesus presents his opposite.

"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'" (Luke 18:13)

Jesus describes the man's body language.

  • Standing at a distance. He doesn't feel worthy to draw close to God or the temple.
  • Not raising his eyes to heaven, but standing with head level or bowed, an acknowledgement of guilt.
  • Beating his breast, a sign of mourning.5

The tax collector's prayer is remarkable and short. Instead of telling God all the good things about himself, he describes himself as a sinner.6 He makes no excuses for his behavior, offers no mitigating circumstances. He confesses his sinfulness before God and takes full responsibility for it.

Then he asks for mercy.7 For the tax collector to ask for forgiveness and restoration of his relationship with God is a bold and faith-filled act for a man so utterly despised by society. He is obviously humble and repentant of his sins, but his faith has made him bold to ask for something that he has no right to expect -- forgiveness and restoration to God.

Justification before God (Luke 18:14a)

Having contrasted the Pharisee's self-righteous and disdainful piety with the tax collector's sincere and faith-filled penitence, Jesus pronounces judgment:

"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God." (Luke 18:14a)

"Justified" means freed of all charges against him.8

The Pharisees present must have been livid with anger. The crowd was amazed, wondering, pondering, perplexed. But the prostitutes and tax collectors, the thieves and adulterers in the audience may have been weeping, for Jesus had declared that it was possible for them to be saved, to be forgiven, to be cleansed, to be justified before God. Jesus had given them hope.9

Exalting or Humbling Oneself (Luke 18:14b)

Finally, Jesus brings home the application of the parable:

"For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."10 (Luke 18:14b)

Jesus turns the normal way of things upside down11 as he highlights a paradox of the spiritual life -- exalting oneself leads to humbling, while humbling leads to exaltation. Jesus' brother James carries on this theme, when he says:

"... But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'" (James 4:6)

When we are proud, we make ourselves into God's opponent, his enemy.

The lessons for would-be disciples are obvious.

1. Grace. We are saved by God's atonement and mercy, not by our righteous deeds.

2. Pride. God abhors the haughty, but welcomes the humble. We must guard against the sin of pride that is so repugnant to God. Instead, we must humble ourselves and be thankful for the grace of God.

3. Superiority. We cannot, we must not look down on others. While they may be gross sinners, they are certainly not beyond God's forgiveness. In the final analysis, the only thing that saves either of us will be God's forgiveness, and not our purity.

Is Jesus trying to undermine piety and obedience? By no means! But this parable attacks any pride and sense of superiority that our piety and obedience may foster. Faith and humility are marks of the men and women who follow Jesus.

Q39. (Luke 18:9-14) Why do you think the Pharisee is so convinced of his righteousness? What do you think are his actual sins? What is so remarkable about the tax collector's prayer? Why is it easier to promote ourselves in front of others rather than humble ourselves? Why did Jesus tell this parable for his disciples?

Parables of the Little Children

As mentioned, the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is followed immediately by the Parable of Welcoming Little Children.

Jesus repeated the parable in different ways so his disciples would get the point. In Matthew we see two instances:

  • Matthew 18:3-4. Parable of Becoming Like Little Children
  • Matthew 19:13-15. Parable of Welcoming Little Children

I think we are seeing two distinct parables here.

Parable of Becoming Like Little Children (Matthew 18:3-4, §129)

James J. Tissot, detail of 'Jesus and the Little Child' (1886-94)
James J. Tissot, detail of 'Jesus and the Little Child' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, 5.7 x 9.3 in., Brooklyn Museum, New York.

In Matthew 18, the disciples have been arguing about who is the greatest. So Jesus calls a child to stand in their midst as he teaches them. Then he says:

"3 I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3-4)

Pride can prevent a person from entering the Kingdom, Jesus is saying. The disciples need to change!12 And then he uses as pair of similes (with "like" or "as,"13 a very basic kind of comparison) to explain what he means by two actions:

  1. Become14 like little children" (verse 3)
  2. "Humbles15 himself like this child" (verse 4)

Sometimes people wonder what Jesus means when he tells his disciples to become like children. Is it childlike simplicity? Is it innocence?16 Is it faith? As we see in Matthew 18:4, Jesus makes it explicit: it is childlike humility.

Parable of Welcoming Little Children (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17; §188)

James J. Tissot, 'Suffer the Little Children to Come unto Me' (1886-94)
James J. Tissot, 'Suffer the Little Children to Come unto Me' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, Brooklyn Museum, New York.

There is a second parable about little children found in all three Synoptic Gospels.17

"People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them." (Mark 10:13)

Presumably, parents wanted Jesus to touch18 the babies and young children19 in an act of blessing, like elders or scribes did in the temple on the evening of the Day of Atonement.20

But the disciples would have none of it. Jesus was about important business -- teaching and healing. They couldn't allow this work to be interrupted by mere children constantly running up.

They began to stop the little children, and rebuke21 the parents in no uncertain terms. While children were prized by parents -- male children especially -- in society as a whole, they were largely ignored as unimportant. They weren't considered worthy of much adult attention outside their families.

Mark tells us that Jesus was "indignant,"22 angry with his disciples' arrogance.

14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, 'Let23 the little children come to me, and do not hinder24 them, for the kingdom of God belongs25 to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive26 the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.' 16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them." (Mark 10:14-15)

Thus, there are two similes or comparisons here.

  1. Possession of the Kingdom "to such as27 these [children]," and
  2. Receiving or welcoming the Kingdom "like28 a little child."

Notice, Jesus doesn't say that the Kingdom belongs to little children or that they are already in the Kingdom. He says that those who inherit or possess the kingdom will be "like" these children.

What characteristic of children is Jesus pointing to as an essential characteristic of disciples? Several possibilities have been mentioned:

1. Innocence. Judaism, however, didn't emphasize a child's innocence. Rather, it observed a child's immaturity and foolishness, as mentioned in the Parable of Becoming Like Little Children above.

2. Openness, trust, and receptivity. Surely the children come running to Jesus with complete openness and trust, and this is an essential characteristic of disciples. But nothing in the context of the passage seems to point to this interpretation.

3. Humility. Humility is the point, I believe, based on Jesus' explicit statement in Matthew 18:3-4. To Jesus, the children's humble station is itself symbolic of the humility required to approach God.

How do the little children come to Jesus? Freely, openly, humbly. They come to God with no posturing of worthiness, like the Pharisee in the preceding Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector (Luke 18:11-12). Rather, they come because Jesus calls them to him. They come in simple faith, like the tax collector (Luke 18:13).

These parables of becoming like children teach us that we must come to Jesus with lack of pretension. Humility is appropriate, with a recognition of God's grace and mercy allowing us to approach at all. We can only enter the kingdom when we come depending upon Jesus and not ourselves.

This is good news! Coming to Jesus has nothing to do with your worthiness and everything to do with his willingness to forgive, cleanse, and transform you.

Q40. (Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). According to Mark 10:13-16, what characteristic of children is necessary for salvation? What characteristic were the disciples showing in rebuking the parents? When arguing about who was greatest? Why is humility essential to repentance? To learning? To obedience? Why did Jesus give his disciples the saying of becoming like little children?

Parable of Places at the Table (Luke 14:7-11, §169)

James J. Tissot, 'The Meal in the House of the Pharisee' (1886-94)
James J. Tissot, 'The Meal in the House of the Pharisee' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, Brooklyn Museum, New York.

Jesus offers another parable on humility only in Luke, given on the occasion of him being invited to a Sabbath meal at the home of a prominent Pharisee who is trying to

catch him in some error (Luke 14:1). Jesus heals a guest with dropsy, even though the Pharisees are shocked that he heals on the Sabbath. Jesus explains with an analogy of how people would rescue an ox or son in danger, even if it were the Sabbath.29 Then he begins a teaching that culminates in his Parable of the Great Banquet that we examined in Lesson 2.2. The teaching begins simply:

"When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable...." 30 (Luke 14:7)

Picking the Best Places for Yourself (Luke 14:8-9)

Upon observing guests scrambling for the best places at the meal to which he was invited, Jesus says:

8 "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place." (Luke 14:8-11)

Where one sits vis-à-vis the host is a public advertisement of one's status.31 Even Jesus' own disciples, James and John, had their mother try to intervene for them so they would have the preferred places in seating order next to his throne -- one on his right and the other on his left (Matthew 10:21-23). At a Jewish meal, the most coveted place seems to be at the head end of the table or the middle of the middle couch.32

Taking the Lowest Place (Luke 14:10-11)

Jesus has painted the picture. Now he draws conclusions from it.

"When you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 14:10-11)

Jesus recommends to the group that they should deliberately take a more humble spot. Then they might be happily surprised when the host asks them to move closer to him. The "moral" of the story given here repeats the moral of other parables we've seen.

Places at the Table: "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14:11).

Pharisee and Tax Collector: "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:14b)

Becoming Like Little Children: "Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3-4)

It is not just a dinner host who might humble you, Jesus is saying, but God himself. Therefore, don't presume on your position, but be humble before God; let God exalt you, not yourself. Jesus continues by teaching these guests the Parable of the Great Banquet (Lesson 2.2). Humility is an important key to the Kingdom of God.

Both Peter and James make this point powerfully in their epistles while quoting Proverbs 3:34.

"Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time." (1 Peter 5:5b-6)

"He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Submit yourselves, then, to God...." (James 4:6-7a)

Q41. (Luke 14:7-11) Why do people push themselves forward? According to verse 11, what will happen to them? Why is humility so important a lesson for Jesus' disciples? What is the danger to us, if we don't learn and internalize this lesson?

9.2 Avoiding Hypocrisy

Of course, where pride is unchecked by humility, hypocrisy is close at hand. Jesus makes a special point to warn his disciples about it.

Analogy of the Yeast of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:5-6, 11-12; Mark 8:14-15, §120; Luke 12:1, §154)

The Pharisees put on a veneer of holiness. They flaunted their piety by praying loud, long, pious prayers in the synagogues and street corners (Matthew 6:5-8). They loved to be publicly honored (Matthew 23:5-12). They had a reputation of keeping every tiny commandment of both the written law, the Torah, and the oral law, known as "the tradition of the elders" (Matthew 15:12). But, as we saw in the Analogy of Cleansing the Cup (Lesson 3.1), the Pharisees were guilty of gross hypocrisy -- pretending strict holiness, at the same time as they are filled with judgmentalism, pride, and plots to kill the Son of God.33

Jesus gave his disciples a brief saying about this -- twice. The first occasion is a discussion about forgetting to bring bread on a trip. Jesus picks up on this to talk about the formation of bread with yeast (Matthew 16:5-12; Mark 8:14-15).

"'Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.' 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees." (Matthew 16:11-12)

The Pharisees' teaching was faulty, but especially their hypocrisy -- teaching one thing and doing another.34

The second time Jesus gives this analogy is to his disciples in the midst of a huge crowd that are milling around. This is the one found in Luke's Gospel.

"Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." (Luke 12:1)

Jesus is telling his disciples to be on guard against35 -- fully aware of, constantly on the lookout for in themselves36 -- the Pharisees' characteristic sin of hypocrisy.

This saying, this brief parable, compares the sin of hypocrisy to yeast or leaven 37 Leaven is used in New Testament teaching in both positive and negative ways:

  • Positively. The kingdom of heaven is compared to leaven. (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:21; Lesson 7.1).
  • Negatively. The hypocritical teaching of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herod is compared to leaven. (Matthew 16:6, 11-12; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1; Lesson 9.2).
  • Negatively. Boasting over tolerance of sin in their midst is compared to yeast that can affect the whole congregation, with clear references to Passover (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)
  • Negatively. Belief in salvation by works is compared to yeast that will affect the entire batch of dough. (Galatians 5:9)

I believe that the point of yeast in Jesus' words here is yeast's ability to influence other dough by contact with it and to become pervasive throughout the whole lump of dough.38 When Jesus says, watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees, he is saying, be careful that the mindset of the Pharisees doesn't influence you, too, starting small and growing to become large.

Danger of Hypocrisy for Christians

Hypocrisy (hypokrisis) is so easy to fall into. The word was used in classical Greek in the sense of "act a part in a drama." Greek-speaking Jews frequently use the word group in the sense of "pretending" or "playing a part with intent to deceive."39 In the New Testament the word is used in the sense of "to create a public impression that is at odds with one's real purposes or motivations, play-acting, pretense, outward show, dissembling."40

I've been around churches long enough -- and am introspective enough -- to know that we can easily deceive ourselves and others. We put on a good front of being good Christians, but struggle with sin and pain and brokenness. Be careful, Jesus is saying, look out for, be on guard against hypocrisy growing in you, my disciples, starting small, perhaps, but growing and taking you over. The embarrassment of transparency is to be preferred over the duplicity of hypocrisy.

The Only Antidote to Hypocrisy

The only antidote I know to hypocrisy is the willingness to contritely confess our sins quickly and openly to those before whom we have sinned. This kind of humble piety is fertile soil for spiritual growth.

Let's say that you use profane vocabulary at work, but never at home or at church. You feel like a hypocrite, and this keeps you from even mentioning at work that you are a Christian or that you go to church. You don't want to bring discredit upon Christ and his church, so you do not identify yourself with him for fear of being branded a hypocrite. But you are a hypocrite. You put on a show for each group. Instead of being a single, integrated person you are two-faced.

This is how I believe you can get this two-facedness straightened out. Say something like this individually to your friends at work.

"I owe you an apology. I am a Christian, but I really haven't been acting like it here at work. My language has been pretty profane and my jokes sometimes pretty obscene. Some of my business practices have been questionable, too. I haven't been a very good example of a Christian at all.

"But I want to try to change that. Though I'm never going to be a perfect Christian, I'm afraid, I really want to be consistent with what I believe. So please forgive me for my hypocrisy and inconsistency and bear with me while I try to get my act together. Thanks for taking the time to understand."41

None of this is easy. When we say something like this our friends may or may not accept it at face value. The word will get around and people will test us to see if we mean what we say. We'll blow it inevitably, and have to confess and apologize again. And that's hard on the ego.

But I see this as the humble life of a sincere follower of Jesus who takes pains not to come across as "holier than thou," even though this will be mistaken for being "holier than thou" by those who feel conviction as a result.

The antidote to hypocrisy is transparency, integrity between our beliefs and our actions, with confession and apology when we are inconsistent.

We Christians have a serious public relations problem. Our Savior preached love and forgiveness, but we Christians have a reputation in the world of being judgmental hypocrites. This is the characteristic sin attributed to Christians. How did the world form this opinion? By watching Christians.

Because hypocrisy is so pervasive among Christians, we must be very, very zealous to be cognizant of and wary of the "yeast" of the Pharisees -- hypocrisy. If we disciples fail to take heed, our hypocrisy is capable of so clouding the gospel of God's love, that it will prevent millions from being saved.

Q42. (Luke 12:1; Matthew 16:11-12) Why is hypocrisy easy to detect in others, but difficult to detect in ourselves? Why is hypocrisy so deadly to spiritual growth? To witness? To obedience? To being a disciple? What is the antidote for hypocrisy?

9.3 Abiding

Icon of Christ the True Vine (late 20th century), Dormition Convent, Parnes, Greece, based on an early 15th century by Angelos Akotantos at Malles, Hierapetra.
Icon of Christ the True Vine (late 20th century), Dormition Convent, Parnes, Greece, based on an early 15th century by Angelos Akotantos at Malles, Hierapetra.

We've looked at parables about humility and hypocrisy. Now let's examine several parables that relate to abiding, remaining, staying very close to Jesus.

Parable of the Vine and the Branches (John 15:1-8)

One of the most beautiful and powerful parables along this line is found in his Parable of the Vine and the Branches. John 15 begins with one of Jesus' seven "I AM" declarations.

"1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." (John 15:1-2)

As you examine this parable, you see that it isn't a story with a plot that unfolds like some of Jesus' famous parables, but rather extended observations on a metaphor of a vine and branches -- and a vintner's decisions on how to prune his vineyard for maximum harvest.

This parable contains some of the most important and beloved passages in the Bible about the disciple's love relationship with Jesus -- the characteristic of abiding with Christ.

Israel, God's Vineyard

The vine42 was one of the quintessential plants of Israel representing national peace and prosperity -- "every man under his vine and fig tree."43 Moreover, the vineyard is often used to identify Israel itself, referred to by the prophets as "my vineyard" (Isaiah 3:14).

In Isaiah's Song of the Vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7), the vineyard is the "house of Israel" that yields only the bad fruits of injustice and oppression. But in the Day of the Messiah, Isaiah prophesies, this vineyard will flourish (Isaiah 27:2-3). Psalms, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Micah all use the figure of Israel as the Lord's vineyard.44 Jesus himself carried on this identification of Israel as God's vineyard in his Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Lesson 2:3) and Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Lesson 4:3).

So for Jesus to say, "I am the true vine," is an announcement that, as the Messiah, he now becomes the true Israel, the true locus for God's people. When you think about it, it is an astounding revelation!

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener." (John 15:1)

In this metaphor, Jesus is the "true vine," we are the branches, and the Father is the gardener, vinedresser45, the one who tenderly cares for the vine, cutting and pruning so that it produces the maximum amount of fruit possible.

Pruning for Increased Harvest (John 15:2-3)

Pruning a vineyard is both an art and a science.

"2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you." (John 15:2-3)

Since there are several vineyards within one quarter mile of my house -- and the owner a personal friend -- I've had considerable opportunity over the years to observe the cycles of pruning, growth, and harvest.

Grapevine Terminology. Diagram © 2009, Used by permission. Larger image.

A grapevine consists of the woody trunk with one or more cordons, woody extensions of the trunk that remain from year to year. Together, the trunk and cordons are what Jesus refers to as the "vine." The fruitfulness comes from the canes, shoots, or spurs that grow from these woody cordons. These canes, shoots, or spurs Jesus is calling the "branches."46 The fruit forms from buds on the new canes. The old canes do not produce again.

Pruning takes experience and skill. After the harvest, winter comes when the leaves fall off and the vine goes dormant. During this time, before the new buds of spring, the pruning takes place. Our text discusses two operations -- (1) removing unfruitful branches, and (2) pruning the fruitful ones.

The vinedresser looks for any shoots that didn't bear fruit the previous season, due to disease or damage of one kind or another. These he cuts off47 entirely so that the energy of the plant is not wasted on unfruitful or diseased branches, but can go into branches that do bear fruit.

Common practice in our day is for the fruitful branches to be pruned back to the first two nodes on the old shoot to form new canes for next year's growth. Without pruning, the fruit season will be dramatically diminished. The vine will begin to grow wild, producing some grapes, but making it hard for the plant to get enough light and making it difficult to harvest the grapes that are produced. Pruning shocks the plant, to be sure, but in the hands of a skillful vinedresser, the vine remains healthy and produces maximum fruit year after year.

Purposes of Pruning

After getting rid of the dead wood, the vinedresser gets down to the exacting work of pruning each shoot or branch. The purposes of pruning are to:

  • Stimulate growth,
  • Allow the vinedresser to shape the vine,
  • Produce maximum yield without breaking the branches with too many clusters for them to bear,
  • Protect against mildew,
  • Produce better quality wine, with more highly concentrated and flavorful grapes.

Of course, the Father does pruning in our lives, too, so that you and I will become healthy and bear much spiritual fruit. When I had an Internet marketing business, I tried to practice the principle in January of each year to deliberately cut off the least effective parts of my business -- the bottom 10% -- so I could free up time and resources for new opportunities.

You may be spending lots of time in activities that are fruitless. I can remember God telling me when I was in college to throw away my cherished notebook of folk music so I could concentrate on music that honored him. Sometimes we suffer losses and grieve about them, but find that God is redirecting and healing us. If we want the Vinedresser's skill to make us whole and fruitful, we must trust him and must be obedient,

Cleansed by the Word (John 15:3)

Now we come to a curious verse.

"2 He cuts off48 every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes (katharizō) so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean (katharizō) because of49 the word I have spoken to you." (John 15:2-3)

"Prune" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "purge" (KJV) in verse 2 translate the verb katharizō, "to clean, cleanse." "Clean" in verse 3 is a participle of the same word. Jesus' word is a cause of that moral and spiritual cleansing in us.50

Jesus is speaking to his disciples. The effect of obedience and "holding to" or abiding in Jesus' teaching is freedom from slavery to sin and separation from evil. As Jesus told his disciples on another occasion.

"If you hold (menō) to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)

God's Word, when received, has a washing, cleansing, pruning, faith-producing effect on us.51

Cutting Withered Branches (John 15:2a, 6)

Two verses in Jesus' teaching talk about cutting off branches that sometimes raise questions. Believers sometimes fear that they'll be cut off for their sins.

"He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit...." (John 15:2a)

"If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers52; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (John 15:6)

Since Jesus the True Vine represents true Israel, the Father is pruning off those who rebel against the Messiah, those who bear no fruit, those who are already dead.

I live on a property with hundreds of native oak trees. Not infrequently, as I walk around the property, I'll see a tree with a branch that is dry and brown. It may be diseased. It may have broken from high wind. Its vital connection with the trunk, however, has been severed and the sap no longer flows into the branch, bringing life. Soon the leaves turn brown and fall off. The wood becomes brittle. It is dead. When I get around to it, I cut the larger pieces for firewood and put the smaller branches into a burn pile -- or grind it into wood chips with a chipper.

When Jesus speaks here about withered branches being burned, is he talking about backslidden Christians or apostate Christians? I don't think so, at least not directly. Rather, he is talking about the Jewish nation, God's vineyard, whose leaders had rejected their Messiah, the True Vine. We shouldn't be afraid that God is going to cut us off for our sins. No. Jesus died for our sins. If you see yourself in sin, my friend, repent. Jesus' salvation is for you. Some wonder if a truly saved person can be lost; this passage isn't designed to answer that question. It is a metaphor.53

Q43. (John 15:1-3) How does skillful pruning increase the fruitfulness of a grapevine? How are we pruned or cleansed by exposure and obedience to Jesus' words? According to John 8:31-32, how does obeying Jesus' teaching bring cleansing and freedom from sin?

Remaining, Abiding in the Vine (John 15:4-5)

Jesus has explained the metaphor of pruning the vine. Now he looks at the metaphor of abiding in the vine in verses 4 and 5. I am using the ESV translation here.

"4 Abide (menō) in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides (menō) in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide (menō) in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides (menō) 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)

The key word here is "remain" (NIV), "abide" (NRSV, ESV, KJV), the Greek verb menō, "remain, stay," occurring three times in these two verses. It means "stay," often in the special sense of "to live, dwell, lodge." Here, it is in the transferred sense of someone who does not leave a certain realm or sphere: "remain, continue, abide."54 We just saw menō in John 8:31.

When you think about it, the most natural thing a "branch" can do is to continue being a branch, connected to the sap that flows from the vine. To do anything else is unnatural! To "abide" means that we "hold to" (NIV) or "continue in" (NRSV, KJV) Jesus' teaching.55 Jesus taught that the elect will continue in the faith.56 The Apostle Paul also taught that salvation is contingent upon believers continuing or persevering in their faith.57

I. Howard Marshall says:

"The element of trust and commitment in faith is particularly emphasized and expressed in John by the use of the verb 'to abide' (menō), which might almost be said to be the Johannine equivalent for 'to persevere.'"58

But "abiding" extends beyond continuing in faith. In this metaphor of the vine and the branches, "abiding" refers to being intimately connected to and receiving nourishment from the vine. Look at the passage again, this time in the NIV

"4 Remain in me, and I will 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.
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:4-5)

What does this "remaining" or "abiding" entail? To start with, believing. But we're not talking about belief as intellectual assent here, but believing as embracing, clinging to, and continuing to receive spiritual sustenance from.

Mutual Indwelling (John 15:5b)

Abiding also involves a person who

"... remains (menō) in me and I in him." (John 15:5b)

This phrase intrigues me, we see it elsewhere in John, such as:

"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains (menō) in me, and I in him." (John 6:56)

"Believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (John 10:38)59

This mutual indwelling is part of the Father's relationship with the Son. The Father and Son are the exemplars of what our relationship is to be with Jesus -- constant living together, sharing a deepening relationship of love and (on our part) obedience. This is abiding.

Apart from Me You Can Do Nothing (John 15:4-6)

"4b No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 ... If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart60 from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (John 15:4-6)

Abiding also involves utter dependence upon Jesus the Vine. If we branches don't continue intimately connected to the vine, our "sap" is cut off. We wither and whatever fruit might have been in the process of ripening becomes like dry raisins rather than like lush grapes bursting with juice. Not only we can "do nothing" by ourselves, we see the same language from Jesus about himself and the Father. For example,

"I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." (John 5:19)61

Sometimes we resent dependence. Something in us longs for utter independence. Part of our old nature loves the lines in William Ernest Henley's poem "Invictus" (1875) that read:

"I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul."62

But the path of the Master is a different path than self-determination. It is a path of listening and obeying, of observing and following. Jesus walked this path before us, doing exactly what he saw the Father doing. Now he beckons us to follow him in this same way. It is the path of a disciple following a Master, a Son following a Father. And it requires from us a humility that fully believes that apart from him we can do nothing.

Oh, we can do things by ourselves. God has naturally gifted us. But Jesus is talking about the things that last, that count for eternity. These we cannot do without his leading and his power. The older and wiser man or woman knows something that the young do not always grasp. Paul put it this way:

"His work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames." (1 Corinthians 3:13-15)

Do you want your life to count for something? Then live your life abiding with Jesus, and then with his direction and power accomplish something that lasts.

C.T. Studd (1860-1931) was a British missionary, one of the "Cambridge Seven" who went to evangelize China with Hudson Taylor. Later, he served in India and the Congo. But perhaps he is best known today for a poem with this memorable refrain:

"Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last."

Bearing Much Fruit (John 15:7-8)

Now Jesus points to the positive benefits of abiding (verses 7 and 8).

"7 If you remain (menō) in me and my words remain (menō) in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing63 yourselves to be my disciples." (John 15:7-8)

"My words abide in you" means that we continue to obey his teachings and therefore receive Christ's wisdom (John 8:31b-32). If we abide in Christ in obedience to his teachings, then we can ask anything in prayer and he'll give it to us. Why? Because we'll be praying according to his will and leading! We'll be requesting things that will expand his kingdom, not just selfish requests.

What exactly does Jesus mean by "bear much fruit"?64 A brief survey of karpos in the New Testament indicates that "fruit" refers to a new way of life, one's actions, to a way of living.65 Abiding in Christ produces the fruit of righteous character -- especially of love -- and influence of this character upon others that brings glory to God.

We would like to bear memorable fruit, achievements that we can point to and say, "I did that -- oh, with God's help." A good bit of that is pride and a desire for some kind of self-worth. But for most of us, fruitfulness consists in day-by-day faithfulness and obedience, of touching lives that God is working with, long forgotten but important to God's work. We may not be remembered a decade or two beyond our death, but God knows and remembers. And I pray that he will say of us, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master."

Q44. (John 15:4-5) What does it mean "to abide"? What does abiding have to do with "mutual indwelling"? With a "personal relationship"? What does Jesus mean when he says, "Apart from me you can do nothing"? What is the value of things done without Christ? What is the final end of things done without Christ?

Parable of Eating Jesus' Flesh (John 6:53-58)

Closely related to the idea of abiding in Christ are Analogies of the Bread of Life (Lesson 6.1) and the Parable of Eating Jesus' Flesh.

The context of these metaphors is Jesus speaking to an unbelieving crowd in what is called the Bread of Life Discourse. The crowds want Jesus to prove by a sign that they should put their faith in him. Moses fed us manna, "bread from heaven," they say. What will you do to prove yourself? (John 6:30-31). Jesus identifies himself as the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 48) which we examined in Lesson 6.1. Now he shifts the metaphor from feeding on the Bread of Life to eating his flesh:

"This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (John 6:51b)

The concept smacked of cannibalism and was repugnant to the unbelieving Jews as well as many of Jesus' disciples. Jesus explains in gross physical terms:

"53 I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains (menō) in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." (John 6:53-58)

It is a difficult passage to understand -- even today! Is Jesus speaking about the Lord's Supper in this passage? Jesus' initial audience wouldn't have made that association, though after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, his readers surely would!

I think the key to what he means is found in verse 51: " the one who feeds on me will live because of me." Notice that this is in the present tense, suggesting ongoing feeding, not just a one-time bite. What does it mean to "feed on Jesus"? It is metaphorical language.

  • verse 47: He who believes has eternal life
  • verse 51a: If anyone eats of this (living) bread, he will live forever
  • verse 56: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains (menō) in me, and I in him.
  • verse 57. The one who feeds on me will live because of me.

It is quite clear that believing in Jesus corresponds to eating the Bread of Life and eating Jesus' flesh, since these are used as parallel statements in the same context and with the same result -- everlasting life. This is a strong, even extreme, metaphor for faith that continues. After Jesus said this, many of his disciples were offended and left him.

"67 'You do not want to leave too, do you?' Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.'" (John 6:67-68)

Perhaps using such an offensive metaphor for believing and abiding was Jesus' way of sorting out the true believers from the hangers-on.

Feeding on these words of eternal life is what the disciples longed for and could not do without. St. Augustine summarized it this way:

"For to believe on Him is to eat the living bread. He that believes eats; he is sated invisibly...."66

F.F. Bruce concludes:

"To believe in Christ is not only to give credence to what he says; it is to be united to him by faith, to participate in his life."67

I see feeding on Jesus as a metaphor similar to abiding in Jesus (John 15:1-9). Both passages (1) use the verb menō, "remain, abide" and (2) employ the present tense, which suggests an ongoing, continuous relationship. We remain in him, meditate on him, ponder and hold fast his words, and find our spiritual nourishment in this living relationship.

Q45. (John 6:53-58) What does the metaphor of "eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood," mean in practical terms? To extend the same metaphor, what do you think might be the difference between nibbling the Bread of Life rather than actually making a meal of it? How does "eating his flesh" relate to abiding in Jesus? Why do you think Jesus uses this offensive analogy that resulted in many disciples leaving him?

The Analogy of the Yoke (Matthew 11:28-30, §68)

A final analogy for abiding can be found in the Analogy of the Yoke. One figure for being a disciple who abides in Jesus is taking on his "yoke."

"28 Come to me, all you who are weary68 and burdened,69 and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest70 for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

Chongqing, China (1941). Photo: Harrison Forman, University of Milwaukee Libraries.
Chongqing, China (1941). Photo: Harrison Forman, University of Milwaukee Libraries.

To carry heavy loads more efficiently, humans invented yokes -- wooden devices that enable men or beasts to carry weight across their shoulders.71 A yoke joins a pair of oxen so they can pull a load together. But here, I think Jesus has in mind a human yoke that helps distribute the weight over the shoulders. Such yokes have been used to carry a pair of buckets, for example; a backpack is a kind of modern-day yoke.

In Jesus' day, the expression, the "yoke of the law" was common among rabbis to describe taking upon oneself an obligation to obey the law. But the Pharisees' expression of law-keeping was oppressive.

"They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger." (Matthew 23:4)

The Pharisees taught a strict legalism -- a heavy, joy-less, legalistic religion. Jesus offers his alternative. "I will give you rest"72 (Matthew 11:28). Jesus offers relief from toil, rest, a refreshing, a reviving of spirit. He offers an alternative "yoke" to the yoke of the Pharisees.

"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:29a)

The people had been absorbing the exhausting values of the Pharisees -- or perhaps the corrupting values of the world. Now Jesus calls them to "learn from me."73 The Greek noun "disciple" is formed from the same root. Disciples are those eager to learn from Jesus. Become a disciple of Jesus, take his "yoke" on you.

Jesus gives three reasons we should come to him. (1) He is "gentle."74 The word suggests humility, consideration of others, not being impressed with one's own importance. (2) He is "humble in heart." This is a similar word: unpretentious, humble -- unlike the Pharisees.75 And (3) he offers "rest for your souls."76 He shows you how to unwind and relax in a joyful faith -- something you learn as you walk with him.

Jesus' Parables for Disciples, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available in paperback, PDF, and Kindle formats

He does have a yoke, a device to help carry the burdens of life along his path, and a discipline of life for you to follow him in. But his yoke has two characteristics: It is "easy," that is, it doesn't cause discomfort; it is easy to wear.77 Jesus' yoke is formed especially for you, to fit your shoulders, to help you live your life. And it is "light." Yes, there is a burden,78 but it is light. Jesus doesn't overload you, nor is he a slavedriver. We are assured that Jesus' burden will be light in weight.79

We've been examining what the character of a Christian disciple should be like. In the next lesson we'll turn to the values that Jesus desires his disciple hold dear.


Lord Jesus, we long for the character you taught your disciples about. We long to walk in the light, to be people of humility, to be transparent rather than hypocritical. Lord, we want to abide in You. Help us! We pray in your holy name. Amen.


References and Abbreviations

[1] Related to the character of disciples are a pair of analogies: the Analogy of the Light of the World and Analogies of Walking in Light and Darkness. It is important that disciples walk in righteousness and in the presence of the Lord. These are reviewed in Appendix 4.1.

[2] "Confident" (NIV) or "trusting in" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is peithō, which can mean variously, "convince, persuade," here, "to be so convinced that one puts confidence in something ... depend on, trust in" (BDAG 792, 2a). "Righteousness" is dikaios, "pertaining to being in accordance with high standards of rectitude, upright, just, fair" (BDAG 246-247).

[3] "Looked down on" (NIV), "treated/regarded with contempt" (ESV, NRSV), "despised" (KJV) is exoutheneō, "to show by one's attitude or manner of treatment that an entity has no merit or worth, disdain."[3]

[4] The Greek words are variously translated "about himself" (NIV), "standing by himself" (ESV, NRSV), "with himself" (KJV). The phrase is difficult, spawning some textual variants. Marshall (Luke, p. 679) says that this "should be understood as representing an Aramaic ethic dative, which emphasizes the verb: 'The Pharisee, taking his stand, prayed'" (citing Black, Jeremias, and Manson).

[5] Gustav Stählin, pypto, TDNT 8:260-269, especially p. 262, fn 18, and p. 264. Josephus, a Pharisee who lived a few decades after Jesus, described David's mourning for his son Absalom in this way: "David ... wept for his son, and beat his breast, tearing [the hair of] his head, tormenting himself all manner of ways..." (Antiquities 7,10,5).

[6] Hamartōlos, "pertaining to behavior or activity that does not measure up to standard moral or cultic expectations, sinner" (BDAG 51-52). Hilaskomai calls for forgiveness from one who has been wronged, while eleeō asks for compassion and pity for one in tragic circumstances.

[7] Hilaskomai, "to cause to be favorably inclined or disposed, propitiate, conciliate." When used in the passive, of one addressed in prayer, "to act as one who has been conciliated, be propitiated, be merciful or gracious" (BDAG 473-474).

[8] "Justified" is dikaioō, "to render a favorable verdict, justify, vindicate, treat as just ... to be found in the right, be free of charges" (BDAG 249).

[9] Jesus did not absolve them of their responsibility to repay those they had cheated. Zacchaeus did so willingly (Luke 19:8), but Jesus' point here wasn't repayment but a humble heart.

[10] The word "exalt" is Greek hypsoō, "to cause enhancement in honor, fame, position, power, or fortune, exalt" (BDAG 1045-1046). "Humble" is Greek tapeinoō, "to cause to be or become humble in attitude, humble, make humble" (BDAG 990).

[11] This is similar to the saying that the first will be last and the last first that we examined in the Parable of Taking Up One's Cross (Lesson 8.4).

[12] "Change" (NIV, NRSV), "turn" (ESV), "be converted" (KJV) is strephō, "turn," here, "to experience an inward change, turn, change," "make a turn-about, turn around" (BDAG 948-949, 5).

[13] "Like" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "as" (KJV) in verses 3 and 4 is hōs, used as a conjunction marking a point of comparison, "as," "if you do not become child-like..." (BDAG 1104, 2cβ).

[14] "Become" is ginomai, "be, become," here, "to experience a change in nature and so indicate entry into a new condition, become something" (BDAG 198, 5b).

[15] "Humbles himself" is tapeinoō, "to cause to be or become humble in attitude, humble, make humble" in a favorable sense (BDAG 990, 3).

[16] A careful study by Albrecht Oepke demonstrates that the principle of the innocence of children is alien to the Old Testament. True, children were not held responsible for sin even up to nine years of age, but the concept of the evil impulse is there from conception or birth. In Scripture, not until the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 14:20) does the idea of children's innocence even appear. And in Paul and other epistles, a much more common theme is that of the immaturity and inferiority of the child (1 Corinthians 3:1; 13:11; 14:20; Galatians 4:1, 3; Ephesians 4:14; Hebrews 5:13; 1 Peter 2:1-2), following the view of "foolishness" bound up in the heart of a child (Proverbs 22:15; 29:15) (Albrecht Oepke, paidon, TDNT 5:636-654).

[17] In Matthew and Mark, this parable follows Jesus' teaching on divorce. In Luke it follows the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, which carries a similar theme of humility.

[18] "Touch" is Greek haptō, "to make close contact, 'touch,' frequently of touching as a means of conveying a blessing," though in our passage the word may also convey the idea of "to hold" (BDAG 126, 2c).

[19] In this incident they were little children. The word translated "babies" is brephos, "a very small child, baby, infant" (BDAG 183, 2). In the parallel passages (Matthew 19:13; Mark 10:13) and verse 16 of our passage, another word for "child" is used: Greek paidion, "very young child, infant," used of boys and girls (BDAG 749, 1a). Paidion is a diminutive of pais, the general word for child. In Classical Greek, Hippocrates used paidion of a child up to 7 years old, while pais described a child from 7 to 14 years of age (Hippocrates, De Hebdomadibus, 5; cited in Albrecht Oepke, pais, ktl., TDNT 5:636-654).

[20] Marshall, Luke, p. 682, cites Soph. 18:5; Strack and Billerbeck 2:138; Joachim Jeremias, Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries (London, 1960), p. 49.

[21] "Rebuked" (NIV, ESV, KJV), "sternly ordered" (NRSV) is the imperfect active indicative of epitimaō, "to express strong disapproval of someone, rebuke, reprove, censure," also "speak seriously, warn" in order to prevent an action or bring one to an end (BDAG 384, 1).

[22] "Indignant" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "displeased" (KJV) is aganakteō, "be indignant against what is assumed to be wrong, be aroused, indignant, angry" (BDAG 5).

[23] "Let" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "suffer" (KJV) is aphiēmi, here, to convey a sense of distancing through an allowable margin of freedom, "leave it to someone to do something, let, let, go, allow, tolerate" (BDAG 157, 5a).

[24] "Hinder" (NIV, ESV), "stop" (NRSV), "forbid" (KJV) is kōluō, "to keep something from happening, hinder, prevent, forbid" (BDAG 579, 1a).

[25] "Belongs" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "is" (KJV) is the extremely common verb eimi, "to be," here in the sense of "to belong to someone or something through association or genetic affiliation, be, belong" with the simple genitive (BDAG 285, 9).

[26] "Receive" is dechomai, "take, receive," here, "to be receptive of someone, receive, welcome" (BDAG 221, 3).

[27] "To such as these" (NIV, NRSV), "to such" (ESV), "of such" (KJV) is a definite article and the pronoun toioutos, in the genitive, "pertaining to being like some person or thing mentioned in a context, "of such a kind, such as this, like such," here as a substantive, "such a person, either in such a way that a definite individual with special characteristics is thought of, or that any bearer of certain definite qualities is meant" (BDAG 1009, cαא).

[28] "As" is hōs, here, a conjunction marking a point of comparison, "as" (BDAG 1004, 2cβ).

[29] See the Analogy of Rescuing from a Well, Appendix 4.3.

[30] Though Luke calls it a "parable" (parabolē), some suggest translating the word as "rule" (Jeremias, Parables, p. 20) or "counsel" (Green, Luke, p. 551). Some dispute that our next parable is a an "real" parable because it isn't a story that makes a point so much as an instruction on how people should act when invited to a banquet, an instruction that had a background in Jewish writings (Proverbs 25:6-7; Sirach 3:17-20). But, as we'll see, this is a parable because Jesus is giving a scenario of how to act at a contemporary banquet, and then comparing it to how we are to humble ourselves prior to the Great Messianic Banquet (see Appendix 5), and how God will exalt us or humble us in his Kingdom (verse 11). Marshall (Luke, p. 581) comments: "This could be simple worldly advice to guests, and it is amply paralleled in Jewish writings. But it is presented here as a parable.... This is confirmed by the conclusion in verse 11 which speaks of the humiliation and exaltation of men by God. Hence the advice given (while good and valid on a worldly level) is a parable of how men should behave over against God." So also, Hunter, Parables, p. 58.

[31] Green, Luke, p. 550.

[32] Marshall, Luke, p. 581 cites Strack and Billerbeck, IV:2, 618.

[33] Matthew 6:1-8; Mark 7:6; 12:13-17; Luke 6:41-42; 13:10-17. Many of the "woes" against the scribes and Pharisees are prefaced in Matthew 23 with the phrase "you hypocrites."

[34] "Do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach." (Matthew 23:3)

[35] "Be on your guard" (NIV), "beware" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is proseuchō, "to be in a state of alert, be concerned about, care for, take care" (BDAG 879, 1).

[36] The object of the verb prosechō ("beware") is heautou, "self," that is, "Beware of hypocrisy in yourself."

[37] Zumē, "fermented dough, leaven" (BDAG 429).

[38] See R.K. Harrison, "Leaven," ISBE 3:97-98. Marshall (Luke, p. 511) sees leaven here "used metaphorically of the pervasive influence of the thing signified." Hans Windisch (zumē, ktl., TDNT 2:902-906, especially p. 906), observes, "The concept of zumē may be neutral. For the idea is that every man has a leaven. That is to say, every man or teacher exerts an influence, whether for good or for bad. The emphasis, then, is not on the [leaven] but on the genitive: [the Pharisees]."

[39] Robert H. Smith, "Hypocrite," DJG 351-353.

[40] Hypokrisis, BDAG 1038.

[41] Years ago, I wrote a short story, "God's Man at Bearcat Tool and Die," to illustrate this.

[42] "Vine" is ampelos, "vine, grapevine" (BDAG 54, a).

[43] 1 Kings 4:25; 2 Kings 18:31; Zechariah 3:10; Micah 4:4.

[44] Psalm 80:8-16; Ezekiel 15:1-8; 17:1-21; 19:10-14; Jeremiah 2:21; 12:10; Hosea 10:1-2; Micah 7:1.

[45] "Gardener" (NIV), "vinegrower" (NRSV), "vinedresser" (ESV, RSV), "husbandman" (KJV) is geōrgos, generally, one who is occupied in agriculture or gardening, "farmer," then, "one who does agricultural work on a contractual basis, vine-dresser, tenant farmer" (BDAG 196, 2). This is a compound noun, from ge, "land" + ergon, "worker."

[46] "Branch" is klēma, "branch," especially of a vine (BDAG 547).

[47] "Cuts off" (NIV), "removes" (NRSV), "takes away" (ESV, KJV) is airō, "lift up," here, "to take away, remove, or seize control" without suggestion of lifting up, "take away, remove" (BDAG 29, 3). Some writers have suggested that airō should be rendered "lifted up" rather than "take away." That fruitless branches are lifted up from the ground so they can be exposed to the sun and will begin to bear fruit. However, there is no evidence that this was the practice of viticulture, ancient or modern (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Eerdmans, 1991), p. 518). It is an attempt to avoid the concept that unfruitful Christians are "cut off." But, as I explain in the text, Jesus has in mind the nation of Israel being cut off for unfruitfulness.

[48] "Cuts off" (NIV), "takes away" (ESV, KJV), "removes" (NRSV) is airō, "to take away, remove, or seize control without suggestion of lifting up, take away, remove." (BDAG 28, 3).

[49] In the clause, "because of (dia) the word I have spoken to you" (NIV, ESV), the preposition dia with the accusative is a "marker of something constituting cause" (BDAG 225, B2a).

[50] Katharizo, "to cause something to become clean, make clean," here, "to remove superfluous growth from a plant, clear, prune" (BDAG 488, 1b).

[51] Ephesians 5:25b-27; John 17:17; 1 Peter 1:22-23; James 1:18.

[52] "Withers" is xērainō, "to stop a flow (such as sap or other liquid) in something and so cause dryness, to dry, dry up." It also can refer to paralysis, "to become dry to the point of being immobilized, be paralyzed," (BDAG 684, 1).

[53] To explore the question of "the eternal security of the believer" in greater depth, see "A Brief Look at TULIP Calvinism," an appendix to my study, Grace: Favor for the Undeserving (JesusWalk Publications, 2023).

[54] Menō, BDAG 631, 1bβ.

[55] John 5:38; 8:31; 2 John 9.

[56] Matthew 24:13; Mark 13:3; Luke 8:15.

[57] Colossians 1:23, epimenō, 1 Corinthians 15:2, katechō, 2 Timothy 3:14, menō; see Hebrews 3:6; cf. 10:39.

[58] I. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God (Bethany Fellowship, 1969), p. 183. See my study of Grace: God's Undeserved Favor (JesusWalk Publications, 2023), Appendix 2. A Brief Look at TULIP Calvinism.

[59] See also John 14:10, 20, 23; 17:21-23, 26.

[60] "Apart from" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "without" (KJV) is chōris, an adverb, here used as a preposition, "pertaining to the absence or lack of something, without, apart from, independent(ly of)" (BDAG 1095, 2aα).

[61] See also John 5:30; 8:28b; 12:49; 14:10b; cf. 9:33.

[62] Published in William Ernest Henley, Book of Verses (1888).

[63] "Showing yourself" (NIV) and "so prove" (ESV) is not in the actual Greek text, which is more literally, "that you bear much fruit and be my disciples" (NRSV margin).

[64] The word karpos means "fruit," then, "result, outcome, product" (BDAG 510, 1b).

[65] Fruit can be positive or negative (Romans 6:21-22). False prophets can be identified by their "fruit" (Matthew 7:15b-16a). Both Jesus and John the Baptist demanded repentance. John the Baptist commanded the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his meetings, "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:8). Concerning the whole Jewish nation that rejected him, Jesus said, "I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit" (Matthew 21:43). A number of verses identify fruit with righteous living (Philippians 1:11; James 3:18; Hebrews 12:11). Some passages spell out what this kind of living looks like (Ephesians 5:8b-9; Galatians 5:22-23a; James 3:17). This kind of righteous living is what grows in a person watered by the Holy Spirit. In addition to speaking of the fruit of righteousness, Paul speaks of fruit as people won to Christ on his mission (Romans 1:13; 15:28; Philippians 1:22).

[66] Augustine, Homilies on John, 26, 1.

[67] F.F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus (InterVarsity Press, 1983), p. 21.

[68] "Labor" (ESV, KJV), "are weary" (NIV, NRSV) is kopiaō, "become weary/tired" or, perhaps, "to exert oneself physically, mentally, or spiritually, work hard, toil, strive, struggle" (BDAG 558, 1).

[69] "Heavy laden" (ESV, KJV), "burdened" (NIV), "are carrying heavy burdens" (NRSV) is the perfect passive participle of phortizō, "to load/burden" someone with something, more exactly, "cause someone to carry something," in imagery, of the burden of keeping the law (BDAG 1064).

[70] "Rest" in verses 28 and 29 is the noun anapausis, "cessation from wearisome activity for the sake of rest, rest, relief" (BDAG 69, 2).

[71] "Yoke" is zygos, "a frame used to control working animals or, in the case of humans, to expedite the bearing of burdens, yoke," in our literature only figurative, of any burden (BDAG 429, 1). Galatians 5:1; Acts 15:10.

[72] "Rest" is anapauō, "to cause someone to gain relief from toil, cause to rest, give (someone) rest, refresh, revive" (BDAG 69, 1).

[73] "Learn from" (ESV, NIV, NRSV), "learn of" (KJV) is the aorist imperative of manthanō with the preposition apo, "from." The verb means, "to gain knowledge and skill by instruction, learn" (BDAG 615, 1).

[74] "Gentle" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "meek" (KJV) is the adjective praus, "pertaining to not being overly impressed by a sense of one's self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate, meek in the older favorable sense" (BDAG 861).

[75] "Lowly" (ESV, KJV), "humble" (NIV, NRSV) is the adjective tapeinos, "pertaining to being unpretentious, humble" (BDAG 989, 3).

[76] "Souls" is the plural of the noun psychē, "seat and center of the inner human life in its many and varied aspects, soul," here, "as the seat and center of life that transcends the earthly" (BDAG 1099, 2d).

[77] "Easy" is the adjective chrēstos, "pertaining to that which causes no discomfort, easy," here, "easy to wear" (BDAG 1090, 1).

[78] "Burden" is the noun phortion (diminutive of phortos, "cargo"), "that which constitutes a load for transport, load," here, figuratively, "burden" (BDAG 1064, 2).

[79] "Light" is the adjective elaphros, "having little weight, light" in weight. Figurative, "easy to bear, insignificant" (BDAG 314, 1), 2 Corinthians 4:17.

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