John 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (NASB)
In the typical small group study, the question will be asked by either the group leader or a participant, “What is the fruit being talked about here?”
There are two likely answers people will come up with: (1) the fruit of new believers as a result of our testimony and (2) the fruit of a changed life.
So what are some rules to guide interpretation – determining the meaning of a particular portion of the Bible?
One step to consider is how similar words/ideas are used elsewhere in the Bible.
Fruit of a changed life is a fairly easy interpretation to offer since Paul uses the imagery of “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control …”
Sticking with the idea of using Paul’s terminology of fruit we should also look at Colossians 1:3-12 where fruit is used twice.
We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit. For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.
In this case, the idea of fruit of a changed life could be extended to fruit of good works. However, in the earlier usage in the Colossians passage, the context of the advancement of the gospel points to the fruit of new believers in Jesus Christ.
Another step is to look at the immediate context – things before and after the Bible verse in question.
There are two striking features in the immediate context here.
One is the linking of ideas:
1) abide -> fruit (v. 4)
2) bear fruit -> prove to be my disciples (v. 8)
3) abide in my love -> keep my commandments (v. 10)
4) this is my commandment -> love one another just as I have loved you (v. 12)
As you can see in 1 & 2, abide leads to proving to be my disciples and in 3 & 4 abide in my love leads to loving one another.
And if you go back to John 13:35, Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The other is the “word play” of vv. 2-3:
As you can see, these three Greek words look/sound similar though they have slightly different meanings. The experience of abiding means the Father prunes us (v. 2). The reality of abiding is that the words of Jesus cleans us (v. 3).
Taking all of these things together would suggest the fruit is a changed life and in particular changed toward loving one another.
What do you think?