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Sermon: Your Choice: Discipline or Pruning? - John 15

This is part 2 of the sermon series, Vintage Faith: Learning More about Our Savior in the Vineyard. The title is, Your Choice: Discipline or Pruning?

Vintage Faith sermon series

  1. Created to Bear Fruit
  2. Your Choice: Discipline or Pruning?
  3. The Cath Lab in the Vineyard
  4. Four Baskets, One Choice

Main focus of this message: Most Christians have experienced both times of disobedience, and times of obedience, in their walk with Christ. God will work with all of us, wherever we are, to produce more God-designed fruit from our lives. For the disobedient follower of Christ, there is correction. For the obedient follower of Christ, God works through "pruning," orchestrating our circumstances and our walk with Christ to produce even more fruit.

Sermon outline

1. God's discipline carries wonderful benefits

  • Benefit No. 1 - If you receive God's discipline, you know you're in God's family
  • Benefit No. 2 - God's discipline is always for our own good, and given in love
  • Benefit No. 3 - God's discipline turns us away from harmful sin, and toward a great harvest

2. The benefit of God's pruning is maturity

  • Pruning may lead to a change in who is around you
  • Pruning may lead to a change in where you are
  • Pruning, however, will never change whose you are

Scripture: John 15


Illustrations: Sign in an office: "If you could kick the person responsible for most of your troubles, you wouldn't be able to sit down for weeks."

"I can get up at nine and be rested, or I can get up at six and be President." - Jimmy Carter, commenting on his daily routine in the White House

Children need two pats on the back. One high enough to encourage them when they do right, and one low enough to discourage them when they do wrong. Effective discipline requires knowing which end of the child to pat! - Unknown

Illustration: In 1984, Steve Silva was in a world of trouble. He was 31 years old, and wasn't expected to live more than another five years. Steve was only 5-foot-8, which wasn't nearly enough frame to support 425 pounds. His blood pressure hovered around 206 over 135. His cholesterol count was more than 450. He suffered from gout, a very bad back, and degenerative joint disease in both ankles. If he climbed a single set of stairs, he would be totally winded, gasping for air.

It wasn't that Steve hadn't tried to lose weight before. In high school, he'd been a strong, 250-pound football player. When he began teaching, however, his weight ballooned. In ten years, he'd lost 100 pounds ... six different times. It was a nightmare. Every time he lost 100 pounds, the weight would return, bringing more with it.

In 1992, a different picture of Steve Silva arrived. He weighed in as a 190-pound physical fitness specimen. He was making news in the sports world as a stair climber, attempting to break the world record for the "vertical mile," a run up and down the 1,652 steps of the Eiffel tower seven and a half times. He was already doing that climb in two hours, five minutes, just three and a half minutes off the all-time world record.

But what happened? How did a 450-pound man barely breathing at the top of one flight of stairs get to a point of racing up and down the Eiffel Tower?

Steve asked for help. Steve submitted to the care of a health management company in Boston, cut his calorie intake drastically, and increased his phsyical activity gradually. With the help of an outside source, with a discipline forced upon him, Steve gradually made progress, and within six years, was looking at a much longer - and healthier - life expectancy. Under the watchful eye of his management team, the forced discipline led Steve to an incredible athletic lifestyle. In fact, to train for his runs on the Eiffel Tower, he ran 3,100 flights of steps each week ... that's more than 46,000 steps a week! That's well over 7,500 steps a day ... if you take Sundays off! The company was so impressed with Steve's progress, they made him their poster boy for a while, and hired him to work for them. (Source:

Illustration: If you've ever seen the logs floating down the rivers of Oregon, you know it's quite a sight. But every once in a while, there's a logjam. Nothing moves, and logs start stacking up worse than big-city traffic late in the afternoon. Know what that logger does? He climbs a tree.

Now I'd get out there on the river, and start throwing logs all over the place, looking for trouble. But not a logger. He climbs a tree, surveys the logjam, and identifies the trouble. Then he goes right to the source of the problem, plants a stick of dynamite, lights it, and heads for cover. When the dynamite goes off, the logs can move again, and the problem is over. God is like that. He'll look over your life, constantly, watching for the logjams. When he finds the problem, BOOM! ...

In John 15, that process is called discipline and pruning.

Every Christian - with no exceptions - faces both discipline and pruning. And every Christian - with no exceptions - eventually comes to understand the choice. You can either live with the discipline of God ... or you can live with the pruning of God. It's your choice. It's my choice.

John 15:1-4 "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 so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 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. (HCSB)

And right there, Jesus illustrates both discipline and pruning.

Look at verse 2, where the two factors meet:

"He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit ..." He lifts it up. When a wayward branch runs along the ground, away from the trellis, the vineyard owner, cuts the new roots out of the wrong places, and lifts the branch back into its proper place. Once there, in an area of disciplined growth, the vine will once again produce fruit. If a wayward vine is not lifted up, there will be no fruit produced at all.

In the same breath, among the same grape vines, Jesus also said, "... while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." What a surprising concept for the obedient Christian who's been working hard to stay faithful to Christ. The branches that have stayed on the trellis, the once already committed to Christ-like discipline, will also draw attention from the vinedresser. And the pruning may not be comfortable.

1. God's discipline carries wonderful benefits.

Illustration: When I was a boy, my father's discipline didn't seem very pleasant. OK, there were times when I thought his discipline would be the end of me. To paraphrase Romans 5:33, I had fallen far short of the glory of God, and the wages of my sin sure seemed like death! Only years later did I fully understand the wonderful benefits of my father's completely appropriate steps of discipline. God's discipline has incredible benefits, too.

Benefit No. 1 - If you receive God's discipline, you know you're in God's family.

Hebrews 12:5-6 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." (HCSB)

If you're wondering if you're saved, look no further than God's discipline. If you can pinpoint a time when God was taking you out to heaven's woodshed, you can take joy in the fact that God only disciplines his sons and daughters.

My father's discipline was brutal, but I never gave a thought to why he didn't discipline other children. I instinctively knew that a dad only disciplines his own children. Other boys could do stuff that I wasn't allowed to do, and they could get away with it! Right under his nose, they'd do stuff he forbade, and he'd just walk away. Why? Because those kids weren't his kids. Decades later, I do the same thing. I've seen a lot of children who needed discipline, but I've only handed such discipline out to the three who belong to me. If you're a parent, you know the truth. You don't discipline children that aren't in the family. That truth goes all the way to the Bible, which says God reserves his discipline only for those who are in his family.

How did Jesus put it in Rev. 3:19? "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline!" (HCSB)

Benefit No. 2 - God's discipline is always for our own good, and given in love

Hebrews 12:7-10 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. (HCSB)

God will never punish you just for his entertainment. God has a purpose for his discipline, and he brings out his actions of discipline in love. You can rest in that.

Illustration: Imagine an earthly father exercising discipline over his daughter by saying, "Sharon, that's enough. You can't follow the rules at the table, so you can miss the rest of this meal and go straight to your room. Now." Sharon leaves. She's hungry. She hears the dinner talk start again. Gradually, there is laughter. The tension over her dismissal disappears, and the rest of the family seems to be having a good time. Then ... she hears Mom announce dessert! From a distance, she can tell her mother is bringing out the pie, which happens to be Sharon's favorite. The way people are talking, it must be great. Sharon is starting to feel great remorse ... GREAT remorse.

Later on that evening, her dad comes into her room. Sharon cries, apologizes, and admits that what she did was wrong. "Please forgive me, Dad."

Now what's that dad going to do? He may very well continue with that evening's punishment, just to make sure Sharon's not pulling a quick one. But will he, the next morning, say to his hungry daughter, "Wait a minute young lady ... no breakfast for you today! ... Here's half your lunch for school, and we'll let you sit at the table with us tonight, but no food for you then, either ..."

No, of course not! Sharon needs food. Sharon paid the price for her wrong. So now, she's back at the table, with all rights to breakfast, lunch, and dinner ... and dessert, too.

Benefit No. 3 - God's discipline turns us away from harmful sin, and toward a great harvest.

Hebrews 12:11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (HCSB)

In the vineyard, Jesus said the main purpose of a believer is to produce fruit. In Hebrews, the Bible teaches that God's discipline does the same thing. God may bring discipline to your life, but the moment you make a heart-felt effort to turn away from the sin, you're back at the table.

What a loving Father we have. Sin is forgiven, and forgotten. Punishment is handed out for a reason, and that reason is to get us out of what is harmful, and into what is good.

The word we use for making that decision to turn away from sin is repentance. We've heard it, talked about it, and sung about it. But at its most practical center, it is recognizing what is wrong in our lives, and literally turning away from it.

Think about this. The longer you try to excuse your sin ("Everybody does it"), justify your sin ("This is not really a sin, it's just my lifestyle choice"), or redefine your sin ("It's not that bad"), you are asking God to turn up the heat and increase the pain! Is that what you want? Could you really be making a choice to endure God's discipline all the more?

2. The benefit of God's pruning is maturity.

If you're not in a position to receive God's discipline, you are in a position to receive his pruning. And from the distance, discipline and pruning could look like the same thing. After all, both appear to be painful.

The difference between discipline and pruning is health. A vineyard owner, a vine-dresser, looks very carefully at the branches on the trellis, and with a practiced eye, and a mind-set that looks toward long-term health, he cuts branches back. The pruning is critically important. Critically important. Without pruning, an arbor will never produce the fruit it was designed to bear. Instead, it'll produce mainly vines and leaves. Because he's after fruit, the vinedresser will prune in just the right places, at just the right time.

Think of some Bible characters who were "pruned."

Peter was rebuked on numerous occasions. The result of those painful, pruning experiences? Peter produced more fruit. Tremendous fruit. A man who once was afraid to confess Jesus preached a Pentecost sermon so powerful - just two months after the crucifixion - 3,000 people became baptized believers.

Paul was knocked blind and senseless within sight of a city gate of Damascus. The result of this heart-stopping event? Fruit like you've never seen. Instead of persecuting Christians, Paul bore more Christian fruit than perhaps any missionary in history.

What of sweet Martha? Remember her? Martha was more worried about getting dinner on the table than listening to Jesus talk, and was tenderly scolded by Jesus. What happened as a result? Mary helped her sister, and Martha never made that mistake again. Fruit came from Martha's life.

A. Pruning may lead to a change in who is around you.

Paul and Barnabas suffered through a painful split, breaking up the most successful missions team the early church had ever seen. What happened then? Paul took Silas, Barnabas took Mark, and churches were started on two mission journeys instead of one. Or in our language, there was twice the fruit! And by the way, Paul, Barnabas, and Mark all patched up their differences in a short season.

B. Pruning may lead to a change in where you are.

After Stephen's death, believers once delighted to stay in Jerusalem ran for their lives throughout Judea and Samaria. Though their grief for Stephen must have been intense, the end result of their pain - their pruning - was to bear fruit outside of Jerusalem. To the vinedresser, fulfilling the Great Commission is not an option. God will do whatever it takes to get the message of Christ to the entire world. Because that first group changed where they were, their fruit was multiplied many, many times over.

C. Pruning, however, will never change whose you are.

Tragically, many Christians struggle mightily with the issue of salvation. For a variety of reasons, many wonder, "Am I really saved?" Mature Christians - ones who have seen both the discipline and the pruning of God - don't lose sleep over that question. Because of the discipline the pruning, they know they're saved, and they know that pruning is part of a very healthy process. No wonder mature Christians take comfort in the pruning process. Jesus was emphasizing the ownership issue as he walked among the vineyard. "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 so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 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. John 15:1-4 (HCSB)

Participation opportunity: Print this passage of scripture along with the outline and ask listeners to circle every phrase related to eternal security.


When facing God's discipline, the choice we make is whether or not to continue our acts of disobedience, or to submit to God's correction and repent of harmful choices. When facing God's pruning, however, we face a choice of faith. Can we keep the commitment that might require pain for us, and yet bring glory to God? Can we believe that God only wants the best for us, and that our commitment to him will lead to the greatest life we could know?

Illustration: It wasn't that long ago that my wife and I were eating some dessert with friends at a church homecoming. It was a beautiful day, and we had stepped outside. Suddenly, we froze. About 50 yards away, we saw our 3-year-old daughter holding hands with a 3-year-old boy, both of them at the edge of a very busy road. They were trying to cross the road!

It was all I could do to shout her name, but shout I did. And wonderfully, our little girl turned around immediately, and ran to me. She had no idea how frightened all of us had been in that moment, she only responded, instantly, to her father's voice.

You know why? Because all of her little life, we had been parents not afraid to use discipline. We were never cruel, though she must have thought so, from time to time. We were never unkind, though she sure pouted in the aftermath of discipline. We always had love as our motivation, for somehow, we knew the day would come when she would be standing on the edge of a life-or-death situation, and she needed to know that when her father called with that kind of voice, the only option ... was to obey.

Could our 3-year-old have known the history of children who walked out into busy roads? No, she wasn't old enough to comprehend the tragedy. Could she have done the math of how long a 1,000-pound car traveling at 35 mph needs to skid to a stop? No, of course not. She could only comprehend her father's frantic voice, calling for immediate obedience.

Are we so egotistical as to think we know more than the Father? If he shouts a command to obey, don't try to do math that's over your head. Don't try to review the history of other situations. Don't ask for advice from a pool of people, and don't take a public opinion poll. Just exercise the faith of a child with her father ... and obey!

Andy Cook is the pastor of Shirley Hills Baptist Church in, Warner Robins, Georgia.