As we see from the scriptures, Christ, in relation to God, is the Branch; in relation to the ecclesia He is the Vine; and there is a sense in which the work of Christ cannot be fulfilled on earth unless it is done by His people. Just as truly as Christ was the revelation of God to the ecclesia, so truly the ecclesia is the revelation of Christ to the world. This is a truth that makes us cringe in shame as we look around and see the awful caricature of Christ that is presented by the professing Church; but, on the other hand, we can comfort ourselves with the thought that professing Christianity is not the ecclesia of Christ. There is a clear delineation between the two in the same way as there is between the field and the tree that grows in it, in both cases the difference is that between life and death.
In the confusion between the appearances of professing religion and the reality of Christ’s ecclesia that is so manifest in these last days, between the field and the tree as it were, it is essential to understand what it is that constitutes a member of the true ecclesia. The principal condition of course, is that of being born again by the Holy Spirit; every branch of a tree is born, not made. As truly as the real Christ was begotten of God so must the true believer be begotten of Him else he has not the life of God within him. Man cannot make himself a true Christian by some process of “good works”, devotional or religious exercise, although many seek to follow such a path. But the fruit which hangs on such people is made, not grown, and although it may be beautiful to look upon, there is no taste of God in them and no divine fragrance.
An essential characteristic of a branch of the true Vine is fruitfulness. The proof that Christ was truly the Branch of Jehovah was the fruit He bore, and this is exactly the test that the world applies to the ecclesia. It must be said too that it is a fair test, because just as every good tree must bear fruit, so too, in the same way, every person who has Christ in their heart, every person who is a branch of the Vine, will bear fruit that will at once reveal whether the divine Life is in him or not. Our fruitfulness glorifies the Father (John 15:8) and moreover, it is the only thing that can reveal Christ to the world. Just as sunlight is not seen except that it is reflected from some object, so too, the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6) is not visible to the world except as it is reflected from His people.
In the same way that the branches cannot do without the stem, neither can the stem do without the branches. The stem can bear no fruit without the branches and without fruit the stem cannot attain to its purpose. This truth points to the role that each believer must play in the ministry of Christ to the world; Christ contains within Himself the only light that can dispel the darkness of this world. Unless it is reflected in His people, the world will remain in darkness. This puts every believer in the glorious position of being a vessel of the ministry of Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit to the world.
The fruit that we are to bear is doing or being that which will not only show forth the perfection or glory of its divine Stem but which will also be for the refreshment of the weary and hungry and thirsty. Fruit is not for the branch, nor for the stem, but it is food and refreshment and life for man. The fruit of the Spirit, we are told, (Galatians 5:22-23) is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control”. This means giving ourselves for the good of others even as Christ Jesus gave Himself for us and to us; and this fruit is meant to be directed towards the hungering world. Fruitfulness, in the vegetable or animal world, means “producing of the like” and this is what it means also in the spiritual world. Seed produces fruit and then fruit produces seed, which in its turn develops into fruit; so goes the cycle that God has designed. “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:20-22) is a law that holds equally well in the spiritual world as much as the natural, and in both realms the end of the fruit-bearing is death. When the plant is finished seeding it begins to wither and die, and so too, in the animal world. So too, the ecclesia of Christ whose life and health is very much connected to her fruitfulness; each one of us has a role to play in extending the kingdom of God, but when it is finished, or when we no longer undertake the work of child-bearing for Christ’s Body, then the days of our sojourn on earth will be ended.
There is another truth in the picture of the Vine and the branches; the mutual relationship and dependence of Christ and the ecclesia that is His Body. Paul wrote to the Corinthians; “So also it is written, The first man Adam became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. Howbeit that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; then that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is of heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly”(1 Corinthians 15:45-49).
In this scripture, we are told that this last Adam is the progenitor of a new race, to whom He communicated His own Divine life and character. But for the first Adam, in order to accomplish God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, Eve was indispensable. Even so, it is just the same with the last Adam; the ecclesia which is His body is also His bride, married to another “even Him Who is raised from the dead that we should bring forth fruit to God”. (Romans 7:4).
This is the picture that God paints in the scriptures; unless His people take up the task that He has bequeathed to them, it will not be done. In the western world, so long the recipient of God’s generous beneficence and blessing, that task is shunned by a Church that has long since departed from the ways of God and set out upon the ways of man that lead to death (Proverbs 14:12).
But God is calling out a remnant of His people to carry forth the work, and the truth and the life, into these last days.