This does not seem like something we would necessarily see as good. I realize that God's ways are higher than my ways, so does this mean that God will take away things as we grow in service to him?
ESV - 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
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In my opinion, Jesus in this verse is expressing an idea similar to His words in Mark 4:18-19, where He (again using a metaphor from the process of planting) spoke of seed that fell among thorns to represent the people who hear the gospel message, but who are kept from bearing fruit by such factors as the cares of this present life and world, or the overriding pursuit of other goals, such as wealth or other material objects, to which they give a greater priority. When Jesus speaks in the passage cited in the question of the branches that bear fruit being pruned (rather than being taken away), I would say that He is referring to people who (unlike the thorny ground) have received the gospel message, and are bearing fruit for God, and who could be of even greater service and value to Him, but who still have aspects of their lives or thinking that God (in His omniscience) knows are preventing them from attaining that maximum potential. In such cases, God will act in some manner to remove or change those aspects in a way that may seem to the individuals involved unnecessary or even unpleasant while the process is occurring, but that will in the end produce changes that result in their spiritual growth, and increase their usefulness to God for His purposes. I also believe that, after these changes have occurred, the affected individuals themselves will come to see them as having been for their ultimate, eternal benefit (Romans 8:28).
Jesus here, speaking to His disciples, is saying that everyone who is a true follower of His must derive grace and strength from Him – just as a branch does from the vine. Jesus is the source of all strength. As the vinedresser will remove all branches that are dead or bear no fruit, so will God remove from His Church all self-professed Christians who give no evidence that are part of Christ's body. Like Judas Iscariot, all in name only Christians will be removed and thrown into fire (John 15:4-7). Jesus is using a similar analogy in Matthew 7:15-20 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.” Christians must bear fruit – meaning that we should, by our lives, show that we are not controlled only by selfish desires, but live for Christ (Gal 2:20; 5:22, 23). True Christians are pruned so they may become even more fruitful (Zechariah 13:8, 9; 1 Peter 1:7). God takes away all that which is a hindrance. Sometimes He removes from our lives things that we love but are not useful.
When the first grapes appear in a vinyard they are often cut away and discarded. The next grapes that appear are bolder and more flavorful. They are the good stuff. The winemaker wants the good stuff because it makes a better product. God wants the good stuff so He cuts away the stuff that might not be as good as we think. We do a lot of good things such as tithing, going to church, serving the poor, etc. But with the wrong motives. Maybe we think if we do enough good things, God will leave us alone. God will cut away and discard those things because He wants to get to the good stuff. He wants a heart with pure motives.
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