September 3, 2023
4 min read
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Concatenation. When you learn a cool theological word like concatenation, you want to drop it in conversation all the time! Of course, there aren’t many contexts that concatenation fits right into. Throwing it around also sounds pretty pretentious, so I’ve contained my use of concatenation to sessions. As it represents a key aspect of growth in sanctification, it’s quite useful there.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, concatenation is “a series of interconnected things or events.” I learned about concatenation from my dear friend, Jonathan Ewards. The Puritan preacher and I have a rather complicated relationship. I taught Edwards’ sermons for years in my American Literature classes. Try getting a bunch of juniors to understand the nuances of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” and you’ll understand why the relationship was complicated! There is more to Edwards than fire and brimstone, however, and as a counselor he has taught me so much. Concatenation has given me a new perspective on growth. 

Edwards teaches on concatenation in many of his works, but his book, Charity and Its Fruits, outlines his view of how God works through it in our lives. That work discusses concatenation as a mechanism of sanctification. In that light, my counselees and I often discuss it in connection to the Fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5. When we talk about the Fruit of the Spirit, we begin with John 15.

John 15 is one of those passages I’ve often struggled with. For many years I read John 15’s beautiful illustration of the vine and the branches with frustration and sorrow. Each time I thought about the metaphor, I was confronted with the fact that the fruit at the end of my branch wasn't good. If the fruit referenced in John 15 represented the Fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), I had a problem. Reading John 15 reminded me of the meager state of my fruit. Each time I thought about it I took a guilt trip. I needed to be more patient, more self-controlled, more gentle, and kind. Fruit problems pained me.

Then one day, in God's providence, I was listening to the radio when a sermon on John 15 came on. I do not know who preached that sermon, but he outlined the passage in a way I had never considered. Jesus obviously refers to a grapevine in John 15. On a grapevine, the vine presents vertically with roots that go deep into the soil. Those roots carry the moisture and nutrients that nourish the plant. The branch of the vine is connected on top, and generally trained horizontally on a wire or fence. The fruit of the vine, which is the cluster of grapes, appears at the end of the branch. 

The radio pastor mentioned that when most of us think about the vine and the branches, we immediately think about our fruit. We think that we have to work on our fruit or that our fruit is feeble and we need to do something about it. We feel defeated by our lack of fruit. When we have that perspective, we’re not reading John 15 correctly. Not many of us are vinedressers, but if we were, we would realize that a fruit problem occurs only when there is a disruption in the branch’s connection to the vine. Fruit problems are actually connection problems. The primary purpose of the branch is connection to the vine. As connection with the vine strengthens, the fruit will grow.

This perspective wildly encourages me. I can work on my connection to the vine, through time in God’s Word, prayer, and active participation in the Body of Christ, which is the Church. Stronger connections to the vine lead to more abundant fruit.

That's where Edwards and the concept of concatenation comes in. Edwards teaches that when the Fruit of the Spirit grows, it grows in unison. If we are looking for a larger grape of patience, it will come as we strengthen our connection to the vine. When that grape grows, the rest of the bunch, representing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, will also grow, in concatenation. They will all grow at the same pace, and they will grow to give God, the Vine, glory.

So feel free to start dropping the word concatenation around in your conversations too! Concatenation is another way to see the imputed righteousness of Christ at work in our lives. As we strengthen our connections to the Vine, we can expect a beautiful harvest.

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Crystal is a Christ-follower, wife, mother, counselor, and friend. She is passionate about connecting others with the truth of God's miraculous power and sustaining presence.

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