“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 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. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”
The text and context of the highlighted phrase describes at least three other things about how God prunes us into fruitfulness.
A point of clarification is needed before we get to those things. Although v. 3 does not use the word “prune,” the Greek word translated as “clean” (katharos) has the same root as the word translated as “prune” (kathairo), and their meanings are functionally synonymous. We can therefore infer things about being pruned from what Jesus said about being clean.
All right, on to the substance.
First, the text stresses the importance of God’s word in pruning. Jesus tells us that one way we are pruned/cleaned is through “the word” He has “spoken.” That is consistent with scripture. It repeatedly stresses the benefits of and need to meditate on God’s word. Psalm 1:1-2; Psalm 119:6; Psalm119:99; Deuteronomy 11:18; Joshua 1:8. See also 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12. The more we think abut God’s word the more it identifies what is and isn’t fruitful in our lives.
Second, the context tells us that we play an active part in being pruned/cleaned. The folks Jesus is speaking to here were cleaned by the word He had “spoken to” them, and that only happened because they were there to hear it. They had to give up other things, things that were not bad in of themselves, to be able to spend that time with Jesus. We too have to give up other things to be pruned/cleaned.
Third, the context also tells us that being pruned is not the same thing as being perfect. Jesus was speaking to His original disciples here, and we know that they were not perfect. For example, Peter will deny Jesus within hours of the instruction preserved in this passage. We also know that from the rest of scripture. Abraham, Moses, and David were all pruned to extraordinary fruitfulness, but they were not perfect.