Date: 30 Jul 2017
Text: John 15:1-17
In thinking about this idea of living in Christ, we have already heard about or discussed Jesus being described as the bread of life, the shepherd, the way, the truth, the life and the narrow gate through which our faith should lead us. Now Jesus begins this passage by giving us the picture in 15:1 of seeing Himself as a vine; or as He says, “the true vine” and by way of defining our relationship with Him Jesus goes on to add in 15:8 that we “are branches”.
After the opening verses where Jesus talks of the vine and its branches, the remainder of the first half of the passage talks of our “remaining” in Jesus Christ and in His love. That word “remain” and its derivatives is used 11 times in 15:4-10. The theme of the second half is similar to the passage that we looked at last week where the predominant word was “love” and in these few verses that word is used 9 times. I don’t think that it’s an exaggeration to say that love is the main theme throughout much of this gospel of John. Consequently it comes as no surprise to see Jesus repeat His main command: “Love each other” in both 15:12 and 15:17.
The Bible loves to use everyday items to illustrate a major point or issue. The grape vine is used on a number of occasions by the prophets in the Old Testament as a picture of God’s chosen people. Israel was the vine that was planted and cared for by God. Sadly the people of Israel were disobedient and didn’t love God in the way that they should and so they produced only rotten fruit. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21) Consequently God decided to destroy the old, decaying vine and plant a new vine: His Son, Jesus. Now in the passage that we are looking at, we read the words of Jesus as He tells us that He is the true vine and is therefore the true fulfilment of God’s plans for His people. All those who come to faith in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour become branches of that new vine.
Now I have to be honest and admit that I know very little about gardening, in fact anything that I do know has come from watching the likes of Monty Don and Alan Titchmarsh on television! However, I do know that you prune things to get rid of dead wood or growth and sometimes prune healthy growth to help the plant grow even more. That is the job of a responsible gardener and in this passage Jesus tells us that it is God Who is the gardener. As I understand it pruning can be quite brutal and so when we read that God “cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit” (15:2a) that certainly sounds both brutal and worrying. What Jesus seems to mean here is that if anyone comes to faith but then falls away from that faith by turning their back on Him, then God will quickly pass judgement and cut them off from the vine. This will also include those who make a superficial and short lived commitment to Christ but don’t continue in their faith; they too will be subject to pruning. The true vine is only to bear fruitful branches and pruning in this way can help to promote more growth. This pruning and cutting back of the vine can also be seen as cutting away any sin that may have entered and contaminated the vine. Such branches are no longer clean and so need to be cut away. If you want an example of just such a branch being cut away you only need to think of Judas Iscariot who was anything but clean and free from sin!
It is the true believers in Jesus who remain on the vine that bear much fruit. We do that by remaining strong in our faith and walking with Christ each day. Many believers worry and seem to think that “bearing much fruit” means leading others to faith in Christ. That is certainly one way that we can bear fruit but it is not the only way. There are other ways in which we can bear fruit such as remaining faithful in prayer, loving one another, being filled with joy and showing ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples. Paul wrote to the Galatians and told them that the fruits of the Spirit were, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23a). Peter shared some similar thoughts when he wrote that we should add to our faith “goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” (2 Peter 1:5-7). Once again these may be regarded as the fruits of the vine that the good branches should produce and if they aren’t then perhaps they need pruning a little.
A slight problem comes in 15:2b where Jesus says, “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful”. What does that mean? In some ways it sounds as if we may be pruned and cut off from the vine even if we have been faithful and produced the fruit that God wants us to produce. The likelihood is that Jesus means that there may be occasions when we need to be disciplined by God for some reason and in that way we may be strengthened to serve Him more and thereby produce even more fruit. We must remember that God is the Judge and whilst He is loving and merciful He also has exacting standards.
Some of this additional pruning may come about as a result of lukewarm believers trying to prevent true believers from following and growing in their faith. Remember that we are to remain close to Jesus and walk with Him on a daily basis and anyone who prevents that from happening, whether or not they are believers; will face God’s judgement.
As believers we can only produce the fruit that we should if we follow Jesus’ words. The key here is to “remain” in and with Jesus and as we read in 15:5, that is the only way we “will bear much fruit”. In the previous verse, 15:4, Jesus had said, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you” which The Message puts this way: “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you”. That implies that we are to live in and with Jesus on a permanent basis and not just treat Him as a casual and occasional resting place. Notice too a promise of Jesus in 15:7a that is linked to this. Jesus tells us, “if you remain in me and my words remain in you” then we may ask for anything we wish and it will be done for us. To my mind this links back to listening to the teaching of Jesus which we receive by reading His Word; that is the main way in which we can grow in knowledge and faith. This promise can only be received though by those who truly believe in Jesus and “remain” in Him. Now, it is important to remember that this particular promise doesn’t mean that we will receive anything that we ask for, far from it! We cannot ask to win the lottery or receive a knighthood or fly to the moon just because we are disciples of Jesus Christ. The prayers that will be answered positively are those that relate to our bearing fruit just as a branch of the true vine should. Prayers such as that will most definitely be answered.
It is imperative that if we are to grow in our faith in Jesus and bear the fruit that we should, then we need to remain in Him. This is an ongoing, day to day activity not just a one off or occasional happening. We have to involve Jesus in every part of our lives and show that we are bearing fruit. Notice though the important comment that Jesus made in 15:4b when He said, “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me”. Jesus made a similar comment in 15:5b when He said, “apart from me you can do nothing”. We cannot be loners and think that we can bear the fruit that God is looking for by going off on our own. We must remain connected to the vine and be nurtured by the root of that vine which is Jesus Himself. We do that by reading God’s Word, praying regularly, and being with other Christians in a fellowship. We cannot expect to grow in Christ if we are only occasional or one hour a week Christians; for us to grow we need to have a full time faith.
In the passage that we looked at last week, John 14:15-31, we saw multiple mentions of the word “love” and its derivatives. The second half of this passage is no different since Jesus mentions “love” in one way or another a further 9 times and as I mentioned last week, love seems to be a dominant feature of John’s Gospel. As Jesus reminds us in 15:9, He loves us in exactly the same way that God loves Him; that is some love! The important thing for us to do is to “remain” in Jesus’ love. Lest we don’t know how to do that or are unsure as to how we can “remain“ in His love; then Jesus reassures us by telling us again, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love” (15:10). Earlier the Lord had already told us in 14:15 that, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” We shouldn’t be keeping Jesus’ commands out of fear or a sense of duty but rather because we love Him and want to obey Him in all that He asks of us. If we do find keeping His commands difficult then we need only to look at Jesus Himself Who wants us to keep His commandments “just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love” (15:10b).
I’m a great believer, along with the Apostle Paul, in being joyful in the Lord. If we are true believers in Jesus then we have a lot to look forward to and we should therefore be filled with joy at the prospect. There is nothing else in the world today that can bring the level of joy that we can find in serving Jesus Christ as Lord and being His disciples. Jesus really wants us to be filled with joy just as He Himself will be full of joy if we remain in His love; He wants our joy to be complete. In his letter to the Philippians Paul wrote a lot about joy including that wonderful injunction to, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Similarly Jesus wants to rejoice in us and He wants us to rejoice in Him, especially in His love for us.
We then come to 15:12 where Jesus repeats His command to us when He says, “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”. Jesus gave us this new command in 13:34 and repeats it here just as a reminder. In 14:15-21 He repeatedly reminded us to show that we love Him by keeping His commands and it does no harm to repeat it here and just for good measure Jesus adds in 15:14, “You are my friends if you do what I command”. What does He command? That we love one another! So important is this command that Jesus repeats it again in 15:17 when He says, “This is my command: love each other”.
Lest we don’t fully understand just how much Jesus does love us He does remind us that, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (15:13). Jesus died on the cross of Calvary to pay the price for our sins simply because He loves us. He was prepared to make that sacrifice in order to demonstrate His great love for us. If ever we doubt just how much He does love us we need only remember that loving and sacrificial act on the cross.
In 15:13 Jesus has just made it quite clear that there is no greater love than laying down one’s life for one’s friends. He then adds in 15:14 that if we are His “friends” then we will “love each other”. Jesus was speaking to His disciples and regarded them as His friends and by implication He regards us in the same way. In Jesus’ time on earth, disciples of Rabbis were regarded as servants. Now, servants have a tendency to obey their masters blindly; they follow orders but frequently have no idea why! Friends on the other hand do as their friend asks them out of love and respect. The friend asking them to do something shares with them what they want doing and why and is confident that the request will be met out of love and true friendship. In this case Jesus had told His disciples everything He possibly could about His heavenly Father and the coming kingdom of heaven. Consequently He regarded them as friends. Such is our relationship with Jesus; yes, we serve Him but only because we love Him and want to please Him; not out of any feeling of compulsion. Interestingly enough it seems that the only people in the Old Testament who are called friends of God are Moses and Abraham; being called friends by Jesus lifts us into august company! What a wonderful thought though to be called “friends” by the Son of God.
In the numerous verses that we have already looked at in this series, we have seen the constant theme of love; that is, the love that God has for His Son; the love that Jesus has for His Father; the love that Jesus has for us and the love that we should have for Him. It is a tight knit circle of love and we are bound together by that love and our faith in Jesus Christ. This should not be a passing fad or vague interest but a deep seated and heartfelt love that comes from truly knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
Here in this passage Jesus is urging us all to remain steadfast in our love for Him just as He will remain steadfast in His love for us. It is only by remaining in His love that we can bear the fruit that a good branch of the true vine expects. Bad fruit will be pruned and thrown into the fire whilst good fruit will grow and produce more and better fruit.
All of this comes about because of love; the love that Jesus has for us and the love that was demonstrated as He hung on the cross to die for us. If we truly love Him and remain in His love then we will really show the world that we are indeed living in Christ.