Read John 15:1-17
Several years ago, too many for me to accurately remember, I was blessed to hear a sermon series on this portion of John’s gospel message. A lot of the early parts of the series focused on pruning vines, burning branches, and rather seemingly destructive behavior, until I studied the concept.
If you plant a vineyard with the hopes of one day enjoying wine, you will have a long, painstaking process to endure. It will take years before you see fruit. Worse than knowing that, each month as your vine begins to take shape, you’ll have to prune those branches that aren’t growing. Afterward, when you start seeing some fruit, you’ll trim those branches that just aren’t performing well. Are you encouraged yet? Take a look at Jesus’ parable here:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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. John 15:1-2
If you get the idea you’re in a pruning season, that is, you’re being cut off from one thing or another, keep reading. I think you’ll find some comfort it the words to follow.
Remain In Me
Five times we read the phrase, “remain in me.” Perhaps we should take Jesus seriously!
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. John 15:4
This is a new type of covenant, one where we are to remain in Jesus, no doubt, but don’t miss the other side of the equation: Jesus chooses to remain in us, or at least that’s the offer that’s laid on the table. The consequences of selecting to be part of the true vine are substantial. Last night, Marci led a Bible study that encouraged us to think about the difference between orphans and children. The key distinction is that children are characterized by those who have a father and mother who want what’s best for them. Orphans do not. The amazing, great news for us to hear is that Jesus wants us to be His sons and daughters! He is offering to adopt us!
If You Remain in Me
There’s that “if” word again. John seems to insert that a lot.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15:5-8
Emphasis added is mine.
Aside: I love it when writers add the caveat to quoted scripture, “emphasis mine,” as if we didn’t know that. John recorded the words of Jesus for our benefit. Forgive me for thinking I have any emphasis to add.
Perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that the word “if” got my attention. It might not have caught your eye, but when I read this passage today, I clearly see there is a connection between bearing fruit and obedience to Christ. Please don’t start waving the legalistic banner or throwing a penalty flag, I’m not talking about creating a checklist. In fact, I suggest that John keeps it pretty simple for us to understand. There aren’t a lot of rules and regulations from Jesus, just a few guidelines that define whether we are in Jesus or not.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. John 15:9-10
The connection between Father, Son, and us is beyond what my words can express here. But Jesus isn’t bluffing. Jump ahead to chapter 17 if you want to get a sneak preview of just how serious Jesus is about adoption.
Keeping commands is synonymous with love. This sounds a bit odd at first until we think about it as parents. Not everyone reading this passage is a parent, but I’m pretty sure we all either parents or children, so we can relate to what is offered here.
If you love someone, you’ll want to do things that please them — not for the sake of pleasing them, but simply because you love them. That is if you truly love them. My own children have a choice, they can do something because it’s a rule or they can do what I asked out of love. Do you get the difference between the two approaches? The former is full of the legalistic penalty I referred to earlier while the latter is full of honor, love, respect and an earnest desire to be a part of me.
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:11-13
Jesus moves the needle to the right at this point. The suggestion to remain in me is now referred to as a command with a purpose. If we want to experience complete joy, we must love each other. It’s not an option and I guarantee it has nothing to do with Sunday morning from 10 to 11. This is a command that we change the way we live 24×7.
While we’re here, don’t skip over the phrase, “as I have loved you.” Jesus is just hours away from going to the cross for our sins. When He refers to laying down one’s life for a friend, He’s deadly serious. No pun intended. Take a look at the next two verses to get an idea of what I’m referring to:
You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:14-15
This is another amazing thought: Jesus is our friend. Since the 60’s hippy movement that we’ve all heard about (no I wasn’t a hippy), I think we can get this messed up a bit. Jesus transforms our relationship from orphan to follower to sons and daughters to a friend. Not like a social media buzz, but not the snuggling under a blanket kind either. This kind of friendship is much deeper. It’s one where He doesn’t withhold any secrets. At the same time, He’s very judicious in how He teaches us. He doesn’t overburden us with things we can’t handle. Instead, He gives us exactly what we need when we need it. He is without a doubt the very best kind of friend we can imagine. One I’m am beyond thankful to appreciate.
Before we end this passage, consider this promise:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. John 15:16-17
Remember that Rich Mullins song I referred to a few posts earlier? This is one of the key promises and assurances that Jesus has for us: first, He chose us and further, He chose us for a purpose — to bear fruit.
What’s the key to bearing fruit? We read it several times in this short passage: Love each other!
Lord, help us to love each other as you love us. Teach us to rejoice in the assurances offered today and let us experience the true joy in being Your friend!