Today we continue our study of Jesus’ remarks to the disciples in the Upper Room. Our passage is one of the best known in all of Scripture in which Jesus uses the illustration of a vine to describe key relationships within the Christian Life. The text moves to its climax in verse 16 with the word “then” giving us a conditional statement that if our relationships are working together properly, “then” our requests will be granted.
This is the seventh and final “I Am” statement in the Gospel of John, and it is intended as an illustration of the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Church. Jesus is the vine, the Father is the gardener and the disciples are the branches. Notice that Jesus points out the fact that in a vine a branch has the function of bearing fruit, and no fruit can be borne by a branch that has been removed from the vine. His point here is that the disciples must remain in Him in order to accomplish their purpose. The Father as gardener will remove any branches that do not bear fruit, and prune the ones that do so that they may bear even more fruit… but what is “fruit”? It is easy to say that He is referring to the making of new disciples, and certainly this is part of the answer. Considering that the Father will be pruning individual branches as well as the entire vine, however there would seem to be something more involved. In this case, it would be the removal of sin from our lives so that we will not only build new disciples, but that we would live such a life of love and purity that we would produce even more disciples than before. One could say that this pruning involves God’s fine-tuning of our spiritual lives so as to bring about maximum growth not only in ourselves, but as a result, in the entire Christian community.
Here Jesus restates the “I Am” in verses 5-6 and adds that we must remain in Him or we cannot produce anything. Consider what happens when we attempt to produce spiritual fruit apart from Christ, entirely on our own… what is the result? Usually, the result is either nothing at all or the entry point for sin and wickedness into the community of believers. One might even suggest that this is the formula for the development of cults, in the extreme case. Much has been made of verse 6 in certain circles, but notice the word “like”. If we do not remain in Him, we are “like” branches that will be cast in the fire. It did not say that we will be cast in the fire; repentance is an option, and most of us have had our times of straying and then come back to living “in Him”.
Verses 7-8 establish clear linkage between “remaining” and being disciples. If we remain in Him… we will be seen as His disciples. Remember that a disciple is one who knows what the Master knows (and my words remain in you) and who does what the Master does (bear fruit). Thus, if we are His disciples in reality then He will answer our requests for His purpose. It would go without saying that we wouldn’t be making selfish requests.
Jesus now introduces a second analogy to illustrate this relationship, and that is the relationship between the Father and the Son. The illustration is Father/Son is the same relationship that is between Son/disciple. The Father has loved the Son, and the Son has responded with love and obedience. Therefore, since the Son has loved us, we must respond with love and obedience. To remain in His love is to have our joy made complete.
Going one step further now in 12-13, Jesus tells us exactly what obedience looks like: “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is the command He is talking about, and as we saw a few sections back, this means putting others ahead of ourselves: always. The Christian life has no room for self! Verse 13 goes still further when Jesus mentions that the greatest love is to lay down your life for your friends. In His case this meant the cross. In our case, who knows the future? One thing is clear however, to lay down our life of selfishness is paramount.
There is an interesting contrast between “servant” and “friend” in the last 3 verses, one that is even stronger than the NIV gives us, for the Greek word rendered “servant” (doulos) is the word for “slave”. The contrast is clear: A slave is an inferior relationship while a friend is an equal relationship. Don’t get crazy just yet, for this equality is entirely conditional. Go and bear fruit. Love one another. These are the conditions, and realize that the first will not happen until we accomplish the second. Then the Father will grant whatever we ask. This is the conditional nature of the Christian life, and the challenge before us today. As our culture continues to crumble and the church falters, what will we do?
We will remain in Him, love one another and bear fruit!
While the first 17 verses of chapter 15 discuss relationships within the Christian community, verses 18 and following discuss the relationship between the Christian community and the outside world. In the first instance, the relationship is characterized by love, but in the second it is characterized by hate. This is a new reality that the disciples must deal with, one that exists to this day. To begin to understand this phenomenon, we must remind ourselves that the world Jesus speaks of is continuing to live in rebellion against God. Jesus brought this contrast between God and Rebellion into the harsh light of day and the people didn’t like it. His disciples will do the same thing with the same result. We too will make this contrast easy to see if we live according to His teachings. We will also cause some to believe and be saved, but the majority will not appreciate our work. For this reason, Christians in “tolerant” America are ridiculed in the press, movies and television, and are often singled out in the public square for derision.
Christians are not “of this world” but instead “our citizenship is in heaven.” (Phil. 3:18-20) The world we live in today is “post-modern” meaning that the overriding standard of morality is what is right for me. Post-modernism doesn’t allow anyone to say that something is “right” or “wrong” absolutely, calling instead on individuals to seek that which is right for them and demanding “tolerance” from everyone else. Obviously, post-modernism is not the philosophical basis of the Bible, and as we all know many people have a hard time listening to anyone tell them differently. This entire philosophy demonstrates that most people do not wish to be reconciled to God, or as Jesus put it, to “know the One who sent me.”
As a result of Jesus’ ministry, the world was left “without excuse.” He has spoken the truth of sin, death, right and wrong, and He topped it all off by confirming His teachings with miraculous signs so that there would be no way for anyone to claim that His teachings were simply another random philosophy: They were the very words of God. As a result, rebellious humanity in large part hated both Jesus and His Father, as the prophets had foretold.
Jesus reminds the disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Note that this is not a teaching about the Holy Spirit as much as it is teaching about what their responsibility would be. The presence of the Holy Spirit is beneficial in a great many ways, but it doesn’t mean that we have no work to do; our part is to teach people about the Gospel and make disciples.
Jesus has told His disciples unpleasant facts about their futures, and now in 16:1-4 He tells them why He has done so. The unpleasant future would soon begin with the arrest and senseless murder of Jesus Himself by Jewish leaders who believed that they were keeping God’s Law by doing so. The book of Acts documents a reign of terror against the early church in which many were arrested and tortured or murdered by people who thought they were doing God’s work in silencing God’s truth. This is not only an irony but sheer madness. Jesus has told them of these things so that they would not drift away from their faith when the trials came; so that they would hold steadfast in the knowledge that God’s plan was playing out. In truth, the more the church has been persecuted, the more it has grown because of the courageous stand taken by the followers of Christ. Sadly, there have also been times when the church itself has persecuted the truth by torturing and murdering “heretics” who were teaching the truth within the church.