26. Abiding in the Vine (John 15:1-17)


Audio (41:39)
Icon of Christ the True Vine (late 20th century), Dormition Convent, Parnes, Greece, based on an early 15th century by  Angelos Akotantos at Malles, Hierapetra.
Icon of Christ the True Vine (late 20th century), Dormition Convent, Parnes, Greece, based on an early 15th century by  Angelos Akotantos at Malles, Hierapetra.

John's Gospel is full of rich nuggets of truth that teach us about our Father, Jesus, salvation, eternal life, and the Holy Spirit. This lesson helps us explore the dynamic relationship between a disciple and his Lord.

Jesus' teaching on the vine and the branches isn't like most of the parables in the Synoptic Gospels, which are usually stories with one or more spiritual points. Here, as in Jesus' discourse on the Good Shepherd (10:1-18), we see an extended metaphor. Jesus draws our attention to a fruitful vine and then provides two primary applications for us to learn from -- pruning the branches and abiding in the vine. These 17 verses aren't long, but contain some of the most important and beloved passages in the Bible about the disciple's love relationship with Jesus.

I Am the Vine (15:1)

In verse 1, Jesus introduces the metaphor.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener." (15:1)

The vine[640] was one of the quintessential plants of Israel representing national peace and prosperity -- "every man under his vine and fig tree."[641]

Moreover, the vineyard is often used to identify Israel herself, referred to by the prophets as "my vineyard" (Isaiah 3:14). In the Song of the Vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7), the vineyard is the "house of Israel" that yields only the bad fruit of injustice and oppression. But in Day of the Messiah, this vineyard will flourish:

"In that day--Sing about a fruitful vineyard:
I, the LORD, watch over it;
I water it continually.
I guard it day and night
so that no one may harm it." (Isaiah 27:2-3)

The Psalms, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Micah all use the figure of Israel as the Lord's vineyard.[642] Jesus himself carried on this identification of Israel as God's vineyard in his Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-44; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19) and Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).

So for Jesus to say, "I am the true vine" (in the seventh and last of Jesus' "I AM" sayings"[643]), we see an announcement that, as the Messiah, he now becomes the true Israel, the true locus for God's people. When you think about it, it is an astounding revelation!

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener." (15:1)

The nation is epitomized in the nation's true King, Jesus.

If Jesus is the true vine, then his Father is the vinedresser[644], the one who tenderly cares for the vine, cutting and pruning so that it produces the maximum amount of fruit possible.

Pruning and Cutting (15:2-3)

"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." (15:2-3)

Grapevine Terminology. Diagram © 2009, VinoDiary.com. Used by permission.
Grapevine Terminology. Diagram © 2009, VinoDiary.com. Used by permission.

Since there are several vineyards within one quarter mile of my house, with the owner a personal friend, I've had considerable opportunity over the years to observe the cycles of pruning, growth, and harvest.

A grapevine consists of the woody trunk with one or more cordons, woody extensions of the trunk that remain from year to year. Together, the trunk and cordons are what Jesus refers to as the "vine." The fruitfulness comes from the canes, shoots, or spurs that grow from these woody cordons. These canes, shoots, or spurs Jesus is calling the "branches."[645] The fruit forms from buds on the new canes. The old canes do not produce again.

Pruning takes experience and skill. After the harvest, winter comes when the leaves fall off and the vine goes dormant. During this time, before the new buds of spring, the pruning takes place. Our text discusses two operations -- (1) removing unfruitful branches, and (2) pruning the fruitful ones.

The vinedresser looks for any shoots that didn't bear fruit the previous season, due to disease or damage of one kind or another. These he cuts off[646] entirely so that the energy of the plant is not wasted on unfruitful or diseased branches, but can go into branches that do bear fruit.

The fruitful branches are pruned back to the first two nodes on the old shoot to form new canes for next year's growth. Without pruning, the fruit for the new season will be dramatically diminished, and the vine will begin to grow wild, producing some grapes, but making it hard for the plant to get enough light and making it difficult to harvest what few grapes are produced. Pruning shocks the plant, to be sure, but in the hands of a skillful vinedresser, the vine remains healthy and produces maximum fruit year after year.

What does "cutting off every branch in me that bears no fruit (15:2a)" refer to? Since Jesus the True Vine represents true Israel, the Father is pruning off those who rebel against the Messiah. We see this expressed in the Parable of the Tenants who refused to pay rent to the owner of the vineyard. Jesus concludes the parable with the words:

"Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit." (Matthew 21:43)

After getting rid of the dead wood, the vinedresser gets down to the exacting work of pruning each shoot or branch. The purposes of pruning are to:

  • Stimulate growth,
  • Allow the vinedresser to shape the vine,
  • Produce maximum yield without breaking the branches with too many clusters for them to bear,
  • Protect against mildew,
  • Produce better quality wine, with more highly concentrated and flavorful grapes.

Of course, the Father does pruning in our lives, too, so that you and I will become healthy and bear much spiritual fruit. When I had an Internet marketing business, I tried to practice the principle to cut off each year the least cost-effective part of my business, the bottom 10%, so I could free up time and resources for new opportunities.

You may be spending lots of time in activities that are fruitless. I can remember God telling me when I was in college to throw away my cherished notebook of folk music so I could concentrate on music that honored him. Sometimes we suffer losses and grieve about them, but find that God is redirecting and healing us. We can trust the Vinedresser and must be obedient, if we want his skill to make us whole and fruitful.

Churches, too, need pruning. How many activities are continued because "we've always done that," long past the time when they are effective in advancing the Kingdom? Sometimes people need to be removed from leadership and others moved into leadership. Some churches suffer severe injury because they tolerate the unspiritual control and direction of "big givers," but are too weak to say, "No." Pruning is needed. Some churches experience a painful time when a number of members leave over some issue. But when this loss is surrendered to God and forgiveness is sought, this "pruning" can become the impetus for new growth. Trust the Vinedresser and be obedient. Don't prune rashly, but seek his season and his way.

Q1. (John 15:2) How does judicious pruning benefit a grapevine? What happens to productivity and health when a vine is left unpruned? What does God use to prune our lives? What does God use to prune our congregations? Why do we resist pruning? What can we do so that the eventual pruning isn't as severe?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1507-q1-benefits-of-pruning/

 

Cleansed by the Word (15:3)

Now we come to a curious verse.

"2  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes (katharizō) so that it will be even more fruitful. 3  You are already clean (katharizō) because of the word I have spoken to you." (15:2-3)

Notice that the Greek word katharizō, "to clean, cleanse," can also be translated "prune" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "purge" (KJV), that is, cleanse the vine. Jesus' Word is a cause of that moral and spiritual cleansing.[647]

  Jesus is speaking to his disciples. The effect of obedience and "holding to" Jesus' teaching is freedom from the slavery to sin, and separation from evil (8:31-34). God's Word, when received, has a washing, cleansing, pruning, faith-producing effect on us:

"Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." (Ephesians 5:25b-27)

"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." (John 17:17)

"Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God." (1 Peter 1:22-23)

"He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created." (James 1:18)

Q2. (John 15:2b) How are we pruned or cleansed by exposure to and obedience to Jesus' words? According to John 8:31-32, how does obeying Jesus' teaching bring cleansing and freedom from sin?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1508-q2-cleansed-by-the-word/

Remaining, Abiding in the Vine (15:4-5)

Jesus has considered the metaphor of pruning the vine. Now he looks at the metaphor of abiding in the vine.

"4  Remain in me, and I will 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. 5  I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (15:4-5)

"Remain" (NIV), "abide" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is menō, "remain, stay." It can be used of a location, "stay," often in the special sense of "to live, dwell, lodge." Here, it is in the transferred sense of someone who does not leave a certain realm or sphere: "remain, continue, abide."[648] We observed this word previously --

"If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (8:31-32, ESV)

To "abide" means that we "hold to" (NIV) or "continue in" (NRSV, KJV) Jesus' teaching (cf. John 5:38; 2 John 9).  This is the opposite of running hot for a short period of time, and then coasting. Those who abide in Jesus' word don't give up under persecution or allow their fruitfulness to be choked by the "weeds" of worldly pressures (to use the vocabulary of Jesus' Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13:1-8, 18-23). Rather they produce a harvest of 30-fold, 60-fold, or 100-fold. Jesus taught that believers will continue in the faith (Matthew 24:13; Mark 13:3; Luke 8:15). The Apostle Paul also taught that  salvation is contingent upon believers continuing or persevering in their faith (Colossians 1:23, epimenō[649]; 1 Corinthians 15:2, katechō[650], 2 Timothy 3:14, menō; see Hebrews 3:6; cf. 10:39).

I. Howard Marshall says:

"The element of trust and commitment in faith is particularly emphasized and expressed in John by the use of the verb 'to abide' (menō), which might almost be said to be the Johannine equivalent for 'to persevere.'"[651]

Wayne Grudem begins his statement of the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints in this way:

"The perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly born again will be kept by God's power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives...."[652]

But "abiding" extends beyond continuing in faith. In this metaphor of the vine and the branches, "abiding" refers to being intimately connected to and receiving nourishment from the vine. Look at the passage again.

"4  Remain in me, and I will 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. 5  I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (15:4-5)

What, then does "abiding" entail? We're not talking about belief as intellectual assent, but belief as embracing, clinging to, and continuing to receive spiritual sustenance from. As we've seen in John (14:15, 21-25) and see later in this lesson (15:9-10) discipleship also involves obedience as an expression of our love for him.

In the face of the clear teaching of John 15, some Christians have an extremely sloppy understanding of the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, asserting that saving faith need not be an enduring faith, one that perseveres.[653] You'll find further discussion of the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints in 10:28 (Lesson 19) and 17:11-15 (Lesson 29).

Mutual Indwelling (15:5b)

Abiding also involves a person who

"... remains (menō) in me and I in him." (15:5b)

This phrase intrigues me, since Jesus also speaks about his relationship with the Father the same way in a number of places in John's Gospel:

"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains (menō) in me, and I in him." (6:56)

 "Believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (10:38)

"Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work." (14:10)

"On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you." (14:20)

"If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home (monē) with him." (14:23)

"... that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.... I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:  I in them and you in me." (17:21-23)

"... that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." (17:26)

This mutual indwelling is part of the Father's relationship with the Son. The Father and Son are the exemplars of what our relationship is to be with Jesus -- constant living together, sharing a deepening relationship of love and (on our part) obedience.

This idea, of course, of being indwelt by Jesus and his Spirit is found throughout the New Testament. Jesus promises:

"I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)

Paul says the same thing, but in more theological language. Here are just three examples:

"For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ...." (Colossians 2:9-10)

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)

"You, however, are controlled ... by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives[654] in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ." (Romans 8:9)

What are we to make of this? What are we do about it? Let's not take for granted that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live within us -- and we in them. This is your opportunity and mine to really get to know God intimately, to become his Friend. We talk about a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ." What can you and I do to develop this relationship in a personal, on-going manner? To know God! To abide in Him!

Q3. (John 15:4-5) What does it mean "to abide"? What is the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints? How do these verses support it? What does abiding have to do with "mutual indwelling," of a "personal relationship"? How well are you abiding?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1509-q3-abiding-and-indwelling/

Apart from Me You Can Do Nothing (15:4-6)

Abiding also involves utter dependence upon Jesus the Vine. If we branches don't continue intimately connected to the vine, our "sap" is cut off. We wither and whatever fruit might have been in the process of ripening becomes like dry raisins rather than lush grapes full of juice.

"4  Remain in me, and I will 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. 5  I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart[655] from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (15:4-6)

Jesus observes that the branch must remain connected to the vine to produce any fruit. But we've seen this kind of language before. Jesus taught this truth again and again to his disciples:

"I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." (5:19)

"By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me." (5:30)

"I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me." (8:28b)

"I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it." (12:49)

"It is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work." (14:10b)

The truth is underscored by the man healed from blindness:

"If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." (9:33)

There's something that perhaps we don't like about this. It diminishes Jesus' independence, we think. And perhaps we resent the statement, "apart from me you can do nothing," because it diminishes our own sense of independence. Part of our old nature loves the lines in William Ernest Henley's poem "Invictus" that read:

"I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul."

Something in our old nature wants to cry: I will be dependent upon no man -- nor upon God!

But the path of the Master is a different path than self-determination. It is a path of listening and obeying, of observing and following. Jesus walked this path before us, doing exactly what he saw the Father doing. Now he beckons us to follow him in this same way. It is the path of a disciple following a Master, a Son following a Father. And it requires from us a humility that fully believes that apart from him we can do nothing.

Oh, we can do things by ourselves. We expend great human effort in doing so. But the things that last, that count for eternity, these we cannot do without his leading and his power. The older and wiser man or woman knows something that the young do not always grasp. Paul put it this way:

"His work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames." (1 Corinthians 3:13-15)

Do you want your life to count for something? Then live your life abiding with Jesus, and with his direction and power accomplish something that lasts. Paul wrote:

"I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:13)

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)

Q4. (John 15:4-6) Unbelievers can do many things. So what does Jesus mean when he says, "Apart from me you can do nothing"? What is the value of things done without Christ? What is the final end of things done without Christ?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1510-q4-do-nothing-alone/

Withered Branches (15:6)

Jesus returns to the analogy of the vine as he describes withered branches.

"If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers[656]; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (15:6)

I live on a property with hundreds of trees. Not infrequently, as I walk around the property, I'll see a tree with a branch that is dry and brown. It may be diseased. It may have broken from high wind. Its vital connection with the trunk, however, has been severed, and the life from the sap no longer flows into the branch, bringing life. The leaves turn brown, the wood becomes brittle. It is dead. When I get around to it, I need to pull it into a pile and burn it -- or grind it into wood chips with a chipper.

Jesus uses this analogy to impress on us the vital importance of staying connected to him, of abiding, continuing in him. To remain, to abide is a command (verse 4), not just an automatic condition. That means that we must do something to obey the command -- not a work of righteousness in order to be saved, but active faith.

"The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (6:29)

When Jesus talks here about withered branches being burned, is he talking about backslidden Christians or apostate Christians? Probably not directly. I think he is talking about the Jewish nation, God's vineyard, whose leaders had rejected their Messiah, the True Vine.

Bearing Much Fruit (15:7-8)

Jesus has explained the negative consequence of not abiding in him (verse 6). Now he points to the positive benefits of abiding (verses 7 and 8).

"7  If you remain (menō) in me and my words remain (menō) in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8  This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing[657] yourselves to be my disciples." (15:7-8)

"My words abide in you" means that we continue to obey his teachings and therefore receive Christ's wisdom.

"If you hold to (menō) my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (8:31b-32)

If we abide in Christ and in obedience to his teachings, they we can ask anything in prayer and he'll give it to us. Why? Because we'll be praying according to his will and leading! We'll be requesting things that will expand his kingdom, not just selfish requests.

"Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him." (1 John 3:21-22)

"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." (1 John 5:14)

As he gives us answers to our prayers, that is where the fruit-bearing will take place. Notice another indicator here of being a disciple of Jesus. True disciples bear fruit -- much fruit, "fruit that will last" (15:16c). And this abundance of fruit brings glory to God the Father. As Jesus says in Matthew:

"Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)

What Fruit Does Jesus Expect from Us?

So what exactly does Jesus mean by "bear much fruit"? The word karpos means fruit, then, "result, outcome, product."[658] To find out what this result is we can do a brief survey of karpos in the New Testament. Fruit applies to a new way of life, one's actions, to a way of living.

Fruit can be positive or negative (Romans 6:21-22). False prophets can be identified by their "fruit" (Matthew 7:15b-16a). Both Jesus and John the Baptist demanded repentance. John the Baptist commanded the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his meetings, "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:8). Concerning the whole Jewish nation that rejected him, Jesus said, "I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit" (Matthew 21:43).

A number of verses identify fruit with righteous living (Philippians 1:11; James 3:18; Hebrews 12:11). Some passages spell out what this kind of living looks like:

"Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)." (Ephesians 5:8b-9)

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23a)

"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." (James 3:17)

This kind of righteous living is what grows on a tree watered by the Holy Spirit.

In addition to speaking of the fruit of righteousness, Paul speaks of fruit as people won to Christ on his mission (Romans 1:13; 15:28; Philippians 1:22). Especially in the case of people with an apostolic or evangelistic gift, such as his Twelve Apostles, one's righteous character would also be accompanied by people being won to Christ. The same might be true of a person with the spiritual gift of teaching. The fruit would be people who learn the gospel from this teaching. Using our God-given gifts will produce results!

Abiding in Christ produces the fruit of righteous character -- especially of love -- and influence of this character that brings glory to God.

Q5. (John 15:7-8) The fruit from branches connected to a vine is the grape. What is the nature of the fruit that comes from being connected to Jesus? Is it accurate to define fruit as "souls saved"? What is the danger in this definition?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1511-q5-fruit/

Obeying and Abiding in Jesus' Love (15:9-11)

John has a way of weaving themes in and out of Jesus' discourses -- both in John's Gospel and in the First Epistle of John. So we shouldn't be surprised that this discourse on abiding should come back to the love and obedience that we saw earlier.

"9  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain (menō) in my love. 10  If you obey my commands, you will remain (menō) in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain (menō) in his love. 11  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." (15:9-11)

The key verb is "obey" (NIV), "keep" (NRSV, ESV, KJV), tēreō, "keep watch over, guard," here with the extended sense, "to persist in obedience, keep, observe, fulfill, pay attention to," especially of law and teaching.[659] The key noun, translated "what I command" (NIV), "commandments" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is entolē, "a mandate or ordinance, command."[660] This theme tying love and obedience is found throughout the Johannine books of the Bible,[661] and occasionally in the Synoptic Gospels.[662] Earlier we read:

"If you love me, you will obey what I command." (14:15, also 14:21-25)

Some Christians have confused obedience with a kind of legalism that moves away from God's grace, his unmerited favor, to a place of earning favor with God by strict obedience as the Pharisees tried to do. This isn't what Jesus is saying. Rather, he is explaining that obedience is the natural result of love. If you love someone, you try to do what pleases that person.

Think of a disobedient child. Perhaps he loves his parents, but he has a poor way of showing it. They love him, but instead of being able to relax with him, they always have to maintain discipline. Only with children who are obedient can the parents relax in their joy with them. And this joy is what Jesus wants us to experience.

"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." (15:11)

As we'll see in verses 14 and 15, Jesus desires to move his disciples from the place of servants, who obey because they have to, to friends, who obey because they want to.

Obedience from the heart, the cessation of rebellion, enables free-flowing fellowship. As John says in his First Epistle:

"If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." (1 John 1:7)

Q6. (John 15:9-11) How are obedience and joy linked? Is obedience an obstacle to a joyful relationship between you and the Lord?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1512-q6-obedience-and-joy/

Friends of Jesus (15:12-15)

Jesus comes back to his themes of love (13:34-35) and laying down one's life for the sheep (10:11, 15b), and then introduces the idea of friendship.

"12  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (15:12-13)

"Friends" is philos, which we saw in 11:11 regarding Lazarus. It means, "pertaining to having a special interest in someone, beloved, dear, loving, kindly disposed, devoted," then as a substantive, "one who is on intimate terms or in close association with another, friend."[663] In a general sense, Jesus is called "a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34b). In another place he refers to his disciples as "my friends" (Luke 12:4a).

Jesus shows his ultimate love by laying down his life for those loves. Amazingly, Paul reminds us, "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

Now Jesus takes this concept of friendship a step further.

"14  You are my friends if you do what I command. 15  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business.[664] Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." (15:14-15)

Don't take verse 14 like you can earn friendship by being good. That's not the point. Jesus is saying that you doing what he commands is an indication that you love him. Servants obey because they have to. Friends obey because they want to.

If you go to work at a shoe store, you are taught how to fit shoes to people's feet. But if you are the owner's son, then you are taught every aspect of the shoe business. And, dear friends, Jesus' family business is the Kingdom of God.

Jesus' friends have the privilege of sitting down with the Master and understanding his Kingdom. Yes, he is King, but he is inviting them to share in his Kingdom, to be part of his administration, to "rule and reign with Christ" (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:10; 20:4). The Twelve became the foundation for the Church that mushroomed in the first century and beyond.

In teaching his disciples all about his Kingdom over three years, Jesus is explaining the inner workings, the philosophy behind his Kingdom, how to heal, how to pray, how to trust, how to undergo and understand persecution. Jesus spoke in parables to the crowds, which included his enemies, "but when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything" (Mark 4:34).

You are Jesus' friend. You get to share in his joy and plans for the future. You get to be a participant in advancing his kingdom. What a wonderful privilege. Value it!

Q7. (John 15:12-15) What is required to be counted a "friend of Jesus"? What privileges do "friends" enjoy according to verse 15? What happens when we take for granted this privilege?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1513-q7-friends-of-jesus/

Chosen and Appointed to Bear Fruit (15:16-17)

Now, as he concludes this part of the Farewell Discourses, Jesus reminds his disciples that they didn't become Friends by their own choice or hard work. He chose them!

"16  You did not choose[665] me, but I chose you and appointed[666] you to go and bear fruit -- fruit that will last (menō). Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
17  This is my command: Love each other." (15:16-17)

Jesus sums up in verses 16-17. He reminds them of answered prayer (15:17; 16:23, 26) and his command to love one another (13:34; 15:12), which he had developed earlier in the Farewell Discourses. In Lesson 28 (16:25-28), we'll discuss Jesus' comment here that the Father will answer prayer made in Jesus' name.

Notice that Jesus adds the element of election in verse 16 -- God's choice and God's appointment. Popular evangelical terminology tends to cloud this point of election. We speak of "accepting Christ," of "receiving Christ," of "being born again," as if it were our choice. We come back here to the mystery of predestination that we discussed at 6:37-44 (Lesson 14). Surely we must "accept" Christ, we must "receive" him, and we must be "born again." But we don't initiate this. He does. And we must respond to our destiny, unless we are fools who resist Christ and finally turn from him.

Certainly, Jesus chose, commissioned, and appointed the Twelve. But the Great Commission extends not just to them, but to all whom they lead to the Master, to the third and fourth generation of Christ followers, on and on until Christ returns. Until then you and I are appointed to "go and bear fruit -- fruit that will last."

 Come soon, Lord Jesus!

Lessons for Disciples

John's Gospel: A Discipleship Journey with Jesus, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Entire study is available in paperback, Kindle, and PDF formats.

This has been a very rich passage, replete with important lessons for Jesus' disciples:

  1. Messiah Jesus becomes the New Israel, the true vine from which all believers draw their life (15:1).
  2. God's "pruning" or correction/discipline is necessary so that our lives become more like Christ's and bear the fruit of his character (15:2).
  3. Listening to and obeying Jesus' words has a cleansing effect on our lives (15:3).
  4. An intimate and continuing connection of faith in and obedience to Jesus is necessary so that our lives bear fruit in his character (15:4).
  5. We dwell in Christ and he dwells in us -- a mutual indwelling. We are not alone! (15:5).
  6. When we try to accomplish spiritual work in our own strength the result is small. We can do nothing that has a lasting result without relying on Jesus' strength through us. We must practice dependence on him, not independence from him (15:5a).
  7. One of the blessings of abiding in Christ and letting his words and character infuse us, is answered prayer, since we'll be much more likely to be praying according to his will (15:7).
  8. The fruit Jesus grows in us consists of godly character, as well as effectiveness of whatever mission he calls us to (15:8).
  9. Abiding in Christ means loving him, which results in willing obedience to his commands (15:10).
  10. Jesus doesn't want us to operate as unthinking servants, but as friends, willing and knowledgeable participants in growing his Kingdom (15:14-15).
  11. We've been chosen by God and appointed to produce lasting fruit for his Kingdom (15:16).

Prayer

Father, thank you for including us in your vine. Help us to accept your pruning with trust. Help us to rely on Jesus so that we bear his fruit and so glorify you. Thank you for the immense privilege of being Jesus' friends. In his holy name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener." (John 15:1, NIV)

"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 15:2, NIV)

"Remain in me, and I will 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, NIV)

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (John 15:5-6, NIV)

"If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." (John 15:7-8, NIV)

"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:12-13, NIV)

"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, NIV)

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit -- fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name." (John 15:16, NIV)

End Notes

[640] "Vine" is ampelos, "vine, grapevine" (BDAG 54, a).

[641] 1 Kings 4:25; 2 Kings 18:31; Zechariah 3:10; Micah 4:4.

[642] Psalm 80:8-16; Ezekiel 15:1-8; 17:1-21; 19:10-14; Jeremiah 2:21; 12:10; Hosea 10:1-2; Micah 7:1.

[644] "Gardener" (NIV), "vinegrower" (NRSV), "vinedresser" (ESV, RSV), "husbandman" (KJV) is geōrgos, generally, one who is occupied in agriculture or gardening, "farmer," then, "one who does agricultural work on a contractual basis, vine-dresser, tenant farmer" (BDAG 196, 2). This is a compound noun,  from ge, "land" + ergon, "worker."

[645] "Branch" is klēma, "branch," especially of a vine (BDAG 547).

[646] "Cuts off" (NIV), "removes" (NRSV), "takes away" (ESV, KJV) is airō, "lift up," here, "to take away, remove, or seize control" without suggestion of lifting up, "take away, remove" (BDAG 29, 3). Some writers have suggested that airō should be rendered "lifted up" rather than "take away." That fruitless branches are lifted up from the ground so they can be exposed to the sun and will begin to bear fruit. However, there is no evidence that this was the practice of viticulture, ancient or modern (Carson, John, p. 518). It is an attempt to avoid the concept that unfruitful Christians are "cut off." But, as I explain in the text, Jesus has in mind the nation of Israel being cut off for unfruitfulness.

[647] The preposition dia with the accusative is a "marker of something constituting cause" (BDAG 225, B2a).

[648] Menō, BDAG 631, 1bβ.

[649] Epimenō, "to continue in an activity or state, continue, persist (in), persevere," from epi-, "continuance, rest, influence upon or over" + menō, "remain, stay, persist" (BDAG 375, 2).

[650] Katechō, "to adhere firmly to traditions, convictions, or beliefs, hold to, hold fast" (BDAG 533, 2a).

[651] I. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God (Bethany Fellowship, 1969), p. 183.

[652] Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 788. Grudem completes his definition, with these words "... and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again." While Calvinists and Arminians disagree on whether a truly born again person can lose his or her salvation, both agree that the true saints are those who persevere in their faith.

[653] Charles Stanley's book Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure? (Oliver Nelson, 1990) has a chapter entitled, "For Those Who Stop Believing" (chapter 8). There he says, "The Bible clearly teaches that God's love for his people is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from his hand" (p. 74). He supports this from Ephesians 2:8-9, noting that faith itself is a gift, and God has a "strict no-return policy" (p. 81). He says, "You and I are not saved because we have an enduring faith. We are saved because at a moment in time we expressed faith in our enduring Lord" (p. 80). I understand (but disagree with) Stanley's logic. I have serious problems when I compare Stanley's teaching to Jesus' teaching about abiding in the vine in John 15:1-8.

[654] Oikeō, "to live, dwell."

[655] "Apart from" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "without" (KJV) is chōris, an adverb, here used as a preposition, "pertaining to the absence or lack of something, without, apart from, independent(ly of)" (BDAG 1095, 2aα).

[656] "Withers" is xērainō, "to stop a flow (such as sap or other liquid) in something and so cause dryness, to dry, dry up." It also can refer to paralysis, "to become dry to the point of being immobilized, be paralyzed," (BDAG 684, 1).

[657] "Showing yourself" (NIV) and "so prove" (ESV) is not in the actual Greek text, which is more literally, "that you bear much fruit and be my disciples." (NRSV margin).

[658] Karpos, BDAG 510, 1b.

[659] Tēreō, BDAG 1002,  3.

[660] Entolē, BDAG 340, 2aGimmel, δ. Used in John 13:34; 14:15, 21; 15:10a, 12; 1 John 2:3-4.

[661] John 8:51-52; 14:15, 21, 23-24; 15:10ab, 20ab; 17:6; 1 John 2:3-5; 3:22, 24; 5:3; Revelation 1:3; 2:26; 3:3, 8, 10; 12:17; 14:12; 22:7. Beyond these passages, the idea of loving Jesus is surprisingly infrequent in the New Testament. It is found with agapoō in 8:42; 21:15-17; Ephesians 6:24; 1 Peter 1:8; and with phileō in 16:27; 21:17; Matthew 10:37; 1 Corinthians 16:22.

[662] Cf. Luke 11.28; Matthew 10:37.

[663] Philos, BDAG 1058-1059, 2aα.

[664] "His master's business" (NIV) is more literally, "what his master is doing" (ESV).

[665] "Choose/chose" is eklegomai, "to make a choice in accordance with significant preference, select someone/something for oneself" (BDAG 305, 2a). See 13:18; 15:19.

[666] "Appointed" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "ordained" (KJV) is the extremely common verb tithēmi, "put, place," here with the specific meaning, "to assign to some task or function, appoint, assign" (BDAG 1004, 3a). It is also used in this sense in Acts 13:47; 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11-12.

 


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