On the Sunday morning, I had the privilege of speaking on the theme of 'Us Engaging With God' and so I chose to look at John 15. The talk wasn't recorded, but here are my notes which I hope will be interesting.
Context of passage
Building up to Jesus’ death. He is with his disciples - his closest group of followers. Farewell speech about his death. Has just promised the Holy Spirit and immediately after this section he talks about the cost of discipleship - persecution.
The mission context is really important to grasp.
John 15: 1 - 17 (Vine and branches)
Jesus is speaking:
“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. 4 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.
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.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 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. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 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. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 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. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”
Chosen - Lesley talked about God taking the initiative and here we can see Jesus telling his disciples that he chose them - v 16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you.”
Disciples normally chose the rabbi that they wanted to follow around, but not so with Jesus’ disciples. Jesus hand-picked them for himself. And it’s the same with us. God took the initiative in our salvation. It was nothing we could do for ourselves.
The apostle Paul, writing to one of the early churches in a place called Ephesus (in modern Turkey), says:
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Eph 1: 4
So our initial response to the Gospel is to come to Christ in humility and accept the gift of new life that he has given us. We can’t earn it or pay for it ourselves.
If you haven’t accepted the free gift of life in Christ, talk to someone after this session. There are plenty of people who would be happy to talk with you and pray with you.
God has called us and equipped us for mission - not because we’re intelligent or brave or morally-superior or worthy in any way but because of his grace. This should keep us humble and reliant on God every single day.
Friends - We are friends rather than servants. v 15 “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.”
(‘Loved ones’). There’s nothing wrong with being a servant of God (elsewhere in the Bible), but Jesus is emphasising that he wants his disciples to know his plans and purposes and to know how loved they are. A servant does what the Master commands, but often without really understanding why. Jesus wants to take his followers into his confidence!
God is the source of all love and he’s poured that love into our lives (v9). We can be friends with the all-powerful and all-loving creator of the universe!!! Impetus for mission - others can become friends of Jesus too.
This passage gives us an insight into the sacrificial nature of friendship. v13 - “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Jesus is about to go to the cross and die an agonising death for his friends. There’s a cost to true friendship. We should be sacrificial in terms of mission and discipleship. Go where we wouldn’t normally go and associate with people we wouldn’t normally hang out with. Follow Jesus even when we are ridiculed or persecuted or have to make tough moral decisions.
What does friendship look like in your own life? Think about your own friendships. Difference between a course-mate, acquaintance, employer and a true friend. Jesus is the truest friend of all. He is always there, he loves unconditionally, he will never let us down.
So how do we relate to him? Do we only connect when we want something, treating him a bit like Amazon?
Or do we share every aspect of life with him, from doing the washing up to coming to him with tears of grief?
Is your relationship with God a marriage of convenience or love relationship?
God is calling us to be his true friends who will enjoy intimacy with him, share every aspect of our lives with him and follow him whatever the cost.
First point - chosen friends.
Jesus was great at explaining spiritual concepts in ways that people would understand using plants, animals and objects that people would have been familiar with. So let’s look at this brilliant illustration of the vine and branches.
v 5 - 6 “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.”
All through John’s gospel, Jesus has made a series of ‘I am’ statements to help people understand his identity, his mission and how to respond. This is the last ‘I am’ saying.
True vine - in the OT, the nation of Israel (God’s chosen people) were pictured as a vine (Psalm 80: 8), but they had failed to bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. In contrast, Jesus the ‘true vine’ brings salvation to Jew and non-Jew through his death and resurrection so that through him the OT promise that all nations will be blessed is fulfilled.
The whole point of a vine is to bear fruit. It’s not grown to look pretty, but it’s grown to produce grapes. So what is the fruit in this context?
Main thrust is mission (v8) - Jesus’ disciples are to bear fruit to the Fathers’ glory. They are to carry on Jesus’ mission in the world to bring the Gospel to all nations. And that’s our mission too. Fruitful living is living a Gospel life and sharing the good news of Jesus with others.
The branches have no source of life in themselves - if they are cut off from the vine they will wither and die. And if they aren’t producing fruit, they will be cut off (like Judas who betrayed Jesus). Genuine salvation and life in Christ is by faith alone evidenced by fruitfulness.
In other words - there’s nothing you can do to earn your salvation, but having received salvation as a free gift from God there will be evidence of your life being transformed by him in the way you behave. [Illustration - Old relative helps you pay off your student loan. Out of thankfulness you go round and mow their lawn. You didn’t do that to get the gift - that was already yours, but you did it out of thankfulness for the gift.]
Trying to be self-sufficient, or being unwilling to be filled with the Holy Spirit leads to becoming a dead, fruitless branch.
“Fruit-bearing for God is not a human possibility; it is Christ’s work through us.” John Stott
Pruning of the branches - I’m not a gardener but pruning is pretty brutal. But purpose is more fruitfulness. God’s word is the main way we’re pruned. Also difficult circumstances [Illustration - time when I was off work with depression and couldn't 'achieve' what I did before. Helped me to learn to rely on God.]. C. S. Lewis - “God whispers in our pleasures but shouts in our pains.”
So how can we make sure we’re fruitful branches?
Remain in Christ
Word ‘remain’ appears 11 times. When there’s repetition in the Bible it pretty much means that that word or concept is important!
What does it mean to ‘remain in Christ’?
Another word for ‘remain’ is ‘abide’ from where we get our word ‘abode’ or ‘home’.
J B Philips talks about ‘Making your home in Jesus’. I love this concept. I want to live my whole life with Jesus at the centre - Not just telling God about my life at certain appointed times of the day, but sharing all the day-to-day moments with him.
There is a call to obedience in this passage (v14) and it’s clear that we need to take God’s word seriously and live in accordance with it. But how do we do that? As we saw earlier, spiritual sustenance and power comes from Christ alone. We need to remain in Christ and allow God’s words to remain in us if we’re going to live a fruitful Christian life and be obedient to God.
In Paul’s letter to some young Christians in Galatia, he says “How can you be so foolish! You began by God's Spirit; do you now want to finish by your own power?” Gal 3: 3
It seems that they were guilty of forgetting that they needed the Holy Spirit to live as a Christian every single day and not just when they initially turned to Christ.
Is this something that we’re guilty of too? I know that I have sometimes been tempted to try and live as a Christian in my own strength. It’s easy to forget that it’s only God who can make us a Christian and it’s only God who can give us the power to live a Christian life. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit to be able to live the fruitful life that God intended for us. For example, a TV unplugged from the power is just a black box. In the same way, if we're not plugged into the power of the Holy Spirit we can't fulfil the purpose that we were created for.
So how can we ensure we remain in Christ? 5 practical points:
- Special times with just you and God.
- Quiet time every day. ACTS. Repent of sin and ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I make mine in the morning and spend some time reading the Bible and praying. If this isn’t something you’re used to, start small with 15 mins or so and it’ll soon become a habit and something that you really enjoy.
- Lots of couples have a ‘date day’ where they set aside special time away from distractions to enjoy each other’s company. Why not have a regular ‘date time’ with God? When I’m taking time out to be with God, I don’t have my smart phone - I take a £9 pay-as-you-go phone from Tesco.
- Being rooted in God’s word. The Bible is the living, breathing life-transforming word of God and we need to be immersed in it daily.
- Some people find dated Bible-reading notes helpful.
- Maybe you can get together with others to read and study the word.
- Have it on your phone - YouVersion app, Biblegateway website.
- Daily emails
- Audio Bible
- Scripture memory app - BibleMinded
- Prayer. Prayer is talking to the person who loves us more than anyone else in the world. It’s a privilege rather than a religious chore. If I told you that you must make more of an effort to talk to your best friend you’d probably think that was weird because it’s not an effort to talk to someone that you love being with. You might not have much experience of praying, but my advice is - just do it!
- Praying there and then with friends in a café, at a bus stop
- Pray for people via FB messenger, What’s App
- Pray as you’re walking along
- Type prayers on your phone / write in a book
- Have an app to organise your prayer life eg. PrayerMate
- Christian community. This passage makes it clear that being a disciple involves personal and corporate obedience. “Love each other” and washing people’s feet can only be done in community.
The gospel is the story that God is writing throughout history, from the beginning of creation to the time when there will be a new heaven and earth. We have a tendency to think of it as a very individual thing, but actually it’s much more about a shared adventure. God is saving his people and we’re being invited into his family, to enjoy rich relationship with him and with our Christian brothers and sisters. Authentic Christian living can only happen in community - when we are in relationship with each other. For people to fully understand the gospel, they need to experience Christians living out the gospel together.
At 64 years old, long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad successfully fulfilled her lifelong dream of completing the 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida. Upon completing her grueling 53-hour journey, a breathless Nyad told the world, "I have three messages: One is we should never ever give up. Two is you are never too old to chase your dreams. And three is it looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team."
Being a Christian isn’t a solitary sport either. So if you don’t currently go to church - find a church (there are people here who can help). You’re not a lone ranger - you’re part of God’s family and you need them just as much as they need you.
- Worship. Cultivate an awareness of God’s presence whatever you’re doing and respond in gratitude and praise.
- Paint, draw or colour (‘Meditations of the Heart’ colouring book)
- Take photos
- Make a scrapbook
- Sing, make music and dance
- Write a song, psalm or poem
- Get out into nature and enjoy God’s creation
- Paddle in the sea, skim stones, roll down a hill
- Visit a cathedral and sit in silent awe
What works for you personally - we’re all different. The important thing is that you’re engaging with God, his word and his people.
What can we expect from a Christ-centred, spirit-filled life?
- Joy. v11 - “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Obedience is a joyful, life-giving thing. We’re living the life we were created for. (John 10: 10 - life in all it’s fullness) During a dry spell in my Christian walk, I felt like I was trying to be obedient to God through gritted teeth, but the more I've got to know God and trusted that he is fully good, the more joyful I've been in obedience. Joyful and loving Christian community is a fantastic witness to the non-Christian world.
- Prayers being answered. v7 - “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”. If we’re living in step with the Holy Spirit and remaining in Christ then what we pray will be what’s on his heart too and we can confidently expect him to hear and respond.
- Love for those for whom Christ died. v12 - “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” When we remain in Christ, we are able to love others in a sacrificial way that we were never able to before. We can love others because Christ first loved us.
Conclusion and summary
- Chosen friends. We have been chosen by God for intimate friendship with him. That’s our purpose in life and something that we can be genuinely excited about sharing with others.
- Fruitfulness - We are to be fruitful disciples, sharing the good news of Jesus with others and growing in Christian character and obedience.
- Remain in Christ - We can only live the Christian life if we remain in Christ, being empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Some questions for discussion
- How should we respond to the fact that God has chosen us? How have you responded?
- How do you relate to Jesus as a friend?
- What evidence is there of fruitfulness in your life?
- How is God 'pruning' you and how do you respond?
- How are you tempted to drift away from Christ?
- What practical steps can you take to make sure that you remain in Christ?
In : Bible study
Tags: gospel bible talk fireseeds vine christ
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