THREE RELATIONSHIPS John 15“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).Christianity is not just a religion of beliefs: it is a religion of relationships.
Jesus’ people are branches, He is the Vine (15:1–4). As we remain in His love, we produce fruit (vv. 5–10). Jesus’ people are to love one another (vv. 11–13), and serve Jesus as friends rather than servants (vv. 14–17). And Jesus’ people are to expect persecution in a hostile world (vv. 18–25), but continue to testify about Him (vv. 26–27).
Understanding the Text
“I am the true vine” John 15:1.
The vine is a frequent illustration in the Old Testament of God’s people. Psalm 80:8 speaks of Israel as “a vine brought out of Egypt.” The clearest use of the image is found in Isaiah 5. There the prophet says: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. And he explains, The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of His delight. (Isa. 5:1–2, 7) But Israel failed to produce the fruit of righteousness and justice that God looked for. And so Christ came, as the “true Vine,” that in and through Him believers might produce the fruit of true goodness (cf. Gal. 5:22–23). Only through relationship with Jesus Christ, the “true [authentic] Vine,” can the moral qualities that God seeks in human beings be produced. Personal relationship with Jesus is the essence of Christianity. “He cuts off . . . he trims clean” John 15:2. The gardener who prunes his vine works with extreme care. There is no threat here in the picture of God as the gardener who prunes His vines. There is no warning to “produce, or else.” Instead we’re assured that God, the gardener, actively tending His vineyard, is fully committed to bring us to maximum fruitfulness. God’s pruning work benefits us; it doesn’t threaten us. “Remain in Me” John 15:4–9. The dW¸ says, “Abide in Me.” The same point is made by both words: live in intimate union with Jesus. The analogy itself tells us why. A branch draws its vital juices from the vine to which it is united. In the same way we draw the spiritual vitality that enables us to produce fruit from Jesus. Thus Jesus says clearly, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” The Christian life is a supernatural life, flowing from Jesus to us. It can be experienced only as we live in intimate fellowship with our Lord. “If you obey My commands” John 15:10. Jesus also made it clear how we “remain in” Him. Jesus kept close to the Father by being responsive to His will: by obeying Him. In the same way we keep close to Jesus by being responsive to Christ’s will: by obeying our Lord (see DEVOTIONAL). Jesus never abandons us. Any failure to abide in Him is our choice. “He is like a branch that is thrown away” John 15:6. The wood of the grapevine is stringy and twisted. It can’t be cut into lumber. It can’t be shaped into furniture or utensils. It has value only when it lives in the vine, bearing fruit. So Jesus’ picture of the branch, thrown away and burned, is intended to emphasize uselessness of a branch that is not producing fruit. Note that Jesus did not say the believer is thrown away and burned. He said that the believer who fails to produce fruit is like a discarded branch. You and I have been chosen by God, and called into relationship with Christ, that we might produce the fruit of true goodness, and display God’s character in our world. If we fail to abide in Jesus, the penalty is an empty and useless life—not abandonment by the Lord. “That your joy may be complete” John 15:7–11. God is glorified by the Christian’s fruitfulness. But, as in all things, that which glorifies God benefits the disciple. Note the benefits you and I experience when we stay close to Jesus. We produce “much fruit,” and thus find a sense of satisfaction in fulfilling our destiny (v. 5). We gain power in prayer, asking “whatever you wish” (v. 7). We demonstrate our discipleship, showing the reality of our link with Jesus (v. 8). We remain in Jesus’ love, detecting a sense of closeness (v. 10). And, we experience a joy that bubbles up within us, despite difficult circumstances (v. 11). Yes, God calls us to abide in His Son. But that calling is an expression of His great love; His desire that we might know fulfillment and joy. “Love each other as I have loved you” John 15:12–17. The second great relationship that John 15 draws attention to is our relationship with one another. We are called to remain in Christ, and to live with each other in love. Why the emphasis on community? Because how we relate to each other has such a tremendous impact on how we relate to Jesus. If our relationship with other Christians is marked by rivalry, suspicion, and selfishness, it will be hard to maintain an intimate, responsive relationship with the Lord. On the other hand, an experience of belonging, trust, and caring in the Christian community encourages our trust in and responsiveness to the Lord. You and I can’t be solely responsible for how others in Christ’s church behave. But we can be responsible for our own relationships with our fellow Christians. We can set the tone of active love that Christ commands, and thus help others draw nearer to our Lord. “If the world hates you” John 15:18–27. This is the third relationship explored in John 15. We have a relationship with “the world.” The “world” in John’s writings is most often that complex of values, attitudes, and behaviors that shapes sinful human society. In his first letter John wrote that love of the Father and love of the world are in conflict: We cannot love both God’s ways and the ways of sinful man (1 John 2:15–17). Because the world is hostile to God we can expect to experience persecution in it. A world which has no understanding of God (John 15:21) hated Jesus, because His life and character rebuked it. There was no real cause for antipathy to Jesus, for Christ came to cleanse mankind from sin. Yet in the process His very presence exposes sin. Those unwilling to acknowledge their sin and trust Christ for cleansing become hostile. They are angry at being exposed as sinners. There are times when Christians who live truly good and loving lives are hated for exactly the same reason. Their very goodness exposes the wickedness of those around them, and creates hostility. But don’t stop doing and being good. The Holy Spirit is testifying through us—and our calling is to show others, as well as tell others, about Jesus.
Friend Jesus(John 15:9–17)
I haven’t noticed it in any theology books. But that word, “friend,” is one of the most significant in Scripture to help us understand the Christian life. The significance is seen in Christ’s analogy. A lord or master has the right to give his servants or slaves orders. It is none of their business why the master gives a command. Slaves are responsible only to obey—and they must obey, or else! While Jesus is Lord, and thus has the right to give commands which must be obeyed, He has chosen to call His followers friends. This means first that He shares His purposes and motives with us when telling us His will. And it means, second, that we are given a choice not available to slaves. A friend may respond to a friend out of affection. But a friend does not have to obey! Our Sarah is taking piano lessons. It’s her first year, and all too often we hear, “I hate the piano!” Pouting and miserable, she heads off to practice, but only because we tell her she has to. My two nephews, Stephen and David, are accomplished violinists. And they love to practice! Even their summer vacations are dedicated to playing in some orchestra, or heading off to a succession of music camps. What a difference between having to practice and wanting to. It’s just this difference that Jesus implied—and that is the key to a successful Christian life. God doesn’t want Christians to go out, pouting and miserable, to obey Jesus because they have to. God wants Christians to be Jesus’ friends: to eagerly respond to His wishes and commands because we want to please Him. We show that we are Jesus’ friends when we do what He commands. For God will not force us. Instead Jesus invites us to respond to Him, out of love.
Love God and do what you please. Love God, and pleasing Him is what you’ll want!
“It is not a question of how much we know, how clever we are, nor even how good; it all depends upon the heart’s love. External actions are the results of love, the fruit it bears; but the source, the root, is in the deep of the heart.”—Francois Fenelon