Text: John 15:1-17
Have you ever been parted from someone you love? A boy or girl goes off on holiday with a friend, and won’t see mum and dad for a couple of weeks. A boyfriend and girlfried will be setting off in September for different universities. A husband is called up for service in the armed forces, and doesn’t know when he’ll be home again. What is said on such occasions. “Look after yourself…keep in touch…don’t get into trouble” The disciples were in such a situation. John 14-16 record Jesus’ parting words to them.
“I am the vine; you are the branches…remain in me…apart from me you can do nothing…This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit…Love each other as I have loved you…you are my friends if you do what I command…I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.”
Fruit and Love
The vine has just one purpose in life: its job is not to look pretty, or to fill the air with fragrance, or to provide timber to build garden furniture, but to produce grapes. If any branch doesn’t produce grapes, it’s a waste of space, and so it’s chopped off and thrown into the fire. Any branch that is going to produce fruit has to be connected to the vine, and even then it is pruned so that it produces even more. Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the true vine, and you are the branches. I have work for you to do. I have a task for you to accomplish. I want you to be fruitful.”
What exactly does it mean to be ‘fruitful’? Does it mean that we’re supposed to walk around with bunches of grapes hanging from our ears? Well, according to this passage it means to be obedient to our Lord’s commands and, in particular, to love one another. Now, when we think of love, we tend to think of it a some kind of disease that puts our head in a spin and makes us to crazy things. As Faith Mills put it
I climbed up the door,
and I shut the stairs.
I said my shoes,
and took off my prayers.
I shut off my bed,
and I climbed into the light,
and all because he kissed me goodnight.
But Christian love is not a state of delerium. It is not special kind of feeling at all. It is about attitude and character and behaviour.
‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.’
“I want you.”/”I want you to have the best.” ‘What does love look like? It has hands to help others. It has feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.’ [Augustine of Hippo]
And that’s what Jesus means by being fruitful. “Love one another as I have loved you,” v12?
These are words both of warning and encouragement for us. We should be warned that we have no right to call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ if we have no interest in behaving as he would want us to behave, in loving what he loves. I can attend church twice every Sunday. I can know by heart every hymn in the hymn book. I can debate Christian doctrine till the sheep come home. But what counts is Christian fruitfulness. A pen is for writing. A spade is for digging. A key is for unlocking. A vine is for grapes. And a Christian is for spiritual fruitfulness. “By their fruit you will recognise them,” says Jesus (Mt 7:16).
Encouragement for hard-pressed disciples. Jesus talks about his Father ‘pruning’ the fruitful branches. That souns painful. Hebrews 12 talks about ‘discipline.’ ‘The Lord disciplines those he loves…no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.’ One of the reasons why our wise and loving God allows so many of his people to suffer as they do is that he knows that in our fallen state we too easily become complacent and lethargic. ‘Pain,’ says C.S. Lewis, ‘is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.’ God’s plough may make deeps furrows in my soul, but only in order to produce a crop.
‘I venture to say that the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness. Sickness has frequently been of more use to the saints of God than health has…A sick wife, a newly-made grave, poverty, slander, sinking of spirit, might teach us lessons nowhere else to be learned so well. Trials drive us to the realities of religion.’ (Spurgeon)
Remaining in Jesus
The secret of fruitfulness is stay connected to Jesus. “Remain in me,” v4. Interesting, isn’t it, that a few hours before his death, a man can say to his friends, “Remain in me.” Even though he was about to leave them, his relationship with them was going to continue. An absent friend: letters, emails, texts, phone calls. Compare with the Holy Spirit, ‘another Counsellor’, who ‘lives with you and will be in you.’ 14:16f.
And so, given this command and this encouragement, will we ‘remain’ in Jesus until the end? One of the greatest challenges for Christians of all ages is to keep on keeping on in the face of distractions and disappointments. In less than 3 weeks’ time, many hopeful athletes will gather in Athens to compete in the Olympic Games. You won’t see too many runners getting halfway down the track and then stopping to give autographs. You won’t spot many swimmers getting out of the pool at the end of each length to pose for the cameras. They want to win. In the Christian life, everyone who finishes the race is a winner. As Paul wrote: Gal 6:9f ‘Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.’ Or, as Jesus said, “Remain in me…bear much fruit…love each other.”