Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | May 6, 2012

2012.05.06 “Abide in Christ” – John 15:1-8

Central United Methodist Church

“Abide in Christ”

John 15:1-8

Preached by Intern Pastor Kelly Van

The 5th Sunday of Easter

May 6, 2012

The Scripture passage today contains another “I am” saying in the Gospel. I am the vine and my Father is the ‘gardener’ or ‘farmer,’ according to different translations (v.1).  In verse 5 Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” Once again, Jesus identifies himself with a symbol common to daily life to illustrate profound spiritual lessons.  “Jesus chose the grapevine because it is part of Israel’s national emblem.  The quality of a vine is only as good as the rooted stock.  Individual branches are grafted into a healthy, productive stock.  Vines are adaptable, but require attentive care: water, fertilizer, and pruning.  Disease and lack of productivity can spread from dead branches that have not been removed.  However, well-tended grapevines not only bear fruits, but are beautiful aesthetic plants.”[1]

When Jesus speaks of “my Father” as the gardener, he expresses in agricultural imagery the truth that he stated directly to his disciples as “the Father is greater than I am.” It is the same truth that is behind the Father and Son parable, where God is the source and guiding hand that directs Jesus and his work.  Like the true light and the true bread from heaven, Jesus is the true vine because he comes from the true God.

Jesus knew that his physical presence with his disciples will end soon.  He also knew that they need a clear understanding of their position with God as well as what is expected of them.  So he consciously filled their minds with pictures and ideas to help them survive the days to come.  These same lessons also provided resources for preparing future generations of disciples to grow in their faith.

When my husband and I used to live in California, we would drive to Napa Valley not to taste wine because we don’t know how to drink wine or to learn how wine is made because we have no interest of it.  You may ask, “Why did you drive there then, right?”  Well, we drove there just to take a closer look at the vineyard.  And for us, being no more than five feet tall, we were able to walk under the vineyard and see its vine and branches.

The vineyard gives us an image of community—of interrelationship, mutuality, and indwelling.  The first thing we noticed about the grapevines is the distinct trunk of the vine and then the thick tangled mass of branches.  The branches are so tangled and heavily leaf that without careful examination, it is difficult to tell one branch from another and almost impossible to tell where one ends and the next one begins.  All the branches run together as they grow out of the central vine.

What this vine image suggests about community is that there are no stand-out individuals; rather, branches encircle one another completely.  The fruitfulness of each individual branch depends on its relationship to the vine and nothing else.  Jesus said, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5).

The vine and branches metaphor encourages the community to be committed in its relationship to Jesus, a faithfulness that is measured by the community’s fruit.   According to the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, “To bear fruit is to act in love, a decidedly corporate act.  It is rooted in Jesus’ love for the community.” [2]   To live as the branches of the vine is to belong in harmony, shaped by the love of Jesus.  The individual branch is included into the communal work of bearing fruit, of living in love, and revealing itself to be one of Jesus’ disciples.

“To live according to this model, the church would be a community in which members are known for the acts of love that they do in common with all other members.”[3]  It would not be a community built around individual accomplishments, or individual preference, or individual privileges, but rather around the group accountability to the abiding presence of Jesus and communal embodiment of the love of God and Jesus.[4]

The metaphor of the vine and branches also suggests a non-hierarchical model for the church.[5]  No branch can claim superiority or privilege over any other branch.  The only differentiation among branches is whether it produces fruit or not.  The discernment of fruitfulness falls to the vine grower (God) alone, not to any of the branches.  It is the vine grower, or farmer’s role to prune and shape the vine to increase fruitfulness.  All branches are thus the same before God, noticeable only by their fruit.

If that is how God evaluates us in the church, it doesn’t allow us to measure ourselves with one another.   It’s not a question of who is more useful, or more important.  There is no basis for division or pride.  Not even the devoted and the doubters.  You’re either abiding in Jesus, the vine, or you’re not.  If you abide, you will be fruitful; if you disengage you’ll be like a branch that’s been detached from the vine.  Rootless and drying out rapidly.

So much for community, let us now talk about individuality. Christ illustrated to us a simple picture, don’t you think?  Living through it takes more effort.  Some of us try to work harder at being fruitful, and so we practice the fruit of the spirit. Which are: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-24).  It is commended that we aspire to shape our life with those virtues.  For all of them have important insights into the nature of Christian living.  However, Jesus explained that we do not produce fruit through our own efforts.  It is not “try harder to bear more fruit;” it is “Abide in me.”  It is not about the result, but rather, the relationship.  We bear fruit only by abiding with him and letting him work through us.  It is “praying without ceasing” as Scripture commanded us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.  Fruitfulness is a natural result of a developing relationship with Jesus Christ. Christ expected his followers then and now to bear fruit.  Notice how he did not expect them to produce fruit, just bear it.   Our faith is known to others through the deeds that overflow from our character or the fruit we bear.

You know as well as I do that for others to be impressed with our life-styles or acts of love, we must be consistent.  Others are very sensitive to our inconsistencies.  Oftentimes they look for them especially when we are ill and our bodies are in pain and cannot do what we want it to do; when we mumble aloud what’s in our head; when we speak before we twist our tongue seven times as the Vietnamese proverb taught us; when we want to belong to a certain group and join them to walk through the wide gate that is broad and leads to destruction, instead of the narrow gate that is difficult, but leads to life (Matthew 7:13); when we listen to our own voice and the voice of others instead of the voice from the good shepherd, Jesus Christ; when we are deprived of sleep and food and had a bad day; when we accidently kick the dog or yell at our kids.  This list can go on and on as you can see.  So if we are to bear the kind of fruit Jesus is talking about –the kind that draws others to our way of believing—there must be a regular harvest as Charles Stanley said.[6]

What Jesus calls us to do is impossible.  It’s not merely difficult.  It’s not simply a struggle.  It’s impossible.  Jesus said so himself, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (v. 5b).  Not a little.  Not a few things.  Nothing; Zero; Nada…

This should come as Good News…No one can live the Christian life apart from Christ.  Jesus wanted them to understand that though he was not going to be with them physically, he still expected them to depend on him.  The same holds true for us today.

Charles Stanley writes in his book The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life, “If we do not learn to abide in Christ, we will not have a marriage characterized by love, joy, and peace.  We will not have the self control necessary to consistently overcome temptation.  And we will always be an emotional hostage of our circumstances.” [7] Why? Because apart from abiding in Christ, we can do nothing.

Jesus continues, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you” (v.7).  True disciples do more than just believe what Jesus says; they let Jesus’ Words abide in them.  In verse 3 Jesus said, “You have already been cleansed by the Word that I have spoken to you.” We learned that Words can clean us.  These words recall the foot washing in John 13 where cleansing was also identified as being in relationship with Jesus.  Remember when Peter said to Jesus, “You shall never wash my feet? Jesus answered him, “Peter, if I do not wash your feet, you have no part with me.”  So Jesus equated abiding in him with abiding in his Words.  “For the Word became flesh and dwell among us” (John 1:14)

How do we let Jesus’ words abide in us?  “Abide in me and I in you” (v.4a).  According to the Life Application Bible Commentary, “The word abide implies intimate knowledge of what a person has said.  But it also implies that the words become a vital part of the way a believer lives.  So Jesus’ Words abide in us when we know what he said and did, and when we allow those words and actions to affect the way we live.  By reading we take in God’s Word; by obeying, we indicate that the Words abide in us:[8]

We learn from Jesus’ actions and teaching what to do

We learn from his responses how we should response.

We learn from his compassion how we should love others.

We learn from his obedience how we should submit to God.

We learn from his self-control how to stay pure and strong.[9]

We were created by God to be a fruitful branch firmly connected to Jesus.  This may surprises us because we live in a culture that tells us constantly that if we want to be worthwhile and productive people, we must strive for independence, to stand on our own two feet.  The image of the individualist is held up and admired.  But Jesus is telling us that our fruitfulness is not based on our independence but on our interdependence.  We are dependent on Jesus, the vine, for a healthy root system that will ensure our continuing fruitfulness.  There is no other way.

I’m not saying we have to understand our relationship with Jesus, although it helps.  I’m saying that it is by our relationship to Jesus that we have the capacity for fruitfulness, and by the development of that relationship that our fruitfulness will grow.

Our relationship is developed primarily in prayer and study of God’s Words.  Jesus said, “If you abide in me and my words abide in you.”  God the vine-grower will do his part.  The young vine is not allowed to fruit for the first three years and each year is cut drastically back to develop and conserve its life and energy.  When mature, it is pruned in December and January.[10]

Sometimes, even the fruitful branches need some pruning, and going under the knife is never a pleasant experience, even when we know that it’s for our own good.  But if we want to grow into sanctification, John Wesley’s term for becoming all that God would have us be, then God will treat us in whatever way is necessary to bring out the fullness of our potential as a fruitful branch, deeply rooted through Jesus the vine, and bearing fruit to the glory of God.

Jesus makes a clear delineation between the vine and the branch.  The two are not the same.  He is the vine; we are the branches.  The two are joined but not one.  The common denominator is the sap.  The sap is the life of the vine and its branches.  Cut off the flow of the sap to the branches and it slowly withers and dies.  As the branch draw its life from the vine; so we draw life from Christ.  To abide in Christ is to draw upon his life.

The secret of the life of Jesus was his contact with God; we see again and again Jesus withdrew into a solitary place to meet God.  We must keep contact with Jesus as he kept contact with God.  We cannot do that unless we deliberately take steps to do it.  I don’t know about you, but if I don’t have my contact with God in the morning, I am not an easy person to live with.  William Barclay writes in his commentary, “To pray in the morning, if it be for only a few moments, is to have an antiseptic for the whole day; for we cannot come out of the presence of Christ to touch the evil things.”[11]  For some of us, abiding in Christ will be a mystical experience beyond what words can express.  For most of us, it will mean a constant contact with Christ.  This will require us to arrange our lives, schedule time for prayer and devotion, and make time for silence in such a way that there is never a day when we give ourselves a chance to forget Christ.  There are two things laid down about good disciples:

  1. Good Disciples enrich their own lives; their contact makes them fruitful branches.
  2. They bring glory to God; the sight of their lives turns others’ thoughts to the God who make them like that.[12]

God is glorified when we bear much fruit and show ourselves to be disciples of Jesus.  The greatest glory of the Christian life is that by our life and conduct, we can bring glory to God.  Amen.  And glory be to God.


[1]Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publisher, 1993), 303.

 

[2]The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 760.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid.

[6]Charles Stanley, The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1992), 134.

[7] Ibid.

[8]Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publisher, 1993), 310.

[9]Ibid.

[10]Willliam Barclay. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of John Vol.2 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Westminster Press, 1975), 174.

[11]Willliam Barclay. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of John Vol.2 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Westminster Press, 1975), 176.

[12]Ibid.

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