A. You Can’t Do It Alone
Whether we like it or not, there are many things a person can’t do alone. You can’t sing a duet alone; you can’t run a relay race alone; you can’t hold a conference alone; you can’t do a group presentation alone; you can’t play catch alone. As much as it may hurt our pride, there are some things that we can only do with the help and support of other people.
In our passage today Jesus adds something else to the list of things that we can’t do our-selves: Jesus insists that we can’t please God alone. This is the case because we draw our strength for service from our connection to Christ. God also commands us to love other people. We can’t love others as long as we are focused on “going it alone.”
B. Lesson Background
The three letters that John wrote (namely, 1, 2,and 3 John) reveal sobering news: the churches and people whom John addressed had experienced, or were just about to experience, serious internal crisis. John wrote his Gospel around AD85-90 and the letters perhaps shortly thereafter. The 55 years or so since the death and resurrection of Christ allowed ample time for false doc-trines and false Christs to spring up (compare1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). Church splits were occurring (3 John 9, 10).
John’s letters reveal that he wanted to correct these situations. A large part of the solution is found in John’s Gospel. There John made sure to include Jesus’ teaching about the vine and branches. This reminded believers that they must remain connected to the true Christ and to one another if they wished to please God.
I. Connected to Jesus(John 15,1-11)
A. Pruning the Vineyard (vv. 1-3)
1.I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
Jewish readers would likely detect an allusion here to Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard. In Isaiah5:1-7 the prophet compares Israel to a choice vineyard that God planted in the promised land. He tended it with special care. Of course God expected a good harvest for His work, as any farmer would. Instead the Israelites produced unrighteousness and injustice.
The vine imagery appears in other Old Testament passages as well (see Psalm 80:8-16; Isaiah27:2, 3; Jeremiah 2:21; 12:10, 11; and Ezekiel 15).Here in John 15 Jesus now applies Old Testament imagery in a new way: the true vine, which will yield a faithful harvest, is Christ himself. Jesus replaces Judaism as the means by which people are connected to God, the keeper (husbandman) of the vineyard.
2.Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
The imagery in this verse outlines God’s work as the keeper of the vineyard. Jesus is the vine, and He now pictures the disciples as branches. When a branch withers or fails to produce fruit, it must be cut off from the vine to protect the overall health of the plant. In a similar way the disciples are forewarned that God expects them to be faithful; if they are not, they may lose their privileged position. Compare John the Baptist’s dire warning in Matthew 3:10: “And now also the use is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”
On the other hand, the vine keeper also tends to the healthy branches by pruning them back in order to insure the maximum yield. This imagery possibly alludes to the persecution that Jesus will predict for the disciples in John 16:1-4. See also the discussion of God’s discipline in He-brews 12:3-11. Some will respond to suffering by losing their faith; others will because stronger and even more effective through these experiences. I See question #1, page 224.J
The exact nature of the fruit that Jesus has in mind is not defined here. He may be alluding back to John 14:15. There He said that those who love Him will keep His commandments; if this is the case, then the fruit here is similar to Paul’s “fruit of the Spirit”—a Christian lifestyle characterized by “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22, 23). (See question #2 page 224)
Or it may be that Jesus is thinking more of John 14:30, 31, where He speaks of what theworld most learn. If this is the case, the fruitwould refer to the disciples’ evangelizing efforts. Both meanings may be in view, and each is certainly an essential measure of spiritual health.
WHEN LESS YIELDS MORE
I grew up in suburbia in a family that had no interest in landscaping or beautification. I can’t remember either of my parents ever planting any flowers or even maintaining houseplants. We had a happy home, but developing a green thumb was just not part of our family activities. When my wife and 1 bought our first house, it was on a small lot in a major city, and the previous owner had planted a rosebush just in front of But even I could tell that the rosebush, which carried very few blossoms, was overgrown. The next spring I decided to cut back the plant. There were a lot of branches clustered in the center of the bush, and they were bending across each other.
So I cut out some of the excess branches in the center while thinning some of the outer branches. To my delight that summer the rose-bush was covered wills blossoms! There were far more blossoms than I would have assumed, even though I knew that was supposed to be the result.
That’s the principle Jesus is talking about here. Even healthy plants need to be pruned for maximum productivity. Sometimes Jesus needs to cut some of the “stuff’ out of our lives so that we can produce issuer and better results for His kingdom. We should expect Him to do so.
3. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
The word clean refers back to the pruning process in verse 2. The disciples have been cleansed—prepared to serve and to witness—through their constant exposure to Jesus’ teaching. Earlier, Jesus had referred to them as cleaning order to distinguish them from Judas, whose motives obviously were impure and ungodly(John 13:10, 11).
B. Bearing Fruit (vv. 4-8)
4, 5. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing.
The ideas of “that which should abide in us” and “whom we should abide in” are very important to the apostle John (see John 5:38; 14:17;15:7; 1 John 2:14, 24, 27). The emphasis is on remaining faithful. This can come about only through closeness and unity with God.
The first statement in verse 4 is a promise to believers. A good paraphrase might be, “If you remain faithful to me, then 1 will remain faithful to you”—Christ will not abandon us. This charge is especially important in light of verse 2. Just as a branch cannot bear grapes without the nourishment provided by the vine, so believers cannot live lives that please God without the strength available through Christ.
If we lose that connection, then we lose our power to serve. And once we lose the power to serve and bear fruit, we are in great danger. The danger is not just in being pruned back a little but in being pruned away permanently (Luke13:6-9). Jesus emphasizes this point here in verse5 so that there can be no misunderstanding: without me ye can do nothing. [See question #3,
6.If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
After the keeper of the vineyard prunes away the dead branches, he throws them into a pit and burns them. The wood from vines is useless for anything but burning (compare Ezekiel 15:1-5).Jesus alludes here to ultimate judgment of those who fall away: they are separated from the faithful and cast into eternal fire (compare Matthew 13:37-42).
7.If ye abide in me. and my words abide in you. ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
Jesus informs His hearers of one way that He will continue to empower them: through His words or teachings. By learning what Jesus commanded while on earth, believers will know what they must do to please God. Is there any-thing more important than learning what Jesus desires of us?
It is important to stress both the context and the condition of the promise in this verse. First, in context Jesus is speaking about our ability to hear fruit through obedience to Him. Thus we are invited to ask for the power to serve, and Jesus will give it. We are not necessarily being promised that physical health or material blessings await just for the asking. In fact the reference to “pruning” in verse 2 may suggest that God will ask us to do without such things at times in order to increase our faith.
Second, the condition of our successful asking is stated in the first part of the verse: we must abide in Christ and allow His Word to abide in us. If we remain closely connected to Jesus and meditate on His teaching. then we can have a proper perspective on God’s will for our lives. This perspective should focus our prayers on things that please Him rather than ourselves(compare James 4:3).
8. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
God receives glory when we bear much fruit in the sense that our actions reveal His power at work in the world. When we do the right thing, our witness to others shows that we recognize God to be worthy of our service and worship Jesus’ entire earthly ministry has been focused on the glory of God (John 17:4). We show that we are His true followers when we attempt to do the same thing in our own lives.
CHANNELS OF PRODUCTIVITY
We all enjoy the result of fruit trees’ productivity. Fruit, however, is not always automatic. I remember we had an old apple tree in our yard when I was a youngster. We did nothing to enhance the fruit, and the result was not very good. There were a lot of apples. but they were wormy, misshapen, blemished, and not worth eating. Much later I learned that fruit trees require a good deal of care. Spraying controls the worms and blemishes. Pruning the trees helps production. Fertilizer and special applications aid the whole process. Fruit growers spend a lot of time and go to considerable expense to increase the yield of their trees.
But there is one thing that never happens in the process of producing fruit: the tree branches themselves don’t have to go to extra effort to pro-duce. Imagine tree branches hunkering down, grunting and groaning like a weight lifter doing a dead lift. Imagine tree branches working up a sweat while trying to increase the size of their fruit. Ridiculous, isn’t it?
Yet we often attempt the same thing in trying to produce spiritual fruit. We strain as if the fruit comes from us. It doesn’t. It only comes when we(the branches) are tapped into Jesus (the vine).Perhaps that’s why Jesus says that the Father is glorified when we produce fruit. We aren’t the producers—God is. We are channels of His productivity, if we allow ourselves to be.
C. Abiding in Love (vv. 9-11)
9.As the Father bath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
Love is the bond that unites the Father and the Son. It is also the bond that unites the branches with the vine. Jesus’ entire ministry has been an expression of God’s love for Him and for the world, and Jesus has shown the same love to the disciples. Continue is another translation of the Greek word for “abide”: Jesus’ love is our home, the place where we live. Verses 10 and 11 (next)will spell out two effects of this abiding love in our lives.
10.If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept nay Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
Jesus now explains exactly how it is possible to continue living in His love. When we see what Christ has done for us, we should respond by obeying His teachings. This could include all of His ethical commands, such as we see in the Sermon on the Mount. But the focus here is probably on the “new commandment” that Jesus has just spelled out at John 13:34. He will repeat it in15:12, below—”love one another.” By showing love for one another, we imitate Christ’s love for us. (See also 1 John 5:2.)
11. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
The thought of Christian service, love for others, and obedience to Christ’s commands often seems overwhelming and impossible. Yet Jesus highlights the benefit of obedience: joy. The phrase any joy refers to the satisfaction that Jesus receives from knowing that He perfectly fulfills God’s will, despite the difficulties He faces. Such joy remains with us when we know that we also are following Christ’s commands and bearing fruit despite circumstances. Of course this is not to say that we always will be happy in this life; we can, however, always be confident in the knowledge that God is pleased with outwork.
Connected to One Another(John 15:12-17)
A. New Commandment (vv. 12, 13)12, 13.
This is nay commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love bath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Love one another is Jesus’ “new commandment” of John 13:34, as noted above. Jesus’ love is the model for the relationships we are to have with other believers.
Jesus illustrates this love by referring the disciples to what He has done for them already (as I have loved you). Up to this point in time, He has allowed them to enjoy a special, privileged relationship with Him. He has provided for their needs. He has protected them both physically and spiritually, as they have allowed Hint to. Jesus also illustrates the kind of love He is talking about by referring the disciples to what He is about to do in the very near future. He will provide the ultimate sacrifice by laying down his life for them on the cross.
Such sacrificial love is the purest expression of the fruit that Christ empowers us to bear. This does not mean that Jesus calls us to die upon across as He did. That was a one-time event, motto be repeated. Yet if the type of love that is evident in the cross is not evident in our lives as well, then we clearly are not drawing our power from the Christ, who died for sinners.
B. Friends of Christ (vv. 14-16)
14. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
The term friends is used to refer to people sharing the same social status in the ancient world. Viewed in this light the disciples must see this comment as something of a paradox. Technically, a servant (one who follows commands) is not a friend (an equal) to his or her master. We are friends of Christ in the sense that we are privileged to know His thinking, as was Abraham (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:0; James 2:23)and Moses (Exodus 33:111)
15, Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that 1have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
The slave or servant does not need to understand the master’s orders; he or she simply needs to obey them without asking questions. Jesus is our Lord, and He does not invite us to question His commands. Al the same lime, however, He has not simply left us with a code of laws and rules. Rather, Jesus has openly revealed the Father’s will and purposes to the disciples. He has taught them the importance of revealing God’s love to the world.
While we can enjoy the privilege of friendship with Jesus, we must never forget that He is the boss. Christ is the one who initiates a relation-ship with us, and we should not take His offer lightly.
At the same time, however, we should feel se-cure in the knowledge that Jesus has not set us up to fail: He has not ordained that we should be pruned away and cast off (v. 2). He has cleansed us instead (v. 3). He tells as everything that we need to know to bear fruit. Because of our relationship with Him, we can expect not only God’s favor but also His power for service.
C. New Commandment Reprised (v. 17)
17.These things I command you, that ye love one another.
Jesus closes by repealing the essential element in bearing fruit: that new commandment to love one another. By the time the apostle John writes his letters, this new commandment be-comes an old commandment (2 John 5). Yet it bears repeating!
The disciples will have to depend on one another for support once Jesus is gone. The church will not be able to grow if it is divided. Strangely, Christians often take the command to love one’s neighbor (Mark 12:31) more seriously than the command to love one another. That makes us prey to easy criticism from nonbelievers. Who wants to join a divided church?
A. Friends in High Places
Everyone knows that there are a lot of things we can’t have access to unless we know people in “high places.” I am devoted fan of NASCAR, and recently I was able to secure a garage pass to a race in Indianapolis. This pass allowed me full access to all the behind-the-scenes areas at the race. These included the garages where the cars are serviced and the areas where the drivers and crews meet to discuss strategy.
I saw many of my favorite drivers up close there, as well as some other celebrities who had come to the race. All this was possible solely be-cause my cousin’s husband works as a member
of the crew on one of the NASCAR teams. With-out his help I would have been watching from the stands or on television.
Our passage today applies that principle to our spiritual lives. If we follow Jesus’ teaching, He treats us as “friends,” and with Jesus, you really do have “a friend in high places”! With Him on our side, there is no limit to what we can do—provided that we stay connected.
How sad it is to see an unconnected Christian! Ironically, it seems sometimes that it is preachers who are in the most danger of losing their connection to the true vine. Preachers are under tremendous pressure to be involved in all the major and minor activities of the church. They scurry from one meeting to another, trying to keep all the programs going. Under all this time pressure, it’s tempting for them to start cutting back on their prayer and devotional life.
The cure for the Christian who is relying on his or her own strength to get things done is Zechariah 4:6: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”
Lord, we know that You have called us to love one another the way that You loved us. But sometimes our pride and feelings get in the way, and we don’t treat each other the way that we know we should. Help us to see the importance of unity in Your church. Help us to bear fruit by staying closely connected to You and to one an-other. In Jesus’ name, amen.
C. Thought to Remember
When we bear fruit and love one another we show that we understand Jesus.