The Gospel of John is typically offered and recommended to new Christians to read to get a complete and structured introduction to Gospel theology. Chapters 1-13 provide selected signs and miracles which testify to who Jesus is, while chapters 13-20 are discourses (the aptly named “Upper Room Discourse” for example) and the Passion narrative of the crucifixion. The chapter 1:1-18 positional prologue is reflected in a 21:1-14 epilogue which echoes these themes in a conclusion.
Chapter 15 is a vital chapter and may be split into three sections, each with its own focus in theme and believer’s relationships as follows:
|v1-11||A parable||with Jesus|
|v12-17||A commandment||with other believers|
|v18-27||A warning||with non-believers|
Let us look briefly at each of the three sections in turn:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
The key word and message in the above is the word “abide” meaning “remain in” or “live in” or “be in” and is used eleven times here, including the final “be in” in the last line. We are called to be in obedient relationship with Jesus at all times and partakers of a spiritual intimacy with Him, as close as the vine and the branches. Yet it is a relationship which we require to cultivate as it is a matter of choice. It is a choice, which in this present world is hard to make for many people; a choice which many Christians cannot retain, as they fall away into apostasy.
However, the writing of John is not designed for fence sitting. The style requires the reader to make decision: for or against. John’s writing does not allow for split decisions. John’s style is “the rhetoric of antithesis” and borrows heavily from the common Jewish tradition of linked pairings, typically in contrasts. The Book of Proverbs is mostly in that style. Here we have John calling the reader to take a stand as it is being read:
|Lightness versus Darkness|
Earthly versus Heavenly
Flesh versus Spirit
Belief versus Unbelief
Below versus Above (Earthly versus Heavenly)
Thus, when one gets to chapter 15, John is contrasting the “true vine” and the “false vine,” that is the false vine of apostate Israel. Jesus’ disciples would clearly have understood the connections, relationships and symbolism which He employed in His teaching. John is telling us here: Jesus is the true vine of Israel.
For us, generally city dwellers not being in an agricultural environment, the metaphors are still understandable and comprehensible, even after 2,000 years: we are to “abide in Christ.”
However, like any vine, we too are measured by the fruit we bear. John 15:2 makes it very clear “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” It cannot be plainer. A born-again Christian must bear fruit. Indeed God sees it so important that God prunes us so that we will bear ever more fruit!
“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master does. But I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you and ordained you that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatever you shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it to you. These things I command you, that you love one another.”
The commandment here from Jesus is clear and concise. Born-again Christians must love one another. If you do not love your fellow Christians, by definition, you are not born-again and are a liar. See also “A Test for Being Born-Again”. Again, we are called to “bring forth fruit.” If we do not, we shall be cut down.
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they have kept My saying, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have had sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.
He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no other did, they would not have had sin. But now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father. But that the Word might be fulfilled that is written in their Law, “They hated Me without a cause.”
And when the Comforter has come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He shall testify of Me. And you also shall bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”
We are all called to bear witness and testify to who Jesus is. We are to do this in love: without fear or favour, knowing that we are likely at times to face persecution for the world hated Jesus before it hated us. Similarly, as the world hated Jesus, so the world will hate us.
However, we do not stand alone or unaided. As Jesus stated here, when Jesus ascended to the throne from earth, He did so, so that the Comforter, the paraclete (one who comes alongside to help), the Holy Spirit, can come and lead and guide us and dwell within us. When we are fully filled with the Holy Spirit, we are no longer working or thinking on own, but the Holy Spirit is leading us and in that, there is no fear. In that there is love and in that, there is total obedience. In that obedience, there is a transcendent relationship with the Living God, the maker of Heaven and earth.
Amen and Amen.