Summary: to encourage people to remain obedient to Jesus through all hardships so that they may bear fruit and live joyfully.
John 15:1-11. Being fruitful disciples.
Aim: to encourage people to remain obedient to Jesus through all hardships so that they may bear fruit and live joyfully.
Intro: I wonder how many of you got ‘How to’ book or video or DVD for Christmas like ‘How to take perfect digital photos’ or ‘How to cook curries’ or ‘How to improve your golf/football/tennis..’ I don’t know about you, but I find that it always looks simple in the action photos – whether it’s Madhur Jaffrey cooking a curry or Tiger Woods swinging a golf club - but not so simple when I try it out. Developing a good technique requires a certain amount of ability and practice – both lacking in my case!
If I were to find a book with the title, ‘How to improve your Christianity’, I would be even more sceptical because living as a Christian is not a matter of ability or technique, although practice does help. When Jesus says to his followers that he is the true vine and we are the branches, he shows that growing as a Christian is primarily about a relationship. And he uses this picture of the vine to explain how we are to live in relationship with him.
1) We need to remain in Christ (v.4): Jesus points out the obvious fact that “no branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain (abide) in the vine” (v.4). Every branch of a vine or a fruit tree needs the sap and strength of the main trunk if it is to grow and bear fruit. If it is broken or diseased, it dies, the leaves wither and there is no fruit. If Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, this means that if we cut ourselves off from him, we die spiritually. We may not notice at first, but that is what happens, which is why we must remain in him.
When Jesus said to his followers ‘you have been made clean because of the word I have spoken to you’ (v.3), he meant that they had been put right with God as they had responded to his message of salvation and put their trust in him. In other words, Jesus was saying that only he can put us right with God. That was a message for his own people, the people of Israel, often referred to in the OT as the vine – that he is the ‘true vine’ – the Messiah they were looking for. It was also a warning for his would-be disciples: that their claim to follow him must be matched by the way they live; that their commitment to him must continue even when the going gets tough.
Only Jesus can put us right with God, if we drift away from him we will wither and die spiritually. If we stick close to him, we will grow spiritually and receive life in all its fullness. Whatever church or denomination we belong to, it is our closeness to Christ that matters, and it is as we draw closer to him that we find that we belong to one another.
2) We need to be prepared for suffering (v.2). When Jesus says that the unfruitful branches must be cut away and that the fruitful branches must be pruned back in order to bear more fruit (v.2), he is warning his disciples that being faithful to him is often a painful process. If we think that living as a Christian is a soft option, we are bound to be discouraged. Jesus has called us to follow him for a purpose – he wants us to be fruitful, just as a vine is meant to be fruitful. Jesus accepts us as we are, but he wants to change us so that we can become more fruitful. So we should not be surprised when the Spirit of God rebukes us in our spirits for a wrong attitude or ambition, or puts his finger on something in our lives that needs to be changed or removed. I am grateful for Christian friends who have had the courage to question things I have said or done and ask whether they honour the Lord or not.
Sometimes the Lord prunes us by allowing things to happen to us that we would do anything to avoid. At the beginning of WW2, William Temple wrote a commentary on John’s gospel, and when he came to these verses he said, ‘in war, the suffering of the trenches refines still further the finer natures, and brutalises still further the coarser natures’. Being a friend of Christ does not spare us suffering, but God can use that suffering to refine us.
So when you go through a dark time, or if you are going through one now, ask God to show you how he can use it for good, in order that you may become more fruitful for him. The death of a loved one may make you more compassionate to those who have also been bereaved. A period of illness may allow you to do things you were previously too busy to think of. A difficult experience at work may equip you to help and mentor others.