Summary: Jesus comforts his disciples with the promise that God’s children will obey his commands and love their brethren.
One of the dangers we’ve got to avoid when studying the Bible is taking individual verses by themselves without seeing the whole context. I think most of us are aware of this and we’ll typically read four or five verses before and after any verse in question, but sometimes we’ve got to go back even further and look at a whole chapter or even several chapters to get the right idea. This is the case in the fifteenth chapter of John as everything in chapters 13-17 happens during the course of just one meal.
John otherwise moves very quickly through his gospel: he doesn’t spend any time on Jesus’ genealogy or childhood, and his three years of ministry are recounted in the first twelve of twenty-one chapters. Nearly half of John’s book is spent on the night before the crucifixion and the events that followed, and half of that is spent right here in this one conversation.
Therefore, we’ve got to keep this whole section in mind at once when we study through it. We can’t read chapter fifteen separately from chapters thirteen and fourteen. Jesus takes his disciples into the upper room to prepare them for his death and give them confidence after his departure. To do this he washes their feet and then teaches that this is an example they should follow.
Have you ever wondered why he does that? What purpose does it serve as an illustration? Think of it like this: the world won’t see him after he leaves but the disciples will. How will they see him? “Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? 23Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (Jn. 14:22-23).
The disciples will see him when no one else can because he lives inside them. This is what leads to the vine and branches imagery, and it’s the source of their comfort. Jesus is the true vine and the source of all spiritual life, and the disciples will be comforted when they see his life coming through them. How does this life look? “I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (Jn. 13:15) and “He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him” (1 Jn. 2:10).
Branches produce the fruit of the vine, and love was the basis for the footwashing, and it climaxed at the cross: “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. 43But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: 44And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. 45For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:42-45).
When Christ’s disciples bear fruit (especially the fruit of love), we prove that he is alive and inside of us, which confirms our hope that the didn’t fail and he will return!
Now we come to 15:14:
14Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I commanded you.
Again, we can’t take this passage alone. We can automatically rule out any interpretation that’s geared towards guilt and fear, because we know he’s not threatening to end his friendship if they don’t do what he says. The world doesn’t obey him, and it doesn’t care. The nations rage and the peoples plot, but God causes us to walk differently, and that’s where the joy is. Think of it this way: “If you love the brothers, then you’re obeying my commands, and if you obey my commands, then it’s proof that you’re my friends. You are my friends if you do whatsoever I command you.”
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 15If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. 19Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. 25Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (Jas. 2:14-26).