Summary: What does it mean to "remain"? fruitfulness and total dependence.
The Art of Giving: The Fruitful Disciple
John 15: 1-8; Nov. 23/24, 2002
How many of you know what you are supposed to do when you get lost in the woods? (answer: remain where you are until somebody comes and finds you). Have any of you ever tried to do that? Can you imagine how difficult that must be? To simply remain in one place, waiting, passive, hoping someone will find you?
Many people don’t remain in one place – instead they decide to try it on their own, to try to find the way back themselves. They get tired of doing nothing, get sick of waiting, they panic and try to get themselves out of the trouble they are in. And they end up making the situation worse – they end up getting even more lost and decreasing the chances of rescuers being able to locate them.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like to wait – especially not in traffic. I’d rather pull onto a side street, double back and take a different route even if that ends up taking twice as long as it would have to wait through the traffic jam because then at least I’m moving – I’m in control, I feel like I’m making progress, and at least I’m not sitting in traffic doing nothing. Can you relate?
And yet this idea of remaining (or abiding in the old language) is the key to fruitful discipleship found in John 15:1-8. That is the idea I want to look at today – what does it take to be a fruitful disciple, and how do we do that?
As you are looking up Jn 15:1-8 in your Bible, let me quickly remind you of where we have been and where we are headed. This fall we’ve begun looking in depth at our vision as a church – to be a hospital (a vision of evangelism), a greenhouse (a vision of discipleship), and a festival (a vision of worship). We have only thus far talked about the hospital portion; with the last couple of weeks continuing a focus on others through our Remembrance Day service concentrating on prayer for the persecuted church, and last week with a fantastic children’s pageant based on Operation Christmas Child with the motto of “We’re blessed, to bless again.” We want to head into the season of Advent and Christmas continuing that focus on others, and reflecting together on the gifts that God has given us through His Son – and on our responsibility to share those with others. After Christmas we’ll resume our detailed look at our vision of the greenhouse and festival.
As we read Jn 15:1-8 together, keep in mind that these are Jesus’ words to His disciples after the Last Supper, before Jesus was arrested and sent to be crucified. So hear these words with the urgency and poignency of that occasion.
READ Jn 15:1-8
The People in the Metaphor:
Jesus uses an extended metaphor here to make His point. The spiritual life is like a vineyard. Any vineyard needs a vine, a gardener, some branches, and ideally some fruit. Jesus explicitly identifies the parts of the metaphor in verses 1 and 5. Jesus is the vine. God the Father is the gardener. And we are the branches. Fairly simple, fairly clear.
The Point of the Metaphor:
What is the central truth Jesus is trying to convey through this metaphor? It is tempting to say that the central truth is that we the branches must produce fruit. But as I read it several times, something else sticks out to me as the main point: we must remain in Christ.
Do you notice how many times the word “remain” is in those eight verses? Seven times (gk). Obviously the goal of the metaphor is the producing of fruit, but the clear emphasis is on the idea of remaining in Christ. Vs 4b: “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
I want to explore that idea of “remaining in Christ.” What does that mean? How do we do it? What does this tell us about the Christian life?
The main thing I see in the concept of “remaining” is one of total dependence. If the branch is separated from the vine, it dies. It might look nice for a little while, but it immediately stops growing and starts to die. The branch can’t do it on its own. The same thing is true for us spiritually – unless we remain in Christ, we die spiritually. The life doesn’t come from the branch, from how hard it works or how much it tries to be fruitful – the life comes from the vine. The life in our spirit comes from Jesus, and from our connectedness to Him. And it is only in Him that we will bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.