John - Chapter 15
Again, let’s review the context we are dealing with. First of all, there was the ‘Book of Signs’, in chapters one through twelve, in which there were seven signs that were used to reveal Jesus’ identity and also to communicate that responsive acceptance on the one hand, and rejection on the other. By the way, this was beautifully interposed in the context of the crucifixion, when you saw the two malefactors, one who represented that acceptance and another who represented that rejection. Those are the only two options you’ve got; to ignore Him is tantamount to rejecting Him.
So, those are the only options we can have. Although, in our own day, as you well know, more and more people are trying to eliminate those two options and get around it. Their end-run attempt is simply to re-define Jesus. That is really the whole philosophy of our own time; everyone wants Him on his or her bandwagon, everyone wants the Jesus they want, not the Jesus who is.
So, they will either criticize the Gospels and say they have to pick and choose, or they want to reinterpret them in such a way that makes them more livable. People will say they really like the Sermon on the Mount and they have no idea what they are talking about. Have they read it lately? It is a scary document.
But, the fact is that the Jesus of the Gospels is utterly and completely unique in all the world. There is no one like Him. No one has made the claims He has made and no one has had the credentials that backed up those claims. That is really part of the purpose of the ‘Book of Signs’, in chapters one through twelve, to demonstrate those claims and those credentials. For example, He would say, “I am the Light of the world,” but what would He also do? He would give sight to a man born blind. He would say, “I am the resurrection and the Life,” and then He would raise Lazarus from the dead. So, the words and the works went together.
So, the idea of Jesus as being One who will require a response is part of that theme in this Gospel and then the rest of the Gospel, chapters 13 through 21, we can call the ‘Book of Glory’, because glory has to do with Him being raised up and part of His glorification, which might seem surprising to us, is being raised up on the cross and then ascending to the Father. In so far as that was His intention and His purpose, He came to give His Life in exchange for ours. That is the point at which He could truly say, “Father, glorify Your name.”
So, we see in the next section, then, the ‘Book of Glory’, that we have His Upper Room discourse in chapters 13 through 17, and then in chapters 18 through 21 we are back to the narrative account of the Passion of the Christ. That is the narrative that ends up with the resurrection and His various appearances.
So, to contexturalize this, we saw in chapter 13 that Jesus was working with His disciples in the upper room and He performed, as you recall, a visual parable in which He washed the feet of His disciples, including those of Judas. Then He said, “Just as I have done to you, you must also do to one another.” The fact is that a teacher is greater than His students and yet He was the one who washed their feet and therefore it was needful for them to do the same. As I have so often told you, Jesus never invites us to do something for others that He has not already done for us.
So, if he asks us to serve one another, He has done it first. If He invites us to wash one another’s feet, it is because He has done it first. If He asks us to obey the Father, it is because He did it first. If He asks us to love one another, it is because He did that first.
So, we have, really, in these incarnations, a God who manifests His intimate care by becoming one of us. In that solidarity of the human condition, He now can identify with the human plight. He understands all those things that we really go through, not merely by intellectual apprehension, but by actual personal experience. In Hebrews chapter two and chapter four, we are invited to go boldly before God because we have a high priest who really cares for us. This contextualizes that. I think I see, in this section, a remarkable picture of intimacy.
At the same time, they are troubled, are they not? By the end of chapter 13, it is beginning to dawn on them that what He said before, about His coming crucifixion, really was going to take place. They weren’t sure about that crucifixion, but they were sure He told them, “I am going to a place you can not go. You can follow Me later, but you can not come with Me now.” This led to tremendous pain and that is why in chapter 14 He had to tell them not to be discouraged, that it was needful that He go to the Father, and then He could send them the power of the Holy Spirit, so that they would have this intimate communion, the deepest communion conceivable, namely something that is illustrative of the communion of the Father and the Son. Just as Christ is in the Father, and the Father is in Him, now we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Then He says His Father will come to them and make His dwelling.
So, we have a Triune God actually indwelling the believer. I find that to be quite extraordinary and quite unique. There is a profound intimacy and imminence in the portrait that is found in the New Testament, about God’s relationship with His children, and yet at the same time it never eliminates that magnificent transcendence. It never eliminates the glory and power and majesty and mystery of God.
So, there is this deep mystery; how God is imminent and close to us and at the same time He is awesome and unknowable in His deepest self. So, there is this tension that we embrace, because both are confirmed in Scripture.
Then, at the end of chapter 14, we saw that Jesus, in sharing these important words, tells them, in the last verse, “Get up. Let us go from here.” Just before He said that, He said, “So that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.” I take it that it implies Jesus was now inviting His disciples, at the end of their meal, to get up and go up to the valley of Kidron and the garden of Gethsemane, where they would often gather. In doing so, I imagine Jesus telling this parable, this allegory, of the vine as they are moving through the vineyards in that ancient world.
So, what is seen in the world around them comes always illustrative of the spiritual world. Many of you know that I am working on a whole series of visual presentations that I call the ‘Stop and Wonder’ series. My friend Bill Ibson and I are working together on this. We are working on several areas; spiritual formation, apologetics, literature, film, and also nature. In nature, we have about a dozen ideas for things we will do.
So, I told Bill, God loves you, and I have a wonderful plan for your life. The reason why I am a big believer in nature, in terms of teaching, is by helping you see, and you can use anything in the created order, from beetles to rocks, it will teach spiritual truth about the living God. It points beyond itself to spiritual truth. The way I have thought about is this: In Romans 1, we realize there is a limited knowledge we can have about God from His created order. The problem is that you need something more than a general knowledge about God. You need to have special revelation, because you would never know from Romans 1, that is to say from the created order, that the God who created it all is also a God who loves us. Indeed, He suffered and sacrificed for us. You would never know that. My point is that having come to understand that from special revelation, now we can go back to the general world and see though attributes revealed in special revelation illustrated in the natural world and that is what I am doing.
So, one of our series will be diverse things like diatoms, and sea horses, and jellyfish. Why did I choose that? Bill and I were blown away when we went to the Chattanooga Museum and saw the sea horses and the jellyfish. For us it was a time of worship. We were stunned by the glory and the beauty; almost a profligate beauty, overwhelming us with the variety, ingenuity, and creativity of God. Our presentation will try and communicate a little bit more about this so that you will walk away and be amazed at these marvels. Then our question will be, what three things do you learn from studying jellyfish? What three things do you learn about God? What do learn about God studying diatoms? Diatoms are pond scum. It is not really on the highest level, but when you magnify them the architecture of these diatoms is more exquisite than anything an architect has ever been able to design. It is extraordinary.
Now, going back to the text, we see Jesus using a vine and its branches as one of those analogies, as He so often did in His parables. This is an allegory. “I am,” He says, “the true vine and My Father is the vinedresser.” This imagery of the vineyard is really a basic Biblical motif because we can look at the idea of the vine in the past. In the past the vine really illustrated Israel. Turn to Isaiah chapter five, and it illustrates how Israel was seen as a vine. God cultivated it and gave it every opportunity, but it produced wild grapes.
So, in Isaiah 5:1-7, we see, “Let me sing now for my well-beloved a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it all around and remove its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in the middle of it and also hewed out a wine vat in it; then He expected it to produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it?
Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? So, now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. I will lay it waste; it will not be pruned or hoed, but briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus, He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.” Instead of producing justice, then, it practiced oppression. Instead of producing righteousness, it produced unrighteousness and cries of distress from its victims. In spite of God’s chastening, they would not respond. This reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the vineyard in Matthew chapter 21. In verses 33 to 46, you recall the image of the son of the vineyard owner, and he comes and they cast him out and they kill him. This clearly is a portrait of God’s people rejecting the One who is coming for them.
They rejected Him and, frankly, this was predicted before, in the Old Testament Scriptures and their Hebrew Bible. As to the past, then, we see clearly that it was really related to Israel. As to the future, there is also a vine. In the future we see the vine of the earth, in Revelation 14:14-20. This is a context in which the Gentile world system is being ripened for God’s judgment, and so the idea is that it will be crushed and the image of profound judgment is what we see, especially in the Gentile world system. The time of the Gentiles will come to an end and then the righteousness will come from Jacob and thus all Israel will be saved.
We go on to the present tense, though, of the vine, and in the present tense what we see here is that it is us. It is God’s people. That is to say, in the present tense it is Christ and the branches. As the true vine, then, He is the original, of which all others are copies. As believers, we do not live on substitutes. What we have in Christ, then, is a living union because it is an allegory of something that is truly alive. It is not inert. You have to be alive to bear fruit. It is also a loving union in so far as we are invited to enjoy Him and to find our life in Him and find Him as the source of our deepest pleasure. It is also a lasting union. It is lasting because we do not need to be afraid. He is the One who has overcome the world and this is going to go on forever. It is going to endure and last forever, and that makes it truly significant.
So, if we continue and look at this image of the vine and the branches we see what He says in verse two, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” You see, Ezekiel 15 makes it very clear. It says there that branches are good either for bearing fruit or for burning. They are not good for building. They can not produce their own life, the branches actually bear the fruit of the vine itself and they receive it and display it.
Now, if a vinedresser prunes the branches, what is the purpose of it? So eventually it produces more fruit. Frankly it always bothers me when Karen prunes her roses. It just seems too far to me, and they will never come back.
But, every year I see a better plant than the year before. It is quite glorious. If it were up to me, I would just let the thing continue what it was doing and eventually it would be big, all right, but it wouldn’t really bear much beauty, would it? So, there is an analogy in nature, about horticulture, that illustrates spiritual truths, and Jesus is using it here.
Now, I want you to note the famous progression in this chapter. In verse two He says, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit.”
So, first of all, there is no fruit. He takes away branches that do not bear fruit, so then there is fruit. That is the first dimension. He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You know further down He will say, “Much fruit,” and His desire here would be for us, in verses five and eight, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit.”
So, you have these four different levels of fruitfulness. They go from nothing to abundance. Obviously, the desire would be that the Father be glorified, as in verse eight, “That you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” Now, pruning involved the cutting away of dead branches, but also the cutting back of living branches to enhance the quality and the quantity of the crop.
The worst thing God could do would be to let us alone and let us have our own way. Just like it drives me nuts to see kids who have never been disciplined, and they just have their way. Frankly, the mother is in terror of the kid. Anything he wants, he gets, and after a while he becomes a monster. Kids often need a good switching, and I remember my grandmother taking a switch. It was actually a symbolic act. She would let me go out and I would actually choose my own instrument of torture. I would cut one off and bring it to her, and she would whack it. Of course, it was harmless, but it sure did sting. You see point there? I never forgot it.
So, I had a tremendous respect for that woman. The fact is that I needed it very badly. A kid has to test the limits. If they see them a bit mushy, what will happen? They no longer have security. They want to see the point where there is some validity and consistency. And so, without that, you can see the obvious analogy. We, too, need that validity and consistency. We, too, need to be disciplined by the living God. So, He prunes us. Frankly, the process does hurt.
But, it is the only path to more and better fruit, so we often call those severe mercies of God. It is a mercy that He does this, so that we would actually be driven to Him. You know why? Because there is really no spiritual growth in our lives, apart from our experiential awareness of our condition of profound need. We are all a desperate and needy people, but we are often not really in touch with that condition. So, God has lots of ways of getting us in touch with our bankruptcy and our need, to drive us to our dependence upon Him.
Now, I may say also, that sometimes God cuts away good wood, so that we may then enjoy the best. That is what He is looking for; He always wants what is best for us. In verse three, He goes on to develop this theme, and says, “You are already clean because of the words which I have spoken to you.” Now, God uses the Word to convict us, but also to cleanse us, according to Ephesians 5:26:27; it cleanses us and also He prunes us by chastening. If you studied Hebrews chapter 12, in verses 1 through 11, there you would see God’s woodshed, the divine woodshed, where He gives us a little bit of discipline. I love how the authors of Hebrews describe this.
There is a bit of an understatement here. He speaks of discipline, and frankly, if you are without discipline you are illegitimate children and not sons. He also says we had earthly fathers and we respected them, and “Shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” Now, here is the understatement. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful;” that is surely an understatement, “but sorrowful;” and here is the key, “yet for those who have been trained by it.” You see, discipline is not punitive, it is instruction. You see the difference? It is not to punish, it is, in fact, to teach and instruct us in the way of righteousness. “To those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” There is the image of fruit once again. It yields that peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Now, frankly, as I often like to say, there are many courses in the university of life that we would not take as electives. But, sometimes God says these are required courses, whether you like it or not. They are painful, and we would not have chosen to do them, but when people go through them and are driven to a more intimate fellowship with Christ, they will say they wouldn’t have traded it for anything. They wouldn’t want to go through it again, but they also wouldn’t trade it for anything. There is a benefit that accrued through the pain that took place.
So, God uses sorrow, indeed, suffering in this world, but suffering can be redemptive. Perhaps my favorite verse on this is 1st Peter chapter five, verse ten: “After you have suffered for a little while.” How long will you suffer? What does he say? “A little while.” I want to tell you that the most you can possibly suffer in a few more decades. After those decades, there will never be any sorrow, or pain, or tears, or death, or mourning. ‘The former things will be passing away and, behold, all things will be new’. You have a very limited time to go.
That is why Paul said, “I consider the sufferings of this present time not even worth comparing to the glory to be revealed to us.” He goes on to say, “After you have suffered a little while,” that “the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” In the alchemy of God’s grace, God transmutes suffering into glory by means of His grace. Suffering becomes glory. And so, we will look back on that pain in our lives and realize that God actually turned our pain into something greater than in would have been, and He can even take the evil intentions of people and turn that for good. You may have meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, as we see in Genesis 50.
Let’s continue on, then, and in verse four, the key concept is ‘abide’. He says, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch can not bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.” This word, abide, is ‘meno’ in Greek and ‘meno’ is used 11 times in verses 1 through 11 in this chapter.
Now, what are the evidences we are abiding in Christ? ‘Meno’ with Him is to draw your life from Him and to make Him your place of habitation and to practice His presence and to commune with Him and to realize, in real ways, that where ever you go, there He is. Where ever He is, there you must go, also.
So, you have this mutuality of co-inherence. This co-inherence is described as ‘you in Me, and I in you’. There is a mystery of that communion, and it reflects an even deeper and more profound mystery, which is the co-inherence of the divine Trinity. God invites us, then, to abide in the Son. He goes on to say, then, “A branch can not bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine.” One of those evidences of abiding in Him would be that you bear fruit. Another, second, evidence that you are abiding in Him is that you are going to experience some pruning. A third evidence of abiding in Him is found in verse seven, that there will be answered prayers and a deepening love for Christ in other believers is found in verse 9, 12, and 13. Also, verse 11 tells us that if you abide in Him you will also experience joy. These are the results of abiding in Him. Frankly, they are good things to pursue.
So, we have this Biblical concept, then, of union and communion. Think about some of those metaphors. We have the body of Christ. We have another image of the bride. With the body of Christ, and Christ is the head, we are the bride and He is the bridegroom, and then the sheep and the shepherd.
So, in these images here there is an abiding metaphor. The reason for that is because what happens with a body when a member is cut off? What happens to that member? It dies; it can not be sustained, because it needs the vitality of the body, just as a branch needs the vitality of the vine. You see the point here? It can not live in and of itself.
So, for example, you had a hand or a toe or a finger amputated, that thing could not live. Here is another image; think about marriage and it creates a union, but it takes daily love and devotion to maintain the communion. You see the difference? You have a union, but it is also an ongoing process by which there is a communion. You see the point? Union is there, but there is also another process and these are process images. What about a sheep and the shepherd? Well, the shepherd brings the sheep into the flock, but the sheep must follow the shepherd in order to have provision and protection. So, all of these are process images to illustrate what it means to abide in Christ.
So, it really demands spiritual discipline to abide in Christ, and it is not likely to happen if you are not involved, to some degree, in meditation on God’s word and talking with Him. There is also a measure of worship required and perhaps some sacrifice as well; sacrificial love for the good of others. All of these release the presence of Christ in our lives and bears fruit. Look at verse five, and Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” That is a rather humbling concept. You can do nothing at all, but we well know we can do things as the world would define them. What can you do? You can build a company. You can build a building.
But, you can not do anything that is going to last. You can create widgets, but you can not form life. Therein lies the difference. You don’t have factories that make things come alive. You have arms that nurture something that is already alive, but you can not create fruit. That requires, actually, the Spirit of God in us. Frankly, we can do nothing of lasting worth apart from Christ. That is where I am trying to position this, and as I look at the vine and the branch, keep in mind two fundamental truths about this. On the one hand, you will not actually create life in yourself. You are a branch and the branch never creates life. Would you agree with that? A branch’s job is to receive life and not to create life. Secondly, what is the product of that life in the branch? It is fruit, and fruit, by the way, the branch does not need to have, but fruit does two things. What are the two things that fruit does? It contains the seeds of its own reproduction. What is another thing the fruit does? It is for another to eat. You see the idea? It bears a product that feeds and nurtures other people.
So, not only does it feed people, it also creates reproduction of life. That is the perfect image, then, of the process of evangelism, which is the reproduction, and edification, which is the nurturing and feeding. Those are the basic elements found in the whole idea of nurturing.
(Q)(A): It does. It transmits the life, but what I am saying is that it never creates the life. It is a conduit. What I am saying here is that a lot of people live as if they are creating the life. I am saying it is not your life, it is Christ in you. You can not create this life, it is Christ in you. There is a difference there, and you must receive it, not try and create it. Furthermore, when you bear this fruit it leads to something that lasts. It is something that lives and is something that will go on into eternity and that is what we long for. Don’t you long to accomplish something that will endure forever? We long for the significance and satisfaction of accomplishing something that will have ripple effects for ever and ever. It will be tragic if all our works in this world were totally destroyed.
The fruit of God will live on forever. Going on to verse six, now, this is a tough verse. A lot of people have used it, I think, incorrectly. “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” There is always fruit where there is life, and where there is no fruit there is a need for divine discipline. This passage, however, does not deal with the eternal destiny of believers. It is interesting to note that it says, “they gather them.” The interesting thing about ‘them’ is that it is a neuter word.
So, the ‘them’ apparently, are the dead works that are thrown into the fire. In verse seven, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” So, we have this profound promise.
But, you must always remember that this relates to other texts that relate to answered prayer or otherwise you might suppose you have some law of linearity, where if you do your part, God is obligated to do His part. There are a variety of other things involved and whenever you do a study of prayer, you would do well to compare Scripture with Scripture. You would do well to let the clear text interpret the unclear text. It is important for us to see that there are some conditions for answered prayer, but the primary one here is abiding in Him, because that will actually be the source of power that will animate the other conditions; of praying in His name, of not praying selfishly, and so forth.
So, this mutual abiding, then, leads to the product of answered prayer. In verse eight, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” I love that verse because it tells that real Spiritual fruit can actually honor and please and glorify God. You and I can bless the Lord. Remember Psalm 103? “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” This tells us that we can be a blessing to Him. This is a remarkable thought, because He takes deep pleasure in communion with us and it is a blessing to Him.
So, we go on, in verse nine, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also 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 made full.” I see it as a remarkable thought then, in this context; of what is happening to Christ, what He knows is going to take place in a matter of hours. He knows He is in His last hours.
But, He speaks of three intriguing things here. Back in chapter 14, verse 27, what did He talk about? “Peace I leave with you.” What does He talk about in this text? He mentions three things, love, peace and joy. Do you recognize those three words, peace, love, and joy? Or, how about love, joy, and peace, put in that order? They are the first three of the nine-fold fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Now, it is a remarkable thought that He would be focusing on the theme of peace, love, and joy, when He knows He is about to go through the horror of crucifixion. It is more than just the physical; it is the spiritual separation from the Father, so that He would become our sin-bearer. How He was capable of doing this, even to the end He served His own, is truly remarkable.
But, this is what He wishes for us. It is also a condition of obedience, which I will return to in just a moment. In verse 12, He goes on to say, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” In verse 13, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” How can He command us to love one another? The answer is that Christian love is not a feeling, it is an act of the will. He sure doesn’t command us to like one another. ‘This is My command, that you like one another’. That is not a choice. There are some people you like and, frankly, there are some people you just don’t like. Some people you have no chemistry with at all. That’s okay, because you still can love them even though you don’t like them. Why? Because love is a choice to seek their highest good. That is an issue He can command us to do, because it is a love of choice, a love of the will. The proof of our love, then, is not in our feelings but in our actions, even to the extent of laying down our lives for Christ and for one another.
So, we are called to treat others the way God treats us. Again, He is the exemplar and we imitate what He has already done previously. In verses 14 and 15, “You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” A lot of have many acquaintances, but few, and certainly men, have few deep friends. What many of us call friends might rightly be called acquaintances. There is a need, then, for this intimacy, and some of our friends may prove unfriendly or unfaithful at the end. I was recently talking to a person in the ministry, where a person who appeared to be devoted to him and involved in his ministry, treacherously talked about him behind his back and ultimately even tried to steal his mailing list and take money from him through that after he formed his own so-called ministry. This is an act of betrayal, especially in consideration of how my friend poured his life into this guy. Apparently, he decided that if he could not have an equal role in that ministry, then he would do this. It is a sad picture.
So, even followers of Christ can be treacherous in this regard, But, our friendship with Christ involves something more than that. It involves a desire to be people who have commitment, integrity, and hope. I want to say, then, that there is a knowledge that comes here, and, frankly, the knowledge of Christ animates our choices.
So, we have to have knowledge as well as love and obedience. These things are critical; we know him, we love him, and we obey Him. You see the sequence? It is important. In that great prayer by St. Richard of Chichester, he said, “May we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly.” You see the sequence? The better you know Him, the more you will love Him and the more you love Him, the more you are willing to obey Him.
So, the pray here is to love what He commands and desire what He promises. Think about that; may we love you command and desire what you promise. Isn’t that a wonderful image? So, we seek this sequence in our lives. And, as friends of the Kingdom, we know His plans but we are also subject to Him and obey His commands. Abraham was a friend of God, but he was also the servant of God and so there is a mutuality there. He was God’s friend because he obeyed God.
So, if we are friends to the world, we are going be at enmity with God. Some of you may have seen, the sequence is pretty well known, and if you go back to verse eight, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit.” So, we can very well say that our deep call is to glorify the Father. So, if we glorify the Father, it gives Him pleasure and we actually have the capacity to do that. What is the key to glorifying God? After all, we are called to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. So, what is the key to glorification? He says, in verse eight, that we glorify Him by bearing much fruit.
Now, the question you have to ask next is, how do you bear fruit? Well, He has already told us in this text. What is the answer? Let me give you an example. Look at verse five, and what does He say? You bear fruit when you abide in Him.
So, abiding is the key to fruit-bearing.
Now, what is the key to abiding? Look at verse ten, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.” Obedience, then, is the key to abiding. As you obey Him, then you abide in Him.
So, what is the key to obedience? The key to obedience is in verse ten, and it is love. “Just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” So, love prompts obedience. There is still one more key to discuss. The final key, and this is critical, is found in verse 15. You know what the Father has revealed.
So, to know Him is, in fact, key to loving Him. And loving Him is critical in obeying Him. And obeying Him is the thing that brings about that abiding dimension in our lives, which leads to fruit-bearing, which leads to glorification and honoring God.
So, these things all connect together. Going on to verse 16, “You did choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit.” That is to say, before the foundation of the world, He chose us. Turn with me to Ephesians chapter two, verse ten, and you will see that exact analogy. It says, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” It is similar to this, then, when Jesus says, “You didn’t choose Me, but I chose you.” What does that mean? It means that the fruit we bear remains and lasts forever.
So, we have this extraordinary idea that we have this privileged position, not of our merit, but because of His grace. He chose them, and He chose us. He is always previous to our response.
But, we are called now to manifest a discipleship by bearing true fruit, because if it is true fruit it will last forever. Human results eventually disappear, but whatever is born of the Spirit of God will have the mark of eternity and will endure. Verse 17, “This I command you, that you love one another.” This is the most important of the commands, that we love God and then love one another.
The friends of the King, then, will not only love the King, but will also love one another. You are loving the people that God loves. We can only do that, in a really powerful way, as we abide in Him, because, frankly, Jesus asks us to do something that we don’t have the power to do by ourselves. We do not have the power to live the Christian life. You do understand this? There is only one person who can live the Christian life, and that is Jesus. How does He live it, then? He lives it in you and through you as you abide in Him and allow His Spirit to become manifest.
That is why it is not a presence of instructions, but the presence of a person. He makes it possible for us to do what would otherwise be impossible to achieve. That is to say, He not only calls us to a task, but also empowers us to do it. Let us now look at the next portion of the text. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it has hated you.” You see the profound contrast there? Up until now He has been talking about love, hasn’t He? All of a sudden He is looking from a completely different orientation, and now looks at hatred. He openly taught His disciples that one day persecution would come. He told them that in Matthew five, and He told them that in Mark 13. He told them that the response to His own ministry would be resentment, and hatred, and opposition.
So, now He is saying the “world.” The world can mean different things, according to the context. It can mean the created world, and if He is in the world and He created it, then it is a neutral thing. That is referring to the creation. That is the first way. What is the second way we could look at the word ‘world’? It is the world of humanity. “For God so the” what? The world, speaking about the world of His people.
But, the third way of using ‘cosmos’, the world, is society, apart from God and opposed to God, and that is what He means here. “If the world hates you, then know it has hated Me before it hated you.” We are told not to love the world or be conformed to the world. 1st John 2 tells us, “don’t love the world.” Romans 12 tells us, “don’t be conformed to the world.” And, James 4 tells us, “the one who loves the world is not a friend of God.” You see those ideas? Why is there opposition to us, if we are following Jesus? First of all, I think it because we are identified with Christ.
Opposition takes place because of our new identification. The world can not understand that. And so, in verse 18, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it has hated you.” In verse 20, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master’. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” And the second reason the world will hate you is that we do not belong to this world. We belong to a new world. Consequently, in this new world in which we find ourselves citizens, where are we in this world? We are strangers, sojourners, exiles, pilgrims, and aliens in exile. So, we see that we are looking for a city whose builder and architect is God and we are not home yet.
So, we are in this world but we are not of the world. The world does not understand that. We have become, as Hebrews 3:1 says, “Partakers of a heavenly calling.” So, we look now at the things of earth from heaven’s point of view. That gives us a radically different orientation and, in fact, what does this present world invite us to do? To be conformed to the world. See the idea? Persons who are not conformed to this world, but to Christ, are going to really be swimming against the current. We are not conformed to the world then, and are in fact new creations, we no longer pursue the old life. 1st Peter 4:1-4 says they insult you because they don’t understand that the person you have become is now not what they are. They almost regard that as an insult to them. The fascinating thing is that they have a double standard. If you claim to be a Christian, they expect you to have a higher life.
But, when you lead a better life, they think you are being self-righteous. Thirdly, the world is spiritually ignorant and blind, so the world is really incapable; not just ignorant, but blind. It is not capable of seeing the Gospel of Christ and the meaning of these truths. The religious establishment claimed to know God, didn’t they? But, they never knew God. Chapter one, verse ten will well illustrate that, at the very beginning of this Gospel. “He was in the world, and the world was made for Him, and the world did not know Him” Look at verse 3 of chapter 16, “These things they will do because they do not know the Father or Me.” There is a huge difference between knowing about God and knowing God.
Now, the fourth reason there will be opposition is going to be found in verses 22 through 24. The world will not be honest about its own sins, and the problem is that the sin of the world is exposed and the world hates it when that takes place. That is why I believe there is such opposition to The Passion of the Christ. The Passion of the Christ forces people to wrestle with something they do not want to think about. Why was He there? Why did He suffer? That is something the world does not want to wrestle with and they come up with this trumped up charge of anti-Semitism.
But, if anyone sees the film, they know better, but they keep beating that dead horse into the ground because that is all they have got. Look, now, at verses 22 through 24, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.” That reminds me of what Paul said in Acts chapter 17, in his speech in Athens. In verse 30, “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
And so, the resurrected Christ, then, reveals the sin of the world. Consequently, the world can not be honest about its own sin. In chapter three, verses 19 through 21 of John also make that very, very clear. “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hated the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” It is the cockroach syndrome. You turn on the light and they flee. You see the idea? I used to stay in a friend’s apartment in New York. They tried everything and had ‘roach motels’ everywhere.
In the middle of the night, you’d get up for a glass of water and turn on the light and they would scatter by the hundreds. That is a metaphor for people, in a very real way. They ate the light and do not want to be exposed by that light. People heard His word, and saw His works, but they would not respond to the truth. In verse 23, “He who hates Me, hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.” They were not sinning in ignorance. They heard His word and saw His works.
So, they couldn’t plead ignorance. “But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause’. I am going to really kind of end here because it would have been better for the chapter division to occur right here, because He is going to speaking a good deal more about the Holy Spirit.
But, just a word about that, though, “When the helper comes,” and here he means the comforter, the ‘paraklet’, the Holy Spirit, “whom I will send to you from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also because you have been with Me from the beginning.” The point here is that the power of the Holy Spirit will come upon you and you will now be able to make a credible and powerful witness and reveal truth to those who can not hear. Remember the description of people in the world without Christ. “People are blind,” in 2nd Corinthians 4, second, in Ephesians 2, “they are dead,” and third, 2nd Timothy 2, “they are held captive to do the enemy’s will.”
So, they are in bondage, they are blind, and they are dead. The only thing that can break through that darkness, of course, is the power of the Spirit of God, and He has empowered us. (Q)(A): Suffering depends upon your response. You will either become bitter or better. There are no other choices in between. If you are embittered, then the suffering will actually cause resentment and hostility.
But, if you see the suffering through the lens that God is there, you do not have the grief of despair, you will have the grief of hope. There is a big difference. The grief of despair assumes there is no answer and that God is the one that brought it about. The grief of hope, the pain of hope, assumes there is an answer, but we don’t understand it, but God really does have my best interests at heart, even though it might not appear as such.
(Q)(A): Yes, I do recommend that book to you, The Question of God, by Armand Nicholai. It contrasts Freud and Lewis on a variety of points and what is interesting is that it uses much of their own correspondence. The obvious contrast couldn’t be greater. However, he is clever because he never lets on which side he is on. He is a committed Christian, and by the end of the book it is obvious.
(Q)(A): The point is that it is not a preachy book and it can be given to a seeker. Let us close in a prayer. Father, we do thank You that Christ, our Lord, has suffered for us so that we see Him as our exemplar and that we understand that there is nothing that You call us to do that Your Son has not first done for us. We love because He first loved us. He invites us to forgive others because we have been forgiven by Him. May we love others as He loved us. May we serve others as He served us. May we obey You just as He obeyed You. We pray these things in His name. Amen.