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John

Church and World

John 15

“Since then love is a thing mighty and irresistible, not a bare word, let us manifest it by our actions.”

In those few words Chrysostom proclaims the power of love and our reaction to it. His comment was made in preaching on this chapter of John; we shall take it in detail. We shall examine this chapter in three sections. First we shall consider the relationship between a Christian and his Lord; then the relationship of the church and her Lord; finally, the relationship of the church to the world.

The Individual Christian

1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes£ so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. John 15:1 through John 15:9 (NIV)

Everyone gets cut

Have you noticed in this passage that all the branches get cut? Some get cut off, others get pruned – but the shears are applied to all. From the point of view of the branch, all we can see is that we are separated. What does this mean?

  • If you are not producing the results of the Christian life. God eventually cuts you off from the church. Note that the church may not throw you out – but God will.
  • If you are, God takes those results and removes them from you. Why? So you won’t be bogged down with yesterday’s results. (It is also a help to keeping the ego in check).
  • Either way, you are going to see a separation. People you know and love will leave, find another class or whatever.
Indications

So how do I know the difference between being pruned and being slashed off? By the results in my life. Here are a few simple tests, taken from this section:

  • Does your life bear “much fruit?” Can you say how you have influenced others for Jesus Christ?
  • Does God prune that fruit? Does he remove the people you have ministered to, and turn them over to someone else? (Usually a problem for teachers, but applies to all).
  • Do Christ’s words remain in you? Are there Scriptures you have memorized which come back at just the right moment?
  • Does God answer your prayers? When you ask something in his name, does he give it to you?
  • Does your life bring glory to God?

Doesn’t sound so good? Let’s look at your relationship to Jesus Christ – for without the vine, you’re firewood.

Relationship to Christ

Jesus describes the relationship as being one where he is in us, and we are in him (in the singular). It’s as confusing as the passage where he proclaims that God is in him, and he is in God. But let’s take that as our example. Christ and the Father are one; yet each is a person in the Trinity. You and I are to be in Christ, and have Christ in us, in the same way. That’s how close we are to come to him. We want the same relationship between Christ and us that exists between Christ and the Father.

One preliminary step must be performed. We must be cleansed by the word. This refers to baptism in the first place, and repentance later on. These steps must be guided by what Christ has taught us.

If we do this, we will remain with him. But he gives us a warning: he is the ”true” vine – which means there are false ones. There is only one Christ:

  • He is the only Mediator between God and man, for he is the one who is both God and Man. No one else qualifies.
  • He is the great source of life; he alone gives life. All others give us over to death.
  • He is also the head of the Church – which, as we shall see, means that we are to be obedient to him.

Christ and the Church

Sometimes it helps to know your verbs. If the Church is to be what Christ wants her to be, the key verb is “remain.”

9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other.

18“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. John 15:9 through John 15:18 (NIV)

Purpose: joy

Why is Christ teaching his disciples this? Most of us listen to a teacher for our own profit – so our parents won’t catch us playing hooky, or to learn a skill, or to obtain a degree. This teaching was given for joy:

  • First, that Christ (as the head of the church) might have joy in us. Not just that he would be pleased to have us around, but rather that his surpassing joy would be found in us.
  • To do this, we must find our joy in him. There we have another “me in him, him in me.” The joy of Christ and our joy in Christ are that close together…
Method: obedience

How are we to accomplish this? By being obedient to Christ. How obedient? As obedient as Christ is to the Father. What are we commanded to obey? Love one another.

It sounds so easy. But recall the example: Christ went to the Cross in obedience to the Father. The example is the high, holy one.

Limit

Is there a limit to this obedience? Yes, a perfectly natural one, and a perfectly divine one. Christ laid down his life for his friends (that’s us). You cannot do more than that, and that is the limit he gives to us.

Result

The result of this obedience to the command of love is a complete change in the relationship between God and man. In the Old Testament we read a lot about people being told to “choose you this day whom you will serve.” We sometimes miss the phrase, “the chosen people.” Like Israel of old, we are the people chosen by God – for a new relationship with him.

We are no longer just servants of God. We are friends. How could this transition happen? Only at the Cross, where Jesus reconciled mankind to God. (Reconciliation is expensive, especially for the one doing the reconciling.) The effect of this transition is awesome: the friends of God will receive whatever they ask for in the name of Christ.

Test

But does this really work? Let’s take the test. Do we love each other?

  • Do we love each other in action? Can we say that we care for each other? Are we known for the fact that the poor among us rely upon the church for sustenance and aid?
  • Do we love each other in words? Is our speech about our fellow Christians gracious, or are we constantly carping at someone in the name of Christ?
  • Do we love each other in prayer? Do we go to the throne of grace on behalf of our fellow Christians, no matter what the circumstances? Robert E. Lee prayed nightly for Abraham Lincoln.

Church and the World

We must now take a good look at the relationship between the church and the world. It is not a pretty sight.

18“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’£ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. 22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. 23He who hates me hates my Father as well. 24If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’£

26“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

John 15:18 through John 15:27 (NIV)

The reality of the dichotomy

Most Christians, when first exposed to this concept, are puzzled. Why should there be conflict between the church and the world? As Rodney King once put it, “People, can’t we all just get along?” There are serious reasons for the conflict.

  • First, because the methods of the world are opposite the methods of the church. The world enforces its order – by force. As Mao Tse-Tung once put it, “power grows out of the barrel of a cannon.”
  • Next, because the goals of the world are opposite the goals of the church. The world seeks pleasure; the world seeks gain; the world seeks pride. Christ’s church seeks the joy of God, the treasures laid up in heaven and the humility to know who is God.
  • Finally, because the world claims moral supremacy (in one way or another) which belongs only to God. There can be only one true moral authority.
Root Cause

We should not be surprised that the world hates the church. It hated Christ first, before the Church was formed. Why?

“Because of my Name.” The Name of God represents his authority to both reign and rule – and the world claims both those as its own. It is a question of authority: when God’s commands conflict with the world’s orders, who will be supreme?

But why the church? Why not just Jesus? Because Jesus has chosen us. Not for our merits, to be sure, but we are chosen nonetheless. Those in the church possess what those outside cannot have; if they can’t have it, no one can.

Ultimately, it is because they have not believed God. Those who reject the Gospel are their own condemnation. It is well said that God drafts no one for hell; they’re all volunteers.

What should we do about it?

The Christian response to this hatred is well known. The true church:

  • Expects this persecution. We’ve been warned.
  • Rejoices when it comes – for it is a sure sign that we are indeed saved.
  • Accepts it with humility; it really belongs to Christ. We are privileged but a little while to share his sufferings, and then to share his glory.

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