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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Church and World

John 15:1 - 16:4

Lesson audio

John’s Gospel often contains sayings by Christ that take some time to absorb. John, writing in his later days, is very familiar with Greek philosophy (see John 1 for a good example of this), so his writing often selects the philosophical side of the teachings of Christ.

The Vine

John 15:1-8 NIV

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. (2) He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[1] so that it will be even more fruitful. (3) You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. (4) Remain 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. (6) If 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. (7) If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. (8) This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Pruning

It is a fact of life for Bible teachers, college and otherwise: the students move on. Whether or not you are a teacher, those in your life who are growing in Christ because of you are eventually removed from you and given to someone else. It’s the same thing in evangelism. As a teacher, I have asked, “why?” Here are some reasons:

  • First, so that the teacher’s pride be kept in check. Just when you get very pleased with a student’s faithfulness, God prunes them away to remind you that you are not the only teacher with His words on your tongue.
  • It’s also so that the “pruned” may grow. No teacher ever has all the answers, nor can his points of emphasis be all-inclusive. People have differing needs at differing times; God meets these needs by moving people to new teachers.
  • Finally, there is this: a teacher can only work with so many people at a time. God prunes some so that others might arrive.
Signs of a good relationship

The same principle applies in our personal lives. We can use this to ask ourselves some questions which will give us a good idea of how our life in Christ is growing. For example:

  • Can we see ourselves bearing fruit in the lives of others?
  • Does God prune people away from you?
  • Do Christ’s words remain in you? Does Scripture come readily to mind?
  • Are your prayers answered?
  • Does your life bring glory to God? Especially at the price of persecution?
True vine

Note that Christ says He is the “true” vine – which implies that there are others, who are false. Indeed, “the true” vine implies that all others are false. This picture carries some interesting implications:

  • He is the only mediator between us and God the Father. If you want to be saved, He is the only way.
  • He is the only source of true life. All the other vines are plastic.
  • Only through him are we connected to God; but also only through him are we connected to each other. If you are not in the church, you are not on the vine, buddy.

Love One Another

John 15:9-17 NIV "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (10) If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. (11) I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (12) My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (13) Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (14) You are my friends if you do what I command. (15) I 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. (16) You 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. (17) This is my command: Love each other.

Relationship of love and obedience

For some, the idea that obedience to God implies love of God, and vice versa, is intuitively obvious. For the rest of us, we offer the following instructional aids:

  • First, there is the example of Christ. His obedience to the Father is perfect, and he tells us here that this is because his love of the Father is also perfect. As Christians, we are the imitators of Christ – and the Father treats us similarly. He will reward obedience with love, which encourages even more obedience.
  • For those in need of a picture, here’s one. Consider the commonly portrayed DNA double helix. Imagine that the genes on one side all say “love” while those on the other say “obedience.” We keep adding love, one little element at a time – which requires us to add a similar element of obedience. Otherwise, the spiral helix is out of balance. Note that perfect obedience from the very start is not required; just that love and obedience match, and the spiral continues to grow.

It grows into perfection. When does it reach that point? When your joy is complete. That’s the objective of love and obedience pairs – joy in Christ!

Progression: servant, friend, brother

We see here the first two steps in the progression which takes us from being strangers to Christ into being his brothers and sisters. This too is growth:

  • We begin as servants – those who are not at all certain where our service will lead, nor what its results might be. We know but two things: to serve is to follow, and that service to God brings honor from God.[1]
  • We soon become the friends of Christ (verse 15). Friends know the plan! As we mature we read the Scriptures more and more; in our prayers we see more and more, and soon come to see just what God has planned for the world – and to some extent for us personally.
  • Finally, we are made brothers and sisters to Christ, co-heirs of the kingdom of God.[2] (When we come to him, we already are such; it just takes a while to comprehend it.)

That’s often where the pruning takes place – at maturity.

Whatever you ask

There is a problem here: here again is one of those passages that suggests that our prayers are like magic wands. All we have to do is ask, and God will perform it – including all the prayers that are contradictory. Remembering that God is not the author of confusion[3], we can discard the contradictory. But there still remains the fact: we don’t get everything we ask for. Why not?

  • One reason is that we ignore the condition given here: the purpose of this power – so that we will bear much fruit.
  • We also forget that it is conditioned in love and obedience.

As James puts it:

James 4:2-3 NIV You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. (3) When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Motive, it seems, counts.

The Church and the World

John 15:18-16:4 NIV "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. (19) If 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. (20) Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.'[2] If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. (21) They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. (22) If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. (23) He who hates me hates my Father as well. (24) If 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. (25) But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.'[3] (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. (27) And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. (16:1) "All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. (2) They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. (3) They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. (4) I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.

The world hates

It is a fact: the Christian loves; the world hates – indeed, hates without cause. It sometimes puzzles the Christian to discover that Mr. Nice Guy is hated and despised, and can’t figure out why. Here are some thoughts:

  • Methods. The world’s methods start and end with power. The Christian method is love and sacrifice. This arouses suspicion in the worldly; obviously these Christians must be up to something sinister – because their method makes no obvious sense. It’s a conspiracy! It’s also a nettlesome example.
  • Goals. The world seeks after the material. Since they know there is no God, there is no heaven or hell, no judgment to come (or now, either). Therefore, grab all you can while you can. The ends justify the means – and the ends are all about self.
  • Worship. Man, it seems, is capable of worshiping only one God at a time. The modern choice is God Almighty or Self Almighty, and most of the world has chosen self. It’s a very old story. The worship of self yields envy, lust, anger, sloth, gluttony, greed and most of all pride.
So why are we hated?

OK, I can see why man hates God – but why us?

  • First, because we are in Him and He is in us. Satan sees this clearly, and he is the prince of this world. There are no accidents!
  • Second, because we are salt and light. When the light goes on, the cockroaches scatter – but they don’t like it. They will create darkness whenever and wherever they can.
What shall we do about it?

There’s not much we can do about Satan in general; just what are we to do with this?

  • Expect it! To the world the end justifies the means, so they will use social pressure, deception[4], legal process and eventually deadly force to push away the brothers of Christ.
  • Have a ready defense for what you believe! As Peter put it,

1 Peter 3:14-15 NIV But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear[2]; do not be frightened."[3] (15) But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

  • Finally, count it all joy when you suffer for the faith. It is an honor to you; Satan has recognized a worthy foe. It shows your Christ likeness. It means that God will bless you for it.

[1] John 12:26

[2] Romans 8:13-17. Our brotherhood is first proclaimed in John 20:17, after the resurrection

[3] 1st Corinthians 14:33, phrasing from the King James.

[4] For example, the Kinsey report’s justification of adultery.

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