John 15:1-8 (and others)
June 21, 2009
Remain thirstily connected to Jesus and your circumstances will produce the fruit of godly character.
I. Remain in Him (John 15:1-8, John 13:34-35)
II. Produce fruit (Colossians 1:9-12, Hebrews 12:10-11, Galatians 5:22-23)
We’ve had an awful week. They don’t get worse. Doug and Joanna, their kids and their friends are going through suffering and trial that cannot be grasped. And it won’t be over when we have David’s memorial service tomorrow. You don’t ever completely get over something like this. And yet we say, God is sovereignly at work; this tragedy didn’t take him by surprise; even from this evil he can work good. We’ve seen him doing that already.
And yet at the same time we ask ‘why?’ Why these choices? Why allow this evil to happen? Why this suffering? Even if you’re not going through the same suffering, there is probably some ‘why?’ in your life that troubles or torments you. And these questions are hard. The specific reasons for tragedies and trials are often unexplained by God.
But some things the Bible teaches about our trials are clear and universal. One is that God intends to produce fruit from his interaction and intervention in our lives. Some of this fruit is unique, specifically tailored to the individual. But the next installment in our series on the expectations of the Christian life shows that God works through every circumstance, even the most difficult, to produce in our lives the fruit of godly character and Christlikeness.
So we’re looking at texts today that show the key to the production of fruit, and the nature of the fruit God is at work to produce. These texts lead to a simple exhortation: Remain thirstily connected to Jesus and your circumstances will produce the fruit of godly character. I’m not going to preach about David Rask: that’s what the memorial service tomorrow is for. But I believe that at some critical moment this truth could have changed things even for David. Because for people who remain thirstily connected to Jesus, even adverse circumstances produce the fruit of godly character.
I. Remain in Him (John 15:1-8, John 13:34-35)
The first few words of that sentence grow out of our first text, John 15:1-8. Like most of the texts we’re using in this series, these words are familiar to many. So listen carefully that they may fall fresh on your ears. John 15:1 "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 "
The vine was a common metaphor. In the Old Testament Israel is compared to a vine, usually an unfruitful vine. But Jesus is talking about fruitfulness, how to be fruitful in the Christian life. He says to you: I am the true vine, the one that can sustain fruitfulness. All the false sources of life and strength Satan wants us to attach ourselves to, things like money, power, sex, drugs and other addictions are not the true vine. Only Jesus is. Being thirsty for those other things is a counterfeit and a lie – we need to be thirsting for Jesus.
And if Jesus is the vine, his Father is the gardener. “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.” Only the Father knows why the branch is fruitless. It could be that the branch was not grafted-in in the first place. If you’ve never trusted Jesus for salvation, if you’re hanging out with Christians but aren’t connected to the head, you’re in danger of being pruned out. God is gracious and patient and waits for you to turn to him, but that doesn’t change the desperation of your need. You need to trust Jesus for the life he offers you, the forgiveness of sins, the restoration that comes in his death on the cross.
On the other hand, if you are a Christian, but the life of Jesus isn’t flowing through you fruitfully, you’re also in a dangerous situation. I don’t think you’ll lose your salvation, but you could lose fellowship with God, joy as his person and the rewards of walking with him. And that can lead to tragedy, as it did for David Rask. So God prunes. His goal is fruitfulness, but that involves the pain of pruning, and it’s a pain we must not walk away from.
Jesus says “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” The Greek behind the words prune and clean is the same. The Father cleans us so that we are clean, and prunes us so that we remain clean. The pruning can be extremely painful, but its goal is essentially simple: fruit.
And the Father knows that the key to fruit is remaining in the vine, thirstily connected to Jesus. Verse 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.”
Every branch is dependant for life and fruitfulness on the root, on the stem which provides it with water and nutrients. If the branch is detached from the stem, it will wither. Jesus is saying that we’re utterly dependant on Him, we cling thirstily to him and he provides.
That’s what abiding or remaining really is. No fruit is possible without dependence on the vine. This is simple, though far from easy. The vine is the source of life for the branches; they must remain attached, plugged in, dependent on the vine daily, or they will not have fruit. He says “apart from me you can do nothing.” You and I can do no thing, no fruitful thing, without Jesus.
Verse 6 reminds us that such unfruitfulness has consequences. If the gardener sees a withered branch, he knows it’s not really attached to the vine; he pulls it out, throws it away. In the same way if we are not attached, we will wither. You’ve seen this in nature: You look at a tree; it’s all green except for one branch that is utterly brown: You know that branch is not being nourished by the tree. That’s us if we’re not depending on Christ.
On the other hand, Christ says, verse 7 “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” The one thing that beats all others for getting more of Christ into our lives is to get more of his word into our lives. In Scripture we’re encouraged to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another.” We’re to meditate on the Word, memorize the Word, apply the Word, and as we get to know the Word we draw on the life of Jesus which he reveals there.
When his word dwells in us richly we pray confidently and effectively and receive his blessing. Remember, this isn’t a magic formula. Jesus isn’t an ATM machine that dispenses if we have the password. Instead, Jesus wants us to ask out of a heart in which his word abides, so our desires are in accord with his. When his desires are ours we will be given what we ask.
Jesus summarizes in verse 8: “This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” God is glorified when he gives this fruit, and by it he shows us to be his disciples. There is one other place in John where Jesus identifies the thing that will reveal us to be his disciples. It is chapter 13, verses 34 and 35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Do you see this link? The fruit by which God shows us to be his disciples, the fruit by which he glorifies himself is our love for one another.
So here is the key to fruitfulness in our lives, to the production of this fruit and the other fruit we’ll be talking about: it’s remaining in the vine, being thirstily connected to Jesus who is the source of our nutrition, the fountain of our fruitfulness. This means allowing his word to live in us, taking it in as truth for heart, mind and soul. It means the two way communication of prayer. It means clinging to him when we face difficulties.
II. Produce fruit (Colossians 1:9-12, Hebrews 12:10-11, Galatians 5:22-23)
But if Jesus is the source, what is the fruit? What does it look like in our lives? We’ve already had a hint in John: the fruit by which he glorifies himself is our love for one another. But I want to use a few other passages to elaborate.
First, Colossians 1:9-12 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.
This is Paul’s prayer for the Colossians. Notice the link between fruit and good works. Paul says “we haven’t stopped praying for you . . . asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Paul’s prayer is that they will know God’s will – which in Scripture always implies obeying that will.
Paul prays this “in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work.” Do you see it? We bear fruit in every good work. He’s not saying that all our good works are always fruitful, but that the works themselves are the fruit. If we remain in him, he nourishes us so we can bear the fruit of good works.
But we see those good works in our character. Paul prays they will be “growing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12give thanks to the Father.” These are character qualities. The things you’re going through right now will, if you remain connected to the vine bear these qualities as good fruit. So those who thirstily cling to him, will grow to know him and will be strengthened for all and any circumstances. As we saw last week, this is one of those passive verbs. We don’t do it: He is the one who does the strengthening and gives the power to endure.
He gives us great endurance and patience. You probably don’t feel that you have that now. But as you abide in the vine, as you thirstily cling to Jesus, you receive the endurance you need, the patience that goes beyond human patience. And he allows you to “joyfully give thanks to the Father.” Can you give thanks in tragic circumstances? Not if you only have a human viewpoint. But if you cling to the vine you recognize the goodnesses of the Father even in the midst of tragedies. I’ve been watching people do that all this week: giving thanks to God as Father even while crying out to Him.
We give thanks because God desires to produce the fruit of godly character in the lives of his people. And sometimes he uses the discipline of difficult circumstances to produce that fruit. Listen to Hebrews 12:10-11 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
This chapter follows the great role call of faith that we mentioned a few weeks ago, faith that exhibits itself in works. It follows the call to run the race with endurance, without growing weary or fainthearted. It grounds that endurance in the discipline of the perfect Father who treats us as sons: “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” God has a perfect goal for our lives. He desires to make us pure and to set us apart for himself: holy.
But this process is difficult, often painful. God treats us, as C.S. Lewis says, with a severe mercy. Verse 11: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” The disciplines, the difficult circumstances that God brings into our lives are painful. The tears that have been shed this week in the Rask family are tears of pain and hurt and loss and sadness and sorrow, and even some anger.
But God uses tears. The same Greek word often translated ‘fruit’ is also translated ‘harvest’ in some places. This is a harvest of godly character: righteousness and peace. This righteousness is not the gift of righteousness that we receive when we trust Jesus. That righteousness is about our standing before God – we are declared right before God because of the work Jesus did in dying on the cross. But this righteousness is the change God works in us though the circumstances of our daily lives so we become what we have been declared to be: free of sin and offence, living blameless and upright and Godly lives.
The other fruit of this harvest is peace. When something horrible happens, when something tragic happens, as we cling thirstily to Jesus, letting his word abide in us, we find peace flowing into our souls. No matter what else God is doing through your trial, difficulty and suffering, he does desire that through clinging to him he can produce in you a harvest of life-changing peace.
And that brings us to the most famous fruit of all: the fruit the Spirit produces in the life of a believer, the fruit of godly character that he desires for us. In Galatians 5 Paul implores believers to recognize their freedom in Christ, their ability to follow the desires of the Holy Spirit rather than the desires of the flesh. Paul lists the desires of the flesh, the works of the sinful nature that war against the character qualities the Spirit wants to produce in us. Things like sexual immorality, impurity, strife, dissension, division, drunkenness.
We learned last week we are to put off these qualities of the old nature, and to put on the new nature. Here we see that that new nature is the fruit of the Spirit. As we thirstily cling to Jesus, his Spirit works to produce godly character. Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Take out your Bibles; turn to this chapter, Galatians 5; Find these verses, 22 and 23. You’ve probably already got a mark there to set these off. If you don’t, make one now. And I encourage you, if you’ve never memorized this, don’t wait a day longer to start. It’s that important.
What is God trying to do in my through the difficult circumstance I face? He is pruning me to produce the Spirit’s fruit. What is he doing in you through even the most difficult circumstances? Wanting you to thirstily cling to Jesus so that he can produce this fruit. As I have sat with many and various Rasks this week I’ve seen them turn repeatedly Scripture – letting his Word abide in them. And I’ve seen the flowers of godly character that are becoming this fruit. And I’ve seen the fruit, nurtured by Jesus the vine, and made visible in Godly lives and behaviors. Has it been perfect? No. But it’s been obvious.
The fruit of the Spirit is love. What did we say before “A new commandment I give to you – love one another. By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. This is the Jesus desires to produce in us.
The fruit of the Spirit is joy. No one can be happy in the midst of sorrow, but you can have joy in the promises and presence of God even at the worst of times. We’ve already talked about peace; the fruit God desires to bring from difficulties is a peace that passes understanding.
The fruit of the Spirit is patience, which is slowness to get angry or irritated combined with a willingness to wait, both for events and for the growth of people. In times of stress patience lets God be in control. The fruit of the Spirit is kindness, even in the face of antagonism or indifference; kindness is planned niceness; kindness is practical niceness. I know the Rasks have experienced an outpouring of sympathetic kindness this week, and they will continue to need people who can creatively think of practical ways to help.
Similar to kindness is goodness, except that goodness is less about outward actions and more about inward attitudes. We’ve all known people who are simply good people, and usually through the power of the Holy Spirit; they are good friends, they can be counted on to do good, and they have hearts that think good, not evil of others. That last is so important in community – so much friction in community occurs because we choose to think the worst of others.
The fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness. By definition, difficulties test our faithfulness, first to God and then to others. Will we stick with people through thick and thin? Will we be there for others, especially those closest to us in their time of difficulties, even when the unknowns of the future loom up before us.
The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness, the response that does not lash out when stressed, but tries to use a feather touch with all those around. We saw that gentleness from the doctors at John Sealy this week, and it was clear in some of them that this was the Spirit’s fruit.
And finally, self control, the Spirit-enabled choice of these godly habits and goals. Every one of these things – patience, kindness, peace, all of them, implies that by the Spirit’s power I am making choices to do things the Spirit’s way. Kindness resists the impulse to selfishness; peace successfully resists the impulse to fret; faithfulness resists the impulse to laziness, or giving up.
So - you want this fruit. When you have to face the worst that can happen, you want this fruit, you want this character. So do I. But the source of this fruit in our lives is thirstily clinging to Jesus: clinging to him in the constant prayer and conversation of your heart; allowing his word to take up residence in you; affirming your utter dependence on him. And as you thirstily cling, his Spirit will produce the fruit of Godly character in you, and that fruit will produce countless fruits of good works which will bring glory to the Father.