Go bear fruit


Cluster of grapes

March 19, 2017

Before we get into the meat of today’s lesson, I want to start with a couple of questions I was pondering while I studied.

If you have your Bibles, turn with me to John 13:23. We’ll be just a couple of pages further along in today’s text, so you’ll want to keep your Bibles open to the Book of John.

Read John 13:23

Now turn to John 19:26. Read

Now, look at John 21:7. Read

Christian tradition and most current church scholars agree that John was identifying himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in these passages.

Why do you think he referred to himself this way? Did Jesus love him more than the other disciples?

  • Best friends? Maybe.
  • Closer relationship than with some of the other disciples? Maybe, and there’s some scriptural backing to that. Anybody know what scriptures suggest they had an especially close relationship?

Before I get tell you what I think, I want to tell you a story: Years ago, before I’d come back to Christ, I went to a Chinese restaurant. Of course, one of my favorite parts of a Chinese dinner is — guess what? — the fortune cookie. And no, of course, I don’t put any stock in the fortune, and I know there are some Christians who consider it faintly heretical to even crack open a fortune cookie. But to me, it’s pretty much meat sacrificed to idols as Paul told the Corinthians, we believers don’t lose anything if we eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.

So I enjoyed my tasty cookie and then glanced down at the fortune.

“God loves you especially.”

Now, this is kind of a crazy thing to see in a fortune cookie at a Chinese restaurant for many reasons. To start, the concept of a god who loves people is foreign to Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, the great religions of China. Why would a fortune cookie include such a statement? Even setting aside the religions of China, why would a fortune cookie at a Chinese restaurant have such a distinctly religious message? And then, why would God love anyone “especially”? Doesn’t He love us all the same? And if there’s any sense that He loves any of us “especially,” why on Earth would it be me? Why did I get that cookie?

Believe it or not, this fortune cookie was one of the things God used to draw me back to Him after I’d fled the church and pursued a sinful life just as hard as I could.

That fortune — “God loves you especially” — kept popping back into my mind during the next couple of years. I’d been raised in the church and paid enough attention that I knew, of course, that God had no special love for me, but I’d also learned enough that His love for me was just that — special: He would have — He did — send Jesus to die for MY sins.

There’s a real sense in which God absolutely loves me especially. In fact, he loves each of us especially. That realization is one of the things that finally drew me back to Him. God loves me especially. He loves you especially. And he loves you especially. And you. And you. And you.

That’s how amazing and wonderful God’s infinite love is. He can love us each especially.

Getting back to John now, I think maybe this disciple, perhaps even more than the others, had the same revelation about the love of Christ. To John, it was as if Jesus loved him especially, though John would not have put it that way. He was utterly blown away by the love of his Savior.

And I think that might be part of the reason John’s gospel and his letters have such an intense focus on love. He was so affected by the love of Christ that he wanted others to experience the feeling of being loved especially, that he wanted them to take that feeling and share it with others, and that he wanted them to respond in the way Jesus said was appropriate: To love one another.

Which brings us to our focus passage today in John, Chapter 15.

As you turn there, let me set up for you what’s happening. Eleven of the disciples — Judas Iscariot was already gone — were listening in the Upper Room as Jesus taught them some of his most important lessons. They had eaten their Passover feast. He had washed their feet, and He had told Judas to do quickly what he was going to do.

As Jesus prepared Himself for the cross He would bear in a few hours, He prepared His disciples for their lives without Him in the flesh. He wanted to remind them to be true to what He had taught them, to remind them of how and why they were to bear fruit and to remind them of His greatest commandments.

Read John 15:1-17

Jesus gives us an extended metaphor here, one that would have been clear to the people of Israel, where vineyards were plentiful, and one that’s still clear to gardeners today. Fruitful vineyards must be pruned and cut.

VV 1-2: God is the Great Proprietor of the vineyard, the Lord of the spiritual kingdom. Jesus made it clear that He is the true vine, the source of salvation and true spirituality, but he honored His Father, the One who husbands the vineyard. And He warns right up front about what happens to branches that fail to bear fruit.

But note that the warning is not only to those who bear no fruit, those who are lost. There is also a warning to believers. Even those who bear fruit will be “purged” in the KJV, or “pruned” or “trimmed and cleaned” in other versions.

Does God allow pain in our lives? Does He cause pain in our lives? Jonah?

Why? He wants to prune away those things that will cause us not to bear much fruit. Perhaps these are worldly distractions. Maybe they’re even legitimate ministries that take us away from our true calling. Whatever the case, God wants to remove the distractions that will keep us from bearing fruit for His glory.

3: The disciples are clean because of the words Christ has spoken to them. The word “clean,” in the original language, is the noun form of the verb for “prune.” God’s Word prunes away the unproductive shoots of a believer’s life. Do you want to be more fruitful? Get in the Word. And then, make like a Nike ad: Just do it!

Vv. 4-7: Abide in Me, and I in you. Jesus abides in the believer through the Holy Spirit’s presence. That presence gives us spiritual life, just as the branches of the vine receive their life-giving sustenance through the sap that runs through the true vine.

But how can we abide in Him? “Abide” is an action verb. We can’t BE it, we must DO it. And we cannot do it apart from Him. “If you abide in Me, and in My words,” Jesus says, “you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” If we abide — live in — the words of Christ, then our desires will be aligned with His, and prayer becomes a truly powerful and wondrous thing. There’s much more to this point, but we don’t have the time to get to it all today. Another lesson, another time.

Vv. 9-11: Again, Jesus tells us how we can abide in His love — and he makes the point that it’s the same way He abides in the Father’s love: By obedience to His word. “If you keep My commandments … just as I have kept My Father’s commandments.” And if we do that, He promises us that our joy will be “full” or “complete.”

12: And then He reminds us of those commandments: First, and inherent in this discourse, is to love God. What makes it inherent is that He has told us before that “If you love me, you will keep My commandments.”

And then He tells us in this passage, to “love one another as I have loved you.” Five times, Jesus says this to His disciples at the Last Supper. Five times. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Sacrificially. Agapao. This is surely important to Jesus or He wouldn’t have repeated it so often. “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Do you want to remain in the vine? Do you want to be fruitful? Follow the commandments of Jesus. Love God. Love one another. Simple as that. And yet so hard for us all. Nothing about loving ourselves here. “Love one another as I have loved you.”

And how does Jesus love us?

Vv. 13: Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Agapao. Sacrificial love. This is no mere good feeling toward another. This isn’t loving someone who loves us. This is loving those who persecute us.

Simply, this is loving the neighbor who lets her dog poop in your yard. This is loving the boss who loves no one but himself. This is loving that idiot who voted for the wrong candidate and won’t shut up about it. This is loving that person who mocks you because of your faith. This is hard stuff. And Jesus knew better than anyone just how hard it would be. And still He calls us to do it. Love one another. Even if….

Vv. 16-17: And then, just in case we forgot what all this is about, Jesus reminds us, as He reminded His disciples at the table that evening — “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit…. These things I command you, that you love one another.”

We talked a minute ago about how that looks in the world. Let me ask you this: How does that look in the church?

Go now, and love one another. Agapao one another. Bear fruit. God loves you especially.

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