First Mennonite Church
May 21, 2023
Abiding In His Love
Text: John 15:1-12
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 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. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
In God’s dealings with Israel, the grapevine was a commonly used metaphor. The Old Testament passage this morning is one of those examples. Similar use of this metaphor appears in Jeremiah 2, Ezekiel 19, Hosea 10, and in the Psalms. God was always the vine grower, who carefully prepared the land, selected, and planted the stock, but the vine did not produce as expected.
Today, we are considering the statement Jesus made about himself. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit,” Jesus says.
If we are to look closely at the image Jesus is presenting us here, there is decisive interaction happening between the Winegrower, the Father, Jesus, the True Vine, and we, the branches. Jesus immediately announces the actions done by the Winegrower toward both the fruitful and the fruitless branches. The Father removes every fruitless branch off of the Vine. He also prunes/cleanses the fruitful branches, so they bear more fruit. But what is puzzling, however, is that the branches the Winegrower removes are not branches growing off some wild vine, but those that are in the True Vine. How can that be possible? Is it possible to be in Jesus and still be fruitless? Is it possible to be in Jesus and then be cut off by the Father for failing the purpose of the True Vine?
These questions have been discussed over and over. There are those who believe that once saved, the person is saved forever, no matter what. There are others who say, it is possible to fall from grace (Galatians 5:4, Hebrews 12:15). Both groups take scripture to back up their position.
Let us look at the context of Jesus’ words here in John 15.
Jesus had just finished eating his Last Supper with his disciples when he said these words. They were heading to Gethsemane, where he knew would be his last time together with his disciples. Judas was no longer with them at that moment. He well could have been whom Jesus had in mind when he said that the Father cuts away from him any fruitless branch.
As Jesus was walking towards Gethsemane, he began doing a balancing act of telling his disciples of his imminent departure and consoling and reassuring them. His departure was not only because of his impending death but also because of his going to his Father after his resurrection. Jesus was also reassuring his disciples about his continued presence with them through the Comforter/Advocate. The Advocate was to come upon Jesus’ departure and was going to guide the disciples and remind them of everything Jesus had taught them. Jesus also comforted his disciples by promising to come and take them to be with him forever in the Father’s house.
Therefore, Jesus’ use of the image of him as the true vine and his disciples as the branches served to show that the relationship Jesus has had with the Father is the model between Jesus and his disciples, despite his departure. The love and the oneness between the Father and Jesus is the model for the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 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.
Jesus revealed that the love of the Father and his keeping the Father’s commandments and abiding in his love are what empowered him to carry out his public ministry. Therefore, Jesus wanted to see that same level of unity, love, and obedience from his disciples even when he no longer is with them.
Thus, he urges them: Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
In verse 16, Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” The disciples’ destiny or fate of hanging around a man whose life had come under Jewish religious anathema and the Roman sword was not of their own crafting. They did not come begging Jesus to allow them around him. Instead, the disciples were suddenly interrupted from their routine and radically changed the day a man came by calling each of them by name to follow him. The force of his words and the conviction of his invitation were irresistible. And as the disciples witnessed the glory of God manifested in Jesus, the more they believed in him.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last to eternal life.
Our relationship with the Lord, although requiring a voluntary response, is not solely dependent on our capacity to hold on to him. He abides in us. Jesus has attached you and me unto his heart and he gives us the desire and power to remain in him. Our relationship with the Lord is a gift he empowers us to seek, cherish, and grow into. It is really encouraging to know that the Lord not only offers us his love, but he gives us the capacity to respond to this love. He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses. That is encouraging!
Every tree produces fruit as the branches remain attached to it. Therefore, as branches of the True Vine that we are, our capacity to produce fruit is dependent on our remaining attached to the vine. We draw strength, grow in maturity, and remain alive in our spiritual lives when we remain connected to Christ. This idea was reflected in the words of Paul when he wrote to the Galatians: I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20b).
Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Every branch that does not bear fruit, the Father will cut off. But the promise is, every branch that bears fruit the Father will prune in order that it may produce more fruit. This is not a threat, but a promise. The Father is the careful vinedresser. He looks at our lives and sees where fruit is being produced. He cleanses us from what is unfruitful. This is a reminder that we are nowhere a finished work. The apostle Paul says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
In today’s world, there are professional life coaches. Life coaches provide people, among other things, guidance on how to deal with personal issues, goals in life, business, and so on. We have God the Father who watches over us so that we may fulfill the purpose of our calling, that we may bear much fruit and glorify his name. The fruit expected is that we love one another. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (v. 9, 12).
It is very enlightening to see what Jesus’ utmost desire for his disciple was. He did not desire for his disciple to not forget his teaching. The Advocate would remind them of that if they remained attached to the vine. Jesus did not desire for his disciple to be in agreement on everything. The slight discrepancies found in the Gospels attest to that. Jesus did not desire for his disciples to be guardians of the truth. Jesus was and is the Truth, regardless of whatever. But, Jesus desired for his disciple to love one another as the utmost testimony of their abiding in him, the True Vine. Love has proven to be the most effective means of giving witness to Jesus. Neither orthodoxy nor the right form of worship, whatever that could be, has ever converted a single soul to the Lord. Most people who have been touched by the gospel give witness to having been moved by the selfless and sacrificial love of someone. Fruits of love is what remain forever. Fruits of love are what we must produce.
Let us allow the Vinedresser to cleanse us so that we might bear more fruit of love. Let us open our hearts, hand, and home as we give witness to the love of Christ. Let us hear once again the words of Jesus: I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Let us go abiding in the Lord, abiding in love, and loving in his name. Amen.