The Metaphor of the True Vine Part 3
The Vine and the Branches
The primary purpose of a grapevine is to produce fruit. The Vine produces branches, and the branches bear the fruit. Through Union with the Vine, the life of the Vine flows to the branches. The branches use that life to bear fruit.
The only way to share the life of the Vine, is to abide in the Vine. The life-giving union between a believer and the Lord Jesus Christ, the True Vine, is necessary for a godly life. Obedience (1 John 3:24) is essential to abiding in Christ. Continued obedience and abiding in Christ enables His life-giving essence to produce fruit in believers and in the lives of others.
The metaphor of the True Vine hinges on two precepts, both dealing with relationships. The first precept is “abide in Christ.” The second precept is “love one another.” (A precept is a rule or principle imposing a particular standard of action or conduct.)
7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I 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 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.John 15:7-17
Obedience, Abiding in Christ, and Its Reward
In terms of how a believer is to live, what does it mean to abide in Christ? Typically words have several possible meanings and the correct meaning is selected by the context in which the word occurs. But, sometimes, words have a set of simultaneous meanings that must be maintained as a whole. Like many words in Scripture, abide is a word with a rich spectrum of simultaneous meanings.
To illustrate what I mean by simultaneous spectrum of meaning, consider 1 Corinthians 13 as the Apostle describes what it means to have love for another. Paul says love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Indeed, love means all this and more, simultaneously. All the elements of love are to be in our heart always and we are to exhibit the element which is appropriate at any given time. Thus, love must not only exhibit the list of attributes of 1 Corinthians 13, but the one who loves must also possess the judgment to discern which elements are to be exercised in a given situation. Like love, the word “abide” has a simultaneous spectrum of meaning and implication.
Paul’s description of the implications of love is magnificent and at first consideration it looks complete. Is it really possible to add anything to this beautiful spectrum of meaning? The answer is yes. The attributes of love Paul lists are focused on love between equals. In love expressed upward and in love expressed downward there are additional implications. For example, in love expressed downward there should be compassion.
When Jesus, our sovereign Lord, tells us what it means for us to love Him, He says if you love me, you will obey what I command (John 14:15, 21, 23, 24). Obedience is a proper (and indeed a necessary) aspect of the upward love we have for our sovereign Lord. Does Jesus mean that “obedience” to Him is identical to “love” for Him? Does obedience equal love and the things listed by Paul don’t apply to love for Jesus? Of course not. But what is meant is that if our attitude toward Jesus does not include the intense desire to obey Him, then we do not love Him (John 14:15). In other words, while our love for Christ is much more than direct or mechanical obedience to His commands, it cannot be less than obedience. Obedience, as a part of love for Christ, is what mathematicians call a necessary condition. Love for Christ cannot be genuine unless it includes obedience.
We find a similar situation with the word “abide.” From the dictionary, “abide” means to remain, to remain loyal, to rest satisfied with, to continue or endure, and to conform to or comply with. As with love, these meanings (or implications) of abide are best thought of not as individual meanings, but as a simultaneous spectrum of meaning. It is right to remain loyal to Christ, to rest satisfied in Him, and so forth. In addition Scripture tells us that loving Christ and honoring Him are an integral part of abiding in Him.
Each of these implications of abide is desirable in our attitude toward Christ, but not all are essential to abiding in Christ. It is interesting that just as obedience is necessary in love for Christ, it is also the essential necessary condition to abide in Christ. As seen in John 15:10 and 1 John 3:24, abiding in Christ must of necessity include obedience. From other Scripture we know that the progressive transformation of our inner being into conformity with Christ is a necessary condition for obedience. The un-regenerated cannot obey Christ in the sense of right action with the right motive. Thus, abide signifies many things, but abiding in Christ must always include obedience. Abiding is more than obedience, but it can never be less. The indwelling Holy Spirit is instrumental in our ability to abide in Christ.
Since obedience is a “necessary” ingredient for abiding, and abiding is a necessary condition for bearing fruit, obedience is also a necessary ingredient for fruitfulness. No obedience, then no abiding and no fruit. Carefully note, however, that obedience from the heart is required and not merely “mechanical obedience.”
In John 15:7, Jesus makes a remarkable statement. He says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” To receive the benefit of this wonderful, astounding promise, we must heed Jesus’ teachings. Not only must our heart be occupied with Christ, but our life must be regulated by His words. At the time Jesus spoke these words, many had rejected His teaching. For those who both believed the words of Jesus and acted in accordance with them (obeyed) aligning their life with His will, He gave this great promise of answered prayer.
Bringing Glory to the Father Through Fruitfulness
A vineyard’s fruit is credited to the Vinedresser, not the vine, or the branches, or the soil. All is done for the Vinedresser (the Father) and His glory. All the fruit is His. Everything Jesus did and does and enables believers to do was and is to the glory of His Father. John 15:8, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
I believe the reason the Father is glorified by believers who produce much fruit is that the spiritual graces or fruits which are seen in the lives of believers are reflections of God’s own being. Believers displaying in their life their creaturely versions of God’s communicable attributes bring glory to God. This is particularly true when their fruit is bountiful and so reflects the unending abundance of spiritual grace in God. Thus, through the abundance of their fruit, those who are already disciples demonstrate in increasing measure that they are true disciples who are being transformed into a likeness of Christ. In John 17:4, as Jesus prays to the Father, He says that He has glorified the Father in His earthly work by completing the work that the Father gave Him to do. In everything Jesus is obedient to the Father.
Believers abide in Christ through obedience from the heart to His commands. If, through disobedience, we fail to abide in Christ we may escape damnation, but it will be as through fire and all works done apart from Christ will be burned up (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
As fruitfulness is linked to bringing glory to God, so are love, obedience, and joy. Each element is to be abundantly present in the life of believers. Furthermore, each element is linked to each believer’s need to consciously abide in Christ.
Outward actions like evangelism and other good works are important, but they don’t come first. They flow from a transformed character. Boice points out that if we strive for the fruit of conversions first, it is like demanding that an apple tree produce other apple trees. It doesn’t work that way. First, the apple tree produces apples, which contain seeds. Then, with God’s provision, from the seeds of the apples other apple trees are produced. So it should be with us. Obedience is the key to abiding which is the key to fruitfulness which is a key to evangelism.
Bringing Glory to the Father Through Love
Our Lord notes that the great commandments focus on love. Matthew 22:36: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
The Apostle Paul tells us that love is the greatest of the fruits of the Spirit. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
In John 15:8, Jesus declares “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” This verse is overwhelming. Think of that eternal love between the Father and the Son. Just as the Father has loved Him, so Jesus has loved His disciples and will love all believers. His love is from all eternity, from before the foundation of the world. He has loved us with a pure, wholehearted, deep, personal, intelligent, enduring love. Knowing the character of Christ’s love for us, how can we not make every effort to abide in His love?
His love for us is astonishing. There is nothing in us to give Jesus cause to love us. We are sinners, Jesus is holy – the complete opposite of our sinfulness. We have rebelled against God. Jesus suffered and died on the cross because of our rebellion. Nonetheless, Jesus loves us.
Jesus loves us with an electing love. Because of His love for us, He left His Father’s home, taking to Himself a human nature, becoming flesh like us that we might become like Him. In His love for us He died to redeem us. Jesus’ challenge to us is that we abide in His love.
To abide in Jesus’ love we must abide in Him. Once again, the essential but not exclusive element is obedience. We see this more clearly in John’s Gospel. John 14:21, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Jn 14:23-24 “Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”
Glory to the Father Through Obedience
Obedience is essential to abiding in Christ (1 John 3:24). Abiding is equally essential to abiding in His love. John 15:10, “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.” Believers are surrounded by cords of love, which draw us ever closer to our Savior. Christ’s love always comes first. 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.”
As our love for Christ develops, how is it to be manifested? We show our love for Him by keeping His commandments. Is that all? No, of course not. But obedience is the essential ingredient without which there is no love for Christ. Keeping Christ’s commandments enables us to abide in His love just as Christ kept His Father’s commandments and abides in His love. Christ’s love precedes our love, accompanies our love, follows our love, and in this very process it creates more love toward Him in our heart. John 15:10a, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”
To be Christ’s disciples growing and prospering spiritually in His love, believers must obey Him. When Jesus asks us to obey all that He has commanded, He reminds us in John 15:10b that He is asking of us no more than He has already asked and given of Himself. The One who instructs us to obey has Himself set the pattern. He will give us strength to do as He requires.
What about believers’ love for Jesus? In John 14:15 Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” It’s easy to emotionally express love for Jesus but the hard truth is that we love Him only if we are obedient. The only Biblical measure for how much we love Jesus is how faithfully we obey His commandments. Do we love Jesus? If we do we will obey His commandments. If we don’t obey Him, we demonstrate we don’t love Him.
Glory to the Father Through Joy
The last verse of this section on the True Vine, introduces a fourth element which brings glory to the Father, the element of joy. In John 15:11, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
The words Jesus refers to are those spoken in verses 1-10. He told His disciples how abiding in Him and bearing much fruit will bring the blessings of answered prayer and, as they abide in Him, He abides in them keeping them in His love. Jesus says that He has told them these things in order that His joy may be in them. By “my joy” Jesus means the spiritual joy, based on peace with God, that is never ending and which only Jesus can impart. Jesus wants this inner delight and incomparable rejoicing in the truth of who God is and what He has done to be in the hearts of His disciples. It is especially important that night because they are troubled and filled with sorrow (John 14:1, 27; 16:6). Their worldly trouble and sorrow will get worse before better.
Obedience to Christ’s commands is not grievous but leads in the opposite direction to a fullness of that joy which is of God and is rightly listed as the second virtue in the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22.
The joy of Jesus which He gives to believers is the joy suitable for a beloved disciple. The joy He has and bestows on them is a wonderful thing that was not deterred by suffering or any other circumstance. Hebrews 12:2, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” The joy Jesus gives to believers came from Jesus’ intense desire to do the will of the Father. Psalm 16:8, “I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.”
Many things can disturb our joy. Sin, disobedience, and unbelief destroy joy. David confessed this truth in the great 51st Psalm, crying out to God, Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” It was not that his salvation was lost, only that the joy had evaporated. That always happens when fellowship with Christ is broken. When we abide in Christ, His joy abides in us.
When joy, linked to fruitfulness, love, and obedience, is found in the life of a Christian, everyone can see it and know that its source is God. In the sense meant by Jesus in this True Vine metaphor, we can never of our own accord produce fruitfulness, or love, or obedience. But Jesus can do it and will as we abide in Him.
Jesus is the True Vine, His Father is the Vinedresser, and believers are the branches. As long as the branches are in union with the vine, they are safe and productive. By abiding in the vine through obedience, believers have constant access to the abundant glorious life of Christ. Their fruitfulness, love, and joy will be complete and when the time comes, they will dwell with the Lord forever.
Love One Another as I Have Loved You
John 15:12-13, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”
Christ’s self-sacrificing love for believers is to be the pattern of believer’s love for one another. Of course, Christ’s love cannot in every sense be the pattern for our love for one another. His laying down His life for our benefit cannot be duplicated by us because of its infinite atoning value, its substitutionary and glorious redemptive consequences. In these respects His love was completely unique and cannot be a pattern for us. Yet, the self-sacrificing nature of His love is to be reflected in our creaturely love for one another. In our love for one another we must be willing to deny ourselves. In ordinary life there surely is no greater self-denial or manifestation of self-denying love for one’s friends that being willing to die for them. We love one another because He first loved us. Our Christian love for one another is an extension of Christ’s love for us. It is “the love of God poured into our hearts” (Romans 5:5) so abundantly it overflows into the lives of others.
John14-15, “You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
By consistently striving to do what Christ commands we can be sure we are His friends and abide in His love. Jesus emphasizes our human responsibility to be obedient. Jesus has revealed to His disciples the things He heard from the Father. They are now aware why Jesus was sent by the Father to become flesh and dwell among us, why He was going to lay down His life, why He had to leave this earth, what He would do at His return, and how a man could have eternal life in Him. Therefore, emphasizing the closeness of the fellowship between the Master and His disciples, the name servants is no longer the proper term. The relationship is different. Obedience is an expression of their love. Friends is the right word.
John15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”
Earthly friendships are typically developed through mutual choice, but the friendship of which Jesus speaks is different. It is one-sided in origin. We did not choose Him, but He chose us. The ground for God’s love for us never resides in us but always in Him. His love is unconditional and sovereign in nature. Christ elected us out of a world of darkness for Himself in order that we might be His followers to abide in Him and bear much fruit. He sets us apart from the world and works in us His graces – love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This verse concludes with a repetition of the thought in verse 7, but with the exception that we do not find the impersonal “it will be done for you,” but the very personal “he may give it to you.” The Father loves the Son and, hence, He loves those who do the Son’s bidding.
John 15:17, 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
Each of us should pay attention to our Savior’s prescription for continuous abiding in His love, answered prayer, and a love for one another that will astound the watching world. His prescription begins with obedience but doesn’t stop there. But, without obedience we demonstrate we do not love Christ and will not abide in Him. Obey Him, honor Him, praise Him, and bring glory to Him by being fruitful. When we abide in Him, we will be fruitful, and will have love for one another expressed in concrete ways that encourage and edify our fellow believers. This is the message of the True Vine.