More than Servants

John 15:15-17.

Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you.

Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you.

These things I command you, that ye love one another.

I love v. 15. “From now on, because I have shared with you all that I have from the Father, I will call you not My servants, but My friends.”

Our knowledge of Jesus and His Words, along with our obedience to Him and thus to the Father, takes us up the ladder from being servants to being friends. A servant is not intimate with his master. He does what he is told. He obeys not so much out of love, but out of duty and sometimes fear. To disobey was to risk losing one’s position, or perhaps being sold to a new master.

When Jesus elevated His disciples from servants to friends, He was giving them, truly, a raise in status and a privileged position.

What could be better than being friends with Jesus?

Not only are we His friends when we obey Him, but we are chosen by Him for such a status. To truly know Jesus is to love Him. And His love for us, in that He chose us, is that He ordained us to bring forth fruit that will remain; and to enjoy the blessing of answered prayer.

Again, Jesus commanded that we love one another. Where there is no love among Christian brethren, there will not be the blessing of God. Mark it down: God answers prayer when we obey Him, and when we love one another.

No Greater Love

John 15:11-14.

These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

This is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a Man lay down His life for His friends.

Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends - John 15:13

Jesus had repeated His message about love and obedience many times. In v. 11 of this passage, He emphasized again that His joy and ours both depend on our obedience to Him.

I have noticed that people who claim to be believers, but who are not walking with the Lord, often turn very derisive and bitter about the things of God. They mock the Bible, mock those who adhere to it, mock those who pray and trust God through trials. “God has never done anything for me!” they state, without equivocation.

I remember asking a client several years back, “Well, what have you done for God?” He grew angry and agitated, claiming that he owed God nothing. As I recall, he never came back. I hope he found some kind of peace, because he was a miserable person.

“No one is more miserable than the Christian who for a time hedges in his obedience. He does not love sin enough to enjoy its pleasures, and does not love Christ enough to relish holiness. He perceives that his rebellion is iniquitous, but obedience seems distasteful. He does not feel at home any longer in the world, but his memory of his past associations and the tantalizing lyrics of his old music prevent him from singing with the saints. He is a man most to be pitied; and he cannot forever remain ambivalent.” (Carson)

Carson, Blue Letter Bible

I think that quote perfectly describes those who want to have a foot in both camps.

Jesus made an astonishing statement: “I want you to love each other in the same way that I have loved you!”

I wonder if that was hard for some of the disciples to hear. Were any of them jealous of John, the designated protector of Jesus’ mother, Mary? Were they annoyed with Peter for his denial of Christ? Of course, these things hadn’t happened yet, but it wouldn’t be long, and I’m sure they had some soul-searching to do as they recalled Jesus’ words.

I have, sadly, watched a church I loved change into something I could no longer support. Friendships disappeared. There was a lot of anger, hurt, misunderstanding and ugly accusations. It is heartbreaking when God’s people turn against each other. It certainly doesn’t instill joy in anyone’s heart!

Then, Jesus uttered one of His most-quoted statements: “Great love has no man than this, that a Man lay down His life for His friends.” Jesus knew that He would do that, in the coming days. He knew He would suffer and die to provide the way of salvation for all mankind. He also knew that Satan would be very busy, sowing seeds of doubt and discord, creating lies, that would lead to confusion and hatred. How His heart must have broken, even then, for what He knew was coming. He knew that the disciples would need to love each other, support each other, perhaps be willing to die for each other, in the coming years.

Again, Jesus repeated that obedience was the requirement for friendship with Him.

Obedience is the Test

John 15:9-10.

As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love.

If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.

The little word as carries a huge punch. It means In the same way. So Jesus is saying, “I have love you in the same way the Father has loved Me.”

Think of all the other analogies Jesus could have used: A mother loving her baby, a husband loving his wife, and so on. None of them measure up to the love of the Father for the Son.

“But wait,” you may say. “Didn’t the Father demand that His Son suffer so terribly? How is that love? What father would expect his son to endure what Jesus endured?”

The answer is both simple and complicated. It is complicated in that we cannot conceive of the love between Jesus and the Father. Not yet. Someday we will. But the primary feature of Jesus’ love for the Father was His obedience. The Father showed His love for His Son by entrusting the path of salvation for the world to Him, and Him alone. He protected Jesus until it was the right time. He spoke in public approval of Jesus (This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased). He strengthened Jesus. He gave Jesus the grace to speak encouraging words even as He hung on the cross. Jesus was steadfast in His obedience, because of the steadfast love of the Father.

But ultimately, love is simple. Reams have been written about it; songs, plays, books, movies have centered on it. It cannot be explained away. It can only be demonstrated. Love puts self aside for the benefit of the beloved. Simple. And complicated.

Again, Jesus repeats to His disciples that the test of love is obedience. Abiding. Staying. Pitching one’s tent.

“When you keep My commandments,” said Jesus, “Then you are abiding in My love in the same way I have kept My Father’s commandments and therefore abide in His love.”

Why does Jesus say this so often? Simple. It’s because we’re a bit dimwitted. We vow to obey Him no matter what, until the first obstacle arises or the first temptation beckons us away.

Sunday Morning Coffee: Thanksgiving

Don’t you love Thanksgiving? It’s so much more relaxed than Christmas, which I also love, but there’s just not so much pressure. It’s always a nice calm day.

By this time next week, it will be another memory. When I was a kid, I always thought of Thanksgiving as being the beginning of winter, although I knew it wasn’t, technically. Often, in Minnesota, there would be lots of snow by Thanksgiving, which added so much to the fun when we went down to the farm in Fairmont. Brings up lots of warm and wonderful memories.

Norman Rockwell had a gift for those wonderful family memories. This is one of my favorites:

May you all enjoy the day, with it’s wonderful food, family, joy, and thanksgiving for the blessings we have.

Condition for Answered Prayer

John 15:7-8.

If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples.

Too many times, Christians pray and ask God for something, only to be disappointed and discouraged. God’s promise isn’t working for them. The problem is, they’re only looking at the last half of v. 7, which says that whatever we ask, God will do.

They overlook the condition clause: “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you. . .”

The abiding, remember, is to pitch one’s tent, to make a permanent dwelling. The condition for answered prayer is that we must be abiding in Him; AND His words must be abiding in us.

I have an acquaintance who has called herself my friend, but I never heard from her unless she had something she needed me to do for her. I used to feel I should cooperate, in the name of friendship, but not any more. You see, there is no basis on which we can build a relationship when she only contacts me to get me to do some task she isn’t equipped to do herself. Or that she just doesn’t care to do herself. So now, I don’t respond. And my lack of response has opened a chasm between us that apparently she doesn’t care to try to cross. We do not abide in each other; therefore, there is no basis on which she can hope to ask me for help.

That’s what happens when we fail to abide in Christ. When we do not abide, then His words do not abide in us. There is no basis upon which we can ask Him for whatever it is we need. We haven’t met the condition He has set for our prayers to be answered.

Jesus went on to say that our abiding in Him, and His words in us, and thereby our fruit bearing, will glorify the Father. Our relationship with Jesus brings glory to the Father. To glorify the Father was always Jesus’ primary goal for His walk on earth.

Bring Forth Fruit

John 15:5-6.

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing.

If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

We have several old trees in our back yard that are slowly losing their branches. A strong wind always leaves some branches on the ground. Others have simply fallen off because they are no longer drawing nourishment from the tree. My husband gathers up the fallen branches and tosses them into a pile at the bottom of our property, away from the house and other neighboring houses. When the pile has grown large enough, he waits for a calm and windless day and sets the pile on fire in several places. He keeps an eye on the weather all day, and if the wind stirs up, he douses the pile with water. He wants the smoke to go straight up, and not blow into others’ houses. The end result is that there is no more burn pile, and the process starts all over again. Over the 26 years we’ve lived here, we’ve had to cut down a couple of trees. There will be more.

But Jesus Christ, the True Vine, will never lose His strength. No branch will cease to gain power from the Vine unless it chooses not to abide in Him. Those branches quickly show the results of never having truly abided in Him, and they wither, stop putting out leaves, and are removed and tossed into the fire.

Another good metaphor to illustrate this passage is the tomato plant. If you’re a gardener, you know that weeds tend to resemble the plants near which they grow. Tomato plants not only have unattached weeds; they also put out what we call suckers, which look just like branches from the main plant–except they never produce buds, and they never bear fruit. When the gardener recognizes a sucker, he quickly lops it off because it takes nutrients away from the good branches.

Weeds and suckers disguise themselves for a while, but a seasoned gardener will soon recognize them and get rid of them.

Is it any wonder that Jesus used such simple examples when He taught His disciples? He made earthly things take on heavenly meanings. He was, and is, the Master Teacher.

“All our sap and safety is from Christ. The bud of a good desire, the blossom of a good resolution, and the fruit of a good action, all come from him.” (Trapp)

Trapp, Blue Letter Bible

Why did Jesus repeat, “I am the Vine, and ye are the branches”? Possibly it was because these Jewish men were accustomed to thinking of Israel as the vine. Now, Jesus is telling them that they need to consider their relationship with Him as the primary source of their strength.

We can think of fruit as good character traits: love, joy, peace, etc. (Gal. 5). But fruit also implies reproduction. My uncle in Colorado had fruit orchards. I never tasted any better peach than the one he pulled off the tree and handed to me. Still makes me smile to think of it. Part of his job was to watch the trees carefully. If a tree seemed to be slowing down in reproducing fruit, he would have it pruned way back. Often, that tree would be healthy for a long time after such pruning. Sometimes, however, it didn’t recover. If that was the case, the whole tree, with its root system, would be removed and destroyed.

Now, I want to encourage you a little bit here. Often, true believers find they just don’t do very well in leading other people (fruit!) to accepting Christ. They can become discouraged, wondering why, when they have a desire to bear fruit, that it just doesn’t happen for them. In I Corinthians 3:6-8, Paul, the Apostle, addresses this issue. In brief, he says, “One person plants the seed; another comes along and waters it. But it is God Who gives the increase.”

You and I, as branches in the True Vine, have the responsibility to plant and water. The increase of fruit, however, belongs to God. You will be blessed by whatever part you had in the work of reproducing fruit. Never give up!

There are three main interpretations of what Jesus meant when He said the branches that were not productive were cast into the fire and burned. The one that makes the most sense to me is that the fires of hell await those who were not true branches to begin with. They never bore eternal fruit, and never truly abided in Him–like Iscariot, who betrayed Christ with a kiss.

Abide in Him. Obey, grow, reproduce. You. may experience some pruning, but you will not be eternally destroyed when you truly abide in Christ.

Abide in Me

John 15:3-4.

Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.

The word of God is a cleansing agent. It condemns sin, it inspires holiness, it promotes growth, and it reveals power for victory. Jesus continues to wash His people through the word (Ephesians 5:26).

David Guzik, Blue Letter Bible

The disciples had already received the Words of Jesus, many of which are recorded for us as well. His Word continues to be a cleansing agent. That’s why it’s so important for us to memorize verses and passages.

Bible verses often trigger music in my mind, music that I grew up with and still love. Today’s passage puts me in mind of an old hymn, Abide With Me.

In the Greek, to abide is to pitch one’s tent, to stay, to make a home.

That is what Jesus is inviting us to do: Make our home, our abiding place, in Him. And when we abide in Him, He abides in us.

You see, in ourselves we cannot bear fruit. It is our connection to the Vine that makes us strong, healthy, and able to produce fruit.

“The means by which pruning or cleaning is done is by the Word of God. It condemns sin; it inspires holiness; it promotes growth. As Jesus applied the words God gave Him to the lives of the disciples, they underwent a pruning process that removed evil from them and conditioned them for further service.” 

Tenney, Blue Letter Bible

Do you treasure your Bible? It is certainly a treasure, in every sense of the word. It is the vehicle through which we receive the inspired Word of God. The more we read it, the more we grow; the more we grow, the more fruit we bear.

Here’s another good old song to wrap this up for today:

I AM the True Vine

John 15:1-2.

I am the true vine, and My Father is the Husbandman.

Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

As He often did, Jesus used a familiar agricultural example to teach a divine truth. His disciples understood about vineyards and vines and branches.

In the Hebrew Old Testament, God used the vine as a symbol of His people (Psalm 80:8-9). Sometimes, the vine was used negatively (Isaiah 5:1-27 and Jeremiah 2:21). 

Vineyards abounded in ancient Israel, just as they do again today.

The vine was recognized as a symbol of Messiah. Also,on the front of the Temple, there was a large golden vine used as a decoration to symbolize Israel as God’s Vine.

Now, Jesus told them, He was the True Vine. In order to bear fruit, we must be rooted in Him, the True Vine–not Israel, not the church–just Jesus Christ!

The vine is the source of everything for the branches. Branches can be removed, and the vine will still flourish. But if the vine is destroyed, the branches will quickly wither and die. Jesus was teaching the disciples that their complete trust and dependence must be in Him.

The Father is the husbandman, or the vinedresser, the keeper of the vineyard. As New Testament believers, we have a relationship with the vinedresser through the True Vine.

Sometimes, if a branch does not bear fruit, it must be “taken away,” or cut off, in order that it does not weaken or pollute other branches. Sometimes, these branches were simply lifted up so they could get more sun, and thereby become more productive. Either way, the vinedresser is responsible for the keeping the vineyard productive.

Even if a branch does bear fruit, it must undergo a pruning process. If you are a gardener, you know that the only way to keep some plants strong and healthy is to cut them way back in the spring or fall, knowing that new growth will be strong and healthy as a result. Branches that are not pruned begin to grow wild, tangled, and messy; and they use up nutrients from the vine that need to be channeled into new growth.

When God “prunes” us, it is for our good. It keeps us strong, productive, and spiritually healthy.

The Prince of this World

John 14:29-31.

And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.

Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.

But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence.

See the source image

No, Satan doesn’t have horns and hooves. But he certainly faces a terrible end, and even though Jesus’ death may have seemed like a victory for Satan (“he shall bruise Thy heel), it ended in the victory of Jesus over sin and death (You will crush his head!) Genesis 3:15. Remember as you read that verse that God is speaking to Eve, and is prophesying the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus told His disciples that He wanted to be sure they knew what was about to happen, so that when events unfolded, they would not be taken by surprise.

He also told them that He wouldn’t be speaking with them very much from that moment, because Satan (the Prince of the World) was coming for Him; although, he assured them, “he has nothing in Me.” That is, Satan had no hold over Jesus that the Father did not allow, and what he did have would be temporary.

Jesus also reminded the disciples that what He did, He did out of love for and obedience to the Father.

And He ended that conversation by saying, “Come on, let’s go.”

It’s nearly impossible for me to imagine what must have been in Jesus’ mind as He led His disciples out of the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He knew Judas would betray Him and His torment would begin.

Peace

John 14:27-28.

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved Me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for My Father is greater than I.

See the source image

Sweet peace, the gift of God’s love. Don’t we all need that peace these days? The peace that Jesus gives is deep, abiding, and changeless no matter what other circumstance may exist in your life. It is, aside from salvation, one of His greatest gifts to us all.

A troubled heart can be a sign that we are not resting in His peace. We are allowing our hearts to be troubled and afraid.

You may be thinking, “But Linda, how can we NOT be troubled by the tumult in America right now? How can we sleep at night wondering if rioters and looters are going to hit our neighborhood next? What if the government shuts everything down again? People are already hurting financially!”

Do you see how just those three sentences may have already sent you into a tailspin of worry?

II Timothy 1:7. “God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Philippians 4:4-8. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, REJOICE! Let your moderation (quiet self-control) be known unto all men. The Lord IS at hand. Be careful (don’t worry ) for nothing (about anything); but in every thing by prayer and supplication (begging) with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things [are] honest, whatsoever things [are] just, whatsoever things [are] pure, whatsoever things [are] lovely, whatsoever things [are] of good report; if [there be] any virtue, and if [there be] any praise, think on these things.

Jesus said to His disciples, “If you truly understood, and loved Me, you would be thrilled that I am returning to My Father. He is, after all, greater than I! And He will send you the Comforter.”

Don’t let your hearts be filled with fear and worry. Take it to the Lord. Be strong and of good courage. The Comforter is with us!