Sunday, August 13, 2006

Abiding in love for fruit: A sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral on 13th August 2006. John 15:7-18

I know it’s in bad form for a preacher to talk about holidays, but allow me this one time! Earlier in the summer, I was in the south of France, in the Bordeaux region. Now, I didn’t taste any of the wine, but the family we were staying with had a vine in their garden. The vine was very fruitful, with lots of grapes growing. But I want to ask, are you being fruitful? What harvest are you producing? This morning we’re going to think about how Jesus leads us into life, through our connection to himself, for the purposes of being fruitful.

Our passage this morning is taken from Jesus’ farewell discourse, as he talked with his disciples after the Last Supper, and before his arrest. In the specific portion we’re looking at this morning, Jesus speaks of abiding, love and fruit. However, for us to understand the bit we’re looking at, we have to understand the wider context.

This is important, because taking a few words or a verse out of context is easy – but the meaning of Scripture is twisted. So, for example, some people might say that the Bible says ‘money is the root of all kinds of evil’ (1 Tim 6:10)… but if you read the whole verse you find that Paul says ‘For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.’

Or skip over to the Psalms, and twice you can read in them ‘There is no God.’ But guess what… read the words before it to put it into context, and the meaning changes. Rather, it reads ‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”’ (Ps 14:1, 53:1)

So as we turn to this morning’s passage, we find that the farewell discourse has been going on since the start of chapter 14, and here we are in the middle of chapter 15. Now, don’t worry, we aren’t going to look at it all. The brief summary of chapter 14 is that Jesus has told the disciples he is going away – that he is the way, the truth and the life – and tells them that whatever they ask in his name, he will do. He then promises the Holy Spirit, which is linked in to loving him and keeping his commandments. He also promises them peace as he goes, and says they should rejoice because he is going to the Father.

Chapter 15 then begins by him saying that he is the true vine, in an extended metaphor of our fruitfulness depending on our connection to him. It is this extended metaphor that is extended into the passage we’re looking at this morning, as we see the word ‘abide’ so many times.

So what does it mean to abide? We sing the hymn ‘Abide with me’ – asking Jesus to be close to us, to stay with us, and this is certainly appropriate. But you’ll notice that it is all turned around – Jesus is telling us to abide in him, not us asking him to abide with us. So, verse 7 ‘If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.’

You’ll see that there is a double condition to asking whatever we wish – that we abide in Jesus, and that his words abide in us. So how do we abide in him? To understand that, we need to go back to the start of the chapter, to remind ourselves of what Jesus has been talking about.

‘Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me,’ (John 15:4) In Jesus’ metaphor, then, we see that just as the branch will wither and die if it isn’t connected to the vine (which is connected to the roots and bringing nourishment), then we also wither and die by ourselves. But if we are connected to Jesus, abiding in him, then we have life, and will go on to bear fruit – of which we will see more later.

So we must abide in Jesus. But as I said a few minutes ago, there is a double condition – not only does Jesus say that we have to abide in him, but also he says ‘and my words abide in you.’ And how do we have Jesus’ words abiding in us? Don Carson suggests that this is speaking of remembering Jesus’ words and doing all that Jesus commands. Do you have Jesus’ words abiding in you? Are you familiar with what the Saviour has said? Do you search the Scriptures and find Christ?

Later in the passage, we read that Jesus tells us to ‘Abide in my love.’ (15:9). So we find that abiding for Jesus is rather important – with the command to abide in him, for his word to abide in us, and for us to abide in his love. As before, Jesus tells us how we can abide in his love. We read in verse 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.’

So abiding in Jesus’ love is all about keeping his commandments – we are called to obedience. Of course, in one sense, having Jesus’ words abiding in us, and abiding in his love by obeying his commandments is the same thing. Because it is only by knowing God’s word that we can truly obey it. Indeed, Carson goes on to say that as we know God’s word more, it becomes more natural (or even supernatural) for us to obey.

But do you notice that we have been called to obedience, having a model of obedience before us in Jesus. Just as Jesus calls us to keep his commandments and so abide in his love, so he shows us that he has also kept his Father’s commandments and abides in the Father’s love.

Yet the obedience we have been called to is not a dutiful drudgery! Instead, Jesus speaks of joy – his joy – so that our joy may be full. Abiding in Jesus and keeping his commandments is not the niggly keeping of laws and rules – but rather a joyful experience of keeping in step with the Spirit, as Paul spoke about as he talked of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.

So how can we know this joy of Jesus? We learnt earlier that we can know this joy through abiding in Jesus, having his word abiding in us, and in abiding in his love by keeping his commandments. Straight away, Jesus tells us his commandment – in verse 12.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus calls us to love one another in the church, as he has loved us – as he says elsewhere, this is the mark of his disciples, so that the whole world will know that we follow Jesus, by the love we display.

Love, though, can be a hard word to define, sometimes… Is it a gushy, sentimental ‘Hallmark’ love, where we’re all very nice and polite to one another but don’t really know each other? By no means! So that we’re very clear what Jesus is commanding, when he tells us to love one another, he provides the example, the model: ‘as I have loved you.’

Earlier in verse 9, we see that the love has a domino effect – ‘as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you’ – with the command for us to continue the dominoes falling by loving one another as Jesus has loved us.

At the start of John 13, we are told that Jesus loved his disciples to the full, as he washed their feet, in the place of the servant. When he had finished, he told them that this was a sign that they should submit to one another, and serve one another, because he had loved them and been their servant, even though he was their Teacher and Master.

But just in case we’re in any doubt of what this love looks like, Jesus goes even further: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.’ This year is the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, and one of my heroes is a Belfast man called Billy McFadzean, who was part of the Ulster Division. He was awarded the Victoria Cross after his death on the 1st July, and his citation tells his story:

For most conspicuous bravery near Thiepval Wood, on 1st July 1916. While in a concentration trench and opening a box of bombs for the distribution prior to an attack, the box slipped down into the trench, which was crowded with men, and two of the safety pins fell out. Pte McFadzean, instantly realising the danger to his comrades, with heroic courage threw himself on the top of the bombs. The bombs exploded, blowing him to pieces, but only one other man was injured. He well knew his danger, being himself a bomber, but without a moment's hesitation he gave his life for his comrades.

Billy saw the danger his comrades were in, and gave his life for them. He died, that they might live. And that, in a small way, is what Jesus has done for us, as he gave his life for his friends. [Although, we are reminded of Romans 5 which tells us that we were his enemies when he died for us, but Jesus is speaking of the disciples as his friends in John 15]

There was no greater love Jesus could have shown for us, as he hung on the cross. And it is this love that Jesus calls us to put into practice, as he commands us to love one another as I have loved you. Because it is in obeying him that we are his friends – the ones he laid his life down for.

Jesus then goes on to talk about bearing fruit again – fruit that will last, or abide. Notice the responsibility of choice – ‘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.’ (15:16) To avoid any pride in the disciples, or any sense of superiority, Jesus reminds them and us that we don’t choose Jesus, or choose the church – but rather that Jesus has chosen us and appointed us. What a comfort in times of testing or temptation or grief – Jesus has chosen us! What marvellous grace – indeed, amazing grace, that he should choose a wretch like me, or you, or you.

But we haven’t been chosen to remain static, or chosen just to warm a pew on a Sunday morning. We have been chosen and appointed to go and bear fruit – to see the grace of God growing in our lives as the fruit of the Spirit [love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control] grow, and to see the kingdom advancing in the hearts of those around us. Because this bearing of fruit is what we are called to – as we heard in verse 8: ‘By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.’

Fruitfulness is not only what we have been called to, and not only is it the result of Christ’s love in our hearts, which comes about as we abide in him and obey his commands – but it brings glory to the Father.

At the start we talked about asking for whatever we wish – and here we meet it at the end as well – ‘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.’

You might be thinking that Jesus is being a bit extravagant here, or maybe even foolhardy… anything we wish? But if we are abiding in Christ, obeying his commands, and producing fruit, then the things that we will be asking for are that God’s will be done, and his kingdom extended – and he will surely give us that.

So how do we apply this passage? What difference does it make to us at this time tomorrow? Here are some practical questions to be thinking about. Are you abiding in Jesus, feeding on him and getting your strength from him? Are you abiding in his love by keeping his commandments? How do we as a church obey Christ as he commands us to love one another as he has loved us? Are you bearing fruit, the fruit of the Spirit?

Let’s pray that we will glorify the Father as we abide in Christ, as we glory in his love and obey his command to love one another, and as we produce fruit that will last to eternity.


  1. In my Bible Jeus' farewell discourse begins in Chapter 13 !!!

  2. Sorry that posting should read Jesus not Jeus. My apologies.