Fruitfulness: John 15
This talk was given by Dr Andrew Faraday on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church and on the Internet. John chapter 15 is read from the NIV, 2011 Anglicised edition, before the talk. The reading and talk are long.
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Reading: John 15 (NIVUK)
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: love each other.
‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfil what is written in their Law: “They hated me without reason.”
‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
I’ve been away and missed at least a couple of the sermons that were preached on fruitfulness but thanks to Martin, I’ve been able to catch up on them and watch them. If you go on to the church website, you’ve got it all there, and of course, you can do it at your leisure and study the sermons. It’s very good, really because often you miss a bit when you’re just listening to it like you’re listening to me, don’t you?
As I said the last few weeks, we have been hearing talks about fruit and fruitfulness, and especially vineyards. Andrew Bastin and Martin both talked from the Old Testament about how God viewed Israel as a vineyard that He’d planted. God would bless the vineyard with abundant crops if the Israelites followed His commands and kept His Sabbaths. There are going to be plenty of grapes. But if they didn’t carry out God’s commands, if they turned astray, He would send sudden terror, wasting disease, fever, and more besides.
If they still disobeyed after all that, then God would send even worse terrors. We know it all ended badly, didn’t it, with destruction in captivity by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. God also said that after all that destruction, there will be a fruitful vineyard in the future and that He will watch over it and water it continually. Israel is going to bud and blossom and fill the world with fruit. He was foretelling His coming as Jesus and also the church as the new Israel, filling the world with the fruit of the Spirit.
Then a fortnight ago, Paul, here, preached on the parable Jesus told of the vineyard where the tenants wouldn’t send the owner his crop. Remember, they beat up and killed the messengers the owner sent. Of course, those listening to the parable well knew Jesus meant that the vineyard was a picture of Israel. The messengers were the prophets who had spoken to Israel over the years, telling them to come back to God’s ways. They knew that the last prophet had been John the Baptist, and he’d been very recently killed, hadn’t he, by King Herod?
That’s the son of the one in the Christmas story. Today, we’ve been looking at another discourse of Jesus, again about vines and grapes. As we heard, it’s from John chapter 15 when Jesus was talking to His disciples at the Last Supper. He’s telling them about how to live when He’s gone because He’s going to leave them and what to expect in the future. As we go through the chapter as we heard it, so it’s a very comprehensive picture. There’s a lot in it. At the start, He says, “I am the true vine, and the Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit. While every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
We, as Jesus’ followers, are the branches and even though we’re going to be bearing fruit, and we do bear fruit, we will be pruned. The Greek word for pruned also means cleanse. Of course, pruning removes what’s bad and promotes more growth, as you were hearing. Then Jesus goes on to say to His disciples, “You’re already clean because of the word I’ve spoken to you.” If we’re commanded to follow Jesus, we’re also clean.
We can see the symbolism of that in baptism, can’t we, which is washing away of sin. It’s partly why I chose that last hymn that we sang. Remember it’s got the line, “He comes to cleanse and heal to minister His grace.” We have to get it in the right order. Before we can do good and before Jesus could heal, He had to cleanse. Remember often when He was performing a healing miracle, He would say, “Your sins are forgiven,” before He was doing the cleansing before the healing. Then what is this fruit that we are to bear?
We’ve had some examples up here, haven’t we? I remember Moira again, talked a few weeks ago, didn’t she? About the fruit of the Spirit which is there in Galatians, chapter 5, “but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” I know we’ve lost it off the back there but we used to have that in Portuguese, didn’t we? That’s what’s the little thing hanging up there was. I don’t know where it’s gone and got lost.
As we grow in the Christian life, as we say, these things and others that come after them that we’ve written up there should result from us following Jesus’ commands and not relying on our own strength to do things. Jesus said, “If you remain in me, and I in you, you’ll bear much fruit, but then apart from me, you can do nothing.” Jesus re-emphasised that several times in the passage you read, didn’t He? It’s important that we have to follow His commands or live His way.
This isn’t just hard work with no reward because we also heard, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” That’s nice to hear, isn’t it? This way of life should bring us and God much joy. In fact, complete joy. Now, I was just thinking, joy doesn’t get more and more, it reaches a limit. I was just thinking my grandchildren give me much joy but if I had twice as many, I don’t think I’d have any more joy. I hope you had the joy too, last week we had them up here with the other young ones, didn’t we, making bread. That was a joyful thing to see, wasn’t it?
Now I’ve thought too, about God must enjoy new births as well. I was watching a program on the television about animals giving birth and things. I don’t know if you’ve seen the new series about that. I wondered why do so many animals have an enormous number of offspring? You see millions of the turtles rushing off to the beach to the sea, don’t you? I thought, well, maybe that’s because God enjoys births and He loves it, and He can’t have too many.
God loves it also, of course, when people are born again and become new Christians. We can remember that too. Remember what He said in that parable about the lost sheep, didn’t He? He said about there being more joy in heaven over the one sheep that was found. That was a new birth, wasn’t it? Then we carry on. Jesus also says He considers us no longer His servants. Of course, that word really is slaves, but we always translate it servants because it sounds a bit better, doesn’t it? We’re not that, we’re His friends and that’s an amazing privilege, isn’t it?
Then again, He says something that’s astounding again. He says, “You did not choose me but I chose you appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit. Fruit that will last, and so whatever you ask in my name, the Father will give you.” That again reminds me of someone who was worried the other week about an elderly relative saying, “I don’t know if they chose God, chose Jesus.” As I said, thinking about it, it’s not so important that. The important thing is whether He chose you. It’s amazing, really, that He chose each of us specifically before the creation of the world, as it says in Ephesians chapter one.
We’ve each got our own eternal role in the kingdom of heaven now and in the future. That’s an amazing thing to think of, isn’t it? That each one of us is needed and special. Jesus then, of course, goes on to give His disciples and us a warning. People will not always like our lifestyle, what we’re doing and Jesus has been into the world speaking about God’s righteousness. As it said, He’s given the people there no excuse for their sin. They’ve heard and some people don’t like their guilt being shown to them like this, in the light of Jesus’ word.
Remember, Jesus talks a lot about light and darkness, didn’t He, and how the light showing up evil, and then will prevail. The Jewish authorities tried to silence the disciples and they met serious persecution, didn’t they, as soon as they proclaim Jesus, the risen Lord. Remember the beginning of Acts. Of course, that meant preaching that, that Jesus was God and His words were absolutely authoritative, you had to believe them. Now Jesus on Earth, couldn’t be everywhere at once, could He, to support his growing number of disciples.
Again, something wonderful, he promised them and us, and it’s happened, hasn’t it? He’d just send a fantastic supporter, for each one of us throughout the world, and for all time. As it said, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who goes out from my father, he will testify about me and you also must testify for you who have been with me from the beginning.” The Holy Spirit, we find is called by lots of different names in different translations. It was Advocate here, wasn’t it?
Sometimes it’s Comforter, sometimes it’s a Helper, sometimes it’s Counsellor. Let’s say no one word can describe Him, He’s too big for that. We have to have lots of different ones and try and make it out. He’s going to convict people to turn to God’s way and seek His cleansing but it also says in that passage, doesn’t it, that we’ve got to testify about Jesus. Disciples have been with Jesus, He says, since the beginning of his ministry. That many of us know Jesus very well. We’ve been with him for a very long time, haven’t we?
If we remember, when we heard in the Old Testament that God was going to send trouble as a warning if the vineyard didn’t produce good fruit. I was just wondering, bring things up to date, was COVID a warning. That doesn’t mean God sent COVID directly or God made the virus or anything like that. In the same way, He didn’t send the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem, did he, in the Old Testament times. He just knew Israel with their wrongdoing, wouldn’t be able to resist the Babylonians and the disaster would come.
I think He knew too, our fractured world wouldn’t be able to stop COVID spreading, and we saw how we weren’t able to do it really and get two things together, were we? Taking it a bit further, I wondered if we as the church are the real vaccine, that’s to try and sort things out. Then again, is climate change an even bigger warning that many people aren’t taking seriously enough. Now we’ll be trying in our own strength as a country to mitigate it with a minimum of pain and that won’t work.
It is the actions of all of us, not just our leaders, it’s going to determine the future we face. Then when we’re here on Thursday, we had a big polar bear come, some of us saw it outside the church, and this man is taking it and he’s getting people to help him to carry it. It’s 12 feet high this model of a polar bear to do with COP26 in Glasgow. They’re walking up to Glasgow with it, it’s going to take about three weeks or so. You can look on the internet and see it all if you like. It just struck me that this chap, he isn’t necessarily a Christian, but he’s doing it from Christian motives if you like.
He’s a bit like a prophet and here’s this prophet walking with the bear up there. He’s doing it, just to try and make people think seriously about it and what we’ve got to do something. Just struck me as quite significant he was doing it and they called in here at coffee, and we gave them refreshments on their way up. Unlike the disciples, we’re not suffering much persecution in this country are we compared to many areas of the world. I wondered is that because of the work of Christians in this country over hundreds of years, producing fruit in our society and we’re benefiting from that.
We certainly have a role, we do here, to continue producing fruit, and helping maintain the relatively honest and stable society that we have, compared to a lot of the world. Then thinking again, there are fewer branches today than there were, aren’t there? When I was younger, also, there seemed to be a greater emphasis on trying to produce branches, new ones. When I think of evangelistic campaigns, and talking to people and trying to convert people and all the rest of the things you did when you were younger.
There was less emphasis really on producing fruit, I think. I don’t know some of you feel the same when you were younger, on the Christian life and trying to do things that way. Today, I think it may be a bit the reverse, isn’t it, but we emphasize more on maybe at Main Street on producing fruit. Let’s pray that we can get the balance right and with the Holy Spirit’s direction, of course. With all we do in Frodsham, with all the things we do here. All the meetings we have and the people that come in, and all that Paul does, I think we are having an influence on the town.
Let’s keep at it producing fruit because that’s what we’re told to do. Thank you. Thank you, Gill, for all you’ve done with the leading.
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