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Monday, February 16, 2009

Jesus' Heart for His Bride (Part 3--John 15:1-17)

I Am the True Vine
15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 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.

As I have been meditating on this passage of Scripture, here are a few things I can see as part of the heart of Jesus for His Church:

1) Jesus wants us to abide in Him. Jesus wants relationship with us. He not only wants us to believe in Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life and the only way to the Father as He told us in John 14, but He also wants to be our everything—our treasure, our motivation, our strength, our power, our goal, our provider, our source of hope and joy, and our perfect model. If Jesus is not our everything, we simply are not saved. This is not to say that we will not struggle with doubt, sin, and seasons of dryness at times in our relationship with Him. However, if we do not have a desire to know Him and pursue Him above everything else--like the man in the parable of the hidden treasure (Matthew 13:45) or the man in the parable of the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:46-47)-- then He is not our Lord and we do not have eternal life. John 17:3 tells us, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Once we believe in Jesus and submit to Him as Lord over our lives, we abide in Jesus through sincere relationship with Him. Think of the human relationships you want to invest in. How do you do that? You spend time with this person. If you truly love this person, you want to do this. Being with this person is not a chore or something you have to force yourself to do, but rather you find it an honor and a joy to spend time with this person. If this is a person who you admire and want to learn from, you listen a lot to this person. You engage with this person by asking questions and asking them for advice. You tell this person how you feel about them. The way we listen to Jesus is through His Word. We learn about His character, His purpose, His ways, His will, and His love through His Word. We engage with Him through prayer. We tell him how we feel about Him through words of worship. We ask Him for guidance about how to live our lives and how to be more like Him. We ask Him to help us where we are struggling. We ask Him to produce fruit in us. If we abide in Him, and His words abide in us, we ask Him for help with our struggles with sin and we ask Him to help us bear fruit, and He will do this for us-- He promises this! If we are struggling with the very desire to meet with Him, He is so faithful even to answer our prayers to produce an appetite in us for Him.

2) Jesus wants us to bear fruit. The Father is glorified in our bearing fruit and proving to be disciples of Jesus. What is this fruit? Here's a big hint--notice how this passage speaks a lot about love? It talks about Jesus' love for us and His command that we love one another. Love is THE fruit (or legacy) that Jesus wants for His Bride. This is supported elsewhere in Scripture, where we are told that none of our accomplishments and grand gestures mean anything apart from love. 1 Cor 13:1-3, tells us “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Galatians 5:6 tells us what counts is “faith working through love”. 1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love”. There is no fruit apart from real Biblical love. Biblical love is different from the love that comes naturally to us or the love we see in the world around us. We are told in 1 Corinthians 13 what real love is: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8 Love never ends.” Real love is befriended by attitudes of the heart such as peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self control, compassion, humility, and meekness. Galatians 5:22-23 tell us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Notice that these are attitudes of the heart, not behaviors. Yes, behaviors naturally flow out of these loving attitudes of the heart. However, you can have the behaviors without the loving attitudes of the heart and the behaviors in themselves are not fruit when they do not flow from the right attitude of love from the heart. Notice also that fruit is “of the Spirit”, not of ourselves--which leads me to the next point.

3) The only way we can bear fruit is through abiding in Jesus. Biblical love cannot be conjured up by our efforts or willed through our mind. Romans 5 tells us that “God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”. As we pursue being rooted in Christ’s love through relationship with Him, He will continue to pour His love into our hearts by His Spirit. Indeed, if we abide in Him, we will not need to try to bear fruit but rather we will do so naturally in relationship with Him as He transforms and equips us. Jesus loves us out of the overflow of the love He receives from the Father, and likewise, He wants us to love others with this same love. While Jesus is praying to the Father in John 17:26, He says, "I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Abiding in Jesus is abiding in His love—the love between the Father and Son that has overflowed to us and that ought to overflow to our brothers and sisters. Jesus has remained in the Father’s love and has obeyed His command to love others. Jesus wants us to remain rooted in His love. This is concept is also discussed in Ephesians 3:14-21: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Being rooted in Christ’s love is the only way that we can obey His command to truly love others as He has loved us. It is the way that we are filled with all the fullness of God, and so out of this we can pour love into others. He loved us first and that is why we can love others in the way in which He calls us. 1 John 4:7-12 tells us, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” Jesus tells us what real love looks like—it looks like the cross. Love lays down its life for its friends. Jesus wants us to love each other sacrificially, humbly and actively.

3) Jesus wants us to have His joy! He wants us to have the joy that comes from being loved by God! He wants us to have the kind of joy that He knows through His loving relationship with the Father. Jesus enjoys the Father and the Father enjoys Jesus. Our God even has joy in us! Zephaniah 17:3 says: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” In Zechariah 2, the people of God are called the “apple of His eye”. God delights in us with joyful affection. Affectionate love produces joy and this is what Jesus wants for us to experience, both in being loved by God and in loving others.

4) Jesus desire for us to bear fruit is worth the painfulness of pruning. Accordingly, our Heavenly Father makes us more fruitful through painful pruning that is worth the result of abundant fruit. He brings circumstances into our lives that transform us by gradually cutting away at our sinful character so that our character is increasingly aligned with Jesus’ character instead, for our good and for His glory.

5) We know God’s will for us through His word. If we abide in Jesus, His words abide in us. If we pray in accordance with His word, we can trust that He is faithful to answer. For example, if I abide in Christ and in His Word and I ask to bear more fruit, I know this is His will and He will be faithful to do that in me.

This section of Scripture is really about abiding in Jesus and His love (the love between the Father and Son by the Spirit and our Triune God’s love for us). When abide in Christ, we supernaturally (in other words “by the Spirit”) bear fruit, which is love.

Our God’s defining characteristic is love.[1] It is no wonder that when the Vinedresser is the Father of love, and the Vine is the Son of love, and the sap[2] is the Spirit of love, that the fruit of the branch would be love. In this passage of Scripture, we see our Heavenly Father is glorified in love. We know this because God the Father is most supremely glorified in Jesus, whose most glorious act of going to the cross was the most supremely loving act. Jesus went to the cross out of obedient love for the Father and redeeming love for us. This is Jesus’ heart for His Bride—that we know and partake in His love for us in relationship with Him, and that we image this love by truly loving others.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for your Word which reveals to us more and more about who you are! Thank you that who you are is beautiful and awe-inspiring. Thank you that your Word transforms us. As we behold who you are, we are both inspired and empowered by your Spirit to be conformed to the image of your Perfect Son! Thank you! Please help us to abide in you, Jesus, and abide in us through your Spirit. Please fill us, Spirit. Increase our appetite for you! Produce sincere and Biblical love in our hearts, that we might glorify you and image the love that you have shown us. Help us to abide in you and to love sacrifically, lavishly, and scandalously as you do! Speak to each of us about what this means practically in our life today. We ask this in Jesus Mighty Name, Amen.

[1] Saying that God is love is not the same as saying love is God. What I am saying is that the most prominent characteristic of the God of the Bible is love. Furthermore, I am saying that true love is defined by the Bible, and it does not look like what we frequently call love based on what comes natural to us or on what we see in the world.
[2] I hope I am not going out on a limb—pardon my pun—in calling the Holy Spirit the sap, but I do think it is consistent with the vine analogy and the rest of Scripture that discusses the role of the Spirit.

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