Abiding and Abundance

John 15:1-17

25 October 2009

St Mary's, White Waltham

Morning Prayer

Don Carson's Pillar New Testament Commentary on John is extremely helpful. As ever, Carson untangles the knotty points with great wisdom


A few months ago I enjoyed a visit to Hampton Court for the first time. It's quite pricey to get in, but you can use Tesco clubcard vouchers: every little helps!

There are many impressive things to see at Hampton Court, but one of the most impressive is the enormous Great Vine. This vine was planted in 1769 which makes it now 240 years old. It's grown to measure 12 feet around the base, and the branches snake their way all over the immense glasshouse that was specially built around it. The longest branch is an amazing 120 feet.

And it produces an immense amount of fruit. At the height of its fruitfulness in the 19th century this single vine was producing over two thousand bunches of grapes a year, with a total weight of around a ton.

In fact, this venerable vine is reckoned to be probably the oldest and largest vine in the world.

However, the first thing we learn from our Bible passage this morning is that there is a far larger, far older vine in existence. John 15 verse 1, Jesus says, I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardenerref.

This is the last of Jesus' seven "I am" sayings, and to grasp its real significance we need to know that, in the Old Testament, the picture of a grape vine was often used to refer to the people of God.

For example, in Isaiah chapter five, God declares, The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israelref. But, in all the Old Testament passages, God's people are always a sickly vine, producing bad grapes. Isaiah says that God looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.ref

So when Jesus declares that he is the true vine, he is making a massive claim. Jesus is saying that he has come to be what Old Testament Israel failed to be. Now there will be a new people of God who are connected to Jesus, and, in him, they will at last produce good fruit. Relationship with Jesus will truly define who is, and who is not, the people of God.

The two key themes of this passage are the need to remain in Jesus, and the fruitfulness that results. These two themes are entwined like vine branches throughout the passage, but they come together most clearly in verse 5, If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.ref

I want to look at these themes under two headings Abiding, the need to remain in Jesus and Abundance, the promise of fruitfulness: abiding and abundance.

Abiding - the need to remain in Jesus

So first, we need to remain or abide in Jesus. The word that the NIV translates "remain" occurs eleven times throughout the passage, which suggests that it is a Big Idea.

In other versions the word is translated "abide", which is a bit old fashioned these days, but I rather like it. It essentially means to stay, to dwell, to continue in the same place or state.

To see the point that Jesus is making, have a look at verses four and five and see how they parallel each other.

In verse 4 Jesus commands, Remain in me, and I will remain in you.ref In verse 5 he gives us a picture to explain what he means, I am the vine; you are the branches.ref

We remain or abide in Jesus in the same way that the branch of a vine remains part of the whole. As long as the branch is attached to the trunk and roots of the vine, life-giving sap can flow through it. It is alive and leafy and fruitful. As soon as a branch is detached from the core of the vine, it is dead and only good for burning.

In the same way, God's people must remain attached to the core, to Jesus. Then his life giving Spirit can flow through us, energising us and making us fruitful. As soon as we become detached from Jesus, we cease to be God's people. Apart from Jesus, spiritually we are dead.

Jesus makes the same point again in the second halves of verses four and five. Verse 4, No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in meref. Verse 5, If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothingref.

The relationship between the vine and its branches is intimate. The branches receive life from the vine; the vine produces its fruit through the branches.

To change the picture, in case viticulture is not your thing, imagine a lamp like a bedside lamp at home. Its purpose is to produce light, but it can only produce that light if it is plugged into the mains, if power flows through it. Jesus is like the national grid; he provides the power. The lamp simply needs to remain plugged in. If it becomes unplugged, it's practically useless.

So the message is clear: we are God's people only insofar as we are joined with, or plugged into, Jesus.

If we are God's people, we constantly depend on Jesus, we continuously rely on him. We turn to him in every circumstance, knowing that apart from him we can do nothing. We can never move on from Jesus. He is our life; he is all our power. He is the vine, we are the branches. We must abide, remain and dwell in him.

Abundance - the promise of fruitfulness

So that's abiding, the need to remain in Jesus. Now let's look at abundance, the promise of fruitfulness. This is the second big theme of the passage.

In verse 16 Jesus says that fruitfulness is our purpose in life, I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will lastref.

What is this fruit that Jesus wants us to bear? Well, we don't have an exhaustive list here, but there are three particular areas of fruitfulness that Jesus presents in this passage.

Power in Prayer

First, Jesus says that we will experience power in prayer if we are abiding in him. Have a look at verse 7, If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given youref. And again look at verse 16, if you are abiding in Jesus then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my nameref.

This is not a blank cheque to fill out with anything we like — Lord, let me find an Aston Martin parked on my drive when I get home, Amen! No, we are to pray in accordance with Jesus' words and in his name. We are to pray the prayers Jesus wants us to pray.

Remaining in Jesus means letting his word, the Bible, teach us how to pray. It means learning to align our prayers with Jesus' concerns. Not praying selfishly or inappropriately, but praying along with Jesus. When we learn this we will be astonished at the answered prayer we see.

The fruit of power in our prayers is a sure sign that we are connected to the vine, that we are remaining in Jesus.

Joy in Obedience

Next, Jesus says that if we are abiding in him we will experience the fruit of joy in obedience.

Jesus tells us in verse 11, I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.ref And what he's just told us is verse 10, that we must obey Jesus' commands just as he obeys his Father's commands.

When we look at Jesus in the gospel accounts, we don't get the impression, do we, that he was ever grudging or reluctant in his obedience to his Father. Jesus always delighted to do his Father's will. Even as he was wrestling in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane about obeying his Father to the point of death, we're told that it was because of the joy set before him [that he] endured the crossref.

As we remain connected to and empowered by Jesus, we will find that same joy in obedience welling up within us. We will be people who give joyfully. We will delight in being faithful to our husband or wife. We will find our pleasures not in gossip but in encouraging and building one another up.

This is Jesus' joy in us: the joy of living rightly. A life filled with joy is the authentic mark of true Christian faith. And, one day, he says, that joy will be complete: when we see him face to face.

The fruit of joy in obedience is a sure sign that we are connected to the vine, that we are remaining in Jesus.

Selflessness in Love

Thirdly, as we remain in Jesus, we will know the fruit of selflessness in love. Love is another big theme in these verses. Have a look at verse 12. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.ref

Love in the Bible is intensely practical. Love is always the laying down of my rights to prefer yours. It is the using of my resources — time, energy, money, possessions — to serve someone else. Love is always selfless in that it prefers to help another rather than to help ourselves.

By nature we cannot do this. By nature we are entirely selfish. It is only by remaining connected to Jesus that he can transform our selfish hearts into selfless hearts. In selfless love, he laid down his life for us, which becomes the power enabling us to lay down our lives for others.

The fruit of selflessness in love is a sure sign that we are connected to the vine, that we are remaining in Jesus.

So there are three of the fruit of remaining in Jesus that we can expect according to this passage: power in prayer, joy in service and selflessness in love.

Please notice that Jesus never commands us simply to go and bear fruit by ourselves. Our proud human hearts want to believe that we can do this, that by our own efforts we can pray effectively and serve sacrificially. So we try and try again to live the Christian life, yet our experience is joyless and ineffective.

But we simply cannot do it by our own efforts, any more than a dead branch can suddenly grow a bunch of grapes. Without the goodness of Jesus flowing through me I can produce no good fruit. Any good fruit in my life is the result of remaining attached to him so that he can work through me.

The Christian life is simply a life of remaining connected to Jesus. All the resources we need come from him, the root and trunk of the vine. We depend on him in all our lives, and fruit will surely follow on from this.


I want to finish by looking at where you and I might be in relation to Jesus' teaching here.

Perhaps you enjoy great fruitfulness in your Christian life. You know what it is to have power in your prayers. Your heart is full of joy in obedience. You are able to live selflessly in love for others because you are fully connected to Jesus and remaining in him daily.

In which case, Jesus' word for you is in verse 16: "go". I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruitref. Jesus is always sending us out into the world. Don't keep this wonderful fruit within the church, we are to go into the world and glorify God by bearing fruit for him. Verse 8, This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciplesref. Whom are we to show? The whole world out there!

However, it may be that your experience of fruitfulness is a good deal more feeble than this. You do experience answered prayer, but it's not in the same league as ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. You do experience flashes of joy, but, on the whole, living the Christian life seems more of a burden than a delight. You want to serve others, but you find that constantly your self gets in the way and your good intentions come to nothing. In short, you don't bear much fruit.

If this is you — and it is certainly me — then we can be encouraged that we see at least some fruit in our lives, however feeble. This means that we are connected to Jesus, because if we weren't, verse 5 would apply, apart from me you can do nothingref.

But we are sickly branches that need to be pruned and cleaned. Coming all the way back to verse 2, [My Father] 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.ref

We need to submit our lives more fully to God, allowing him to prune us back. We need to open ourselves to him and his word so that he can operate on us. This will no doubt be painful, but the goal is fruitfulness in our lives. It's a good idea to try to spend time with older, wiser, more fruitful Christians: God will use them as he prunes the sickly branches of our lives. Why not think whom you could learn from?

Finally, perhaps there is no evidence of this fruit at all in your life. Your prayers are formulaic; your faith is a joyless duty; you serve others only to keep up appearances.

In which case, you must consider the possibility that you are not attached to the vine. That you are a dead, fruitless branch. The life-giving, energy bringing sap from the trunk has stopped flowing, or has never flowed in your life.

In which case Jesus' warning is clear. Verse 2 again, [My Father] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruitref, and verse 6, If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.ref

You can't avoid this fate simply by trying harder: apart from me you can do nothingref. The only hope is to become connected with Jesus, to depend on him, to submit to him: to become his friend in the language of the text.

Jesus is the true vine. It is only in connection with him that we become the fruitful people of God.