Let me confess at the outset that this is written for me. I wrote it down because I need it, it’s a sermon that I preached to myself and if it helps you, good!
I want to communicate something really sensitive, something that would be classified as being ‘border-line’ in nature because some things are really hard to communicate than others. I want to talk about what Jesus in John 15:1-11 calls abiding, and what I want to say, really, is something that we tend to overlook.
In that passage Jesus mentions the word ‘abide’ a staggering six times (vs. 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10) in just eleven verses. He is surely onto something; this can’t be a mere coincidence. But what is to abide? Using the simple analogy of the vine and the branches, to abide is when a branch just stays a branch—when it sits there and let the vine do the fruit bearing in it. The key word to use is being still. To abide is to be still (Psalm 46:10).
The branches (which are you and I) cannot bear any fruits unless they are in the Vine (Jesus). In other words, the branches have one goal here, receive the fruit which is 100% made by the Vine, carry it until a hungry souls comes to serve him/herself.
What Jesus is talking about here, I believe, is good works. That good works are the fruit produced in the branches (you and I) by the Vine (Jesus) and our role as branches is to carry them as we walk this world until we meet someone whose need will be met by these good works.
It is also clear from this passage that the fruit the branches carry is not for the Vine or the branches but for someone out there who is hungry and could use a bite. Because simple knowledge tells us that the trees never consume their own fruit, rather it ripens and if not eaten will fall off the branches and rot on the ground.
But that is not what I want to communicate. Humans are naturally good at making a mess of every good thing they come across, even a good thing like abiding. Verse five says: “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.” The point here is that fruit bearing is a consequence, or result of something else. Fruits are naturally produced.
The church in our day is obsessed with bearing fruit that transformation has been placed above everything else. When we ‘abide’, we do so to bear fruit, and that depends on what abiding means to us. When I go to a prayer meeting, I expect a revelation in form of a huge vision like the prophets of old or a future defying dream like in the times of Joseph and Daniel respectively. When that doesn’t happen, I will question my spirituality because something has to be lacking somewhere.
We have crafted a god out of abiding by placing fruit-bearing above and before the Vine. In a sense abiding has become the object of our faith, and the foundation and focus of it. The transformation that Jesus promises through abiding has become a self-salvation project of its own. Because at deeper level, we don’t go to church to meet God and be served by Him, rather we go there to be changed.
Ask yourself this question: “When you go to a worship service, do you seek to meet God or be transformed in a particular way?” Some smart people will say that even if they went for transformation, it’s only God that gives it, so I go to meet God. But you can see how that answer takes long to make sense and in the end doesn’t even answer the question at hand.
The branch will bear fruit but that is not primary, what is primary is that the branch is in the Vine. When that happens, fruit bearing is inevitable, so to speak. An old catechism asks the question, “What is man’s chief end?” and then gives the answer: “…to glorify God.” The best thing that will happen to the church is when it experiences a unique fellowship with the Father, mediated by the Son, through the Holy Spirit. Just sitting there and being reminded of what the Son has done.
The change we seek comes from God and so if you want any of it, seek God not the change itself—change does not cause itself, someone else does. The change (transformation) is a consequence of the beautiful thing that is sitting on the lap of a loving God, Abba, and letting him love us. Just like with marriage, where the exciting union between a man and a woman will produce something beautiful—children, so does the fellowship of God which produces good works.