One thing that I love about teaching at ABIDE is that so often the lessons I teach, are lessons for myself as much (or more) than they are for my students.
This is especially true when I’m teaching about Scripture (which is often the case).
A couple weeks ago I taught a lesson in our class on the Gospel of John that I really enjoyed. Usually I try to remember to start each class by praying that God will use me and speak through me. So, whenever I find myself sharing some insight that I hadn’t planned in advance, then I know it’s an answer to that prayer, and the Holy Spirit at work.
We were working our way through John 15:5-17.
I love the imagery Jesus uses of the vine and the branches. I imagine that He and the disciples were already in the garden, and He was using the visual aid that was surrounding them to prove His point. (Not to mention, contrasting Himself as the true vine in verse one to Israel as the vine in Isaiah 5:1-7.)
Anyway, just like a branch needs to abide in the vine, those of us who are followers of Christ need to abide in Him. When a branch is detached from the vine, it is basically worthless, except maybe to be burnt up for firewood. It certainly can’t bear any fruit. Similarly, we need to abide (live, dwell, walk closely) with Christ in order to bear fruit…to give evidence that we are indeed who we claim to be. And any fruit bearing is by God’s grace alone (v. 5).
Verses 6 & 17 are two that are often misunderstood. …Ask whatever you wish and it will be given you. Too often people read these words and think of it like a magic genie from Aladdin or something. Then when those same people pray and ask God for something, but don’t receive it, it really messes with them, their faith, and their relationship with God. You can’t leave out the first part of the verse: If you abide in me… The idea is simple, when you spend a ton of time with someone, you get to really know them, you start to imitate them, you even begin to think like them. Well, the same is true with our Savior. The more time you spend with Jesus, the more you know Him, the more you imitate Him, and the more you think like Him. When you are close to Jesus, you want what He wants. So, when you pray, you pray for things according to His will, because you know Him so well.
And of course you will bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit (v. 8). You know: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). And just like the passage in Galatians ends in verse 26, John 15:8 reminds us that when we bear this fruit, it is for God’s glory, not our own. I mean, when you see a field (or orchard, or vineyard, etc.) with an amazing crop, would you go up to the plants and start saying wow, good work plant! That is some good fruit you produced! Of course not! That would be crazy! Of course the compliments would go to the gardner. So it is our Gardner alone that deserves the glory for any fruit He produces in us.
In verse 9 Jesus extends the idea of abiding to abiding in His love. How incredible is it that Jesus loves us with the same love that God the Father loves Him?!? Amazing! In fact, greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (v. 13).
And the way to remain in that love is through obedience (v. 10). Sometimes people think that verse 14 doesn’t really seem to make sense: You are my friends if you do what I command. I mean, since when do I have friends who command me to do something?? Well, verse 12 reminds us that the command is to love one another with the love of Christ. So, knowing how much Jesus loves us, anything He commands us to do is obviously good, and not just good, but the best for us. I mean, think about how parents command their children to obey…out of love for the child, not a simple desire to exude their power. Thinking about the times you instruct a child to do something makes me think of all the times God instructs me to do things. When they disobey, it brings a myriad of negative emotions (anger, disappointment, etc.). But when they do obey, it brings just the opposite: pride, joy, etc. Can you imagine how our heavenly Father feels these same things at a much deeper level according to our obedience and disobedience?
If we are abiding in Christ, our natural reaction will be obedience.
Somehow Satan has really deceived us in this area. After all, there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native languages, for he is liar and the father of lies (v. 44). Somehow he has gotten us to believe that obedience is a bad thing. That it robs us of our independence and freedom. But really, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Obedience actually brings great freedom and peace. Think about the times you have disobeyed, and how it impacted your relationship with the person you disobeyed…and then think about what happens when you did obey (especially when you followed the instructions with excellence and exceeded expectations) & how it impacts your relationship with that person.
Obedience results in joy. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (v. 11).
So let’s stop believing Satan’s ridiculous lies already!
Abide in Christ’s love, walk so closely with Him that you long to obey His commands to love each other for God’s glory, and you will have great joy!
That’s my desire and prayer. So, even if it didn’t hit my students so hard, I was challenged and encouraged. I hope you are too!