Read at beginning of service:
1 John 3:1-10 (NIV)1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. 4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. 7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.
John 15:1-17 (NIV)
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 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. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will 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. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 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. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. 9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 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. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
How many of you know what you are supposed to do when you get lost in the woods? The answer is that you are supposed to remain where you are until somebody comes and finds you. Have any of you ever tried to do that (and I?m not talking about getting lost in the woods!!)? Can you imagine how difficult that must be? To simply remain in one place, waiting, passive, hoping someone will find you?
Many people don?t remain in one place ? instead they decide to try it on their own, to try to find the way back themselves. They get tired of doing nothing, get sick of waiting, they panic and try to get themselves out of the trouble they are in. And they end up making the situation worse ? they end up getting even more lost and decreasing the chances of rescuers being able to locate them.
I don?t know about you, but I don?t really like to wait ? especially not in traffic. I?d rather pull onto a side street, double back and take a different route even if that ends up taking twice as long as it would have to wait through the traffic jam. Why? Because at least then I?m moving ? I?m in control, I feel like I?m making progress, and at least I?m not sitting in traffic doing nothing. Can you relate?
And yet this idea of remaining (or abiding in the old language) is the key to fruitful discipleship that is found in John 15. Jesus said in John 15:5,
John 15:5 (NIV)
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
Essentially what Jesus is saying reveals the astounding truth that God doesn?t want us to do more for Him, but that He wants us to be more with Him!!
Last week I began this series of messages entitled People of the Vine by emphasizing the lesson Jesus gives His disciples about how as branches followers of Christ bear fruit. You may remember me telling you that in saying He is the true vine (vs 1) Jesus was punctuating the reality that He is the life source from which the branches exist. Bearing fruit is not accomplished through what you do but a matter of what Christ does through you!! I believe Jesus wanted to drive this point home to His disciples knowing that these words would be His last teaching before being arrested and sent to be crucified.
Jesus uses an extended metaphor here to make His point. The spiritual life is like a vineyard. Any vineyard needs a vine, a gardener, some branches, and ideally some fruit. Jesus explicitly identifies the parts of the metaphor in verse 1 and 5. Jesus is the vine. God the Father is the gardener. And we are the branches. Fairly simple, fairly clear. Now it might be tempting to say that the central truth Jesus is trying to convey through the metaphor he uses is that we the branches must produce fruit. But as I read this passage several times, something else sticks out to me as the main point: we must remain in Christ.
Notice how many times the word “remain” is in those eight verses! Remain is the English translation of the greek word meno which occurs seven times in verse 1-8! Obviously the goal of Jesus? metaphor is the producing of fruit, but the clear emphasis is on the idea of remaining in Christ. Recalling verse 4, Jesus says,
John 15:4 (NIV)4 Remain in me, and I will 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.
So this morning I want to focus on this truth. I want to focus on the teaching of Jesus that people of the vine are to be lingerers. The emphasis that people of the vine are to remain in Christ ? abide in Him ? stay closely connected ? settle in for the long term. What does this mean and how do we do it and what does this tell us about the Christians life?
Lingerers depend on Christ (Just as a branch depends on the vine)
John 15:4 (NIV)
4 Remain in me, and I will 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.
The story has been told of a do-it-yourselfer who went into a hardware store early one morning and asked for a saw. The salesman took a chain saw from the shelf and commented that it was their “newest model, with the latest in technology, guaranteed to cut ten cords of firewood a day.” The customer thought that sounded pretty good, so he bought it on the spot. The next day the customer returned, looking somewhat exhausted. “Something must be wrong with this saw,” he moaned. “I worked as hard as I could and only managed to cut three cords of wood. I used to do four with my old-fashioned saw.” Looking confused, the salesman said, “Here, let me try it out back on some wood we keep there.” They went to the woodpile, the salesman pulled the cord, and as the motor went vvrooommmm, the customer leaped back and exclaimed, “What?s that noise?” (quoted in “Constantly Abiding“, a message by Ted Sutherland)
Now the story of this poor do-it-yourselfer illustrates one thing really well. His success in realizing the full potential of that chainsaw rested on his dependence on the salesperson to show him how to use it. What do you think would have happened if the man never returned the saw to the store? (I groan at the thought!!).
The main thing I see in the concept of “remaining” is one of total dependence. If the branch is separated from the vine, it dies. It might look nice for a little while, but it immediately stops growing and starts to die. The branch can?t do it on its own. The same thing is true for us spiritually ? unless we remain in Christ, we die spiritually. The life doesn?t come from the branch, from how hard it works or how much it tries to be fruitful ? the life comes from the vine. The life in our spirit comes from Jesus, and from our connectedness to Him. And it is only in Him that we will bear fruit for the Kingdom of God (that the full potential of the gifts God gives us will be realized!!).
How dependent are you on God? How much of your daily life have you surrendered to Him in reliance and dependence? Are you trying to be in control, or are you acknowledging that He is in control? Think of what you are missing out on ? the life of God flowing through you, the fruit that comes from remaining in the vine, the joy of staying connected. What do you gain by leaving your connection to the vine? Nothing but death.
We as people tend to have difficulty with this concept because we want to be in control. But control is largely an illusion. We have no control over the substance of life; only God does. The only real thing we can control is how we respond to the circumstances life brings, what attitude we bring, to whom or what we turn to for help. We hold desperately to what little control we have in the vain hope that if we can keep this part together everything else will work out fine. We are like a branch that is clinging to the trellis with all our might, even though the hand of the gardener has chosen to transplant the vine to a different spot. The result is that in our effort to hold on to the “safe” trellis, we tear loose from the vine and lose the source of life. Then we gradually wither and eventually die.
But what I want to tell you this morning is that there is incredible freedom in recognizing that only God is in control. In abandoning our self to Him, with complete dependence. In letting Him have control of our lives, and living by remaining in Him. Let me change the analogy and describe it as the difference between the bird in the cage -?surrounded by familiar yet incredibly boring things, a mere subsistence ? the bird that is free to fly, to discover, to interact with other birds, even to face a bit of danger. It is the difference between living life to the full and simply waiting for death!
I believe this might be a point of decision for some of you here today. You seem to have life under control, seem to be managing on your own, doing fine by yourself. But let me be blunt ? if you are in control and not God, you are not living a full and free life but merely punching a clock until your days are over. Even if you think your life is quite wonderful now, thank you very much, it is nothing compared with the life God desires for you. Jesus came so that we may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). Now let me be clear ? this is not a promise of an easy, pain-free life ? but rather a promise of a life connected to the vine, bearing fruit, walking with the power and presence of God every moment. And I can guarantee that once you have tasted that kind of life, you will never want to go back. Any sacrifice will be worth it compared to the return.
Do you need to determine to let your grip loose, to let God sit in the driver?s seat, to become dependant on Him? Is there an area of your life that you are holding tightly to, trying to manage it and fix it and limp through it? Are you holding on to some sin, thinking “I kind of like it here in the bird cage; the food might be tasteless and I can?t fly, but it is familiar?” Jesus says, “remain in me. Give it to me. Let me have the burden and the responsibility and the pain. Give me your sin ? I paid the price for it already. Let go of it. Know the freedom of being connected to the Source of Life and grab a hold of me ? remain in me” Make your choice today.
Lingerers choose not to leave.
Once we have made that choice, how do we “remain”? How do we stay connected to the vine and the life that comes from it? Especially when, as the old hymn reminds us, we are “prone to wander, Lord I fell it; prone to leave the God I love.” This is where the things that we normally assume we are “supposed to do” as Christians come in ? where reading our Bibles and praying and coming to church to worship and serving others all fit in. Let me describe those activities in this way: these are simply the things that let the life of God flow into us. We usually think of them as things we have to do, things that are important to do in and of themselves ? but that is not where they are powerful or significant.
Picture the place where the ancient trunk meets vigorous branch. Here is the touch point, the place where abiding happens. Her is the connection where life-giving nutrients in the sap flow through to the developing fruit. The only limitation on the amount of sap that goes to the fruit is the circumference of the branch where it meets the vine. That means that the branch with the largest, least obstructed connection with the vine is abiding the most and will have the greatest potential for a huge crop.” (Secrets of the Vine, by Bruce Wilkinson, p. 95)
All of those spiritual disciplines exist simply to keep us connected to the Vine ? to keep us attached at the source SO THAT the life of God can flow in us. That is why we read, pray, worship, serve ? to be connected. To remain. To maintain communication in our relationship with God.
Jesus hints at this in verse 7: “If you remain in me AND MY WORDS REMAIN IN YOU?” Where do we find the Words of Jesus? First and foremost right here, in the Bible ? in the Holy Scriptures. This is truly an amazing gift to us ? the Words of God, full of life and power and everything we need to know how to live. Are you reading it? Meditating on it? Memorizing it? Studying it? Allowing it to flow in you and fill you with life and power? Do you love your Bible ? not in an idol-type of way ? but because it communicates God?s very Words to your spirit? Invest your time in God?s Word, and you will find yourself remaining in Him.
I could talk about the other disciplines as well ? especially prayer as a means of staying connected to the vine. But most of us don?t need another sermon on these things as much as we need to just dive in and do them. Just get down on your knees and talk to God. Just authentically enter into worship. Just say “yes” to that nagging calling to serve in that area of His Kingdom you?ve been trying to ignore.
If we really boil it down, “remaining” means simply choosing not to leave. To enter God?s presence, and choosing then to go about the activities of the day without ever leaving God?s presence. I think our language confuses us here ? we talk about entering God?s presence as if it were an actual place to come into for a little while as we read or pray, and then we leave that place to go about our daily lives. That is counter to the image, and the main point of John 15. There, the key language is remain IN ME. I could easily spend another entire sermon series on the idea of being (and staying) IN CHRIST; for now let me simply describe it as a complete change of spiritual realms of existence ? as different as the fish who lives entirely under water from the animal who lives entirely on land. Being in Christ is living on the land, breathing air and running free. Not being in Christ is like living under water when you were actually created to be a land creature. They are completely different realms of existence.
Lingerers bear fruit that makes a difference.
The main point of the metaphor Jesus uses is that we remain in Christ. Jesus is pretty clear about the reason for us needing to remain ? that we might bear fruit. Verse 5 is the key verse here:
John 15:5 (NIV)
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
I don?t know how much you?ve thought about fruit, but let me ask you this question: who is the fruit for? Does the branch benefit from the fruit? Does the vine? Both the vine and the branch pour their life into the fruit, but the fruit exists for the gardener. The fruit of our lives is not for us, but for God ? and for others as God gives it to them. Lingerers bear fruit that makes a difference.
Mr. Holland?s Opus is a movie about a frustrated composer in Portland, Oregon, who takes a job as a high school band teacher in the 1960s. Although diverted from his lifelong goal of achieving critical fame as a classical musician, Glenn Holland (played by Richard Dreyfuss) believes his school job is only temporary.
At first he maintains his determination to write an opus or a concerto by composing at his piano after putting in a full day with his students. But, as family demands increase (including discovering that his infant son is deaf) and the pressures of his job multiply, Mr. Holland recognizes that his dream of leaving a lasting musical legacy is merely a dream.
At the end of the movie we find an aged Mr. Holland fighting in vain to keep his job. The board has decided to reduce the operating budget by cutting the music and drama program. No longer a reluctant band teacher, Mr. Holland believes in what he does and passionately defends the role of the arts in public education. What began as a career detour had become a 35-year mission, pouring his heart into the lives of young people.
Mr. Holland returns to his classroom to retrieve his belongings a few days after school has let out for summer vacation. He has taught his final class. With regret and sorrow, he fills a box with artifacts that represent the tools of his trade and memories of many meaningful classes. His wife and son arrive to give him a hand. As they leave the room and walk down the hall, Mr. Holland hears some noise in the auditorium. Because school is out, he opens the door to see what the commotion is. To his amazement he sees a capacity audience of former students and teaching colleagues and a banner that reads “Goodbye, Mr. Holland”
Those in attendance greet Mr. Holland with a standing ovation while a band (consisting of past and present members) plays songs they learned at his hand. His wife, who was in on the surprise reception, approaches the podium and makes small talk until the master of ceremonies, the governor of Oregon, arrives. The governor is none other than a former student Mr. Holland helped to believe in herself his first year of teaching. As she addresses the room of well-wishers, she speaks for the hundreds who fill the auditorium:
“Mr. Holland had a profound influence in my life (on a lot of lives, I know), and yet I get the feeling that he considers a great part of his life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his, and this was going to make him famous and rich (probably both). But Mr. Holland isn?t rich and he isn?t famous, at least not outside our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure, but he?d be wrong. Because I think he?s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame.” Looking at her former teacher the governor gestures with a sweeping hand and continues, “Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each one of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. And we are the music of your life.” [“Mr. Holland?s Opus”: Leaving a Legacy, Citation: Mr. Holland?s Opus, (Hollywood Pictures, 1995), rated PG, written by Patrick Sheane Duncan, directed by Stephen Herek; submitted by Greg Asimakoupoulos, Naperville, Illinois to Sermoncentral.com]
Now, this secular movie portrays a man who made a difference in the lives of all the students he taught. And certainly because of what he did many of those students were affected but in the light of eternity the difference He made was like a water molecule in the midst of the ocean. It was a very moving movie and touched my heart (even brought tears to my eyes ? I hate movies that do that!!) However, imagine the difference Mr. Holland would have made if he was connected to the vine? Imagine the difference he would have made if he not only impacted those students earthly lives but also their spiritual life. Fruit that makes a difference is fruit that changes lives through spiritual transformation. That is why Jesus said remain in me ? this kind of fruit cannot be produced in and of ourself. Only Christ can transform lives ? but he wants us to be the conduits (the branches) through which He accomplishes His work by His spirit.
I don?t know if you?ve thought of spiritual fruit like that before as something primarily to nurture others. But that?s what fruit is for ? it doesn?t benefit the branch, but it does reproduce the branch. I looked up the botanical definition of a fruit ? it is basically the “ripened, seed-bearing part of the plant.” It is the part that is full of the seeds, that is designed for multiplication. I believe that is what Jesus has in mind in choosing this analogy of fruitfulness ? that it is meant to be for the multiplication of His kingdom. The fruit isn?t for the branch to enjoy, it is to nurture and multiply and grow! Lingerers bear fruit that makes a difference.
What does remaining in Christ mean? It means depending on Him, it means giving Him control, it means surrendering your life to Him. Lingerers depend on Christ.
How do we remain in Christ? We remain by choosing not to leave, by spending time in God?s Word, in prayer, in service, by inviting the presence of God in every area of our lives and not leaving. Lingerers choose not to leave and so remain in Christ.
What does remaining in Christ tell us about the Christian life? Remaining in Christ results in fruit that makes a difference. You can tell a person is a lingerer by the impact God makes through them into other people?s lives.
A.J. Gordon, one of the founders of Gordon Conwell Divinity School, told of being out walking and looking across a field at a house. There beside the house was what looked like a man pumping furiously at one of those hand pumps. AS Gordon watched, the man continued to pump at a tremendous rate; he seemed absolutely tireless, pumping on and on, up and down, without ever slowing in the slightest, much less stopping.
Truly it was a remarkable sight, so Gordon started to walk toward it. AS he got closer, he could see it was not a man at the pump, but a wooden figure painted to look like a man. The arm that was pumping so rapidly was hinged at the elbow and the hand was wired to the pump handle. The water was pouring forth, but no because the figure was pumping it. You see, it was an artesian well, and the water was pumping the man.
When you see a man who is at work for God and producing results, recognize that it is the Holy Spirit working through him, not the man?s efforts that are giving results. All he has to do ? and all you have to do is keep you hand on the handle. (quoted in “Constantly Abiding”, a message by Ted Sutherland)
Lingerers bear fruit that makes a difference.
One of the promises that stand out in this teaching of Christ is found in verse four when Jesus says, “Remain in me and I will remain in you.” Think about that promise for a moment. Think about the invitation Christ is extending to all of you this morning and ask yourself ? where are you right now? Are you connected to the vine, feeling the life of God flowing through you as you remain in Him? Or are you disconnected, slowly dying, trying to stay in control of life and manage things in your own strength? Keep in mind that there are seasons of pruning (as I talked about last week) where even some parts that seem to be growing are cut off so that other parts can be more fruitful. There are times in our lives where maybe we aren?t seeing the fruit, but we know we are remaining in the vine. If that describes you, remain. Paul would say, stand firm. Hold fast, keep the connection, continue to let Jesus? words dwell in you, allow the gardener to prune, and cling to the promise that you will bear much fruit.
If you are not connected, I urge you to allow God, the Master Gardener to graft you into the vine. Turn to Him. Surrender yourself to Him ? every bit. And let His life fill you. It is to God?s glory that we bear much fruit, demonstrating that we are His disciples. God?s desire is that we remain in Him, connected, allowing His life to flow in us and through us to produce fruit for His kingdom. People of the vine are lingerers.